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Standard Awards Criteria
Or, How To Truly Frustrate Your Applicants

by Jonathan Hayward -- January 30, 2002
Like many of you, I maintain a website. A couple, actually, but one is my pride and joy. It's at, and it has material to which I've tried to give creativity, hard work, and that extra something special. I invite you to visit it and see what I've worked so hard on.

Like many of you, I share my website with friends, but I haven't put it on the web just so I can write my URL on a napkin after I meet someone. I want to share it with the world.


Jonathan Hayward

When an awards program recognizes a website, they help make that site that much more visible, that much more available. So I visit Award Sites! and look at awards programs. If a program looks like it might be interested in it, I apply. I skip over one or two that exist to recognize exceptional Flash design, because my site is meant to draw people through a slightly more subtle means. The next one I see says, "This award program recognizes good design, but even more is meant to recognize content. We love websites whose webmasters have poured heart and soul into, and have written something deep." I'm very happy to read this, because I think they will genuinely like Jonathan's Corner. So I visit the site.

They say they want me to read their criteria, which seems fair enough; I'm asking them to read through part of my site, so it's fair enough for them to ask me to read something reasonable. So I faithfully read through the quite detailed purpose, criteria, awards description, review process, scoring, self test, suggested resources, list of tips, and am finally ready to apply. I take a breath and click the link:

Program temporarily closed.

Our awards program is temporarily closed for the remainder of this month but should be back in operation by February 1, 1997. We invite you to submit in the near future when we're back in operation. Sorry for the inconvenience!

I take a walk around the block to cool down after this, and pray that this site is an exception. After visiting a few more, I realize it was beginner's bad luck: a few of the award sites I visit are down, but they say so politely at the beginning, not after I've ploughed through verbose criteria. Most of the pages are attractive, explain the program's goals clearly, and don't ask me to read anything inappropriately...

Er, well, something like that...

Er, well, they certainly don't tell me they're closed after I read through all their criteria...

I'm trying to think kind thoughts, but there's another frustration. What? It has something to do with what I read in the criteria. Let me give one example, assembled from different sources:

Awards Criteria

We know some applicants believe a stereotype, and think that all awards criteria are the same, but that's not true at all. Awards criteria are unique, as every awards program is unique, as every snowflake is unique, as every proton in the universe is unique. You therefore need to read all of the following criteria before applying for our award:

  • No warez, hacking, or cheat codes.
  • No porn.
  • No disabled right click.
  • If you use MIDI, I must be able to turn it off.
  • No bandwidth stealing.
  • No pirated images.
  • No internal broken links.
  • Front page must load in under 3 hours on my T3.
  • Must have at least 5 unique pages.
  • N0 tYPinG l1k3 th15.
  • You must be at least 19 years of age to apply. C.O.P.P.A. only says 13, but we've seen other sites require 14, 15, and even 18, and we go above and beyond the call of duty.
  • No horizontal scrolling at 800x600.
  • No more than 5 vertical scrolls at 800x600.
  • ...

And so on and so forth, for a collected total of 8 vertical scrolls at 1024x768.

Without nitpicking, I'd point out that these awards programs appear, God bless their hearts, to believe they're the first people to tell me that the best sites on the web won't crash their browsers--and that the visitors who have top-notch web sites, the people for whom their program exists, need to be told every one of these things.

I was glad for this kind of criteria the first time I read them--much better than if everybody expected me to meet them and nobody ever explained them. All the same, when I read this kind of criteria now, it leaves me bleary-eyed. It's not that I don't like to read; I love it, and maintain a list of gems which I invite others to read. Nor do I mind reading material for web awards. What bothers me then?

Reading the same things again and again for people who believe that if they don't tell visitors to read their wording of "don't display text in in flyspeck 3", the visitors will never know that part of web design. This is frustrating to people who've read about good web design and built and revised with awards criteria in mind--which is to say it is frustrating to your most valued applicants.

What about people who haven't seen these criteria before? Won't they be stranded if award sites take out shared elements? That's beside the point, because I don't want award sites to take out this material. What do I mean by that?

I don't want award sites to delete recurring elements. I would like to see awards sections broken into two sections, 'general' and 'specific':

Awards Criteria

Our award has general criteria which are shared with other good awards programs, and specific criteria which tell what makes our criteria unique.


  • The site must be handicap accessible, including appropriate use of "alt" tags and <noframes> content if your site uses frames.
  • No warez or cracking.
  • No serious HTML errors, such as ...
  • ...


This program exists to showcase content and writing in particular. As such, bonus points are awarded for the following:

  • The site has literature among its offerings.
  • The selection of literature includes at least two of: essay, fiction, poetry, experimental writing that blurrs genres.
  • Writing should at least follow the standards of The Elements of Style in communicating clearly.
  • ...

If awards programs want visitors to read something they've written, why not write something distinctive for best-of-the-web designers? They know the basics, so what can you tell them that other programs won't? Think about the 3-5 best sites you've reviewed--ones that not only earned your best award, but left you stunned, wondering "Why aren't there more sites like that on the web?" Describe them. Tell what made them not only different from your other submissions, but different from even each other. Make the required reading something that will be new to the best webmasters applying for your award.

Breaking reading material into general and specific sections can help make your awards program a joy to visitors who have studied and acted on what makes a good webpage and would like to know specifically what makes your program different.

Copyright © 2002
All Rights Reserved
Jonathan Hayward

About the Author
Jonathan is the owner of and his writings have been published in Inner Sanctum and Perfection, and he is featured, with a biography and several writings, in the Summer 2001 issue of Ubiquity.  He also contributed a chapter to the upcoming book Tales From the Ultranet.  Jonathan has a number of other interests, including French, human cultures, computer languages, and understanding the different ways people perceive time.

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