The controversial 2007 SA Blog Awards

Stii’s post about Stormhoek not making it into the nominations of the 2007 SA Blog Awards has stirred up quite a debate about how blogs make it into the nominations and how the whole process if judged.  A couple bloggers who maintain pretty good blogs were not nominated and have varying views on that (take a look at Colin Daniels’ comment for his views which then sparked off a fairly heated debate in the comments to Stii’s post).

One of the big issues is why blogs like Stormhoek (which Mike Stopforth pointed out is ranked around 9 187 in Technorati), Colin Daniels’ blog, Vincent Maher’s blog and others were not included in the nominations.  Heck, Wired Gecko didn’t make it either.  The voting process has been described as "backpatting" to a "large scale group masturbation" (Jaxon Rice pointed out that a better term is probably a "circlejerk").  It seems that it was necessary to become a "comment troll" to get any attention and be voted for in sufficient numbers to make it into the nominations list (this puts bloggers who don’t comment at a disadvantage and I’ll get to that later).  Another big criticism was the judging process.  The judges are also bloggers, many of whom had their blogs nominated (although I understand there was an effort to ensure that judges didn’t adjudicate categories their blogs were included in) and there is a suggestion in a number of the comments that there was a degree of cronyism as well in the judging process (here and here) (according to Wikipedia, cronyism is "partiality to long-standing friends, especially by appointing them to public office without regard for their qualifications" – basically you vote for your buddies because they are your buddies without regard for whether they deserve to be voted for).

Vincent Maher eventually weighed in with a post of his own which I’ll take the liberty of quoting here (hope you don’t mind Vincent):

The crux of the post was that some notable blogs are not notable in their presence, and the comments go a little further and question why the judging panel features stronly in the list of finalists. Here is my take on this, in point form:

  1. The ethical issues and credibility issues about judging competitions was solved centuries ago: the judges are not allowed to enter the competition, neither are employees of the sponsors and family members. Nothing new there, so why not just do it the right way?
  2. The comparison was made between the World Cup Cricket and these awards, but slightly wrongly. This is like the umpires entering a team and lifting their fingers every five minutes while they umpire the other games – see, that’s the right analogy.
  3. Bitterness and genuine concern about legitimacy are two different things. No-one wants the SA Blog Awards to appear like a gangbang but that is what happens when brothers and sisters are caught naked in the bedroom together.
  4. There is already a lot of chatter about the same people showing up on the everyone’s blogrolls and vague sense that what was once respectful backpatting has become large scale group masturbation amongst the local blogger power bloc. What this does is it lends some credibility to those thoughts, EVEN THOUGH THEY ARE NOT ACTUALLY TRUE.
  5. Personally, people have been talking shit about me on the Internet since I got on it, I don’t care if I wasn’t nominated and I didn’t make any effort to get nominated. I appreciate what Stii said about me and I will buy him a beer when I see him again, but I am hardly a case-study in this whole thing.
  6. Fighting like little babies is one thing but leaving public coils on eachothers chests is another, so I think everybody needs to calm down and think about the merits of the arguments from both sides.
  7. This smacks of KBS (Kenyan Blogger Syndrome)
  8. I will be going to the awards and I will support whoever wins, but if you want a judge who doesn’t want to enter, I am your man.

I agree that there is room to improve the voting and judging processes.  Perhaps next year people could submit and vote for blogs using a Muti/Digg type system where each person must log in to vote and can only vote on a blog once (just as you can only Muti/Digg/vote on a story once).  The first challenge will be making sure that all the blogs that people might want to vote for are added to the list and somehow categorised but I am sure the geeks could work out the details there.  If this sort of system worked then we would probably find that much of the judging process is pretty much taken care of by the community itself and the end result is a set of winners by popular vote.

This, of course, brings me to another challenge.  The criticism that people who are "comment trolls" and who are one of the cool kids tend to be voted for more often.  This is a fair criticism, I think.  The question, I suppose, is whether the local blogosphere is a meritocracy or a democracy?  To me the blogosphere is a community and that means people vote for people they know.  That is one of the basic ideas behind something like Cluetrain and the blogging movement.  And people get to know you as a blogger if you participate in the community, link to other bloggers, comment and network.  The more you do that the more people know you and the fact that you exist and are more inclined to vote for you when the opportunity arises.  Sure you may have an awesome blog that has the best writing this site of the equator but if no-one knows you exist then you may as well not.  There is a similar principle on Google and other search engines.  If you are not on the front page or two then you pretty much don’t exist.

My take on the Stormhoek thing is that the blog didn’t make it to the nominations list because not enough people knew about the blog.  We know about the wine itself because it has been so prominent in our events and success stories (which, as Rich pointed out, is the right idea because Stormhoek is in the wine business and not the blogging business) but not many of us know about the blog.  For one thing the blog is a niche blog so unless you are into your wine, you may not subscribe or even visit the site.  Secondly, the blog hasn’t been promoted as much as the wine so it has less visibility in the community which translates into fewer people knowing about it which means fewer votes.  This doesn’t mean it isn’t a great blog.  It just means it doesn’t win the popular vote and that is democracy.

So, how do we fix this?  Well, we need to use the tools of the trade, so to speak, to increase the visibility of these blogs (our blogs).  If you want people to visit your blog and come to know you then you need to participate in the community.  You need to comment, leave trackbacks and link to blogs.  Simple.  If you don’t want to do that then you will have to rely on people finding your blog themselves so work on your SEO stuff to get that sorted (decent permalinks are a good start in my humble opinion).

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