This morning—influenced, as I too often am, by John Camp's enthusiasm—I find myself mulling over the idea of having a photo contest on TOP.
The details would need to be worked out, of course, but I have a few ideas. For one, because "polls" are so easy to set up on the site, we could let the judges pick the finalists and then leave the final choice up to readers, "American Idol" style. It also seems to me that we could also tie it to a print offer somehow.
One thing I'm pretty sure of is that I wouldn't want to use it as a mechanism to generate income for TOP. Entry fees are useful for contests, because they tend to discourage frivolous entries that simply waste the administrators' time. But given that I object to contests that exploit the entrants for gain, how could I turn around and run just such a contest? One of the things I like about TOP is that nobody is directly exploited—we make money from you when you buy things from Amazon and B&H through our links, and when you "subscribe." But those are things you do voluntarily, and you don't get anything extra for doing them.
Granted, nobody would be "forced" to enter a contest, either, but I think I would consider it a conflict of interest if the site were making money from it.
Ross Chambers, in the comments, linked to an article about corruption in the judging of piano competitions. It got me to pondering what contests are good for when they work like they're supposed to—when the judges are fair and impartial, the winners well considered. And it seems to me that the best outcome of a contest is for the winner to become better known. If that's true, then that's one thing a TOP contest could certainly be good for, because we have a large enough audience that the winner would receive significant publicity.
Definitely something to think about.