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The summer of our non-content: Part I

September 6, 2009

After the second move in less than a month, blog headquarters have semi-permanently relocated to San Francisco.  I didn’t post much over the summer, given the fact that “I was blogging” is just about the worst excuse I can think of for failing the bar exam.

The Voice did some great work this summer, and it gets points for admitting its mistake in giving free advertising to a violent pyramid scheme.  On the other hand, it also just came out with its “Best Of Mountain View.”  Best Ofs are like a less useful version of Yelp, much as classified ads are to Craigslist.  However, unlike classifieds, local papers everywhere continue to run these contests as an annual paean to advertisers.  It’s patently unfair to pick on the Voice for this, since so many papers do these things.  But a lot of businesses are about to start promoting themselves as if the award means something, so here we go….

Often, categories in these contests are created specifically for an individual business, like “best small (non-chain) grocery store” (Congratulations, Milk Pail).  But even if it weren’t such an outdated and untrustworthy process, it would still be somewhat of a silly concept, as few customers visit enough, say, dentists in a given year to vote knowledgeably as to which is best.

Ballot-stuffing campaigns characterize these competitions, as businesses seek out free advertising.  The results can be rather amusing.  I once voted in the SF Bay Guardian reader poll to help my cousin’s t-shirt company win the competition to be named San Francisco’s “best art collective,” despite the fact that I lived in LA at the time and had never patronized a single art collective in SF.  This year the “best yoga studio” in Mountain View is actually a bookshop, the “best new business” is an old one, and the best new restaurant in Mountain View is an existing one in Los Altos.

It was this last feature that really set off some commenters on the Voice website.  Non-Mountain View businesses Chef Chu’s, the Linden Tree, Armadillo Willy’s, Watercourse Way, and Esther’s German Bakery were all named as best Mountain View businesses.  Not everybody appreciated that.  A sampling of readers’ comments:

  • “The paper should be called the Los Alto[s] Voice if they can’t find anything more to print about Mtn. View”
  • “MV Voice is too often promoting Palo Alto, Los Altos etc.”
  • “makes no sense”
  • “How pathetic!!!!!Looks like NO ONE PROOFREAD. Pretty unprofessional.”
  • (And, my favorite, from the same reader, after finding out it wasn’t a mistake). “ARE YOU SERIOUS?????????? … This contest doesn’t mean anything to me now.”

Don has once again been valiantly trying to calm the commenting rabble, but to no avail.  (“Don’t try to twist this back to me,” writes one).  Unfortunately, things are only going to get worse in the near future.

Admittedly, this is all “pretty minor stuff” (as my girlfriend told me).  And in Part II, we’ll see once again that anything the Voice can do wrong, the Town Crier can do wronger.

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