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Best of the Web competition: Feedback Wanted.

jtrant's picture

By jennifer trant - Posted on 06 November 2007


Since 1997 we've run a Best of the Web competition at the Museums and the Web conference. As we begin the run-up for the 2008 competition, i'm wondering what your thoughts are about the usefulness of the BoW.

Is the competition helpful to you? Do you learn something from looking at the results? Are there things about it you would change (like the Categories or the Criteria?)

Let us know what you think! We'll make adjustments to the BoW for 2008 that reflect consensus.



jtrant's picture

Thanks everyone for your input about the Best of the Web Competition. We're going to keep this discussion open through the end of the year, and launch nominations in early January. They will be open through February 1, 2008

There's still time to add your $.02 ... what do you think about the competition? is it useful for you? do you nominate sites? why / why not? what about judging?



j. trant co-founder Museums and the Web | partner archives & museum informatics

justinph's picture

Why not have digg or reddit style voting for one or all of the categories during the course of the conference? Make everyone register, allow only one vote or digg, and so on. At the very least, there should at least be a people's (attendee's) choice category.

rasherman's picture

I enjoy the BoW because it is one time of the year that I see what other museums are doing with their web sites. I learn from their work. I think others must feel the same because the BoW sessions are always well attended.

I echo these comments written by others:

-- Have a special category for sites developed by in-house teams - this promotes professional growth within our museum staff, as well as rewarding savvy senior management who understand it is critical to fund web/ICT development teams in their organizations
-- I like the categories listed by Craig Rosa but I wonder about what the judging criteria would be for the following ...
* best podcast (audio or video)
* best use of web video (on a web site, and/or distributed though a video sharing site like YouTube)
* best blog

-- I'm not so keen on the fine wine category - maybe I don't fully understand the intent -- is it to recognize web sites who stick with basic html? A web site may hold up after five years but I'd be surprised if it hasn't been changed in five years. Sometimes 'basic' technology is appropriate and sometimes more state of the art is - it depends on the audience and the content.

-- I like the idea of the the people voting - in each category - and perhaps have the judges choose from the top 5. It would be great to have a overall People's Choice award.

-- I'm not in favor of having a fee for entry.

jtrant's picture

I'm sorry if this is your perception.

There are very definite Conflict of Interest guidelines for BoW judges: no-one on the Best of the Web judging panel can have a site considered in any category. Period.

We've been very strict with this since 2005 and have asked judges to step down from the panel if they would like to see a site they have been involved with stand in the competition. I haven't checked to see if there is any relationship between Program Committee membership and Best of the Web winners, but there is no overlap in process. Program Committee members do peer-review of program proposals; they aren't involved at all in picking the Best of the Web.

The Best of the Web has always had an open-nomination policy. Anyone can nominate any site to be considered. This is something that i've personally felt we should maintain (even if it precludes fees for entering, which all other competitions have.) Every year we are surprised by work that comes from unexpected places.

j. trant archives & museum informatics

j. trant co-founder Museums and the Web | partner archives & museum informatics

Ericka Chemko's picture

I agree with many of the comments above.

I personally don't think there should be an entry fee. The nomination process allows a wider range of entries that may not otherwise be looked at. I wonder who has historically nominated the sites - do institutions usually nominate themselves?

I like Craig's categories as well as the idea of a 'fine wine' category based on longevity.

The only suggestion I have is for the final presentation. I would announce the winners with a brief summary why they were chosen. Then, I would have computer terminals available for the winners to demonstrate to anyone who was interested in talking to them in detail.



jtrant's picture

Almost all other competitions in this area have a fee to enter.

Should there be an entry fee for the Best of the Web?

Or should we keep the "Anyone can nominate anything" approach?


j. trant co-founder Museums and the Web | partner archives & museum informatics

dgreenfield's picture

This is an interesting question, and I do not have an answer right now. I do have some comments though. If the criternia remains "anyone can nominate anything" approach, then I do not think that fees would be applicable because it would probably reduce the quantity (and possibly quality) of nominations. BOW now has a a democratic feel. Although this can be problematic (such as the year that a law firm from South America was somehow nominated), I appreciate the idea that it is open to any institution- large or small and not limited by size of budget. The quantity can make the process harder for the judges, but I think that it is well worth it. I think that a fee would be in order only if we decide to follow the route of other competitions, and make entries completely self-nominated by museums.


David G.


brad larson's picture

I'd like to work into the criteria a focus on "How does this site really serve visitors? And the community?"

I've been thinking about this as a judge for BoW last year, then for the New England Museum Association competition, then as reviewer for IMLS' national technology grants. Some sites may be proficient or intriguing, but still don't answer the "so what" question from a visitor's perspective.

Underneath all of this, museums themselves are in the midst of transition, from being repositories driven mainly by a mission to "collect, preserve, interpret", to community partners expected to add value to society. (These are thoughts from Harold Skramstad's keynote address at the NEMA meeting, which I wrote about in my blog, linked by my name below). Other museum leaders such as Elaine Gurian are pointing the same direction.

So, I'd like to see an award for a museum site that uses the Web in an exceptional way to serve visitors' needs or address a community issue.

craigrosa's picture

I sincerely enjoyed being a judge for the 2007 competition. I definitely support the idea of continuing the program, though it is in need of an update.

1. Broaden the definition of what is "the best of the web" *beyond web pages.* Web pages (and by default, web sites) are nowadays responsible a relatively small slice of overall web traffic.

RSS feeds, podcasting, web video, social media, mobile services, even virtual tours via handheld devices in physical spaces-- all are delivered as web services, or accessed through browsers. Here are some ideas for additional categories:

* best podcast (audio or video)
* best use of web video (on a web site, and/or distributed though a video sharing site like YouTube)
* best blog
* best site design (focus on usability, aesthetics, apart from content)
* best online community
* best online collaboration (partnership focus)
* best use of user-generated content
* best use of web standards
* best accessibility
* best mobile / handheld application

2. I have to echo the comments of others here regarding the awards ceremony. Even apart from the technical difficulties, we did not come across as prepared. I will probably be going against the grain by saying I don't think the walkthroughs are useful. At least not in their current form.

Perhaps at the semi-finalist level, we as judges could write a 50-100 summary of what was exceptional on any given candidate site, with 1-2 pages specifically called out. That way come awards time there is less improvising and anyone who needed to do so could present by reading the script.

I also like the idea of having the winners present - but perhaps as a second event.

Thanks again and good luck to everyone in 2008.

Craig Rosa
Interactive Producer, KQED
(formerly of The Tech Museum in San Jose)

dgreenfield's picture

I agree with much of what has been written. I have found participating as a judge to be a demanding, yet enriching experience- both professionally and personally. It has exposed me to a lot of interesting and innovative sites that I would have otherwise, not have seen, as well as make some good friends.

That said, there are some aspects that could be improved and changed. The presentations do get a bit long winded at times. If I recall correctly, we had a discussion last year about having the winners do a walk through of the site. The question then became how to prepare them for this, without letting them know that they were winners. I think that the solution that we came up with was that all nominee or semi-finalists would be told that they would have to be prepared to present a 5 minute overview of the site. The judges announce the winner with a couple of sentences and the winners (producer, educators, etc) would present their site.

I like the idea of "best wine", but I am not sure how many sites are still fresh after 5 years. Perhaps a presentation of an overview of great sites from the archives or cellar that are still online.

Also, I am not sure that the BOW is the venue for student work. I think that an interaction or a blue-ribbon panel of some sort may be better place- students can show and talk about their work.

Finally the issue of museum size has one that continues to come up. There has been a long discussion about whether we can identify a museum by size of collection, staff, budget or? , but we still have not come up with a solution. This becomes more complex we consider the fact that some museums (large and small) use production and consulting services to develop and produce a site. Does this mean that we need to consider the museum or the production company? Perhaps the solution is to simply say that we are recognizing the outstanding sites (of the different categories) that represent and are published by museums, both practical and virtual.

smannion's picture

I have to second Karen's comment about BoW as an invaluable resource for historical and design research. As a graduate student in museum technology, I visited the BoW archives at least once a month to check out previous winners in various categories for reference and to pillage good ideas that could be adapted for new projects. As a teaching assistant too, I often source examples from BoW when presenting best practices to students. I don't just look at winners, but runners-up and nominees as well.

My only criticism would be the style with which the presentations are normally done at MW. Unavoidable technical issues aside (such as the connectivity issues last year), I have the impression that the formal session is a bit long-winded and the walk-throughs of individual sites unfocused. Why not let site owners or creators demonstrate how they work? Perhaps a different format for this session might engage the audience in a discussion about the winners (and losers), which would benefit the community as a whole.

The suggestions below for new categories (e.g., Fine Wine) are great and as someone keen to recognize and promote the work of students, I would love to see a category for student work as well. I also agree that it would be nice to have a kind of "people's choice" awards, which are based on voting by community members. Finally, I'm curious how BoW can expand to include projects that cannot strictly be called "websites." It was great to see SFMOMA's Artcasts win last year, but what about apps that blur the boundaries even more?

jtrant's picture


we have both definitions for each category and criteria for evaluation that are used by the judging committee.

there's a process that's been followed (review and ranking in multiple stages) for the last few years that's outlined with the criteria.

i'd love to have some broader feedback on these.


j. trant archives & museum informatics

j. trant co-founder Museums and the Web | partner archives & museum informatics

sbrown's picture

Hi Jennifer, maybe the most fundamental question to ask about a site is "does it do what its supposed to do?" I don't mean just work technically, I mean is it a worthwhile investment? So for example, if the category is best educational, then what has been the impact on learning? It seems to me that the criteria skirt around this question but dont actually address it directly.

Regards Stephen

Stephen Brown

mmayper's picture

Hi Jennifer,

My first attendance at a MW conf. I observed and sat there in awe and wondered, "...but who knows about these sites...?" I have shown teachers and those interested the many wonderful sites, yes, even those not deemed educational ARE with a bit of creativity! Collaboration with educational institutions teaching teachers to integrate these sites into their curricula would most assuredly justify the cost of development. Perhaps an award for creative usage of a site(s) with their students....and (let the students speak!) spread the good word. Yes, I think BOW should be maintained and let's promote these sites.



Karen Bellnier's picture

In addition to the value of serving as a judge and seeing the variety of applications of web-based technology to various institutions, I have found the archives of websites to be a very valuable place to look for ideas.

Karen Bellnier

jimdevine's picture

Hi Jennifer,

I have watched BoW from it's inception through several revisions and think it still very much serves a useful purpose in showcasing examples of excellence in web presentation and engagement of the technology's potential. I particularly like the fact that not only the high-impact, high cost sites can make it to the finals, but also that the sites that are more modestly funded, yet nonetheless excellent, in their execution and innovative use of the medium, can often achieve the recognition of their peers through the BoW competition.

Best wishes,