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In Search of Web Excellence
By Míc Miller -- October 1, 1999
Recognition is acceptance by others. 

This acceptance can be a simple "hello" acknowledging your existence or a symbolic gesture bestowed upon you for achievement or superiority over others such as in an athletic contest.

Mic Miller - The Colorado Kid

In today's world of Web awards, recognition appears to have a similar range — from "fellowship awards" for yet another Star Trek site to "elite awards" stingily given for masterful interpretations of "Web excellence." And while I have been a Trekker since 1967, I would like to discuss "Web excellence" and why we should search for it, within ourselves as well as elsewhere.

Putting the words "Web" and "excellence" together creates a simple idea easily understood in most languages and cultures. This is especially convenient since the Web's scope and breadth are worldwide and all knowledge, respectively. However, defining what exactly is "Web excellence" is less convenient. Actually, it's a messy nuisance. Ask a number of Netizens, Webheads and Surfers, "What exactly is 'Web excellence'?," and you'll probably get the same number of explanations! Why? To answer this, one must first understand its lore.

Individualism

While the battle rages to determine whether the "I" in Internet is for institutions or individuals, we have to remember it is the input device that allows us to act, interact, and react whenever and wherever we see fit. This means Netizens can express themselves in a most individualistic manner. Of course, Netizens exercise their individualism in every way possible.

After some early playful (and not so playful) acts by some Netizens, Netiquette was invented to help us learn to play nice. In time, Netizens learned how to get along with one another using such contrivances as emoticons. :-) Those who wouldn't (or couldn't) play nice were excommunicated from the Net. :-(

Individualism (Colorized)

Just when Netizens had settled down to doing business on the Net (which was mostly academic), a wonderful thing happened! Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web <yawn!> (excuse me). Well, some used the new WWW area to see how sexy they could make a grey Web page look.

Then something even more wonderful happened! Mosaic! "Wow!," said the gestalt-oriented Netizens who used it and saw where it could go. Soon these Netizens were creating colorful pages with esoteric data and eclectic flair linked to others' pages. The more they linked, the more they were linked. Reciprocal links were ambassadors of good will, but too many of them forced some to qualify their resource links. Recognition on the Web all of a sudden became conditional.

Dying for a "Killer Page"

As Mosaic and HTML improved, so did the content in the WWW area. Diehard Webheads were now trying to create Web pages their peers would call "killer." Why? Well, one reason was selective external links. (A trait of a "killer page" was the number of links to other "killer pages.") Another reason was that Webheads (except for a couple yahoos) realized that external links increased the risk of losing readers.

Competition was now out in the open and "killer pages" soon turned into "hot sites" where Content was proclaimed king. But to others the fun was with the joker, Creativity, and they worked hard to create the perfect "cool site." As the Web grew, so did the competition, especially for Surfers who now loved browsing the "hots" and "cools."

Apply Here!

It was inevitable that with such a growing demand to be recognized as a "hot" or "cool ," many started Web award programs. They found a ready audience, which increased their own site's popularity considerably. The number of Web awards grew, but only a handful was fiercely fought over. Some of them, like Starting Point's Hot Site Award and Cool Central's Cool Site Awards, were labeled early on as "make my career awards." Why? Because by now large corporations were awakening to the Web's potential and started head-hunting for these award-winning Webheads.

Eventually, the Suits joined the awards frenzy with award programs of their own. All of a sudden, Web awards meant bigger rewards for both givers and takers. As the frenzy intensified, award programs continued to proliferate throughout the ranks, particularly on personal sites who were now starting to feel a bit ignored as Surfers hit the institutional sites more and more.

The First Kiss

To know Excellence, it has to kiss you. My first kiss came shortly after I had submitted my site, The Beeline, to the search engines. It was a frigid February morning when I fired up my computer for warmth and my A.M. mail. In the Inbox listing was "Congratulations! You're a..." So, what do you think I did? Wrong! I trashed it thinking it was spam.

Fortunately, I had to retrieve a post from Trash and this time curiosity kicked in. I opened it and got kissed by "Web excellence." As I read, I learned that Starting Point readers had voted The Beeline a Hot Site. I'll never forget that feeling, shuddering from either the cold or the thought I had nearly trashed it. The day The Beeline was the featured Reference Hot Site seemed like a high holiday. As with other first kisses, you never forget it.

In Search of "Web Excellence"

Then something strange happened. The Beeline got more awards! It was still years away from completion and all of a sudden I was seeing it on winners' lists with Ferrari and Reader's Digest. Now here's the really strange part; I couldn't see in my own site what these folks were seeing. Frankly, all I saw was a lot of work — to be done, improved upon, and fixed. "Someone's drinking old beer," I thought. To prove it wasn't me, I submitted for some awards. And being a Web awards neophyte, I, of course, applied for the "bigger" awards.

A mistake? Absolutely, except many granted The Beeline their awards, too! By now I was checking my beer stock because I thought it must be me. Then the next strange thing happened when I developed the nagging question: "What am I doing right?!" My search for understanding "Web excellence" was afoot — albeit in my usual, counter-traditional manner.

In the Eyes of the Beholder

Surfing award-winning Web sites is a way to study examples of "Web excellence" and screw up your head! The more sites I hit, the less I understood what "Web excellence" was. After months of surfing winning sites, it became clear that what I was looking for was either elusive or I needed to make an adjustment. I decided to change tactics and study the awards' criteria and apply them to their winners' lists. There I found what I was looking for. While the criteria varied from program to program, their winners satisfied their criteria.

Interestingly, a winners' list could also be characterized by a pattern of personal preferences. Unfortunately, too many award programs couldn't care less who "won" their award. (I don't know about you, but seeing any recognition for excellence negated is tragic.)

To Learn Something, Do It

There came a point when I thought I was close to understanding "Web excellence." By now I was drinking only fresh beer and ready to design a hypothetical awards program. I applied my Beehive Metaphor to the awards and created an award for each geo-level as well as an elite award.

Despite the fun I had designing the awards, the prime objective was to develop an instrument whereby one could quantify "Web excellence." I also wanted to create an educational process that awakened critical self-examination in the participant. With the help of my jurors (special people that suffer as my sounding boards), I had a working model. Now all that was left to do was test it. Oops!

Who Are You to Judge?!

I had a dilemma. As a former design juror, I knew effective jurors were widely recognized by their peers for their demonstrated mastery and had the innate ability to "see into and behind" the intentions of other designers. This is a very difficult job due to the fact that design solutions are embedded arrays of design elements mysteriously intra-related, directly and indirectly, to one another — kind of like a Web site. And while I had served as a design juror, I wasn't comfortable about qualifying myself as a Web juror just yet.

Besides, Web site design and Web awards weren't exactly established professions with accepted practices (quite the opposite). I considered a scaled-down start with Yet Another Fabulous Star Trek Site Award, but that idea appealed like a skunked beer.

Yet Another Award is Born

It wasn't long until a solution presented itself.  Of course, when this happens it's usually with some irony. I came across Don Chisholm's site and decided if I could earn his Superb! Website 100 Award, I'd open the Beehive Awards Program. So I applied for awards like a rabid awards hound and, yes, I was blessed with enough awards to satisfy this arbitrary qualification.

Awarding the Awards

In an effort to distinguish Web award programs, David Bancroft established Award Sites!, a rating service that is now world famous. I had used Award Sites! to find award programs; now, I was trying to decide whether I should submit my yet-untested program for listing and, <ugh!>, a rating. It was another dilemma. I needed to get listed to get noticed to get applicants to test my program to see what worked. However, I wasn't ready to have it judged without further refinements and testing.

While Don's Website Awards Worksheet was available, it wasn't widely established yet. Everything else was bulk submission and the last thing I wanted was to be inundated with "blind" applicants. Heck, I worked hard to design a program that would, hopefully, get others to look at their Web work with a critical eye towards "Web excellence." If they don't go through the process, what good was it?!

I thought about the Star Trek award again and then flipped a coin, dropped it, and couldn't find it. This set the mood to submit to Award Sites! not caring what rating they gave me. But again, as with my early Web awards, they saw more than I did because they assigned it a "4.5" rating. I was in business, breathing a great sigh of relief, and rechecking the freshness dates on my beer.

The Rush

Immediately after Award Sites! listed my awards program, I was peppered with applications. Any delight quickly dimmed when I examined the applicants' forms. Most were incomplete (a disqualification) or, upon review, weren't close to meeting my criteria. Still, I had several that had read through the program, followed the instructions to the letter, and nominated sites that satisfied the criteria's minimum requirements. The program was working, but so was I!

I now realized that in my attempt to quantify "Web excellence," I had created a jury process that took considerable time to complete. If it had not been for the high percentage of incomplete applications and the quality of applicants' sites that followed my instructions, I think I would have closed the program after the first month. I'm all for "Web excellence," but I'm not ready to die for it.

I raised the minimum score from 85 to 90. I'm not sure whether this stemmed the tide of applicants or they just moved on to newer programs. Anyway, I soon found my rhythm and the quality of applicant sites continued to improve.

My rush came whenever I sent an award notification or visited a winner's site and saw the award prominently displayed. And it certainly made my day when I could bestow the elite award because the thank-you reply was definitely from a happy person. I felt great for giving something back to the world of Web awards, helping others search for "Web excellence," and recognizing those who had found it. My search for "Web excellence" wasn't over, but at least some of it was coming to me now.

Copyright © 1999
All Rights Reserved
Mic Miller

About the Author
Míc Miller, owner of Beeline Publications, has been a Netizen since 1987 and was diagnosed a Webhead in 1993. He is an honors graduate of the University of Colorado's design college where he studied problem-solving/design methodologies, architecture, urban design/regional planning, and language/media. Míc fell in love with computer graphics while animating 3D-vector elements on an IBM 360 (1977). He later became an award-winning computer graphics analyst. Míc was a leading authority on mega-scale, interactive graphic projects when he decided it was time to form Beeline Publications (1994) to create the Beeline-AIR System, inspired by Nicholas Negroponte's "Virtual Cities" lecture (1987).

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