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Sweet screaming monkeys - what's going on with Chorus' Gigatown competition?

Chorus' Gigatown competition began with a noble aim: to showcase the benefits of Ultrafast Broadband fibre.

It's corporate PR, of course, but the prize is pretty cool. Residents of the winning town (or city suburb) will get 1Gbit/s (1000Mbit/s) fibre for the price of today's 100Mbit/s plans. Businesses aren't covered (pity) but Chorus and Alcatel Lucent have thrown $200,000 into the pot to fund entrepreneurial ideas for services over UFB.

When Chorus CEO Mark Ratcliffe initially outlined the competition to me, he said there would be a social media element, but also emphasised that competitors would be asked to put forward innovative ideas for how their town, or suburb could use fibre. 

The competition of ideas seemed a good concept. UFB uptake has picked up, a little, but it's still a miserable 4% of homes and businesses now within reach of fibre (according to new figures released yesterday). People need inspiration (as well as basic meat-and-potatoes stories about how you can use fibre for anything from keeping a virtual private network open between home office and work to fast and usable personal and professional cloud apps, suffering none of copper's peak-time traffic jams or loss of bandwidth with distance).

But now the Gigatown competition has opened it's home page is ... a riot. At first glance, it's hard to work out what the hell's going on.

How do we decide who gets to be Gigatown? Actually, we don't decide - you do.

We're looking for the town that wants it the most. There’s two ways we’ll be measuring that drive, enthusiasm and determination to be Gigatown:

1. by listening out for the town with the loudest voice on social media; and

2. by tallying up the supporters for each town signing up on this website [Gigatown.co.nz]

Each town is given a hashtag, and the more times that hashtag appears on social media the merrier (there is a side competition on work from home ideas, with people invited to upload photos of their home office, with three lots of bonus points on offer).

Prectably, this "who can shout the loudest" criteria has led to mindless tweets that have nothing to do with the UFB. Some are piggy-backing on it for publicity for other events; some tweets are simply mindless. Who would want the leading towns' repetitive posts clogging their Twitter or Facebook feed.

Adding to the fun, the Gigatown fine print includes the line, "We may amend the way the competition is conducted and the way points are awarded without giving advance notice." 

Cheating allegations
A communications professional involved in one town's bid tells NBR ONLINE, "I know there has been cheating. $200,000 is at stake and councils are paying people to coordinate the camapigns."

She accuses two councils of setting up tweetbot accounts two articicially boost their numbers.

Chorus did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but it seems from social media chatter that both Oamaru and Porirua have had had their totals trimmed [UPDATE: "We regularly sweep for spam. If towns experience a points deduction, it will be because there has been some spam related activity."]

November spawned a monster
Some are wondering if too many points were docked. That discussion will go around and around the mulberry bush. Any counting competition that involves counting social media mentions - let alone hundreds of thousands of them - is going to devolve into a series of tedious spats over which posts should quality, or not.

"Chorus have created a monster and they are struggling to deal with it. At the core its a cool idea. Just seriously badly executed," the comms professional says.

Wait for it, wait for it ...
Chorus will name the five finalist towns in .. wait for it, wait for it, and wait for it a little more ... September 2014 (by which time Chorus will be offering cheaper, faster UFB plans, diluting the prize a little).

At that point the company says it will reset scores. It doesn't detail how the competition will run from that point, but hopefully it will be closer to the original battle of innovative ideas.

Meantime, what a mess.

A competition that requires regular spam sweeps, and drives humans to tweet like bots, does nothing for Chorus branding or the UFB.

ckeall@nbr.co.nz

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Comments and questions
25

It would be great if the winning town became an entrepreneurial hub, much like Boulder in the US. Needs to be somewhere not overpriced (rules out Queenstown and Wanaka) but in that region would be great with the contrasting summer/winter climates/activities. It could really encourage growth.

You been to Boulder ? One of the more expensive places to live in the USA .

It would be great if they just got on with spending perfectly good money on building the bloody thing.

I live in Oamaru and am a follower of the #gigatowntown campaign. We are a reasonably tight knit community and this competition will benefit the whole of the area.
Oamaru have some of the best high schools in New Zealand namely Waitaki Boys, St Kevin's, and Waitaki Girls. Scholastically these 3 schools rank with the finest.
We are also very proud of the more eccentric activities in Oamaru; Tourists come from all over New Zealand and the world to enjoy the wildlife, the little blue penguins parade every evening the Victorian Precinct, our Harbour Street Craft shops and the businesses on Thames Street, Sunday morning Farmers Market. There are other important attractions, Steampunk Headquarters and the Steampunk installations are a sight that Steampunk Imagineers will ever forget.
The Forrester Gallery etc etc, We have so much to offer, Oamaru does not need to cheat, we take pride in our community and the surrounding richness of the area. Oamaru does not need bots we need votes.
Oamaru is number 1...

Worst. Competition. Ever.

Most. Useful. Comment. Never.

As Mayor of the Waitaki District, where Oamaru is the largest town, I categorically deny that there has been any council funding of any people to coordinate our community's campaign. To my knowledge, there are no bots used for our campaign either. Where points have been deducted, it has been because people have only posted the hashtag in their comments, rather than any meaningful comment. To repeat accusations without any attempt to get further comment is scurrilous and shoddy journalism. This may only be an opinion piece, but that should be no reason to denigrate the excellent voluntary work of a bunch of passionate locals.

Good luck in the competition.

The main theme of the opinion piece above is that counting hashtags is low brow and silly per se. It's also impractical, and will also lead to more petty disputes.

It would be better for towns like yours, and Chorus, if the company had stuck to its original concept of a competition of ideas.

A panel of independent experts could have judged which town (or city suburb) had the most innovative pitch for how fibre could boost its community.

Sure, each town could have used social media to boost the profile of the ideas it was putting forward. But using a hashtag leaderboard to decide finalists degrades the whole thing. Just makes it annoying to most people rather than a showcase for the UFB, Chorus and communities.

Totally agree Chris. Hashtag scoring proves nothing and wastes everyone's time.

I believe you are correct that the hashtag competition could have been better thought out--I'm not sure that the business case for bestowing UFB on the town with the "loudest" social media presence is especially sound. But that's the decision that Chorus have made, and Oamaru and Porirua denizens have taken to the competition with gusto. What I believe Mayor Kircher was reacting to, however, is not your questioning the logic of the competition itself, but rather the accusation that Oamaru (and Porirua) have achieved their high scores through illicit practices.

For the record Oamaru's campaign has been done with no funding from council, and not one "bot" has been brought to the attention of the #gigatownoamaru team. You dont need big budgets to make a difference just community spirit.

Good on you.

My broader point is that a count-the-social-media-mentions competition is inevitably going to encourage some people in every town or suburb to play silly buggers, and try to goose the numbers - and inevitable squabbles over where enthusiastic tweeting ends and spamming begins.

A blunt leaderboard competition also runs the risk that a couple of players developer a big, early lead (as has happened here). Others will lose heart, or not be bother to enter the hashtag race.

Nothing like writing a negative piece about an amazing concept. I am unsure as to what you class as cheating. If a city council or like organisation is prepared to employ someone to boost activity thrn that just shows how important it is to that town.

My only issue with the competition is whilst ii's great that's small towns are doing well eg Oamaru but what happens if they win? Nothing. They can check FB faster and tweet quicker.

Should a big (ger) city or town win it it can create all sorts of opportunity and investment and encourage already large organisations to expand. This needs serious consideration when it comes to the crunch.

Chorus came up with a great idea for a competition - tell us what your town or suburb would do with UFB.

But then they devolve it into the silliest kind of social media spamming.

I'm offering some constructive criticism in the hope that round two will be closer to the original concept.

Your question, What would Oamaru do with UFB is quite valid. Rightly or wrongly, many people question whether the filbe rollout is worth it.

In the original version of the competition, towns like Oamaru would be ving to showcase their ideas for fibre, not competing in a mindless race to type the most hashtags.

Rules for round two of the competition seem to be still up in the air. I hope they're closer to Chorus' original vision. It was a good one.

Jonesey you are ill informed and miss the entire point of this, this model was done in America on a town that had much like Oamaru that had a negative growth in population, it turned it into one of the fastest growing economic regions in America, we have already got angel investment connections for the region to aid IT development, that combined with the fact that geographically speaking its the most stable piece of dirt in NZ so it lends it self to server farms and IT hubs, we have new business parks being built and many very cheap empty buildings for sale,its cheaper and easier to setup here than in a town with huge property prices, so we are ready and waiting for the growth that will come from such a great prize if we are lucky enough to be the winner.

And how cool if would be if it was a contest of ideas, and it was won by a town that's losing jobs or people but says fibre could help turn us around (as it apparently helped do for Chattanooga - the US examples hailed in Chorus' original promo clip).

Lock the social media experts in a cupboard and get back to that idea.

I wish there was a like button here :). I agree, we could provide such an exciting and innovative place to lead New Zealand in IT.

Jonesey, you truly have expressed a most ignorant and bigoted stance! Oamaru is doing quite well in the scheme of things with very good growth in its economy and an excellent community spirit which any city would love to have! We have a range of businesses and people who are doing some really great things in the commercial world. This competition is also about breathing new life into communities by adding a real unique proposition which they can market nationally and internationally. To suggest that a town like Oamaru couldn't do take advantage of the prize in a commercial sense is insulting to all small, innovative and passionate communities around New Zealand.

Dunedin has advertised for a full-time project coordinator to run their Gigatown effort. It's probably time for ratepayers to call that council to account.

The issues with Gigatown run deeper and start with their proposition that they are bringing Gigabit internet to NZ

Newsflash Gigabit internet is widely available in most NZ metropolitan CBD's and has been for years! In fact NZ lead in the deployment of public open access fibre!

Winning the Chorus competition will not create a 'Gigatown!' all Chorus are offering is a 3 year, discounted, residential wholesale 1gigabit/second service!

So for no RSP has yet put their hand up for what the actual service will look like or cost! (i've seen suggestions that to be any use it will still be around $200 per month!

I've seen the boosters of this contest say this will be great for education! again Newsflash - our universities and CRI's already connect to the internet at speeds between 1 & 10 gb/s and the N4L (network for learning) is also offering schools all over NZ connections at up to 1gb/s

So Chorus's proposition could well be in breach of the 'Fair Trading Act!'

What they can say is that Chorus (and the other LFC's) are bring the potential for 1gb/s residential connections to NZ - 'gigahomes' - yes, 'gigastreets' - yes, but 'gigatowns' - no (unless they commit to installing far more capable backend infrastructure and connecting every building in town!)

I struggle to see how the winning 'Gigatown' benefits from Chorus deciding to 'socialise their marketing budget!' essentially they are trying to get towns to sign up for the digital 'Hunger Games!' with ultimately 1 winner and up to 42 losers! yet the winner will find the prize rather empty when they notice lots of other towns having gigabit feeds anyway!

Maybe EY Australia should cast an eye over the papers behind this one too! its probably the back of a napkin from a long lunch with the words 'social media' 'ufb' & 'ramification' circled!

A shame because raising the bar on ufb connections to 1gb/s is the kind of big hairy audacious goal that would deliver real results

Nice to see how you trolled the people in this sham competition , Chorus will indeed decide where the town will be, not based on any #tag but where it will give them the best ability to sell their gigabit speed UFB plans they will have in the future.

All those righteous people in the competition who have brought into this silliness, I wish you good luck.

Nice piece Chris, as always

Agree it's a good piece Chris. I think Chorus had a good idea (ie Google Fiber) but the execution here has made a complete mess of the messages they are trying (or should be) to promote. The big missing piece is the retailers - Chorus can't sell to end users - so to be a successful promotion really needs a look at all the end services too and the social aspects of what a 1Gb/s world looks like - these are the areas the retailers have responsibility for. Google had a go at this.

September 2014. Hmm. Just in time for the incoming Mana/Green/Labour government, with their hard-left agenda to nationalise Chorus, rename it to the Ministry of KiwiFibre, and forget about the prize.

Chorus will not be around next year if they can not get more cash from the Government,, Giga town,,??? no that wont happen,

This is an interesting article Chris, and I am particularly interested in the terms and conditions. If Chorus can unilaterally change the basis upon which a town or suburb will win the "competition" then surely that is a breach of the Fair Trading Act? It means that those towns and suburbs which entered into the deal in good faith may find that what they have done is not worth the time and resources put in, because some other basis of competing is introduced by Chorus. And if the "winner" is notified towards the end of next year, presumably close to the election, are there not conflict of interest issues in terms of the fact that the Government is the main funder for Chorus's outlay to do UFB, thus presumably is fully on board with this competition. If the investigation into Chorus also creates issues for the company in terms of meeting its obligations under the contract with the Government, might the competition disappear altogether?