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South Africa: How Do You Fairly Select Best Bloggers?

The South African Blog Awards started in 2005 to showcase the best blogs in South Africa. The winners of South Africa Blog Awards 2010 were announced on 25 September 2010 at the annual awards ceremony at the One & Only hotel, Cape Town.

Some South African bloggers think that the process used to select best bloggers is not fair. Here is a roundup of their criticisms and suggestions.

Chris complains of being duped by the organisers:

In 2008 I won Best SA Blog about Technology and Web Development and in
2009 I won Best SA Blog about Technology and Science. Most people know
me for my blogging, I’ve been in the game since the start and it’s
been my passion since I was inspired by Damien du Toit, way way way
back. I’d like to think that when it comes to blogging, I have earned
respect from a lot of people in the industry. Hell, I’m ranked number
1 on AfriGator, Africa’s largest blog aggregator.

Now, this year was interesting: I was told that I was going to be a
judge (I’ve decided not to name the person, nor am I going to paste a
link to the proof), so I didn’t enter in for a 3rd year running (Can’t
judge and enter). I was really excited about this as I wanted to
assist in ensuring that South Africa could be represented by great
bloggers. When the judges were announced, my name was not included, so
not only was I not a judge, but I wasn’t able to enter!

To top things off, I didn’t even receive an invitation to the event.
It was embarrassing receiving text messages and tweets throughout the
evening from peers asking where I was.

I feel that I deserve an explanation from one of the people who ran
the event, JP Naude, Chris Rawlinson or Dave Duarte – Chris and Dave,
you both know my personally, what happened gents? You are involved in
this I assume because of your passion for blogging, imagine how I
feel?

From the SA Blog Awards website:

“We are proud to announce that the SA Blog Awards is still in very
capable hands, but ownership has however changed.

The SA Blog awards management structure has been somewhat
modified, and we are happy to say that you are in very capable hands.
Ownership now resides in the hands of new CEO JP Naude.”

Really?

Life isn’t fair and the event’s over, so not much can be done apart
from wait until next year to see what happens, but for the time being
I’m quite upset.

On another note: Congratulations to all the bloggers who took home
awards, well done! Respect to you for showing the world that South
Africa is great at blogging too!

Cook Sister says, “there is nothing we like less than people shouting criticisms from the sidelines without making helpful suggestions…” So she writes an open letter to the organisers with a number of suggestions to improve the process:

1. RULE CHANGES

When the rules originally went up, each e-mail address could only nominate and vote once. But somewhere between that day and the day that voting started, the rules were changed to allow voting once every 24 hours. There is absolutely no excuse for changing the rules once they have been put up. It creates an unprofessional impression and makes people wonder what else is being changed behind the scenes.

SUGGESTION: if you want to change the rules that have already been published, then wait till next year's competition! Changing the rules after they have been published is a sure-fire way to upset all and sundry.

2. THE VOTING PROCESS

One of the biggest gripes was that each e-mail address was allowed to vote every 24 hours over a period of three weeks. The argument from the organisers is that this benefited people who post regularly and “highlighted” those who have lots of loyal readers. Wrong. Despite the fact that both of us DO post regularly and DO have lots of loyal readers, we both feel that all that the multiple vote system meant was that each and every shortlisted blogger managed to annoy the hell out of their friends, family and readers by bombarding them with daily requests for votes via e-mail, Facebook and Twitter. Obviously this was not compulsory, but as soon as the first blog did it, others had to follow or risk being defeated by an aggressive marketing campaign. It did NOT force people to post more often and it did not drive traffic to blogs – all it did was force bloggers to trawl for votes on social media sites to try and keep up with the competition, and forced hundreds (if not thousands) of people to visit the Awards site daily. Which made everybody wonder what sort of per-click ad revenue the Awards site might be getting from all this…

SUGGESTION: the way to weed out blogs who do not post regularly is to set a minimum number of posts per month over the past 6 months or similar. And the way to find out who has lots of traffic and loyal readers is to make Alexa traffic stats and FaceBook/Twitter followers a mandatory criterion for judging. The 24-hour voting rule did nothing to improve the quality of SA blogs or blogging – it just turned us all into vote-whores. Please don't use it again.

3. THE JUDGES AND JUDGING PROCESS

Much has been said about how the voting turned into a popularity contest, and how the judging was too subjective (and erratic). We feel strongly that both components are necessary: some sort of public vote is needed because taking note of a blog's popularity should be a criterion. But some sort of judging process is also needed, if for no other reason than to make sure that blogs fit in their category and adhere to the criteria for being nominated; and to make sure that the entire process does not solely hinge on popularity but also on some judgement of quality. The main criticisms of the judges were that their qualifications/expertise to judge were not immediately obvious; and that the criteria they applied were not clearly defined or publicised (the first mention of the criteria came only after the event, as the Awards organisers moved to defend themselves against criticism).

SUGGESTIONS:

a) Would it be too much to ask that beside each judge's name there is a one-line bio as to who they are and what their field is? Seeing that “Joe Bloggs” is judging my category does not fill me with hope. Seeing that “Joe Bloggs – Head of new media communications at Woolworths” or similar is far more reassuring.

b) Publicise the criteria right from the start (e.g. reader stats, site usability, content, frequency of blogging, reader interaction), not only to the judges but also to the contestants.

c) Make the judges write a one-line reason as to why they chose one blog over another (“good design but posts too infrequently”, or “great content but no search function and no About page” – whatever takes their fancy) and publicise this when the results are announced. It may take a little more time, but if each judge only looks at one category, that would still only have been 10 lines to write.

According to Richard Mulholland South Africa Blog Awards 2010 was a complete farce:

This year, well hey, let’s just say I’m a sucker for punishment.

I get a call from Chris asking if I’d be willing to come on board as a
judge, I said yes, and last week I get sent a list of blogs that I had
to go through in detail.

It took me a few hours but I did it, I went through each of the blogs,
painstakingly checking off on all criteria. My category was best
business blog, and in my mind there were two blogs that clearly stood
out from the pack: Quirk and Tall Horse wines.

I then see the finalist released yesterday, these two were no where in
sight, based on the wide margin I had them ahed by, I was curious so I
tweeted about it and got the following reply from one of the
organisers:

“@jpnaude release the results Sun morning after public vote tally & is
using weighted judges’ votes to determine winner out of final 2.”

Now I’m confused. You waste the judges’ time going through 10 blogs,
then tell us that our vote only counts for the final two anyway?
Basically, the finalists in each category were determined by the
initial public vote. The judges’ vote counted for shit.

I replied saying as much (in under 140 chars), and got the following reply:

“Real f*up sorry Rich. Large vote margin btwn 1,2&3rd place in all
categories so JP decided to give finalists more time to RSVP for
event”

Now, I don’t know JP, but from the look of his site he’s been blogging
for a year and has written a total of 13 posts (I stand under
correction though) and this guy is acting like Deus Ex Machina. Crazy
loco.

It sucks, but it’s sadly business as usual for the SA blog awards.
Which are this year, in my mind any way, a complete and utter farce.

This, in case you didn’t get it, is my way of completely distancing
myself from the outcome and the awards themselves.

Maybe next year will be different… just kidding…!

Update: I had a really nice chat with JP last night and I will say the
dude’s heart is without a doubt in the right place. He’s coming at
this from the outside, and a little perspective can’t be a bad thing.
I still stand behind the statements I’ve made above, but am now more
than willing to give the guy the benefit of the doubt. You should too.

Chris von Ulmenstein says that the blog awards have devalued South African blogging:

The SA Blog Awards is a good idea, and can be a good measurement of
success and performance in a field that bloggers were never trained
for, by raising the standard of blogging in Southern Africa. It is a
shame that the 2010 SA Blog Awards were so poorly organised, and that
it has been dogged by controversy. At the Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club
meeting earlier this week, long-standing blogger Dax Villanueva of
Relax-with-Dax Blog said that the controversy surrounding the SA Blog
Awards had devalued blogging, instead of enhancing it!

Ever since the SA Blog Awards were announced on Twitter about 2 months
ago, they have been criticised for their change in procedure compared
to previous years. When the shortlist of 10 finalists for each of the
24 blog categories was announced on 1 September, there was even more
criticism and very bitchy commenting by those that did not make the
top 10 list in their category, and by those who disparaged others by
questioning why some bloggers had made the Top 10 list in specific
categories. When the top two winners per category were announced, and
most Top 10 short-listed bloggers were excluded from the Awards Dinner
at the One&Only Cape Town last night, the knives really came out, and
the organisation of the SA Blog Awards was severely criticised.

So what were the complaints?:

1. The announcement of the call for nominations of the SA Blog Awards
was on Twitter only. If one was not on Twitter, or did not follow SA
Blog Awards on Twitter, one would not have known about the Awards, or
may have been delayed in participating, in seeing Tweets by others
about the call for nominations.

2. The rules of the Awards seemed to have been made up as they went
along – the fact that voting was encouraged at Nomination stage
already was not clear, and irritated Twitterers, in that they were
bombarded with Nomination vote requests. The process of nomination
was also not clear, with a message popping up, telling one that one
could not nominate a blog more than twice on the same e-mail address.

3. The organisers of the SA Blog Awards were not identified on the SA
Blog Awards website, and via Tweets one could put together the
information that 2009 Blog winner in the Business category (Dave
Duarte) and Chris Rawlinson, winner in the Marketing category, had got
together with JP Naude (an infrequent blogger, by his own admission on
his site: “Yes I don’t blog much… I’m a businessman and radio
presenter” – prior to this mini-blog post earlier this month, JP had
last blogged in May! He is a presenter on Good Hope FM) as Chairman

Galo's Zone is gathering public opinion on his blog about the awards:

I will be writing a full article about my thoughts on the S.A blog
awards, it’s voting process, the judges and finally…the results.
But before I give my opinion, I would like yours.

Chris von Ulmenstein posts the official response from the organisers of South African Blog Awards 2010, “2010 SA Blog Awards in perspective”:

On behalf of the SA Blog Awards we would like to thank all of the participants who contributed this year. These include the public, the nominees, the South African Bloggers and the judges. A special thanks to News 24, our other sponsors and suppliers and partners, without who the awards would not have been possible.

A tremendous effort was made this year to move the SA Blog Awards to a new level. We feel that this has been accomplished. Where there are a few criticisms in the blogging industry, we welcome these and will look to learn from those that are factually correct. In addition we will shortly be implementing our review process, which we hope all will participate in.

The SA Blog Awards has been run by volunteers and goodwill up to now and the time and effort has been quite taxing. The new CEO, JP Naude, stepped in after a casual conversations with Chris Rawlinson and Dave Duarte, and recognising the potential of the SA Blog Awards began implementing new support structures, media policies and other processes on a very short notice, and as such was still saddled with some systems which had been in place in the previous years. JP is well aware of the current flaws and has already, in a very short time added enormous additional value. JP immediately recognised that the first priority was to re-establish the credibility and integrity of the SA Blog Awards.

Contrary to what has been written in the public space regarding the nomination, registration and voting phases. (sic) We made every effort to notify bloggers to register; we did this via the Afrigator database, email, twitter and notifications on our site. In addition we notified former voters of the nomination phase. During the nomination phase, the public vote phase and the judging phase we continually asked for nominees to register their contact details with us. After all phases had closed we still continued asking nominees to register their contact details. To date we are still struggling to get final correct details, in some cases nominees entered incorrect email addresses. During this process we manually went to the blogs and looked for contact details or mailed them from their site requesting details. Where we had contact details we used them to the best of our ability.

When we talk about moving the blog awards up to a new level, we mean an improved voting process, more awareness for the bloggers of South Africa, better criteria for the judges to understand, and ensuring an equal platform for all nominees. All of these were done, but will again be reviewed in order to find the best possible formula.

Marisa wonders why there is no space to comment on the article, “2010 SA Blog Awards in Perspective”:

I read the official response on the Blog Awards site and what irks me most is that their is no space to comment on the article! Rather ironic, considering one of their criteria for judging other blogs was “reader engagement”.

Hmmmm…

Also loved the bit where they said they wanted to give more weight to “readers of blogs” and therefore allowed the 24 hour voting systems and the 70:30 weighting. The problem is that “readers of blogs” will vote for you once and certainly not every 24 hours. Family, friends and your dog, however will vote as often as they can. Hence, the final vote outcome is (more than slightly) skewed.

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