Investors.com published a piece last week titled "Winning The Contest Of Ideas", discussing how great innovations in science and technology have developed via the creation of competitions.
From improving Netflix's recommendation engine to Charles Lindbergh winning $25k for being the first person to fly over the Atlantic non-stop, organized prizes are providing a much-needed motivational factor for individuals to push themselves.
Competitions are more than just carrots for an individual to chase after, though. They're facilitating a "game-like" platform for massive collaboration.
"There is no way we could have hired (thousands) of the world's best scientists to do this," said Swasey. "We received exponentially more thinking and work that we could have hoped to have paid for." - Investors.com
Google Lunar X PRIZE is just one of many who have caught on to this strategy to harness participatory energy. Foursquare, a location-based social network, is arguably on the cusp of augmented reality via using a game-like structure tied to your real world interactions. Institute For The Future recently used a one-up-type platform to explore forecasting the positive and negative possibilities that would emerge if everyone owned a CubeSat similar to how everyone owns an iPod. Game-like structures sometimes can provide a "safe zone" for scientists to participate more by having less inhibitions about "right" or "wrong" solutions.
Recently, NASA announced their Lunabotics Mining Competition in order to "engage and retain students in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) in a competitive environment which may result in innovative ideas and solutions that could be applied to actual lunar excavation for NASA." This ability to actively contribute to pushing the space program forward instead of just passively pay attention to it is what inspired me to create Spacehack.org.
To quote Albert Einstein (with a nod to Jane McGonigal's site):
"Games are the most elevated form of investigation"