SXSW Awards: No, really! What’s the point?

Michelle (that’s all I know of her identity) just sent me a direct email responding to my recent post about the SXSW web awards. She writes:

Hi Sarah,I’m sorry that you were so disappointed with the Web Awards. I just wanted to clear some things up with you that you were confused about regarding the website, the judging, etc.I’m a SXSW veteran and know the process of this stuff. There are a TON of websites who voluntarily enter themselves to be judged. They are then judged by an array of geeks in the Interactive field. And thousands of people vote on the People’s Choice Award (obviously).Ze Frank is the host of “The Show” his sarcastic attitude is part of his personality on his extremely successful video blog. My advice would be to do your homework next time.Cheers!

Thank you, Michelle. That was a clear rebuttal and some useful clarification to a few of my points, and I appreciate you taking the time to write it. If Ze Frank has a reputation for being sarcastic, and the pre-hype involves participating in the People’s Choice voting online, then that explains some of the atmosphere of the night.

While the “do your homework next time” comment came across as condescending, I’m not going to argue the point: I didn’t do my homework. I didn’t read about the finalists two months in advance, and I didn’t vote online. I could have been a far more supportive community member, a successful networker, and a representative of our Web 2.0 values if I had invested time in the award’s ceremony in advance. No argument there.

Here’s my primary concern, though: was getting involved in advance intended to be a prerequisite for enjoying the award’s ceremony? Based on what you’ve said in your email, it seems to me that it was.And my secondary concern: how many other SXSW attendees didn’t get involved in advance? I want to reiterate that by the lack of applause and the fact that Ze, himself, seemed unfamiliar with the finalists, I can guess it wasn’t just me.

But most importantly, what I want to know is this: Did you enjoy the awards? Did you sense enthusiasm and camaraderie in the audience? Did you feel like it addressed and represented our community?

I’ve already told you that I didn’t.

But I’ve also told you that I do appreciate the purpose. And now that you’ve educated me somewhat on the process, I can appreciate that, too. What embarrassed me was the delivery of the awards. I believe it could have been dramatically improved simply by adding a two-line story about each finalist. What features set them apart from the other sites on the web? How did they triumph? Why do people care? We could have pulled the audience in and set them whispering to their neighbors, “Oh yeah! Did you see that one? That was awesome how they ____!” Or even just, “Wow, I wasn’t aware that that website managed to ______ so effectively. I need to tell ____ about that one…” Cheers! Applause!

Another thing that could have been improved: the presentation screen. We showed a screenshot of the homepage for each website. But our websites this year were a dynamic lot with plenty of interaction and animation. Why can’t we display a cool screen cam of each site performing its art? What does it do? Why is it cool? Why is it winning for its category?

We have stories to tell about our achievements, and we’re proud of them. Our awards ceremony is an opportunity to share our greatest stories and applaud them as a community. Why can’t we embrace our interactive narrative and create an experience that we can be proud of? What we did on Sunday was nothing but a collection of bulleted lists highlighted with superficial bells and whistles.

And that is so Web 1.0.

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One Response to “SXSW Awards: No, really! What’s the point?”

  1. Dopp Juice » Blog Archive » The Bees Awards: OMG FTW WTF Says:

    […] first time I ever went to a tech industry awards show, I ranted about it excessively, mostly because I just didn’t get it.  I think I understand the point a little better now, […]