Conquent: Without Limits
Conquent: Without Limits
Michael Bissell's Blog

Building the LOST: The Final Season Sweepstakes

2009-12-29 12:36:03
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We were contracted to build a sweepstakes site for Disney/ABC for the final season of the TV show LOST (or as they put it LOST: The Final Season, which sounds more ominous). It was a pretty straightforward database project, with two major wrinkles.

First off, they needed it in a week. I was thinking two weeks when we agreed to do it, but when you consider we had Christmas right in the middle of the project, we pretty much had to get it done in a week.

Purnima did a great job of creating custom graphics for the site based on the imagery we were provided, and Eric got the programming and server set up done in short order. Even the HTML came together, which is remarkable when you consider how short-handed we are in that department at the moment.

But the real thing that had me worried about this project is that this is LOST; this is a show with a fan base that put fanatical back in the word "fan". There are over a million fans on the LOST Facebook page which could pummel a web application. Then there's the fact ABC will be advertising the sweepstakes on TV, which can get thousands of people to hit the site at the same moment.

Fortunately Conquent has faced this before and we were able to get a site set up on Rackspace's cloud -- we looked at Amazon and Google (even considered Microsoft's), but what made Rackspace work for me was that I had a couple business cards from meeting tech and sales guys in Vegas at the CLIO awards. Yep, I made the business decision from hanging out in the cabanas by the pool at the Hard Rock Hotel in Vegas.

It's not that they had plied me with booze and wifi, it's that I was able to pick up the phone and talk to someone who was able to help my team set up the right solution. No matter how hard you try, you just can't automate real customer service. Even with over a decade of doing exactly these kinds of projects, cloud computing is new, and I honestly didn't know enough about how the technology works to understand how the pricing works or how we might get in trouble with one package versus another.

We're in Day 2 of the sweepstakes as I write this, and it's running so smoothly it's almost disturbing. I mean, I don't want to break the site, but I'd like to see the thing strain a little. But so far, it's just another ho-hum miracle.

Here's a link to the sweepstakes site, which probably will be pulled down a week before the February 2nd season premiere:

A book unopened is but a block of paper
Holiday SPAM (or the lack thereof)

Eric Weaver: Re: Building the LOST: The Final Season Sweepstakes
2009-12-30 00:55:10

An amusing challenge was that they wanted to give people a right/wrong indication on each question. How to do that without just letting them view source and read the correct answers?

Wound up doing a bunch of nasty number hacking in Javascript. Lots of multiplying and dividing-and-taking-the-remainder. The correct answer will be divisible by a certain number that's not obvious at first. I figured anybody hackerly to figure it out will have wasted enough time they might as well have submitted the form 25 times.

Taylor Singletary: Re: Building the LOST: The Final Season Sweepstakes
2009-12-30 18:07:26

Great project. I also recommend Joyent's cloud solutions pretty highly. AppEngine has legs but requires very specific implementation choices

Michael Bissell: Re: Building the LOST: The Final Season Sweepstakes
2009-12-30 18:07:50

I like the way Rackspace Cloud Sites (as opposed to Cloud Servers) scales automatically leaving fewer of those implementation choices

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