Brendan Sudol
November 2015

18F's Micro-purchase Experiment: Why I Bid $1

A million dollars isn't cool, you know what's cool? One dollar.

Last week, 18F completed their first experiment to contract for open-source contributions (announcement, details, lessons). They picked out a piece of work on the product roadmap for their CALC tool, and ran a “reverse auction” to determine the winning bid. The bidding started at $3,499 and lasted for 3 days. With two hours to go, the price was down to $499. I then made the minimum bid of $1 and won the contract.

A bunch of people seemed to get upset about this. The story made the front page of Hacker News, some thought I was trying to “game the system” or “troll the bid system”, others thought it wasn’t “ethical” or “legal”, and many thought I would never complete the work.

I was suprised by this reaction. It didn’t seem controversial to me. Writing some code to help out the government and the general public—what a unique opportunity! And from the trend of bids, it looked like the price was heading to a low number. Who knows, perhaps it would have even gone negative if that was possible, as in people paying their own money to participate.

In any case, several people have asked me why I bid $1. So here goes:

Simply put, it’s because I wanted to work on the project, and knew the minimum bid would guarantee me of that. Now why did I want to work on the project? A lot of reasons!

  1. I love what 18F, the U.S. Digital Service, and co. are doing to revamp government services, and I thought it’d be fun to get involved and contribute to the civic cause.

  2. I use open source technologies on a daily basis, and this seemed like a great opportunity to give back a little.

  3. I love working on little web projects in my free time. This is $1 more than I make on those, and this one actually helps people.

  4. I figured it would be cool to be a part of this first micro-purchase experiment, and demonstrate that there are people (at least 1 but I think a lot more) willing and excited to help out on meaningful, civic-minded initiatives.

  5. 18F did a great job of defining a clear and contained problem that I knew I could accomplish over a couple days in my spare time.

I’d like to give a shout-out to my friend and partner in crime for this project, Andy Chosak. We split up the various tasks and then polished and checked everything together.

Overall, I thought it was a great experience and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Now I need to figure out what to do with my princely spoils :)