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Fifth list of ten: How to build a better weblog award competition

one hundred stones
Original photo credit: The Windgrove Center, Tasmania, AU.

In celebration of the 100th post, part five in a ten-part series.

[Warning A: Jumbo post alert! Warning B: Of little interest to anyone who didn’t ride the Weblog Awards roller coaster last week! If you didn’t, please check back in another day or two for actual content! content! content! If you did ride, and have an itch to scratch about it, read on!]

As a way to put the 2006 Weblog Awards rollercoaster ride in some perspective, I thought it might be useful to come up with some steps about how to build a better Weblog Awards system. Not that there aren’t enough bright ideas hopping about in the animated Weblog Awards Forum. But I got five more of these lists to get out, man. And I reckon I’m not the only one that suspects a different story would have unfolded, had this — and all the other finalist blogs in all the categories — had competed under a different set of rules.

Imagine my surprise, as I was rooting around the web for alternative examples, when I discovered rival weblog awards! Blogular rookie that I am, having begun in earnest only this past spring, I was utterly unaware of them. One existing award is international (the BOBs), another is older (the Bloggies). Another (The Webbys), includes a few blog categories in a survey of the web far, far beyond the blogosphere. Two split their awards into juried and “User Prize” winners (the BOBs), or juried and “People’s Voice” awards (The Webbys). The Bloggies employs a jury selection to get blogs to the finalist stage. All are designed to keep the mass voting hysteria in check by attempting, in one way or another, to limit the quantity of popular votes.

If it’s pure quality product you want to suss out, if you want some way to determine excellence in a blog, then a popular vote contest isn’t going to reveal anything more than (relative) popularity. If you’re looking for something else, I offer for your contemplation these

Ten steps to build a better weblog award competition:

1. Strive to reward excellence, while admitting from the outset that “excellence” is a fairly subjective thing and that no two people are going to be completely satisfied with a rubric by which to judge it.

2. Try to determine a rubric anyway, responsive to the features that define or characterize blogs as a distinct medium of communication. These might include such things as: quality and originality of content; value of content to intended community; quality and originality of graphic design; elegance of user interface/ readability; appropriateness of design interface to blog content; presence and liveliness of dialog with intended community.

The Deutsche Welle International Weblog Awards, called the Best of the Blogs (or BOBs), use the following guidelines, published on their Criteria page:

Prose: Linguistic expertise, intelligibility, timeliness, transparency, authenticity.

Creativity: Originality of topic, humor, use of new style elements.

Design: Appropriate design, use of multimedia elements (animations, graphics, audio, video.

User Friendliness: Interactivity, usability, linking, commentary functions, other useful properties.

The aspects listed above are not a comprehensive list and should be used as general guidelines for the jury’s decision.

The Webby Awards reward excellence in content, structure and navigation, visual design, functionality, interactivity, and overall experience. Here are their Criteria.

Most blog designs are turnkey, and most amateur bloggers work fairly modest variations on a standard template. This one is a typical example: I use WordPress’ K2 with almost no fancy customizations, except for the header bar; my contribution to its overall design is to attempt to keep some color consistency, and to break up text in the links column with the occasional image or graphic. (That is, to the extent I can figure out how to pry into the WordPress template without derailing it.)[Ed note: July 2008 I actually did spiff it up, with the help of others. So there.] Design judgment under these circumstances entails the splitting of hairs over how bloggers make use of existing templates. For this reason, original template design should be especially rewarded.

The Bloggies separate off these design templates and actually reward “Best Application for Weblogs” (2006 winner: Blogger; finalists: Flickr, Del.icio.us, Site Meter, and WordPress).

3. Determine the most reliable means by which to measure a blog’s relative success in these various realms. This would be a very hard thing to do, since much of the design and content judgments would be so subjective. Some relatively objective measures of a blog’s impact and worth within its intended community may be measurable via tracking such things as its user comments, its incoming links and traffic. Another measure would be the amount and way in which a blog is referred to on other blogs. And while there’s no accounting for taste, many can agree on essential standards for sound design and usability. Jakob Neilson, usability guru, has provided some usability standards for blogs that could provide a basis. (Even if the aesthetics of his own sites fall far short of the ideal.)

4. Subject that rubric to a wide, democratic, wiki-like review and revision, by those who make up the community to whom this measure of blogular excellence matters.

5. So that step #4 doesn’t devolve into chaos, fix the period of public review to limited time, and delegate the final determinations on the judging rubric to those who would also serve as jury for the blog competition.

6. Recruit a varied, principled jury to judge the nominees. How many people, and how the judging process might be administered, would have a lot to do with the scope of the blogosphere that the award is attempting to represent. The jury ought to comprise a panel of distinguished contributors to and observers of the blogosphere, representing a range of specializations (design, content, community impact, significance of contribution, etc.).

The International BOBs use a jury of “independent journalists, media experts, and blog experts,” and each year’s jury is profiled on their Jury page.

The Webbys are overseen by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, a 500+ member association characterized by excellence in contribution to life online:

Membership in The Academy is currently by invitation only and is limited to those individuals who have catalyzed great achievements on the Internet, demonstrated extraordinary talent in a traditional medium, or who possess in-depth knowledge of new media and comprehensive familiarity with a broad range of sites within a category.

Could be this is why the Webbys have been called “The Oscars of the internet” by The New York Times.

7. Make the judging process as transparent and as rigorous as possible. The Webbys’ “judging process” page provides a great example of this.

8. Acknowledge that a means of communication as wide-open and unregulated as the blogosphere is likely to foster many blogs which straddle multiple subject area categories, complicating the process of parsing them into discrete subject area categories. The Webbys, which aim to reward excellence in web site design including but also far beyond the blogosphere, provide more than 65 categories. Notably, no “generalized” category exists, minimizing the confounding experience of comparing blogs with dramatically different purposes and scope.

9. Find a way to live with the fact that apples will be compared to oranges which will be compared to camshafts. And that no matter how the process is conducted — no matter how transparent, how well-thought out, how wisely substantiated by professional consensus — many folks will feel cheated, rooked, had, screwed, and swindled. Because there are two kinds of people: good sports and poor sports. Both will want to play, and everyone will consider themselves good sports, and their competitors poor sports.

10. If a select panel of distinguished jurors seems inappropriate for a medium as garrulous as the blogosphere, here’s a concession. The Webbys provide a parallel competition, the “People’s Voice.” There, the general online community can vote on the finalists chosen from the nominees. But this stands parallel to the “winners” chosen by the panel of professionals.

It’s not clear to me how the Webbys’ “People’s Voice” vote is conducted. How to narrow things down to the good ole fashioned, one person, one vote? That has got to be the $64K question. No one is likely to provide their Social Security number or their driver’s license number, two of the few data points which could be uniquely verifiable. Yet every other data point even just slightly less private — email address, phone number — isn’t exclusive to just one person. That is, plenty of people use multiple email addresses and phone numbers.

For better and for worse, this is what the Bloggies do:

•  Only one nomination form and one finalist voting form may be submitted per person.
•  E-mail addresses are required to vote. You must use your own address.
•  If you attempt to submit a second ballot, your first one will be erased.

The BOBs do this:

While there’s no way to eliminate fraud from Internet voting, we’re trying to avoid it by making voters — the real human ones — enter text from a randomly generated image to confirm their votes.

So they, as do the Weblog Awards, surely field multiple votes from the hyper-motivated.

Whatever the case, if the “popular” part of the awards were to be determined by a one vote-per-computer, one vote-per-24hrs spree over the course of ten days, you can be guaranteed the following:

  • voters with access to multiple computers (e.g. at work and at home) will be privileged;
  • competitors will be at an advantage when they spread the word far and wide, and therefore active or activatable online networks will be at an advantage;
  • an important or dramatic issue perceived to be at stake can inspire such a network to emerge under pressure; and
  • feverish competitiveness will be built into the process, particularly if an issue is perceived to be at stake in any of the competitions.

If all that sounds like fun, then great! Cause that’s what I think just happened with the 2006 Weblog Awards! But the “winning” blogs are not necessarily standard-bearers for excellence in design, content, or even utility to intended audience. They represent those whose readership and/or community is either the largest, or the most motivated, or both. Maybe they’re motivated by quality product, maybe not. All’s we know is they’re motivated.

And so we roll to a stop back here at this particular assemblage of lesbo bon mots. I gave up trying to solve the abiding mystery surrounding how in the Sam Hill this blog made it as a finalist (I’ve run out of alternative readings on the blog title; perhaps someone read it right, and thought these were the sweet musings of Papa Ethridge, or Papa Lang, or Papa O’Donnell). But there it was, and there it stayed, and it netted a sizable community of voters with a sizable motivation to vote, which has been in turns surprising, humbling, and inspirational. To those of you erstwhile voters who stick around as readers: I’ll try to live up to your expectations, on behalf of my cute kid, and all sorts of other cute kids in LGBT families that I think she’s standing in for. But it’ll have to be back at my pre-Sweeps Week publishing output, though. Every other day, weekends and childbirths off.

[Sixth list of ten: Things I have in common with dads]

Comments { 4 }

Fourth list of ten: Thanks to those who got out the vote

one hundred stones
Original photo credit: The Windgrove Center, Tasmania, AU.

In celebration of the 100th post, part four in a ten-part series.

In what I hope will be one of the last direct references to the virtual roller derby that was the Weblog Awards, below are, near as I can figure,

Ten contingents to whom I owe thanks for helping LesbianDad become the little hairy-legged blog that could.

Many in these contingents are already among the herds upon herds of old, established readers who comb the site daily for life-sustaining content! content! content! But a good smattering looked in for the first time this past week. Howdy!

1. Personal family and friendship networks; also their friends, and their friends, and their friends. Some are Very Important People &/or veteran organizers, with bodacious email lists and much enthusiasm for supporting a friend and a worthy cause.

2. The very large, very active community of online lesbian family bloggers & readers thereof, primarily connected to one another via Mombian and LesbianFamily.org. Also their friends, and their friends, and their friends. This bunch of folks has a very powerful motivation to increase awareness and understanding about lesbian families, believe strongly in the benefits of some of that work happening online, and therefore would have been immensely motivated to vote daily and to continue to tell their friends to do so.

3. Hundreds of Northern California LGBT families, via the Our Family Coalition email list. Also their friends, and their friends, and their friends. For motivation see rationale #2 above.

3a. [Later note!] The six-hundred-plus subscribers to the Yahoo! group of which I’m a member, made up of “professional women writers from around the world” who “discuss the vocation and the craft.”

4. Untold quantities of San Francisco Bay Area lesbians on a legendary regional email list serve. For motivation see rationale #2 above.

5. Sundry Democratic Underground readers, via a note there by an Our Family Coalition member. For motivation see some of rationale #2 above; add to this also general-purpose hetero ally ire at homophobic hate speech from some quarters of the competition.

6. The mighty Unitarian Universalists and their vast national email network. Or at least the mighty emailing fingers of the Northern California and Michigan people. I spoke at a service at the Oakland UU once in June, and have friends who are very active in the congregation. Many (a) read this blog religiously (pun intended, I suppose), happily supportive of its essential message, and some also (b) got hecka steamed over the homophobic hate speech.

7. One or two actual random people who might have simply run across the blog for the first time when seeing it listed as a finalist, and who voted for it for any number of reasons. (e.g., Thought it was actually about Russian trends after misreading the title as “Caspian Fad.”)

8. One little dickens who figured out some way to scam the Diebolds at Weblog Awards Central, evidently to the tune of about a hundred votes, the sneak*. Except they got sucked back up into the ether where they came from by the Weblog Awards Quality Assurance vacuum. Which is exactly where they belong. *[Later note, after netting some insider info from Weblog Awards central: There were three sneaks! From three different parts of the country (none local)! To the tune of hundreds of votes! Yow! Fortunately the WAQA vacuum is powerful!]

9. My doctor and the intern who was with him when I got a check up last week. Well, I don’t really know for sure whether my doc voted. I just asked him and he said he would, and he’s such a nice, friendly man. Don’t know about the intern, though. I kinda think he was just kissing up to me to look good in front of the doctor.

10. A handful of other bloggers who recommended folks vote for LD, like The Other Mother, Mombian, Looky, Daddy, politickybitch, TiFaux, the buddha is my dj, A Life Less Convenient and even (what a prince), on the last day, thinking it was a squeaker between this and another blog, fellow “Best New Blog” category finalist Konagod. The Five-Forty ought to snag some kind of commendation for “Best Sense of Humor” or “Best Sport.” Plus while we’re at it there was this nice gal on MySpace. Oh! And (as I later discover), folks at Daily Kos.

Thank you all. Except you, #8, you naughty cheaters.

By the way, not a factor: The Lesbian Mafia. There is none; never has been. A vicious rumor. If there were a Lesbian Mafia you know they’d be the first I’d have called, and the one guy that seems to be running this whole operation at Weblog Awards Central would still be struggling right now, wrists tied behind his back in a broom closet somewhere, duck tape over his mouth, an iPod plugged into his ears with Indigo Girls on an endless loop.

Also not a factor: My dad. Not that he didn’t try. But he’s 85 years old for cryin’ out loud. He is still upset by the fact that you can’t get a phone to work by simply picking it up when it rings and setting it down on the receiver when you’re done. (So am I.) But it took me over 20 minutes to talk him through voting just once in the computer room at his retirement home. (“Okay, now it says Google again in big letters” etc.).

Another night he tried again on his own, and left a phone message: “Um…. honey… Trying to vote here…. “ His voice trails off. Then he’s back on again. “Oh! There’s the baby!”, referring to the image at the top o’ the blog header. That came out in the delivery style of the old Tonight Show sidekick Ed McMahon (“Heeeere’s Johnny!”) Then he fell quiet again, there was some rustling, a voice in the distance. “Um… okay. Ooops. I’ll call you back.”

Thanks for everything, though, Pops. It’s not the quantity of votes that count; it’s the quality.

[Fifth list of ten: How to build a better weblog award competition]

Comments { 9 }

Third list of ten: Crisis/grief support

one hundred stones
Original photo credit: The Windgrove Center, Tasmania, AU.

In celebration of the 100th post, part three in a ten-part series.

As regular readers of this assemblage of lesbo bon mots will recall, my parenthood is markedly influenced by loss. My inaugural post introduced this theme; I named one of my exceedingly obscure tags “Seraphim/dakini” to note the recurring presence of these spirits in my life and the life of my emerging parenthood; and my gratitude for pretty much everything (yes, everything!) stems directly from knowing too well what I have to lose.

Since a friend just recently found herself in the position of wanting to support someone close to her who’d lost her spouse, and another is currently a pillar to a friend in the latter stages of a terminal illness, I am freshly reminded of the relevance. So I take a deep breath and offer up

Ten helpful things that people can do or say in times of extreme crisis or grief

1. Bring food, without asking. Leave it at the door with a note, if you don’t want to disturb. And bring food that can keep (frozen stuff that can be re-heated can be as good as a warm dish, since they’re not obligated to have an appetite right then and there).

2. Bring food in containers that DON’T NEED TO BE RETURNED. Can’t stress that enough. Otherwise the house will become a veritable Amway Depot of tupperware, pots, etc., each of which represents enormous generosity (which is good) but each of which needs to be returned. Or even stored somewhere. (Which is yet one more stressor or problem to solve.)

3. Step up, or if you can’t, find someone who can step up and organize other people’s generosity on behalf of those you’re supporting. Oddly, as everyone who’s lived through (or, bless you, are currently living through) a huge family crisis will know, a landslide of generosity, while an enormous boon, still needs to be fielded. And if you’re working on trying to save someone’s life, or trying to make out the smokey remains of a world that they just left, figuring out whether or not you need another plate of lasagne can often put you over the edge. Someone else who loves and knows you and your home can and should field the calls on the lasagne for you.

4. Employ the internet to aid in the support. You can find pre-fab sites that enable families to have an online “guestbook” of words of support; more and more, simply starting a family blog can do the trick, especially if its design enables a user’s including additional pages, such as privacy-protected phone lists, calendars to organize who’s bringing what food when, etc.

5. Support the supporters. In other words, look carefully at the sphere of people who are affected by the crisis or loss, identify those who are doing the most work in supporting the key folks, and then support them. If you don’t feel close enough to the affected people, but want to help, rest assured that the helpers are spreading themselves as thin as they can and could use someone to buy them groceries, walk their dog, etc.

6. Unless they’ve asked for no phone calls, call. Leave sweet, short messages; just say you’re thinking of them. You could certainly ask whether they need anything, but that’s almost a formality. It’s the work of loved ones around those in crisis or grief to work really hard to try to figure out those needs. Unless they have superhuman powers, folks in crisis or extreme grief are unlikely to (a) be able to articulate just exactly what they need, and/or (b) be able to return your call for hours, days, weeks, months, maybe years. Take no offense, of course, but also by all means DO THE WORK OF GETTING BACK IN TOUCH WITH THEM, consistently. Even if they don’t have the energy to call back, they still benefit from the reminders of your concern. And when they are up to answering the phone, they will need your love.

7. Attend to the little creatures who may be forgotten or under-tended in the wake of the crisis or grief. Meaning kids, pets, even plants. Anyone who has lived through (or, bless you, is living through) crisis or extreme grief will know that kids show signs of stress and grief differently — differently than adults, and also differently than one another (see some of the links at the bottom of this post for more on this). But don’t think that because they aren’t crying, or talking about their feelings, they don’t feel the distress around them, and/or aren’t in distress themselves. So volunteer to be with them, restore their daily routine, etc.

8. Pay extremely close attention, however, to the changing emotional needs of the folks you are trying to help. These needs can be logical or illogical; predictable or unpredictable. It matters not. Until their world begins to rotate on its axis in the proper direction (and during crisis and in extreme grief it most certainy does not), it is not anyone else’s place to quibble over how to help them. So for example, if taking one of their kids out of the house for an afternoon at Chuck E Cheese’s seems like a good idea to you, and even to the kid, but it destabilizes the parents who need to have all their chicks counted and in the nest, try to think of some way to help divert the kids at the house.

9. When you’re far away and can only send your goodwill in a note or a gift, don’t worry about what to say. Really. Telling them the simplest truth is good enough: You are so sorry. You want to help in any way you can. You will be in touch. Many people may become quite upset if you say “I know just what you’re feeling” unless it’s really, truly, the case. Grief over loss is so, so idiosyncratic. Siblings, probably even identical twins feel differently over the same loss. No loss is the same. Your efforts to try to understand how they feel, and provide love, are good enough.

10. Be patient; indicate that patience to them. Help them to know that months and years from now, you will still be there. The worst thing in the world for a person to hear, when they’re struggling in the wake of a crisis and paddling across an ocean of grief, is “You should be feeling better by now!” As utterly obvious as that might seem to be, bizarrely, too many people hear that message. Either directly or by implication. They’ll be done grieving when they’re done. Meanwhile, help them find ways to live with their phantom limbs; sit with them; listen to their stories; help them feel fine about crying all they need to — if they’re the crying type (and help them feel fine about not crying, if they’re not). Hand them a hanky. Bring them water so they don’t dehydrate. Take a deep breath.

Here are some further resources I’ve found helpful:

The Dougy Center for Grieving Children and Families
Compassionate Friends
Growth House
Kidsaid

[Fourth list of ten: Thanks to those who got out the vote]

Comments { 10 }

Second List of Ten: First words

one hundred stones
Original photo credit: The Windgrove Center, Tasmania, AU.

In celebration of the 100th post, part two in a ten-part series.

You didn’t think that a doting parent could actually resist the magnetic pull of her child’s first words, did you? Which were uttered over the course of the first hundred posts of this digital paean to parenthood? Yup. So (omitting the obvious Mama and Baba, which did come first), here’s a breezy romp through

My child’s first ten words

1. “eyeball,” Feb 3 (not shitting you. eyeball. she was coached by her cousin.)

2. “Buddha” (pronounced bu-bu, but she was pointing to a statue of the big B), Feb 10

3. “light,” Feb 11

4. “Nonnie” (her across the street chum, technically “Norrie” but why split hairs over a few consonants), Feb 16

5. “yogurt” (pronounced yo-yo), Feb 16

6. “knock knock” (while knocking, mind you. though a joke did not follow, I’m very sorry to report), Feb 17

7. “open it” (pronounced op-it, but I swear it was in reference to opening something), Feb 18

8. “goat” (yahoo! I can’t explain why but I love goats!), Feb 19

9. “cookie,” Feb 20

10. “chimes,” Feb 21

There are oh, so many more. Now she’s wandering around the house critiquing disestablishmentarianism. As apple sauce dribbles down her chin. But this was way back then, in the heady days of her SEVENTEENTH MONTH ON EARTH, people. That would be less than one and a half years (I am so glad she is out of the “months” age range and into the “year + months” age range; I never could keep track). Proud? Yeah, youbetcha. Now I understand why that word is so often coupled with “parent.”

[Third list of ten: Crisis/grief support]

Comments { 3 }