We all know the Web is a visual medium. As the technology becomes better and more amazing, the graphics follow suit. Web sites become living things, which grab you as you enter and react to your presence. But what use are these graphics and technologies if they don't tell you anything? To put it another way, a web site may have a beautiful voice, but without content it will remain silent.
The original purpose of the Internet was to inform, to educate. An award winning web site should do the same thing. It should show us something of the views and world of the webmaster. It should teach us something new, or show us something old in a new way. An award winning web site should always allow us to leave knowing something that we did not know before and understanding more than we did when we first arrived.
We know that "content is king," as the saying goes, but how do we go about determining exactly what content is? Is it poetry, or essays, or articles, or fiction, or novels, or ramblings about your cat? Any of these may fill the content requirement, but only if done correctly!
Is your poetry straight from Mother Goose, or is it your own original musing from your heart? Are your essays your own words and feelings, or did you just copy what everyone else is saying? Do your articles contain relevant information and verifiable facts? Is your fiction engaging? Most of all, for any type of writing, is the grammar and spelling correct? With the right answers to these questions, you've found good content.
How Much Content?
We all know that the biggest is not necessarily the best. The site with the most content is not automatically the site with the best content, or the site that should be considered the best overall. The question, then, is how much content should be required, and of what type? Must the whole site be original works, or only a portion of it? Many award programs require a minimum of five pages — not counting, of course, awards won, web rings, update pages, and other non-essential pages.
My own awards program requires ten pages of content, with at least five of them being original content. This is because my interest in awarding lies mostly in the particular thoughts and world-view of the webmaster, rather than someone else's. I know of another highly rated site that requires fifteen pages of content.
Depending on the precise focus of your award, the amount of content and the percentage of originality you require will vary. What is important is that the site meets with the standards that you as an award giver wish to uphold. A good rule of thumb is to be sure that the site does not seem incomplete, and it does not ask more questions than it answers.
What Type of Content?
So what type of content are you going to reward? What topics should the winning sites cover? There are two answers to this. If your award is topic oriented, than the answer is simple. An award from a music site might award other music sites. An animal site might award other animal sites. You do not have to restrict yourself to the same topics as your site, of course. You can choose to reward any and every type of content, if you like.
However, if this is the case, than the topic should not matter. If you offer an award for general interest sites, than the question of what topic to award should never come up. In order to remain fair and ethical, you must be able to treat all subjects objectively and fairly. Even if the site is on a topic you do not agree with, or professes an idea you do not support, you should still be able to evaluate it.
There are exceptions to this, of course. Pornographic content, hacker sites, and those promoting violence or hatred are often cited as examples of what will not be awarded. Naturally an award site has the right, if not the necessity, to choose to abide by the laws of their home nation, including any rules regarding illegal content.
What About Presentation?
So you're looking at some wonderful content, and since that's what your award is for the site must win, right? Even though there is animation covering every spare inch of the page. Even though the music is at top volume and can't be turned off. Even though you can barely read the type because of the sparkly background (it seems to be good content, when you highlight it). Even though the page is roughly ten thousand words long. Right? No, of course not.
Yes, your award focuses on content, and the most important thing is that a site has great content. But it's also important that the presentation be at a certain level. Great content does not seem so great if you can't read it. That sparkle of personality does you no good if it is lost among the dancing babies and flashing light bulbs. And then there is the unforgettable quote located at the bottom of the long page, where no one will ever see it. No matter how good the content, then, the design must meet at least some minimum requirements. It's up to you to decide what they are.
Criteria for Judging Content
There are two different ways to judge anything: subjectively and objectively. We'll discuss the criteria for objective judging first, because they are the easiest to determine. They consist mainly of content quantity, which was discussed above, and mechanical quality. By mechanical I mean the spelling, the grammar, and the ease of reading. Is the font too large or too small? Is the whole piece just one long, unbroken stream of words? These things are objective and fairly easy to define.
Subjective criteria, though, are a bit harder to define because they differ from person to person and from viewpoint to viewpoint. Some award givers require a certain amount of style from the site. It must have personality, or spirit, enough to reach a person emotionally. They say you must be able to put a part of yourself into your web site. This is not a universal requirement, and even where it is agreed upon the exact idea of what meets the criteria will differ.
Again, the individual award giver's preference is the most important thing in a situation like this. If a sense of personal style is important to you, include it in your criteria. If, however, you do not care about style so long as the content is accurate and up to date, then let that be your guide.
Great Content Sites
All of this sounds wonderful, but how can you tell what is really good content? Think of when you surf the Web, when you are looking for information. Remember the sites that helped you the most? Remember the sites that kept you coming back, again and again, just because of their informational or entertainment value? To help you get started, here are a few sites that I remember:
The Secular Web – an ever-growing resource of articles, editorials, monthly columns, and news items. It is easily searchable by topic or by browsing. It also offers references to off-site resources, and to books and videos.
Encyclopedia Mythica – a purely informational site about the mythology and legends of many various cultures. You can browse by culture and view the alphabetical listings within the different headings, or you can search the site for a particular piece of information. Navigation is clear and easy to understand through the whole site.
Urban Legends Reference Pages – a great example of a content rich site that is also entertaining. It offers any urban legend you can think of, along with whether it is true, false, or unverified. It also explores the origins and character of the legends. You can view these legends by category, and when applicable they are cross-referenced.
The Internet is an entire universe of possibilities with worlds of information and entertainment. However, the temptation towards flashy graphics and eye candy is great. It is up to us as award givers to help to focus the webmasters. It is up to us to find and reward those sites that fulfill the greatest possible purposes of humanity: thought, knowledge, innovation, and education. With your award you can create a resource of the best content on the Web. That is the ultimate goal of awarding content!
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