In his NY Times “Bits” blog, Steve Lohr writes today of Netflix’s $1 million contest to improve its software that predicts what movies customers will like. The winner and runner-up were both multi-national alliances of 7 and 30 people, respectively. One of the leaders of the runner-up team had an interesting observation:
Yet the sort of sophisticated teamwork deployed in the Netflix contest, it seems, is a tricky business. Over three years, thousands of teams from 186 countries made submissions. Yet only two could breach the 10-percent hurdle. “Having these big collaborations may be great for innovation, but it’s very, very difficult,” said Greg McAlpin, a software consultant and a leader of the Ensemble. “Out of thousands, you have only two that succeeded. The big lesson for me was that most of those collaborations don’t work. ” [Emphasis added.]
Of course, that was then — in future contests, such as the new one Netflix is starting, we can expect teams to try to glean lessons from the successes and failures of the first one.