Better Know Your Internets

Cute Overload: When Google Doodles and 7-Year-Olds Meet

How one NYC agency helped Google collect and index its 114,000 Doodle4Google submissions.
 Cute Overload: When Google Doodles and 7 Year Olds Meet

The winning doodle, by Dylan Hoffman, Age 7. (googleblog.blogspot.com)

Last week, Google announced the winner of Doodle4Google, the company’s annual contest that solicits drawings from students in grades K-12. After collecting 114,000 submissions from kids all over the country, Google and some guest judges–including Katy Perry and Jordin Sparks–selected Wisconsin 2nd grader Dylan Hoffman as this year’s grand prize winner.

In response to the contest’s theme of “If I could travel in time, I’d visit…”, Mr. Hoffman whipped out his colored pencils and produced a sweet drawing of a pirate chilling on an island with his pet parrot. For that, he received “$30,000 college scholarship, a Chromebook computer and a $50,000 technology grant for his school.”

“We opened some of them and glitter went flying,” Sheri Westfal, the senior VP of Tenthwave, a digital agency located in Manhattan, told Betabeat with a laugh.

For its fifth annual Doodle4Google contest, Google chose Tenthwave to collect, scan and build software that could easily cull and categorize the kids’s submissions. This wouldn’t seem like a big deal, except that all of the submissions were delivered via snail mail, so they had to be physically scanned and entered into the computer system before they could be catalogued.

“We did everything in an offline environment,” explained Ms. Westfal. “Everything has to go through old school mail because we needed a parent’s signature. So all of the entries were sent to the office in Melville, NY, and we knew we’d have to be able to have access to all the entries as they came in, so our staff opened every single entry.”

“The mailmen loved us, the Fed Ex guys all loved us. There was one day we got 40 buckets of mail!” she added.

The team at Tenthwave had to comb through the thousands of submissions and disqualify any that had used a logo or anything trademarked, as that was against the contest rules. Then they scanned the submissions into a computer program they built that allowed judges from all over the country–including Googlers, Tenthwave employees and the celebrity judges–to access submissions at the same time. They also built a safeguard so that Googlers could catch problems with submissions that the Tenthwave team hadn’t noticed.

“There could be things that maybe we didn’t realize,” said Ms. Westfal. “It could be an entry that was similar to last year or whatever–so we gave the Googlers access to be able to disqualify entries as well.”

The drawings revolved around the contest’s theme, but their subjects ran the gamut.

“We got lots of dinosaurs,” Ms. Westfal added.

The Tenthwave team started on the Doodle4Google project back in the fall of 2011, but the contest didn’t begin until January and didn’t end until March. Ms. Westfal said that people would come to the Tenthwave office in Melville just to drop off their doodles.

“They’d show up at all times of the day dropping off entries,” she said. “We were here late on the last night and we hear a knock at our office door. We go out there and there’s this little girl who had been dropped off and she had gotten lost and she was racing to get here because it was so important that she got her doodle on time. We accepted it, and thanked her.”

In the end, 50 state winners were picked, and Mr. Hoffman was named the national winner.

“These are little kids that are so talented,” gushed Ms. Westfal. “Every once and a while you would open [an entry] and you’re like, ‘How does a kid actually do this?'”

This might just be our jealousy speaking, but the winning drawing does seem curiously professional for a 2nd grader. But don’t worry, skeptics: Ms. Westfal assured us that all winning entrants must sign a document where they legally attest that a child did the drawing.

Follow Jessica Roy on Twitter or via RSS. jroy@observer.com