In the face of controversy over its $1 million hackathon contest, Salesforce.com(s crm) went back to the drawing board and came back with two million-dollar winners, including the disputed first-round winner and the disputed first-round runner up.
Salesforce.com admitted that it did not communicate contest eligibility requirements very well and that it will do better, likely with some outside help, for the next hackathon contest. And there will be a next hackathon contest, Burke Norton, chief legal officer for the San Francisco-based SaaS giant, said in an interview.
He also said it is likely the company will change the rules around former Salesforce.com employee participation in the event. For this round, former employees could participate if they left Salesforce prior to August 31, 2013. That time window will likely be lengthened, Norton said.
To recap, at its big Dreamforce event on November 21, judges awarded the team from Upshot, which included a former Salesforce.com employee, the $1 million prize. Controversy swirled not just around the presumed tight relationship between the winner and the prize giver but over just how much of the winning code was written and cobbled together between October 25 and November 21. Allegations swirled that Upshot had showed very similar code well before the hackathon.
But, after its internal review, Salesforce.com said it:
“determined that the winning teams met eligibility requirements, but that final round judges may not have been provided with enough information to evaluate final round entrants’ use of pre-existing code contained in their app entries. As a result, salesforce.com has awarded the top two developer teams with the grand prize of $1 million each.”
That means the runner-up, Healthcare.love, was in the big money too even though Salesforce.com acknowledged owning a small stake of the company behind it. The review found that the investment was “immaterial and as a result it is not a Salesforce.com-related entity under the rules.”
“After reviewing the hackathon rules and judging process, we have determined that both of our first prize winners met our eligibility requirements. We have also determined that we did not do a good enough job of communicating with the entrants about use of pre-existing code, which was allowable under certain circumstances, and that we weren’t clear enough with the final round judges about the use of pre-existing code,” Norton said in a statement sent out Tuesday.
Salesforce.com SVP Adam Seligman has more on the process here.
For any other company I would consider this an embarrassing snafu. But I’m increasingly convinced that for some vendors — Salesforce.com and Oracle being prime examples — any publicity is good publicity. And look, here we are talking about a trade show three weeks after the fact. Mission accomplished.
Still, if I were a developer i would think twice before submitting to a process that netted these results. And when you’re talking big money, the whole process had better be beyond reproach.
Note: This story was updated at 6:47 p.m. PST to reflect that the hackathon development period lasted from October 25 through November 21