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Goldbloom says the site’s appeal for competitors is the intoxicating feeling of rising on the leader boards. Those who submit the best solutions rise to the top of the leader board for that competition, something that users love. “You want to keep climbing the ladder,” Goldbloom says.

Will Cukierski, a biomedical engineering doctoral student at Rutgers University, not only likes climbing the ladder, but also sees the competitions as a way to get a toehold in the job market. He’s participated in about half a dozen Kaggle competitions, winning first place in one and getting near the top in others. “It’s a little bit of fun and a little bit of business,” he says.

Though most of the people working on Kaggle’s competitions have backgrounds in data mining, winners usually come from a different field than the one the competition represents–probably because they’re able to approach the problem from a new angle, Goldbloom says.

Barbara Chow, education director for the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, is hoping this outside-the-box thinking helps her group’s challenge, which seeks a better way to automatically score student essays. The contest, which offers a $60,000 grand prize and ends April 30, is running concurrently with a private competition that includes major companies already working in the automated essay scoring field.

Though she’s not sure if Kaggle’s community will come up with the best result, Chow said the Hewlett Foundation decided to experiment with running the challenge since the site has “great access to the right people.”

Cukierski is one of these people—his team is hard at work on the competition, trying to best current automated offerings and create a solution that approaches the grades humans give. How are they doing so far? “Our preliminary results show we’re already pretty close to the humans,” he says. 

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Credit: Kaggle

Tagged: Computing, data mining, data, Netflix Prize

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