The theory behind the project is to recognize ideas that are effectively scalable, meaning the efforts and creations of a few people could wind up making a difference on a global scale.
The criteria for deciding the winners covered:
- how many people each idea affected;
- how serious the problems the idea solves were;
- how quickly the idea could be turned into reality;
- how simple and cost-effective the idea was; and
- how much longevity the idea had.
The entries for the contest were made back in the fall of 2008, with a shortlist originally scheduled for January 2009. As the company had 150,000 entries, the process proved much longer and it decided to put 16 rather than 100 ideas to a public vote. However, this vote only “informed” the selection panel and Google noted that the top five vote-getters wouldn’t necessarily be the winners. This was partly done so that the voting could be open to anyone without registration, rather than having to worry about fraudulent voting.
The five awards are:
- $3 million to FIRST, a project running team competitions to inspire young people to go into science and technology careers.
- $2 million to the Khan Academy, which provides free online teaching, with the money funding both new courses and translation of existing videos.
- $2 million to Public.Resource.Org to being more public documents online to make them more accessible.
- $2 million to the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences, which currently operates a graduate-level maths and science education center in South Africa, to fund further centers across Africa
- $1 million for testing at Shweeb, a project aiming to produce a monorail system powered by the cycling power of the passengers (pictured).