Rethinking the Readers' Choice Awards

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As part of the unveiling of our Editors’ Choice Awards last week, we also announced the winners of our Readers’ Choice honors, selected by you folks. (In case you missed it, Parallels Desktop for Mac and the 24-inch iMac Core 2 Duo took home the prizes for software and hardware of the year, respectively.) This is the third consecutive year we’ve had a Readers’ Choice component to our year-end awards, and I think it’s been a valuable addition. Sure, Macworld editors have an interesting perspective on the year’s top products, given the sheer volume of hardware and software we see. But finding out what products Mac users have embraced in a given year is every bit as important. So I’m glad to see the Readers Choice Awards’ become an established part of our Eddy process, and I expect it to continue for years to come.

I also wonder if there are ways we could improve the awards.

First, a little background on how the Readers’ Choice nominees and winners get picked: we start by soliciting nominations, both in the magazine and on our Web site. Given how passionate Mac users are about their hardware and software, it should come as no surprise that we wind up with a pretty extensive list of nominees— four pages worth of comments in our forums for this year’s awards. We wind up paring that list down—some nominees aren’t released or updated during the November-to-November eligibility period, others are products that don’t enjoy wide support. The winnowing process produces a list of anywhere from five to eight finalists—it’s important to restrict the final vote to that size to guarantee some form of consensus about the winner. Ask people to pick the top hardware and software from a list of, say, two dozen finalists, and you’ll wind up with winners that capture just a single-digit percentage of the vote.

That said, there are drawbacks to asking readers to pick from a limited field—namely, that your list of finalists is almost certainly restricted to big-name products from big-name companies. The problem is further compounded by having just the broad hardware and software categories—by its very nature, the final list of Hardware of the Year contenders is going to be dominated by whatever new machines Apple rolls out.

Indeed, if there’s one persistent criticism we hear from readers, it’s that the Readers’ Choice Awards doesn’t offer much opportunity to recognize smaller products from a broader range of companies. In the thread linked to above, one forum member suggested creating an additional category—Gems of the Year, he called it—to shine a spotlight on deserving low-profile applications.

It sounds like a pretty intriguing idea to me, but then again, these aren’t my awards. What do you think—how can we improve the Readers’ Choice Awards? Should there be more categories? If so, which ones did you have in mind? And are there changes to the nomination process you’d like to see? In particular, we’re looking for ways to let readers vote on a wider array of products without overwhelming people with a seemingly endless list of nominees.

At any rate, we’d love to hear whatever feedback you have on tweaks and improvements to the awards. Maybe, by the time we gather again in fall 2007 to consider that year’s honorees, we can come up with a way to better recognize your choice for the top products of the past 12 months.

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