I’m not a big believer in the old adage that suggests that popularity always equals mediocrity – The Beatles are, after all, very popular, as is Star Wars and Lost – but it’s certainly fair to say that when an opinion is shared en masse, it can quite often be a little bit dubious.
A case in point is the Mashable Open Web Awards, now in its third year, the latest of which the popular social media blog launched back in October. Mashable presented its readers with fifty different social media categories and asked them to nominate their favourites in each. Around 350,000 votes have now been cast, and earlier today they published the 500 leading nominees.
I have to say – it’s a bit of a shocker.
Now, before you read the rest of this I need to own up to something – I’m pretty sure I voted at least once or twice several weeks back in the Open Web Awards, but I can’t search back that far on Twitter, and there doesn’t seem to be a way to check how you voted on the OWA website. So you’re going to have to take my word for it. Or maybe I just imagined I did. What has put me off is there’s no way to opt out of the auto-tweet Mashable makes you do when you vote. I realise they’re trying to raise publicity, but I don’t like auto-anything. Either way, I’ve rectified that now, and done some voting. Sorry for messing up your Twitter stream. I might have to do a few more tomorrow, too – apologies for that as well.
True to the title, the nominations are entirely open – meaning you can propose anybody, and don’t have to select from a predetermined list. While this makes the system fairer, typically what you end up with are nominees determined by who shouts and self-promotes the loudest, and who has the most devoted/obsessed followers (i.e., fans).
That’s not to say there aren’t a handful of worthy names on Mashable’s list, but there’s a genuine reason the Academy Award nominees aren’t selected by the public – and that’s because we already have the MTV Movie Awards. And they suck.
I draw your attention in particular to the Twitter categories, specifically the section therein marked People. Here’s a few of the gems Mashable’s poll has served up:
- Most educational Twitter user to follow: Alyssa Milano
- Most inspiring: Billy Ray Cyrus
- Funniest: Jonathan Knight
- Twitter user of the year: Collective Soul (an account that has followed/unfollowed me about a dozen times)
This certainly isn’t Mashable’s fault – the system encourages people to vote for whomever they want, and that’s what they’ve done. (With gusto.) And with the celebrity (and fan) involvement on Twitter you’re always going to get a little bit of confusion about what things like ‘educational’ really mean.
But what really surprised me was the Best Social Media Maven To Follow category. Take a look at this list:
- Mari Smith
- Annaliese Nielsen
- Erin Blaskie
- Mia von Doom
- Brian Solis
- Ron Callari
- Karen Robinovitz
- GI Wayne
Now, I’m not attacking these folks per se, but if this is what the Twitter collective seriously thinks is the cream of the social media crop, then we really are in trouble. No wonder the term ‘social media guru’ is expressed with such disdain.
(Incidentally, and for the record: this isn’t sour grapes on my part – I had absolutely no aspirations to be nominated myself, although I do appreciate those folk who were kind enough to put down my name. I’m confident I can win ‘Best Online Music Label’ this time next year.)
Where is @chrisbrogan? From what I can tell, he’s received just twelve votes over the past week or so. Twelve! I mean, quite possibly a title like ‘Social Media Maven’ is just a little too twee, or that Brogan’s 100K+ followers are a little too savvy to nominate him in a poll, but come on. Brogan doesn’t get nominated but Mia Von Doom does? For reals?
It’s not just Brogan’s absence that is telling, either. Where is @louisgray? @chrisgarrett? @jesse? @parislemon? Where on the rest of the list is @jackschofield? @davewiner? @tweetmeme? Even @arrington? These are the folks who are pushing and shaping Twitter. Not Donnie Wahlberg and Jonathan Knight.
(Although I feel bad for the other New Kids; their omission must have been quite a gut-punch.)
Darren Rowse (aka @problogger) and @copyblogger, arguably the two most influential blogs in the world, don’t even warrant a mention in the ‘Best Blogger’ category.
Heck, Robert Scoble doesn’t make any category in the Open Web Awards. Nor, for that matter, does @mashable itself, which is another curious oversight. Let’s be grateful @techcrunch is absent too, otherwise there would be hell to pay.
Here’s the thing: when folk are asked to vote their favourites from a fixed list, there are often lots of complaints about the absence of X, Y and Z. “Why isn’t my favourite on there?” And that’s fine and to be expected. But assuming the award-giver has done its homework, most of the time the actual results will be more satisfying. The winners may not fall in the order you expected, but at least you know they’ll make the cut. You still want surprises, because an anticipated outcome is dull, but at least you’ll have a list of quality.
When you hand people a blank piece of paper and tell them to write down any name that they like irrespective of the category (or basic common sense), the best you can hope for is a sprawling mess. The worst, and that’s unfortunately what we’re seeing with this year’s Open Web Awards, is something closer to a farce.