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.

Guest of Honour Western Cape Premier Helen Zille spoke at the Awards evening about how “bloggers are the new voice of society” and how blogs “link the local with the big picture”.  The premier, no slouch herself on the social media scene with around 115 000 Facebook friends and one of country’s first verified Twitter accounts, said that digital communications were a “force for entrenching democracy”.  “Everything breaks immediately and is commented on and analysed before it hits the press… it’s a problem for newspapers and I wouldn’t want to be a newspaper editor in this day. It’s made it more difficult to control what information is transmitted”, reports Memeburn, one of the award-winning blogs.

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 of the SA Blog Awards. I met JP at the Vista Bar after the Blog Awards presentation, and he told me that his company organised the SA Blog Awards.  I was shocked when I saw a comment on the shortlisted Bangers and Nash blog, written by SA Blog Awards committee member Chris Rawlinson a few months ago, congratulating Dan Nash on his blog, and stating that a good blog should carry the f-word at least once a day!   So much for the quality of the judges!  (I did get to meet Dan Nash at the Vista Bar, having had dinner at Reubens at the One&Only Cape Town, and he was very generous in handing out tequila).

4.  When the top 10 shortlist was announced per category, the list was on the SA Blog Awards website, and top 10 finalists were only notified by e-mail the following day.  At no stage was an e-mail with the rules ever sent to all nominees.   One had to find information on the website, and this seemed to be amended as the SA Blog Awards progressed.

5.  Previous participants were shocked as to who made the top 10 shortlist, especially those that had won in previous years.  In the Food & Wine Blog category, for example, eight out of ten 2009 finalists did not make it in 2010.  The Relax-with-Dax, Scrumptious, Spit or Swallow, Rossouw’s Restaurants and Neil Pendock’s blogs all fell out of this category, with only the My Easy Cooking and Cooksister Blogs making the 2010 shortlist again.   Relax-with-Dax and Spit or Swallow did make the Microblogging/Twitter shortlist, however, a surprise to them too.

6.   As the SA Blog Awards developed, more and more sponsors were announced for the categories, but not all categories were sponsored (e.g. our Whale Cottage Blog made the shortlist in the Most Controversial Blog category, which did not attract a sponsor!)   In 2009, the ‘old hands’ and finalists tell me, they all went home with prizes.  It appears that despite sponsors coming on board, the category prizes were a little perspex obelisk with the SA Blog Awards logo on it.  This gives little incentive to enter the Awards competition in 2011.   Sponsors’ monies appear to have been used to pay for the dinner, and to compensate JP Naude’s company for organising the Awards.

7.   The highlight for the 2009 finalists was the SA Blog Awards dinner, I have been told, even if the bloggers did not win.  It was a great networking platform, and an honour to have attended.  In pre-announcing the top 2 out of the top 10 of each category this year, the Awards dinner was reduced to about 50 finalists, and only those got to attend the dinner – in the last minute the rules were changed, in that the SA Blog Awards website announced that the dinner was ‘by invitation only’.  Initially the Awards dinner date was set for yesterday (over a long weekend!), leading one to assume that all top 10 finalists would be invited to attend it.

8.  The voting phase for each category spanned about two weeks, and one felt like an Idols’ finalist, begging for votes on one’s blog and on Twitter.   I think that the more the finalists begged, the fewer votes they received.  One was allowed to vote once a day per valid e-mail address one has.  So, for example, someone with 10 e-mail addresses could cast 10 votes daily!   The actual weighting of votes by ‘fans’ and the judges evaluation was only recently stated as being 30 % of the vote by the judges, and 70 % from the public.  The judges per category were also not all announced – on one specific day the judges of some of the 24 categories were named on Twitter, and some judges also proudly tweeted that they were judging blogs (e.g. Jo-Ann Strauss, Sam Wilson and her husband Andreas Späth).  We never got to hear the names of the judge(s) of the Most Controversial Blog category, for example.  Mention was also made that blog ranking statistics would be taken into consideration as well, being Afrigator specifically, a site that frequently goes down.  The question was raised as to the effect it would have on one’s standing if one was not registered on this ranking site.  Oddly, few of the top-ranked Afrigator blogs were in the finals.  It is clear that the larger the number of readers of one’s Blog, and the greater the Twitter following, the higher one’s votes would have been likely to be.   The top first and second winners per category were notified by e-mail that they had made it, and they were listed on the website too.  The remaining 8 finalists per category were not notified by the organisers, and were only told that if they did NOT receive an e-mail, they would know that they had not made it as number 1 or 2!   This was the rudest aspect of the SA Blog Awards organisation, in my opinion.  Many Blog finalists had put in a lot of effort to encourage voting, and thereby had publicised the Awards on behalf of the organisers, who had created little publicity for the event themselves!  No thanks was received for one’s participation.

Despite all of the above, we are proud that we made it to the Top 10 finalist stage in our category, and that we learnt from participation for the first time.  We trust that the organisers of the 2010 SA Blog Awards will accept this feedback and will improve the organisation and credibility of it, to ensure that they have quality participants in 2011!

The overall winner of the SA Blog Awards was a big surprise, being www.watkykjy.co.za, a provocative proudly-Afrikaans on-the-edge blog, that claims to receive 180000 ‘visits’ per month, and describes itself as “Die beste Afrikaanse blog en website in die heelal”!  In the past the Award has been won by www.2Oceansvibe.co.za every year that editor Seth Rotherham (Will Mellor) has entered the Awards.  Rotherham/Mellor did not even bother to attend, being in the Karoo over the weekend, and sent a message to the organisers that this was the last SA Blog Awards competition he had entered.   (Most non-Cape Town top 2 finalists per category did not attend, yet the writer of www.indieberries.blogspot.com travelled all the way from South Korea to pick up her two category wins).

The winners in the 24 categories, announced last night, are as follows (congratulations to them all):

Best Entertainment Blog:  www.2oceansvibe.co.za (ranks 3rd on Afrigator)

Best Media & Marketing Blog:  www.cherryflava.com

Best Post on a SA Blog: www.brainwavez.org/screen/film/features/2009/20091001001-01.html

Best Overseas Blog: www.pharside.co.uk

Best TV Radio Blog: www.ecr.co.za/kagiso/content/en/east-coast-radio/east-coast-radio-blogs-breakfast

Best Politics Blog: www.wonkie.com (ranks 10th on Afrigator)

Best Photographic Blog: www.guywithcamera.co.za (Andrew Brauteseth)

Best New Blog: www.simply-delicious.co.za

Best Food & Wine Blog: www.simply-delicious.co.za

Best Science and Technology Blog: www.shesthegeek.co.za

Best Music Blog: www.dontparty.co.za

Best Fashion Blog: www.kimgray.co.za

Best Design Blog: www.indieberries.blogspot.com

Best Podcast/Video Blog: www.zanews.co.za

Best Business Blog:  www.memeburn.com

Best Group Blog: www.rlabs.org

Best Sport Blog: www.paddlesweep.net

Best Green Blog:  www.sprig.co.za

Best Indigenous Language Blog: www.watkykjy.co.za (7th on Afrigator) 

Most Controversial Blog: www.2oceansvibe.co.za

Best Travel Blog: www.getaway.co.za/page/blog

Best Personal Blog: www.indieberries.blogspot.com

Best Parenting Blog: www.reluctantmom.wordpress.com

Best Twitter Blog: www.twitter.com/mandyjwatson

Best Company Blog: www.rlabs.org

The SA Blog Awards website states that “integrity and credibility of the SA Blog Awards is our highest priority”.  It also states that the organisers would look for a ‘balance between the public voting system and the judge’s choice of winners’, to allow a free and fair selection of winners.  Many participants of this year’s Awards will agree that this was not the case!  

POSTSCRIPT 27/9:  The response to this blogpost has been phenomenal, with more than 850 readers in the first 21 hours of publishing it, and an incredible number of Twitter Retweets, many containing compliments, throughout the day yesterday.  Twitter is normally very quiet on a Sunday, especially over a long weekend.   The link to this post was sent to the organising committee of JP Naude, Chris Rawlinson and Dave Duarte, with no response to date. 

If one googles ‘SA Blog Awards’, one can read many blogposts written in the past two months, criticising various aspects of the SA Blog Awards.

The list of judges per category, with many typing errors, was recently added to the SA Blog Awards website, it would appear.  It is funny to see Randall Abrams listed as a judge for the Most Controversial Blog category – did I not write above that we felt like Idol’s finalists??!!  The other judge for the category was listed as ‘Ivor Vector’, but this name does not exist on a Google search.  However, Ivo Vegtor says he was invited to be a judge, but decided not to.  Randall Abrams has no blog, nor has Graham Howe, one of two judges in the Food & Wine Blog.  As far as judging goes, read the Comments section to this blogpost about what happened to Chris, the writer of iMod, the top ranked blog on Afrigator.  The list of judges for all the categories:  http://www.sablogawards.com/Judge3.aspx

Chris von Ulmenstein: Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com