Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A short treatise about judging blog awards ... two recommendations ... and an afterthought

Irish Blog Awards logo

There’s always a bit of a whoo ha immediately after the Irish Blog Awards ceremony. There are always reasons to be upset with the results: the geographic spread of winners, the “big names” cleaning up, the absence of transparency in the process, the number of seats! It’s funny how seriously we all take it. This year, dissent and displeasure have been expressed, along with many, many plaudits for those involved in the organisation and delivery of the awards.

My offer to help this year was taken up. I suspect there was pretty large list of folk involved triaging the hundreds of blogs that were nominated for the various categories. During the period of judging we were asked to keep schtum about our involvement – sensibly removing the problem of lobbying.

You can skip the next bit if you want, but don’t miss the last few paragraphs where I recommend two terrific blogs I came across in the judging process!

I don’t think the criteria we judged against were ever made public, but I’m guessing that you won’t be at all surprised and Damien won’t be offended if I summarised that we were asked to look at the writing, the consistency (in terms of the nominated category) and what was happening below the line in the comments. Judges supplied a numerical score and a textual comment to justify it.

Twenty blogs and many hours later, and I had a handful of new subscriptions in my RSS reader, read through a couple of lemons, learnt more about football than I’d really wanted to (was a good blog though), rated the eventual Best Blog winner, and generally been impressed by the volume of well written and regular posts that were sparking off conversations in the comments across Ireland.

Was it the most scientific way of rating and ranking blogs? Probably not. But it wasn’t unfair. And good blogs scored above poorer blogs. So in terms of separating the sheep from the goats it worked well enough. And any more data collection might have put judges off finishing their allotted list.

The long lists were published, narrowing each category down to twenty or so blogs. It was good to see some familiar blogs that I’d ranked highly in the first round appearing on the long lists.

From other people's posts, it seems like the blogs long listed in each category were examined by at least four or five people. Ending up with Newcomers and Business, you can obviously only blame me for my ~20% contribution to the shortlisted blogs! Supplying marks against four different categories, it was pretty intense to work through each blog.

I generally started by reading through the archive for November. (So if I’m allowed to judge again next year, and you want to quickly impress me, start writing the good stuff long before the nominations open at the end of December!) Then a bit of a hoke through another month, and some recent entries to get a feel for the health of the blog. Looking at the level of comments on the posts, reading through the comments under some of the posts to see what kind of community there was and whether the post’s author(s) joined in the conversation. Some blogs were one or two posts a day, others one a week.

Nearly all the Newcomers on the long list were in my pile … except a few, mostly ones that may have been withdrawn from the category. The contentious Trust Tommy wasn't there either so I can’t look back at my spreadsheet and see how I marked it! The majority of the Business blogs were on my list, again with a few missing.

It’s hard to objectively rate blogs. Blogging is an art form, not a science.

I suspect very few people are doing it to win prizes. You can tell by some of the blog designs out there – mine in particular! I scored badly at least one blog that I really liked … understandable given the judging categories. And that didn’t make it a bad blog: it’s now on my RSS feed, still churning out fun posts. But in the beauty contest, it didn’t have enough dimples to make it shine above the others in the category.

As I read through the two long lists, two blogs really caught my eye. And I had to hold back on talking about them. But with the second round of judges’ marks totted up and the short listed blogs sifted to find a winner (I’ve no idea how, so don’t ask!) and the awards handed out, it’s now safe to single them out for praise.

Irish Times blog - outsidein

The outsidein blog on the Irish Times is full of really high quality writing, illustrated by vibrant (and source acknowledged) pictures, and features Bryan Mukandi joining in the debate so naturally in the comments below his thoughtful posts. Wow. Probably the best single-author newspaper blog I’ve ever come across.

Nice Day Designs

One business blog that really caught my eye was Nice Day Designs, a running commentary on the world of customising second hand clothes, making them into unique, beautiful garments, buying buttons, selling at markets, and delighting customers. Sure there were other entries in the category with even snazzier blog designs, and some with a much larger band of commenters, but Nice Day Designs grabbed me. It was an engaging and personal story about a business, letting me in behind the seams scenes of a trade I know nothing about, but ended up being fascinated by. It really seemed to capture the spirit of blogging. And it made me smile. Maybe I should send an old tired jacket down to see if it could be revitalised with some fun patches and colourful buttons!

An afterthought.

I don’t really want to enter into the overall debate that has raged and is hopefully now burnt out. But as I’ve been typing, one reflection/suggestion comes to mind.

Accountability is probably more important than transparency.

Formalising a group of people (that are respected, diverse and publicised) who Damien can bounce ideas off and act as his non-executive “directors” would quell some of the narkyness and perhaps help protect Damien from the criticism and abuse that’s got hurled his way. No reason why Damien can’t choose them himself. Most likely he is already using such a group of friends. But it might be valuable for the participants to know that there is accountability in place; people who will check that the spreadsheets tally and the rationale for winners is valid. It might help for next year, particularly as numbers continue to grow ... but it's only a suggestion.


Aidan said...

Thanks for that really interesting insight into the judging process Alan. I was following the long listing and short listing. I was hoping that Three Thousand Versts would win the politics blog because I think that that is the best written single author politics blog but was not short-listed.
There were a number of surprising results but as you say these things are very subjective.

Sharon McDaid said...

Hi Alan. It's good to read your typically sensible and courteous take on it.
You have not mentioned though, what you think about the time period issue which is the only thing I have seen many people take issue with. As you know, the nominations rules said the blogs had to "actively blogging blogging between July 15th and December 15th." (my emphasis)
What was your take on blogs that started later in the year? I and 2 other judges who have commented on my blog, focussed on the July to December posts in the blogs we judged. Do you think it's fair that blogs which didn't start until December, just weeks before nominations opened could have won? I was a judge too and using these criteria, I don't know how such blogs could prove themselves in such a short time.

I don't know what the complaints were last year, but certainly all the blogs that won in 2008 had been very active for a long time before the awards. I'd like to know what you think about this.

nicedaydesigns said...

Wow I really can't believe you singled my blog out. Thank you so much! I started blogging for two reasons, from a business perspective to create a more personal online itentity. Secondly, to write again, all my life I've loved reading, wrting, writng letters, and I found over the past few years I had less of a need for it. Until eventually weeks would go by and I wouldn't write anything. My blog is obviously not high brow lierature but it satifies a basic need I have to communicate. It's been a really great experience, and I think I have definitely caught the bug for it.
I was really astonished to read your post today, but thank you so much it means a lot.
Well done for all the hard work at judging

Alan in Belfast (Alan Meban) said...

Ruth - it was a pleasure to discoverthe gems in amongst the lists.

Sharon - Sitting on the fence is sometimes less painful that getting caught in the nails and splinters as you get down onto one side! But cards on table ...

Looking back over my notes, I was under-impressed with one nominated blog which only had two posts visible (they’d started afresh in early January blanking all that had gone before – oops) and a couple of others that had maybe only one or two posts a month.

> Do you think it's fair that blogs which didn't start until December, just weeks before nominations opened could have won? I was a judge too and using these criteria, I don't know how such blogs could prove themselves in such a short time.

It’s not very fair. But it might be slightly fair. They couldn’t be nominated as Newcomers in a year's time as they would have been around too long. But they would have need to have built a rather consistent readership and community around them to have impressed me.

I find it a teeny bit odd and disappointing that the blog in the spotlight wasn’t part of the list I had to judge. Personally, I’d be more comfortable judging and supplying numbers for everything in the category rather than a subset – as no matter the marking scheme, it just makes the averaging more consistent. (But that’s the mathematician in me coming out.)

And I'd love to know how the winner gets plucked from the final five. I'm ok if it was arithmetic, or if a group of people made a subjective decision. In the world of TV/film/radio media awards, the method of scoring and decision tends not to be publicised. But the committee of people who meet in a room to do it are.

Sharon McDaid said...

Thanks for explaining further Alan. It's a huge task to undertake and I do really appreciate it that so many people but Damien in particular pull together to make the awards such a great event. And like you said, the numbers of nominated blogs and the level of interest in the awards has shot up with each year so perhaps there might be a better way to pull it all together.

Perhaps you'll be at it the next time, I think you'd enjoy it lots.

And to think like a mathematician as much as possible is always a good plan!

Anonymous said...


Thank you for taking the time to put down your thoughts on the judging process. I feel you've succeeded in bringing back some balance to the arguments which have raged since last Saturday. I didn't enter into the debate as 1.) I've been unwell since Sunday 2.) I didn't want to lose the feel-good factor generated by the IBA weekend and 3.) I'm not really bothered who wins 'cos for me it's not about winning, it's about taking part.

I was amazed to be shortlisted in the Specialist Blog category alongside such eminent bloggers. I blog purely for enjoyment and to satisfy a creative need in me. The fact that my blog was nominated and seems to fit the criteria for judging for the IBAs, is merely an added bonus.

It was fascinating to hear about the judging process and it's really made me appreciate all the more, the time and effort that goes into making the blog awards happen..

Thanks for your input. It was a fab night and I'm just sorry that we didn't get to meet-up. Sharon was a great delight to meet.


Anonymous said...

Hi Alan,

Thank you so much for the kindest compliment I have ever received for my writing. You have no idea how encouraging that was.

Alan in Belfast (Alan Meban) said...

You're welcome - most deserved.