It was maybe a year ago that I first heard about "comping", it's a phenomenon that sees internet users spend all their free time entering tens or hundreds of online prize draws a day in the hope that eventually, if they enter enough prize draws, by the law of averages they'll eventually win something. I heard about it actually because a girl I know managed to win laser eye surgery and had posted about it on facebook.
Laser eye surgery actually ranks as a pretty good prize as comping goes. Most competitions take the form of "win a bucket", or "win a can of pepsi", or other such uninspiring fare, but compers enter them anyway with the outlook that they have no idea what's coming through the post, but whatever it is will probably be a nice surprise.
Admirable stuff, I'm sure.
Now, I am not a comper, but online competitions in general did crop back up on my radar again recently. Recon (http://www.reconinstruments.com/) a Canadian firm building head-up displays for sports are running a competition on twitter to win one of their soon-to-be-released units called the "Jet", and as a result of my badly wanting one, my twitter feed currently looks like an endless sea of this:
So much so in fact that Twitter actually refused to let me tweet again for a while lest I look like a spam bot.
Anyway, as a result of all this competitive re-tweeting I remembered about comping and I got to thinking about online competitions and how people enter them. At present what happens is that people visit forums like the one at MoneySavingExpert which are dedicated to people posting links of good competitions they've come across and they trawl through all the posts manually and visit god knows how many pages and open shed loads of browser tabs etc etc.
That's all great and I'm sure it's lots of fun for all involved, but I have a job during the day and don't much fancy trawling through forums in my spare time. If only I could have a list of new competitions that I could check out quickly to see if there's anything I'd like to enter, maybe with a link so i could just press the description and get the competition website, bypassing the forum altogether...
But wait a minute Martin I hear literally no-one say, you're a software engineer, you can make that happen. Yes, good point, I would say in return - and to prove it, at lunchtime today (30 minutes of it anyway) I knocked together a little windows app that does kind-of that.
It's my first program that does any webpage scraping, and at the moment it gets a list of competitions on page 1 of the forum linked earlier. It presents you with a list of descriptions, and when you click one it takes you to both the immediately linked forum page and also the actual competition page.
Right now it looks like this:
What I intend to do at some point is to link up a SQLite DB behind it to keep track of previously entered competitions, maybe some sort of recommendation engine based on keywords for surfacing good competitions to me and of course, extend it's meager scarping abilities to more pages of the forum and also more forums elsewhere.
The source code is on my GitHub page, it's not much right now, but I thought it was cool enough to warrant writing a wee spiel about.
More updates to follow.