For OneWorld Sport, organisers of one such competition which has been hitting inboxes throughout Australia since Friday, it has turned into an IT headache.
The giveaway has attracted more than five times the expected entrants and forced the organisation to employ a service provider to build a new program to select a winner. The delay has also forced OneWorld Sport to postpone the draw for a week to allow time to build and test the new program.
The winner of the competition was expected to be announced this afternoon in time to claim their prize before Christmas.
Originally planned for OneWorld Sport's 50 online members and 15 of their friends, the competition has spread to more than 27,000 entrants as the email is passed from person to person like a chain letter.
Launched last Friday, the competition involved entrants forwarding the email to 15 friends before midnight Wednesday.
"We have 50 online members and it was originally a promotion just for them as a benefit for being a member," said Greg Brogan, OneWorld Sport webmaster.
"It was never our intention for it to be spam or a chain mail kind of thing. . . It was just a competition for members which went ballistic," he said.
According to Brogan, the automated program designed by OneWorld Sport to randomly select a winner of the competition cannot handle the 27,000 entrants.
"The system can only competently handle 5000 entrants," he said. "There was talk of randomly culling it down to 5000, but it wouldn't be fair. There is no way to do it but upgrade the system," he said.
The company has been working with the Department of Gaming and Racing to ensure every entrant gets an equal opportunity at winning. Additionally two contractors from software developer WebCom have been brought in to build the new program to handle the increased load, Brogan said.
Both programs are based on text-based CSV files which scan through the list of entrants several times before randomly selecting a winner.
"The new program will scan through the first 50 times to check for duplicates, then it will randomly select a winner," Brogan said, adding that prior to running the system duplicate responses will be removed so each competitor is only entered once.
WebCom will conduct an independent report and select the winner, he said.
Entrants were advised via email this morning that the winner will now be announced on Thursday December 28 at 1pm. According to Brogan, only the winner will receive a notification email. Entrants can check one of four websites set up to announce the winner, he said.
Whilst OneWorld Sport only received 25 emails complaining about the competition as spam or chain mail, Brogan said the company would prefer to send as few emails out as possible.
According to Brogan after this experience, which he admits was not thought out clearly enough, OneWorld Sport plans to only conduct direct entrant competitions.
"It is the first and last time we run an email-based competition where you email 15 friends," he said.
OneWorld Sport's next competition will only be offered to dedicated online members by direct invitation.
On the bright side however, Brogan added that the competition had increased traffic to the Oneworld Sport website to around 3000 hits a day. "That's a huge increase," he said.