Walter S. Mossberg and Katherine Boehret

Joining the Contest Craze Through the Internet

Two of the biggest phenomena in pop culture have been the “American Idol” TV show and the plethora of Web sites that depend on user-generated content, such as eBay, and People love to try out for “Idol,” and to vote for those who make it. And they love to submit entries to Web sites.

So, what if you could combine those two forms and create performance contests on the Web instead of on TV? That way, anyone could enter, or vote, or even create a contest, without the need for a TV network, judges or any other barriers.

This week, we had a fun time testing a Web site that does just that. The free site, called, officially launched today. It hosts contests that include “American Idol”-style stuff like singing, but can range beyond that into comedy, photography, art, lip-synching or even writing.

Bix, a free new Web site, lets you enter a competition by choosing from a list of existing contests or by creating your own contest.

The Bix strategy is rather simple: You can either create a contest yourself or participate in an existing contest, and Bix members can vote for you using a thumbs-up or thumbs-down icon. All you need to view entries and vote is a computer connected to the Web. To enter the singing or comedy contests, only a Web camera and microphone are required — devices that are increasingly being built into new computers.

We fooled around with the Web site, creating contests of our own, joining existing contests, voting for participants and easily emailing links for certain entertaining entries to our friends. Each process — signing up, creating a contest, entering a contest — only takes a minute. This means you can pay full attention to the site’s entertainment factor, and we think this will make users really enjoy using it.

Currently, the Bix Web site is ad-free, depending for revenue solely on corporate-sponsored contests, which run alongside contests users can start at no charge. These contests are created when a company pays Bix to use its site to host a competition, and the contest winner gets a cash prize paid by the sponsor — not Bix. (Normal contests needn’t carry a prize, and most don’t.) Bix says it will seek alternative revenue sources, including advertisements on its site and user-generated ringtones — yes, this could mean hearing yourself sing when your cellphone rings.

Some contestants were truly talented, while others definitely should keep their day jobs. The types of contests revealed some of the creativity that Bix is tapping, including a beauty contest for “Cutest Pet,” a photography contest for “Funniest Sign” and a comedy contest for the funniest 60-second act. Anyone can view the Bix contest entries, but only Bix users can vote or add comments about an entry.

Songs and lyrics are loaded onto the site for karaoke competitions.

For one of our favorite Bix examples, see: It’s an amateur rendition of the Martina McBride song “My Baby Loves Me,” done with plenty of heart and style.

Bix provides the tools for lip-synching and karaoke competitions: music and lyrics for about 2,100 songs are loaded on the site and can appear on-screen, karaoke-style, while you sing along. A built-in application automatically opens to record audio and/or video using Mac or Windows operating systems and their browsers — Mozilla FireFox, Internet Explorer and Safari.

We signed up easily by entering only our email address, a Bix user name and a password. The site offers simple options to enter or create a contest. If you choose to enter a contest a list is opened, revealing all existing contests (past contests also can be accessed). These were organized in a smart email-like format with a preview screen below so as to display thumbnail images of the entries for a selected contest.

Walt found and entered a photography contest called “Cars!” that was filled with 13 different images by simply choosing an Enter Contest option, uploading a photo of his favorite car, and adding a title and description of his photo. In a second, his image appeared alongside the others in the contest, where anyone could see it and other users could vote or comment on it. Now, images on the Bix Web site can’t be enlarged by selecting them, but Bix hopes to improve this.

Voting can be done by selecting an up or down thumb image near the contest’s description, and positive results are shown after you vote (each user is limited to one vote). Here, you can see the user names of those who vote positively for your entry. Your user profile, on another page, will show you a tally of the negative votes for contests that you’ve entered, but not the names of the users who gave you negative votes. We can understand that Bix wouldn’t want to reveal the negative voters by name so as to keep the peace on its site.

Katie also entered a contest called Lip-sync Idol, lip-synching to Celine Dion’s passionate song “I Drove All Night” using an iMac G5 with an Apple iSight camera on top. The software program within Bix automatically turned the iSight on and Katie could see the words and an image of her video recording as she went. She was able to play it back or rerecord it afterward before submitting it to Bix for the contest.

The problem with Web cameras is that even expert lip-synchers might look bad because of audio transmitting faster than visual movement. This happened at a few spots in Katie’s recording and in that of other users in the contest, making their lip movements look a beat behind the audio.

Creating our own contest was uncomplicated, too. We chose from a list of formats that included lip-synch, karaoke, dance, a cappella, comedy, art, photography, beauty, writing and other. Next, we chose whether to keep our contest private, by entering a limited list of email addresses, or to open it to the public. We then gave our contest a title (Scenic Photography) and a brief description before setting the start and end dates.

At any time, you can select your user name from the top right corner of the site to see information about your profile, the contests you’ve entered and the contests you’ve started. You can also remove an entry when you don’t want it online anymore. Another option allows you to export your entry to your MySpace page or other Web site, so everyone can see your talent — not just those voting on

For now, winning a contest started by a regular user — not a corporation — just means earning satisfaction. But users who have created some contests already are giving away prizes of their own. Bix just announced a karaoke contest of its own with a $50,000 cash prize.

If you think you’re talented, or if you get a laugh just looking at those who think they are, you’ll enjoy It’s easy to get the hang of, and it has a lot of potential to expand. We think people of all ages with enjoy this user-friendly Web site.

You’ve Come a Long Way, Silicon Valley

December 17, 2013 at 3:47 pm PT

Oh, the Places Your Phone Will Find

December 03, 2013 at 3:14 pm PT

Xbox One: Digital Home Base for the Living Room

November 26, 2013 at 3:25 pm PT

An iPad That’s Mini in Screen Size Only

November 19, 2013 at 3:06 pm PT

Latest Video

View all videos »

Search »

Walt Mossberg’s Product Guides

Desktop PC’s and Laptops

The Laptops to Buy

Digital Cameras

Digital Cameras Improve Zooms, HD Function