OK guys, let's cool down. I'm writing this after many bloggers composed critical or disappointed posts and comments around the Swiss blogosphere in the last few days, since the organizers of the first Swiss Blog Awards announced the 14 finalists (5 in each of three categories, with one inexplicably getting a double ticket). "The awards for the friends of the friends" and other such statements have been sent around (there were also more thoughtful words, of course), and some even invited the sponsors to reconsider their support.
(Talking of financial supporters, a bit of disclosure: one of them is Namics, on whose Board I sit).
I've already written the other day about how the award's organizers designed a botched mechanism that, however you turn it, would automatically "exclude" bloggers from the French, Italian and Rumantsch parts of Switzerland from the final round (and indeed, there is none). However, I believe that it was an oversight, a birth defect. They have recognized it and already committed to correct that in a way or another, transparently, next year (maybe by adopting the "federalist" approach that I suggested, or maybe not).
Ever since I agreed a few weeks ago to be in one of the panels at the May 5 awards ceremony, I've felt a lot of animosity around this event. Some of it is jealousy. Some is plain silliness. The organizers also did a few things that didn't increase their capital of sympathy (I'm told that one of them, for example, strongly asked for a free ticket to the LIFT conference in Geneva last February despite the modest registration fee, and when he was told no - because his request was groundless - he criticized the event on his blog). And some of it is just a reflection of the way this country works: I don't remember who said it (Denis de Rougemont?) but that sentence "the Swiss can live together because they don't understand each other" seems to be still very much actual. Many Swiss-Germans just dislike the Swiss-French, and vice-versa, out of an irrational reflex (and the same applies to the other linguistic groups). It was an interesting clash of realities to follow that discussion online yesterday and then open the Le Temps daily newspaper and read their interview with Beatrice Stoll, director of the Literaturhaus in Zurich:
Original version: "Les relations entre les deux parties du pays sont souvent entachées de préjugés malsains. Qui sont là parce qu'on ne veut pas les reconsidérer. Avec des manifestations comme celle-là nous pouvons aussi briser des barrières".
English subtitles: "The relations between the two parts of the country are often tinged with deleterious biases. They keep existing just because we are not willing to reconsider them. Events like this can help break these barriers".
Of course, Beatrice was not referring to the Blog Awards ceremony, but to a series of literature and poetry conferences featuring writers from different parts of the country that the Literaturhaus and its partners are putting together. But the same applies to the bloggy thing.
Let's be serious and modest for a moment. Most awards are gadgets. They're often not representative and the result of a fragile selection process. In 1995 I won the Swiss Media Award (that's a national prize for journalists covering technology) for a series of articles about the early days of the Web and how it was changing people's lives. For a moment I thought that my stories had been selected because they were just the best. They were good articles, certainly deserving of the award. But maybe, just maybe, they were not the best stories. There are many other elements that concur with the quality of the work in determining who gets an award, as I discovered over the years after I was invited to join the SMA's jury (I'm still a member of it). And that's true even for the best-designed awards, run by careful people (such as the SMA): timing, formats, process, zeitgeist, the quality of the competition at that specific moment in time (there used to be an Italian top skier a while back who was fabulous, but always ended up taking second place: he had the bad luck of skiing in the same years as phenomenal Ingemar Stenmark of Sweden, who was just so much better than anyone else - and now Stenmark is still an icon among ski fans while nobody remembers the Italian guy's name, including me, although he was a truly great and deserving skier - see what I mean?) to communication (some works are just not entered into the award competition because the author or the publisher didn't know about it) and so on.
So, awards are necessarily imperfect (all of them, not only blog awards). But if awards multiply it's because they serve some purposes. Thinking generally, three in particular emerge. 1) the explicit purpose: to recognize achievement or excellence within a category or a group (think of the Oscar or the Pulitzer or the Nobel); 2) the implicit: to help define the contours of that group (this applies particularly to nascent communties of still-uncertain status and profile - like bloggers); 3) the unadvertised: to help give some credentials to the organizers or the hosts of the awards and make them "power brokers" and "connectors" within that group.
So all awards should be taken with a grain of salt, including this one. Are the 14 blogs selected for the final round of the Swiss Blog Awards really the best Swiss blogs? Clearly not. But they are good and deserving blogs, and could convince more people to nominate them within the scope of the given selection process (by the way, the organizers did not say how many votes the finalists received - for the sake of transparency, they should release those figures, right after the award ceremony so that the vote of the attendees doesn't get influenced). On May 8, when the jury of the other Swiss blog prize (the Souris d'or) will announce its nominees, we will see the obvious: a different process leads to a different outcome. I agree with what Pascal Rossini inspiredly wrote: "The best blogs are those that match our individual needs and passions".
That said, I side with Beatrice Stoll and believe that the awards event in Bienne on May 5 is worth attending - to help "break those barriers". That's the goal of other events I'm involved in organizing (Swiss Talents for Innovation, for example). That's why I've invited the coordinators of the "Bloggy Fridays" in Lausanne (same evening) to convene instead in Biel/Bienne (the awards organizers did at least one thing perfectly: they chose a bilingual city for the event, and asked every speaker to speak his/her language), and people from Geneva to Lugano (the non-German areas of Switzerland) to do the same.