Internet

There's an Entire Internet Subculture Devoted to Winning Online Competitions

Members of the Competitions Time forum are some of the cheeriest people you'll meet online. They're also some of the luckiest.

by Zing Tsjeng
Sep 19 2017, 1:42pm

This article originally appeared on Broadly.

My friend Pip has been on a lucky streak for the last six years. She hasn't paid to go a music festival for almost half a decade, and last year she went on a free wine-tasting tour for two around France. She took her family skiing in the Alps—spa and ski passes included—and spent New Year's Eve in Australia, because she'd been flown out to Sydney by MTV.

She isn't a celebrity or an influencer. She doesn't even have a thousand followers on Instagram (sorry, Pip). But she is a member of an internet message board that has spawned a tight-knit community of people obsessed with entering online competitions. And in a world where trolls and Pepe memes have ruined almost every online space, it might be one of the few positive and friendly corners of the internet left.

Competitions Time (official slogan: "Get comping and win win win!") is part of the wider ecosystem of user forums set up by the consumer website MoneySavingExpert.com. The interface is pretty rudimentary—if you've ever been on a BBS message board sometime in the early 2000s, you'll know what I mean.

Every page on the main board contains post after post of new competitions, all open for people to enter. There are a few sub boards, including one titled, "I won! I won! I won!" (Competitions Time is very big on exclamation marks), where users post their winnings and other people line up to congratulate them.

In a recent post, a user called NatalieD7 writes: "I have been the lucky winner of the Dog rescuers competition and have won £5,000 at a much needed time! It's also my first win—so excited!" Another user, JazzItUp, replies: "Congratulations, nice prize at this time of year, or any come to think of it!" before posting a crudely animated LMAO emoji. Tornadoman simply responds with a "CoNgRaTuLaTiOnS."

When Pip told me that this was the source of all her winnings, I was captivated. Competitions Time feels like stepping back in time to the early halcyon days of the World Wide Web, when all you had to worry about were internet stalkers and the dial-up modem cutting out if your friend called you at home after school. A place on the internet where people are actually nice, and you can also win money or a ski holiday? I could get behind this.

"At the moment it's consistently our top board and it's had just shy of a million all-time threads," a MoneySavingExpert.com spokesperson tells me.

Fifty-two-year-old nurse practitioner Linda Griffiths has been a member of the MoneySavingExpert forums since their inception in 2003. "It's always been the compers' board," she says, using the nickname adopted by forum members. "They set it up. When the forums started, there were lots of boards about credit cards and insurance. Someone would say in the Chat section, 'Here's a good competition.' Then a few people approached the [forum] team to say, 'Can we have a board just for competitions?' Setting it up was a group effort."

There are no moderators, although there are voluntary board guides who can step in to stomp on any potential trouble—pretty remarkable for an internet forum with 1.6 million users. Every person I spoke to commented on the unusual friendliness of the board, which seems hugely counterintuitive given that every comper is engaged in the furious pursuit of competition winnings. It's even weirder when you consider that the lifeblood of the community depends on individual members posting links to contests for other people to enter.

"Every person who posts a competition on there has taken time out of their own comping to actually post that competition for other people to enter," Griffiths says. "They don't mind if it's for something wonderful like a car. Nobody ever thinks to themselves, Well I've entered that, I'm not going to tell anybody about it. They'll put it on the competition board knowing that thousands of other people are going to enter it."

Griffiths has only been entering competitions in earnest since last year, but her biggest win was an iPad (which she sold for a few hundred pounds). Every night, she comes home from work, opens up her laptop, and enters close to 200 online competitions while watching TV or listening to music.

"If you've got a good system, you can crack through them in a couple of hours every night," she says. "If you entered absolutely everything that was posted, it would take you hours every day. But I know that some people do! They're [usually] people who are elderly or housebound, or some of the moms with children who don't work. That's the thing, it gets quite addictive!"

The Competitions Time forum. Screenshot via MoneySavingExpert.com

Pip's most serious wave of comping wins happened while she was working at a boring office job in her early 20s and was entering up to 50 competitions a day. (She requested we withhold her last name as she still works in the same business.) She's never posted a contest herself, though she has in the "I Won!" board to thank the people who let her know about the competition.

"There are certain users who are power users and they post ten competitions a day and they have thousands of thank yous, and they obviously just do it for the thrill of letting other people win stuff," she says. "Without them, there wouldn't be such a big competition forum."

Griffiths, who is fresh from working at a music festival with a friend she made from the board, says that she'll actively correct members or help figure out the answers for any competitions that require a little more extra effort. "If I see a competition posted and the correct link isn't in there, I'll find the link. If there's a competition where you have to find so many answers, I'd go in and search for them."

Comping is nothing new; people have been clipping out contests from the back of newspapers and sending off their names on the back of a postcard for decades. But any basic understanding of human psychology would lead you to think of comping as a solitary, fiercely individualistic enterprise—swivel-eyed compers hiding answers from rivals and using dirty tricks to ensure a maximum chance of them winning.

But that's just not what Competitions Time is about. Blessedly, that makes it maybe the only part of the internet that doesn't make me think that the world is going down the toilet; that humanity maybe is capable of a collective emotion that isn't disgust or rage—even if that moment of shared connection is over a PlayStation that somebody won by total chance in a random giveaway.

"Ultimately," Pip concludes, "I think the odds are always going to be relatively poor anyway. Getting a few other people to enter and having the delight at seeing them win something you posted is as good as winning something yourself."