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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]

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We really are family

Moms group takes a field trip
Moms group takes a field trip.

All week I have been contemplating what I might put in my heart-rending concession speech, to be published promptly after the polls close on this Weblog Awards whirligig. Then I thought: why wait ’til the end of the night? Because what I was going to say would have been identical regardless of the outcome. Plus I have been studiously unaware of the proceedings for days, anyway.

See, I stopped checking the Weblog Awards “Best New Blog” poll numbers a coupla days back, after the party got really nasty. Don’t get me wrong; I appreciated that some folks stepped up and reigned in their over-zealous party guests who had been hurling epithets and eggs and ad hominem attacks in good-natured fits of enthusiasm. “No offense,” I imagine the freshly chastised party guests saying, “you pathetic little salad muncher.” Tosser. Whatever it is. My Know-It-All Brother-In-Law has intimated that if I watched more late night television or read more Hustler I would know that this not a reference to vegetarianism.

Ah, but the feel of spittle on the face is just gross, and you know, there are two kinds of people. People who haul off and punch someone who spits on them, and people who remove their pressed hankie out of their breast pocket, daub the spit off, carefully re-fold the hanky, return it to the pocket, and then turn and walk away. Which, after leaning over to a friend or two and saying “That was totally gross” and then thanking the civilizing party host over at the blog whence the spittle came, I did.

See, I thought I was standing in line at the carousel. Let me explain. Some other lesbian parent bloggers and I were interested in opening up lines of communication between our rich online community and that of straight parent bloggers. So we encouraged folks to nominate LGBT family blogs for the “Best Parenting” blog category. As an afterthought, I included my blog in “Best New Blog.” What the hell, I thought; more folks will stop by and take a look as they’re idly perusing the nominees.

Imagine my surprise — shock, flabberghastedness, and sure, glee — when I found that this here blog was selected as a finalist. By what process heaven only knows; I’m still convinced it was a typo. (“Thespian Cad?”) But suddenly I was no longer in line for the carousel, chatting with other parents, whose shared guardianship of young people would help us speak to each other in tones we both understood. Now I was lined up for the roller coaster. A really raucous roller coaster, with some nice people onboard (Konagod and Reformed Chicks Blabbing were both quite gracious quite early). But packed in with us in those close quarters were also a handful of chumps capable of sucking the fun out of any roller coaster ride.

This week’s “Best New Blog” voting ride — this relatively inconsequential facet of blogospheric navel-gazing — rapidly became highly polarized between Right vs. Lesbian. And it did so for reasons that I’m convinced have very little to do with the merits or demerits of any finalist blog’s content, or the value it provides to its intended community, or the elegance of its graphic design, user interface, or copy. Which is a pity, because if these factors were the only ones influencing this contest, I suspect we’d see a pretty different voting outcome for all the finalist blogs. I certainly doubt it would have become what has amounted to a protracted, two-blog, arm wrestling match.

But regardless of the content of any of our blogs, they — not to mention the dedication and GOTV acumen of the friendship networks that have propelled their votes — speak to central issues at this cultural moment. The ascendancy of the “gay marriage” movement. The “gayby” boom. The exhaustion a great many people have over the amplification of divisive “values” issues when our nation is engaged in a calamitous war, when the economy and global climatic issues cry out for attention. I believe that it is the collective weight of these larger cultural issues, for which our blogs are mere stand-ins, that have propelled this hundred some-odd-post, single-authored, very narrowly defined niche-market parenting blog into any kind of competitive position against a group-authored, broadly defined political commentary blog.

Whether on a roller coaster or a carousel, what unites our community — and in this case, by this “our” community I mean not just LGBT families, but people who support us, and they are obviously legion — is a very, very strong desire to see to it that the world our children grow up in is more filled with love, less filled with hate. I could be more complicated about it but there’s no need. We work toward this by supporting one another, in person, in groups, at events, and online. And many of us believe that the more other folks know about LGBT families — and the clearer it is that legions support us — the less spittle there’ll be. Not on us queers; we’re frickin’ used to it. I mean on our kids.

Because when people spit on me for being a lesbian, that spit hits my kids. And my kids will watch people spit on me, and they will look at those people, and remember what their faces looked like when they were spitting. My daughter will grow to be a woman one day; my son, not yet born, will grow to be a man. Chances are they will be heterosexual, and I suspect they will not for a moment tolerate a world in which that kind of hatred is tolerable, not for one post, not for one day. At a party, on a rollercoaster, or anywhere.

Until my kids grow up, my job is to squat down next to them, when the situation calls for it, and do a very good job of explaining why anyone might spit on Mama and Baba, essentially because we love each other. I will hazard an analogy. I will try to explain how most people are right-handed, and some people are left-handed, and it’s always been that way. I will try to explain how no one knows how a person acquires “handedness,” but in the past left-handed people have been quite persecuted, and even without outright persecution, the world is organized around the presumption that everyone is a “rightie.”

Now imagine if “right-handedness” was thought to be natural and “left-handedness” unnatural; imagine some thought the one is following God’s plan, the other is a sin; the one deserves full legal rights and protections, the other should be grateful for some variant on Separate But Equal. I will then say, Love, at this moment in history, is like this. Mama and Baba’s love is “left-handed” in a “right-handed” world.

Then after I do a decent job of making hate and fear seem reasonable, I will try to explain to them how critical it is — how very vital it is to the purity of their spirits — that they not do the same. Love the spitter; hate the spit.

At the outset of this week, in reference to the heterogeneity of the various “Best New Blog” finalists, I wrote:

I find the fresh breeze flowing back and forth across heretofore unlikely combinations of authors and readers really interesting. If we were all at the same cocktail party we’d be in opposite corners of the room, either studiously ignoring the others, or maybe even pitching Vienna sausages at The Enemy. Me, I’m a wannabe Bodhisattva, so it is my position to be the Enemy of no one, except perhaps Time. (Though I do think Time started it first.)

Yeah, well it’s all fun and games until somebody puts out an eye. And promptly after I caught a Vienna sausage in mine, I stopped sniffing that fresh breeze. Said to myself: “Woops! I knew there was a reason I never wandered over to that side of the cocktail party.” But I know from another finalist in the “Best of the Rest” category that dialog has continued to one degree or another, and she, for one, has been contributing to a respectful exchange. For which I am infinitely grateful. Because if anything of any real benefit comes of this week’s horse race, it will be some degree of increased mutual respect, maybe even for some, increased compassion. All our children desperately need that to be able to face the real issues of their generation. And that’s the only prize worth fighting for.

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Lear goes to lunch

Pops @ Val's
At our family’s dining room-away-from-home.

There are two kinds of lovers of literature: those who savor every word and image, regarding characters like they were old friends and old enemies. Then there are the rank opportunists, shameless scavengers who traipse through Great Books with the sole intention of poaching a random line here and there for later use. Usually out of context. (“Out, vile jelly, where is thy lustre now?”, for example, while scraping the last of the Smucker’s out of the jar.) I must admit to you now that I am among those ignominious readers huddled in the latter camp.

So it was no surprise that as soon as I clapped my eyes on the tragedy of King Lear, back in high school, I was all ready with my shoplifter’s deep-pocketed coat. When Lear said to Albany, “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child,” I knew my sister and I had found our motto. You see, our dad has asked for it in every which-a way, mostly by teasing us relentlessly and having an Olympic sense of humor at the same time. So quite naturally my sister and I have been teasing, taunting, goading, ribbing, and razzing him since we were able to wrap our tiny mouths around our first syllables.

In our family, the Lear statement morphed into many variations, and came to rest at “How sharper than a serpent’s tongue it is to have a toothless child.” Thereafter, we simply referred to my sister’s and my insolence as examples of our being “toothless.” Of course the sweet paradox was that we had access to this joke only because at the root, my sister’s and my love for our father was like that of Cordelia – loyal, honest – not the flattering deception of Goneril and Regan. And even when nerves were frayed and faith was tested, we knew he had a “pass” for life if for no other reason but that our mother loved him. If our mother loved him, well then.

But then of course there has never been “no other reason.” I have reasons aplenty to love my dad, and one of the deepest is that he has always wanted nothing more for my sister and me but that we become fully who we are. Whoever, and whatever that might be. If there’s anything more specific he’d add to that want, it would be that we be as happy as we can possibly be. Nothing special, really. Standard parent stuff.

When for me, self-realization entailed realizing I was a lesbian, my parents paused only momentarily at disappointment, moved fairly briskly through confusion, and strode admirably into self-education, to varying degrees, never once setting unconditional love aside. Their initial misgivings stemmed mostly from a worry that hatred and bigotry would put me at risk of verbal, maybe even physical attack. A reasonable worry. And they also – this was back in the early 1980s – couldn’t imagine how I would be able to experience parenthood, something that so hugely fulfilled each of them.

Toward the end of Lear, Cordelia speaks of her “child-changed father,” referring to how the cruelty of her sisters has broken him. I would call our dad “child-changed,” too. But for the better. Being a father stretched his heart wide open, and his commitment to loving us, whoever we would be, stretched it wider still.

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In celebration of the 100th post


A hundred stones on a beach in Tasmania, placed and photographed by a blogger (far more imaginative and intrepid than me) to symbolize and celebrate a hundred blog entries (click the photo to link to them).

Warning! Warning! It’s a blog meme. Or at least I think it is. I’m still enough of a blogospheric rookie that I had to Google it to be sure what it was.

Herewith, on the occasion of my hundredth post, Ten Lists of Ten, which I’ll be rolling out throughout the week in fits and starts. And by rolling, I mean the kind of rolling effect you’d see if someone balled up a mastadon and then pushed and pushed. Not the baseball going down a steep paved street, and it’s your turn to get it kind of rolling. I refer us all to my earlier reference to the fact that I am the very opposite of prolific, and am engaging in a high-spirited daily expunging of text &/or image, just to make all this wild wacky Weblog Awards voting seem worth the effort to both of you — you, Dad, and whoever you buttonholed to keep finding fresh wired computers in this and neighboring zip codes, over and over again. Not that I’m paying ANY attention to any of that.

Now back to the matter at hand. With this Ten Lists of Ten thing, I will try to get each list of ten to be reasonably reflective of the kind of patter I usually issue forth with here. And since I am infinitely fascinated by the universal attraction to diametric oppositions, the first List of Ten will be:

Ten pairs of “two kinds of people”

1. People who would dive head first after a ball on the field and people who would never begin to consider such a thing unless a bomb or their child or a latté were glued to it.

2. People who pause, read, and memorize descriptions on the “lost pet” flyers, and people who don’t.

3. People who knew my mom, and people who didn’t.

4. People who are confronted with a choice like this:

and take the left-hand route up to the street, and people who are confronted with said choice and take the right-hand route. Like me.

5. People who actually wait to hear your answer when they ask “How are you?” and people who, if they happen to listen following the question, are totally surprised if/when you answer truthfully.

6. People who snicker when they hear someone call out “Frau Blucher!” and people who say “Gesundheit.”

7. People who “marry” someone just like their mom, and people who “marry” someone just like their dad. Please note that this also goes for people who have to choose from two parents of the same biological sex, or one parent, or what have you. The magnetic pull to replicate the Parental Unit is undeniable.

8. People who find the humor on the other side of this link funny, and people who don’t, aka me. And that’s something, since one of my favorite “lightbulb” jokes is:

    Q: How many feminists does it take to screw in a light bulb?
    A: That’s not funny!

9. People who divide people up into two artificially opposing camps and people who don’t.

10. People who proofread everything they write before hitting “post” and people who

O this is so fun I may just have to add to the list from here to eternity. Stop me if it all starts to make your head hurt.

[Second list of ten: First words]

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