It's important to realise how rewards of too high stakes can serve as disincentives and even greatly put people off. @Spook Louw's suggestion about monthly incentives got me thinking about monthly being a more effective competition mechanism.
There are multiple benefits for shorter-term competitions:
Easier Focus, smaller scope, less pressure from risk
Short term rewards feel achievable, safer and fun and also inspire more involvement, positivity and collaboration
Rapid iterations mean frequent feedback for improving future competitions. This doubles as market research on what challenges and incentives generate the best quality AND quantity content on the site
Easier Focus, smaller scope, less pressure from risk
I am already a big fan of smaller wins to keep me motivated and speed up my workflow.
In learning to set myself smaller milestones I have found myself able to contribute more frequently. The important thing is that these milestones still be big enough to challenge me into a good concentrated workflow and that I prioritise dedicated time for them, but not so big as to be overwhelming. It’s helped me to zone in on the contributions I make to make sure the quality is good without getting too much “analysis paralysis” from a combination of perfectionism and too large a focus area.
A good comparison for these would be to look at the effectiveness of game jams and hackathons, which seem to break people out of the usual flow and induce real creativity due to the shorter (but not too short) timebox of dedicated events.
Breaking work down into smaller units and deadlines is also part of the philosophy in shaping Agile, the main software delivery philosophy and project management system, to maximize efficiency and sustained continuous delivery even in the case of long (EG 12 month) projects. EG a scrum sprint (work cycle) is conventionally 1-4 weeks, which helps make it easier to hone in on priority and committed targets during that time.
Aside from reducing pressure from the scope itself, building off of smaller time commitments also exponentially lessens the external “high stakes” pressure of future unknowns, as a year is a long time to commit to daily availability without guarantee, as it is all-or-nothing in terms of whether you will win, even if you do build a rich experience in the exercise, it could be argued that that could be achieved without that same pressure and with more likelihood of immediate rewards.
I tend to brainstorm better without external unknowns as stressors. To return to that “create” zone, I have to pretend they don’t exist, or even take a break similarly to what you propose here. Something as big as a commitment to post every day for a year with 365 chances of messing up has the likelihood of terrifying me very quickly given my creativity is easier to summon in bursts and sometimes seems to require days of doing something completely different to recover.
If I competed I’d have to work very hard to shut it out of my mind and pretend it didn't exist to maintain creativity, which seems counterproductive as an incentive.
Weighing up those risks, where it becomes a heavy time and effort investment gamble, people are likely to find a safer investment for their time even if it generates smaller rewards.
The difference in committing a month (or few weeks, etc), if one month leaves you particularly burnt out you can give yourself more of a break the next month without the fear of punishment and losing all progress just from one slip up.
There is a “safety” in a natural stopping point at the end of the month, similar to getting a game save at the end of a challenging mission, where you can feel a sense of "closure" of the last chapter and more emboldened in control and able to go all out for the next “round” which can be really motivating. I personally have a tendency to steer away from commitments that don’t have a defined short term milestone with some guarantee of progress or return, kind of like a “save point” in a game, or the likelihood and stakes of messing up seem to increase with further progress.
Even people less eccentric than me may find this a large amount of pressure. Eliciting more feedback on this can only benefit, particularly with such a large investment, on how to to avoid invoking people’s fear of failure and to rather seek to encourage creative thinking, as fear is counterproductive to strategising.
2. Short term rewards feel achievable and fun and also inspire more positivity and collaboration
In terms of the benefits of shorter one-month milestones, aside from them being more fun and motivating, it also means that where someone cannot sustain endless effort for a whole year without burning out, there will always be SOME people pushing for the goal at different times. In this way, we rely on the power of the strongest competitors each month to motivate content, while leaving open the possibility for more people to join later as these competitions catch on, not on only those individuals who can commit to being consistent throughout the year, and we get diverse contributions as a result of more people being keen to commit to a month at a time.
There is also nothing to say that someone cannot aim to do this over the whole year, the only difference for those people would be that that they have checkpoints with smaller wins along the way after each achievement.
More people can feel fulfilled that they won something or ALMOST got there. Offering second or third place prizes as you mentioned in your post, @Darko can further maximise this effect.
Shorter milestones also inspire more of a net positive effect while minimising the negative and cutthroat aspects of competition, which it seems we are striving for here - less risk and more playfulness keep people keen to participate, but still able to be good sports and even suggest improvements on each other’s ideas, rather than the massive disincentive from boosting each other's ideas in a larger-stakes competition.
With the risk vs incentive not being such high stakes as to cause major stress, this can also prevent other negative antipattern incentives from “grind” culture like neglecting proper research and quality or even shifting the focus from quality problem solving to simply content generation.
3. Rapid iterations mean frequent feedback for improving future competitions
Rules with each iteration could be modified and improved upon based on your experience and feedback running the competition process. If it turns out that there is a flaw in the competition mechanism or incentives, unclear wording or people find a way to exploit it to get results you would not want to keep the competition running for a year without changing the rules but if people have already committed to an existing process those winning are more likely to become bitter if the rules change significantly once they have started as that tends to be seen as going back on your word.
On the other hand, those losing are more likely to be embittered if you do not change the rules in the interests of fairness. This comes back to how the more time and effort invested and the bigger the prize the more people seriously care about the outcome and there are few upsides to this kind of dispute involving public opinions.
It also means in the worst-case scenario dispute you can potentially just offer two prizes without it breaking the bank since prizes would be smaller in proportion to the time frames.
With smaller prizes and investment there is also the improved likelihood that people will not take it too badly if they lose particularly if they disagree with how the judgement was made, and simply try harder the next time and take it all as a fun personal challenge with winning as a bonus.
This way you invest less per competition but improve the process with every iteration based on participation insights.