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Inside the Rating Panel

By A Former AS! Rating Panelist -- June 1, 2000
There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about the Award Sites! Rating Panel, and this article seeks to dispel them, give some advice, and answer the commonly asked questions.

Who's on the Panel?

There are less than a dozen members on the Rating Panel. There's an odd number so there cannot be a tie unless a member declines to rate a particular site. All of the members of the Panel run award programs rated at the 5.0 or 4.5 level.

Did you think I was going to answer that question? I couldn't answer it even if I wanted to! Seriously, the members of the Panel don't know who the other members are. There goes your theory about the Panel getting together and deciding to "black list" a site.

Why the Secrecy?

Think this through. If you knew who the Panel members were, would you refuse to award their sites when they applied for your award? Would you be tempted to try and make friends with them to get a better rating? Might you even come right out and ask them for advice on your awards program? Would you treat me differently if you knew I was on the Panel? Trust me, you would.

There are around 2,000 rated awards. The members of the Panel would be swamped with email wanting their votes. They would be swamped with requests for "How do I improve my program?" and they would get nothing else done but read and reply to email. We have lives off the Net, believe it or not, just like you do. Plus, we run higher rated programs, which gives us plenty of email.

How Does It Work?

Each week the Panel members are sent a list of around 20 programs to rate or consider for upgrades. We see only the name of the program and the URL. We are not given any information on the program, such as the write up that is sent in when you apply for a rating. Occasionally we are given instructions on where to find something, such as the award graphic, if it's not easy to find.

Our opinions of the program are not influenced in any manner. For an initial rating we have all possible ratings available to us from 1.0 to 5.0. We have approximately one week in which to review the entire list of programs and return the ratings we feel the programs have earned.

We are allowed to point out problems on a site if we find one that would prevent the program from being rated or upgraded. If one of us points out a problem, the program will be withdrawn from the list for that week. We can send back comments along with the ratings, or just the ratings.

What Happens Next?

After the ratings are sent in, they are tallied. For an initial request the rating achieved is based on the average of all the ratings suggested by the members, with any large discrepancies excluded. For example: A rating suggestion of 2.0 is excluded if the other members are suggesting 3.0 and 3.5 for the award program.

Upgrades are based on a majority rule. If the majority of the members vote to give the site an upgrade, it is upgraded. If the majority of the members vote for no upgrade, the program does not receive one.

Can a Program be Downgraded?

Yes it can. Any 3.5 rated or better award program that requires signing a guestbook is subject to the guestbook rule that was implemented after it received the rating. The program will be automatically downgraded to 3.0 IF it requests an upgrade.

During the 3 years the rating process has been in effect, the criteria and rules for the rating levels have become stricter and more detailed. The members of the Panel follow the criteria (and all changes to it) very closely. Older awards that have a 3.5 rating or better will not be penalized for being rated at a given level 2 to 3 years ago.

Award programs, just like websites, have improved since 1997. So it is to be expected that some of the programs rated in the early days of the rating process might not attain the same rating level if they were to apply for an initial rating today. All award programs, no matter when they were rated, are subject to the current criteria and rules if they apply for an upgrade.

Can a Program Lose It's Rating?

Yes it can. Any member of the Panel can request the removal of a program when it is found to be in violation of the Rating Level Criteria and Rules. Here are some examples of reasons for removal:

  • Failure to display the rating level banner. This is cause for immediate removal, without notification. It's explicitly stated in the rules and on the page where the banners are picked up after the initial rating or an upgrade.

  • A bad URL. It's up to an award program to inform Award Sites! of any changes, including the URL of the program. There is now a specific page at Award Sites! to report any changes to a program.

  • Outdated program. Programs that give out awards at least once a month will be removed if the winners' list is over 60 days old. Programs will also be removed if any image links are broken, the forms don't work, or you can't contact the owner at the email address provided.

  • Having an outdated link to Award Sites! The correct URL is

Criteria and Rules

When I was "trained" for this job, I was told to read the Rating Level Criteria and Rules and to visit sites that were recently rated in their respective levels to learn what the differences were in the various levels. Then when the ratings came out, I should check the list to see what levels the programs achieved. That way I would learn even more by direct observation.

It would be logical at this point to go over the Criteria and Rules one item at a time and point out specifically what the members of the Rating Panel look for under each item. This would give you further insight into the rating process and how you can use this information to better your chances at getting a higher rating.

However, due to the volume of information and insight that will have to be provided, my review of the Criteria and Rules will be published in another article later this summer. Watch for it here at this site! At that time, any questions sent to Don about this article will be forwarded to me and can be addressed in the next one.

Basically, we don't know anything that you don't know. We use the same exact guidelines to rate your programs that you have at your disposal. Do us all a favor and read that last sentence again. You can view recently rated programs to see the differences between the various rating levels.

I Met the Criteria, But ...

If you really think you met every bit of the 5.0 criteria, then all I can say is the majority of the Rating Panel isn't convinced you have earned this level — yet.

You don't have to get a unanimous vote to get a 5.0 rating. You do have to get a majority vote of the Panel. There is an odd number of members on the Panel and they all have 5.0 or 4.5 rated programs. They have either achieved what you seek or will one day achieve it, assuming they can convince people they don't know that they have earned the right to be listed with the "Best of the Best."

Award Sites! didn't pick the members of the Rating Panel out of a hat. It wasn't some random drawing or who they knew that got them a position on the Panel. They earned their invitations to be members. They contributed to the awards community in more ways than just giving out awards.

What Should I Do?

Read the Criteria and Rules again. Look at the programs that have been rated recently at the level you want to achieve. That's the advice from this Panel member, and it's the same advice you'll get from any higher rated program. Study what they did.

But don't pick one program and model yourself after it. Plagiarism is a major "No-No." Ignore the compulsion to conform and do your own thinking. Learn what you can from the ones that have achieved what you seek. They don't say their awards are hard to get. They don't have to. These programs stand on their own two feet.

Read the articles here. All of them. They were written by the very people who have achieved what you seek or are well on their way. Contribute something to this growing archive of information on awards. Write to Don suggesting your topic, give a short synopsis of the content, and he'll respond with guidelines (length, etc.) and suggestions that might improve your article. Don't be afraid to contribute something more to the Internet community.

Can You Give Me Advice?

There is an old saying: "Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door." If you're happy with your award program and feel it deserves a 5.0 rating, that may very well be true. So stop fussing at it. Making your program even more complex won't help. Giving it a super duper new award graphic won't help either, unless, of course, your old one was huge or had some other flaw.

There is obviously still something "missing" if you didn't get an upgrade to the 5.0 level. Look at your site. Have you been neglecting it because you're too busy with your award program? Has it been upgraded to meet your criteria? Can it earn your top award? Can it earn other awards? Stop staring at your criteria or your awards for a moment and do something to help yourself. Work on your website. Apply for some awards — it might humble you a bit.

Try standing on the other side of the fence. Pretend you're a member of the Rating Panel. Would you rate your program at the 5.0 level? You now know everything the members know. Use it to your best advantage.

Who Runs Award Sites!?

David Bancroft, Award Sites! founder, spends untold hours maintaining and updating Award Sites! The work required to keep the site current for nearly 2,000 different awards is staggering! He encourages all of us to strive for excellence, not only for ourselves in creating better award programs, but also for those who seek out our awards. He has given his time and his talent to help the awards community.

That's a big gift. He deserves our gratitude and patience, not our complaints. Thank you, David, for encouraging me, for challenging me, and for making me earn my recognition. Thank you for trusting me to write this article on behalf of the Rating Panel.

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