Issue: Boat Reviews
BYPOINTS: Vote Early, Vote Often

As some of you may know, having read about it recently in this very space, we've gone high-tech with our annual Best of the Bay Reader Survey--the results of which appear in this issue, beginning on page 30, along with the winners of this year'sCBMReader Photo Contest. Until this year we've always done the survey the old-fashioned way. That is, over the winter we would mail it to 5,000 randomly selected readers, then tally the responses (usually somewhere in the 300 to 350 range), and then publish the results in our June or July issue.

But in recent years, as postal costs soared and internet-based reader outreach got ever more practical and effective, we began to realize it was only a matter of time before most or all of the reader survey effort would migrate to our website. And this would be good for at least three reasons: We'd save money, we'd conserve paper, and maybe, just maybe, more people would take the survey--because it would no longer involve the hideous and downright medieval ordeal of folding paper, licking a stamp and walking all the way to the mailbox. Yes, we are dreamers.

Well, fellow dreamers, that shining day has arrived. Last year we dipped our toe in the water, but this year we dived in head first, come what may. We put the survey on the website and invited all our readers to vote. And, lo and behold, the water was fine! There were no technological sea monsters lurking under the surface, waiting to devour us. Indeed, we encountered only one transitory technical problem, a tolerable little sting from a nettle lurking in our e-mail service. Best of all, all our glowing prophecies came true. We saved money on postage, we conserved paper, and wedoubledthe number of survey responses. Nearly 700 of you answered the call.

But as we began to tally the votes, it became clear that the one nontechnical downside of wide-open voting--the opportunity for ballot-box stuffing--had reared its head, if only modestly. That is, it was clear to us that one business in particular had mounted a very effective get-out-the-vote campaign. We're not talking huge numbers here, but enough to make that business (we won't name names, of course) a landslide winner in several categories--categories it has never come close to winning before. Really, not even close.

So what to do? We couldn't disqualify a ballot just because it was clear to us that the voter (not to mention every member of his or her family) had been encouraged to vote by the benefactor of said vote. This was not against the rules--yet it was a phenomenon that had simply not been possible in the old method. So we did the only thing we could for the time being: We eliminated the rankings within the categories. That is, we listed the top vote-getters but did not rank them. There is no first place, second place, third place, etc.; there is only the top 10 (give or take) in each category.

And now we're going to have a meeting to figure out how to handle all this next year. Hey, when it comes to the high-tech stuff, we're just scrambling to keep up, like everyone else.