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Opinions - Everybody's Got Them
By Maggi Norris -- May 1, 2000
In my opinion a well-designed site that earns a Gold Award is one that is so beautiful I want to hang it on my living room wall.  

It has to leave me stunned with the skill and mastery that went into making it. In order for it to earn that Gold Award every other site already on that wall has to be taken into consideration.

Maggi Norris

Is this site as good as or better than previous winners? Is it unique? Will it stand on its own merit if hung beside the others? Does it show strength and personality in its makeup? If the answer to these questions is no then it will not get a Gold Award.

Does Opinion Matter?

There is one basic factor to judging sites that is often overlooked but is as important as any part of any awards program. No matter what criteria or requirements are established for a site to win an award, a site is going to be judged on the personal opinions of the judge doing the reviewing. People give us their permission to use our opinions when they apply for our awards. They say they trust that we have good judgment and that we are able to use our skills to review their site for quality at the level of excellence that our program expects.

Everybody has an opinion. It is something I keep reminding my judges over and over when they ask me what I think of a site. I tell them to judge it how "they" feel it should be judged using the criteria, as they understand it. I will not tell them what I have scored a site or why I scored it the way I did until after they send their score. I do not want to influence their opinion of a site. Their opinions do matter, each and every one. It helps give a better view of whether a site will be liked by all or by a few.

The whole point of any site winning more than one award is to establish its distinction on a diversity of opinion. By showing that it can be part of a broader context of recognition a site may predictably be enjoyed by many surfers. That is why different opinions matter so much. It is also why the same site that wins a Gold Award from one award program will only take a Merit Award or no award at all from another program.

Fixed Point vs. Opinion Point

Some core criteria points should be set so that it is understood that the final score a site will receive is also based on concrete design elements. A site will either have these points or it will not. A good example of this is the often overlooked, but helpful element called the "alt tag." Some award programs may not consider it worth a point. Others will consider it a crucial element of the whole site's design and will penalize heavily for the absence of these descriptive little helpers to site users. Their absence would mean a mistake on every single image used on a site.

Points like alt tags are what I call "fixed points." I use this term to describe those points that leave nothing to subjectivity or opinion. These items are either part of a site's makeup or they are not. If they are there they earn a point. If they are not there that point is not added to the final score. Having points that are not left to opinion lends consistency to scoring for every site.

Whether a point is fixed or based on opinion should be stated clearly in the criteria for a site. All points should come from what is stated in the criteria, exactly as it is stated. In the next few sections I will outline some of the judging elements where a judge's opinion plays a major role in determining the score.

Originality

What is original and has never been seen before by one judge may be last month's news to another judge. Some award programs receive lots of applications from artistically styled websites. Other programs will receive more applications for sites that are based on commerce or education.

A judge that has reviewed hundreds of applications to sites that are artistic in nature will find it harder to see something new and original in those types of sites than a judge who is reviewing them for the first time. When a web site earns a point for originality, it is earning a point for something that is innovative in the eyes of a judge: a totally new mode of design or a uniquely creative application or re-elaboration of the not so new.

Content

Whether a site has "content" is subjective to the opinion of the reviewer simply because all people see content value from many different perspectives. A good example would be a site about art where there was little or no text. One judge may consider the fact that the site has no text the same as having no content. Another judge could review that same site and see a wealth of information from the art alone. Some judges may see the entertainment value of a site or a good sales pitch as content while others do not.

This is one of the main points where I see differences among my judging staff. They all view the concept of what is real content differently. When all of them agree a site is filled with informative, comprehensive and useful content I know that I will learn something special from that site.

Impression

According to Webster, impress means "to firmly fix in the mind" and "a strong effect made on the mind." Based on these definitions, the ability to impress a judge will vary according to that judge's reception on his/her mind. Impression can come from many sources: unique layouts, touching poetry, beautiful images, elegant design techniques and many other possibilities too numerous to name here.

When a site impresses me, I leave with its memory firmly in my mind. It will draw me back repeatedly. I will think of it after I am gone. If the impression is strong enough that memory will remain with me for a very long time. What may impress me may leave another judge feeling absolutely nothing at all. The other judge may have seen it all before. In that case, I would give a point for "strength of impression" and the other judge would not. We would both be correct in our assessment.

The Importance of Staff

Due to the fact that my program gives several points for qualities that rely on opinion, it was crucial to the fairness of judging that there be a well-rounded staff to review sites. Diversity of opinion will range over a scope as vast as our imaginations can carry us. Each judge on staff brings knowledge based on what he/she has personally seen on the Internet. Each judge represents singular experiences and unique perspectives.

While the fixed points for a site will be scored almost exactly the same for every judge, the points based on opinion will nearly always differ. On those rare occasions when all the judges agree that a site has earned a high score, it means many people with many points of view will like the site. This makes every judge and his or her opinion crucial to the program.

The Intimidation Factor

One of my judges once wrote to me saying, "I am not qualified to judge this site" after a very well established Webmaster applied for our awards. The interesting thing about that statement to me was that the judge had a site of his own and his site was, in my opinion, better than the one that was being reviewed. So why did he feel he was not qualified?

This conversation showed me that what a site is about or who builds it is not what makes good pages. It is the skill and understanding of beauty that gives each Webmaster who builds an incredible site something special. That something special doesn't come from how famous the Webmaster is or how popular his/her site is. It comes from within. It will shine on every page of the site.

I have seen this intimidation factor at work in other judges. When a site applies for an award and the Webmaster or the site itself is well respected it can leave one feeling a bit in awe that it is "your" award and "your" opinion that is wanted. I felt my own heart thump when what I consider one of the best artists alive applied for my award. This was in itself an award to the award giver.

Most award givers set their goals on having widely recognized sites apply for their awards. Wanting something and then getting it can be intimidating. No matter who built the site or what the site is called it should still be judged the same as any other. It is my opinion that the sites would not apply if they did not trust the judgment and opinions of the award givers.

Criteria Construction

If your criteria are constructed properly, the intimidation factor is reduced. The fixed points of your criteria will be on the site or not. Your judges will be able to base the opinion points on the criteria as stated. The sites will be judged fairly and consistently no matter who is involved in its creation.

Once a judge's opinions of what makes a good site have been formed there should be no compromise in using those opinions to review sites and rate them based on personal beliefs of what is good. When this is done it serves the purpose of impressing on the applicant that the awards have a purpose other than just a pat on the back. It shows that there are people out there who really care about the sites that get to show their awards. It also shows that there are people who are trying hard to make the web a better place for everyone, a place (as my friend Enrique says) where every mind should always matter.

What It's All About

I have been asked many times why I go to all the trouble, headache and work of maintaining an award program for nothing. My answer has always been the same. The work done on my program is not for nothing. I gain infinite riches from it. I get to work with some of the most talented designers, programmers, artists and authors. I get to see the very best sites online. I have seen sites grow, learn, mature and finally become a work of incredible beauty and information because they wanted an award.

In the end, making the web a better place to be is what every good award program is about. The opinions of award givers have become a major influence on the growth and improvement of quality on the Internet. We all look for that special site, the one that takes the spotlight on our living room walls.

A friend just reminded me of something wonderful. Sometimes the site that takes that spotlight is one that has worked very hard for months. The site was lovingly upgraded many times. Every upgrade brought a new application to my mail folder. I really wanted to grant the higher award for all that effort and hard work done just to win my award, but I waited just one more time. And then it happened. I opened my mail and found a URL to one of the most beautiful sites I had ever seen. I was smiling so hard I found I was crying as I looked through those magical pages. And that is what it is all about.

Copyright 2000
All Rights Reserved
Maggi Norris

About the Author
Maggi Norris is the webmistress of 7 award winning sites, including her own Ask Nem5 – Nemesis World Index, where you can find original literature displayed with original graphics and photography, web awards and more. Free resources for the new and advanced webmaster include: email accounts, web and desktop graphics for personal sites, several short tutorials, email greeting cards and an HTML help forum with a web design software review.

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