Last week, I got an email from PhotoLucida with biographical information for all the reviewers. This year they also included the reviewer’s answers to a series of questions. The questions ranged from, “What kind of work are you interested in seeing?” to “What can you offer photographers?” Although not every reviewer filled out the questionnaire, most of them did, and having the answers to the questions really should help in selecting reviewers.
I printed out the reviewer information, and spent a few hours going through it an making notes on the printout. I ended up assigning each reviewer a score of 1 through 5, with 1 meaning zero interest, and fives going to the people who I considered must-sees.
I did notice something that made me nervous. Remember the reviewer six years ago who told me he couldn’t use anything but B&W chemically-processed photographs? He’s back this year. He says he wants to see everything. I suppose that his institution’s interests could have changed in six years. Or maybe what he means is that he personally wants to see everything even though he can’t give you a show unless you’re using the right process. Uncertain as to how to interpret his answers, I gave him a score of one.
Then I went to the PhotoLucida web site and found a list of the reviewers and their affiliations. I copied the information, pasted it into Word, exported it as a text file, changed the file extension to .csv, and double-clicked on it, importing it into Excel. With just a tiny bit of editing, I now had a spreadsheet with columns for Name, Title, and Affiliation. Then my engineering background asserted itself. I added a column labeled Rating, and entered the scores. There were some names on the list of reviewers that weren’t on the information forms and vice- versa, but luckily, everybody I cared about was on both forms. I ended up with 61 names that were on both lists. Finally, I had Excel sort the list by score, with the most desirable reviewers at the top.
Today, I received about 80 emails from PhotoLucida. Each email was addressed to a very long distribution list that probably includes every conference attendee. Each email contained a different userid and password to log into the PhotoLucida web site. One of the emails said to disregard all the others, and contained a userid and a password that they promised not to share with the world. I was not too pleased that my email address had been distributed to all the other participants, and I braced myself for a “reply to all” barrage; so far it hasn’t happened.
When I finally logged on to the web site, I was dismayed at what I found. There was a list of sixty names, in random order. Each name had an up-arrow and a down-arrow next to it. What they wanted me to do was find a name, click the right arrow, and note that the name had moved up or down one place in the list. I was to repeat until the list represented my reviewer priorities.
What was the problem? I already had a prioritized list in the Excel spreadsheet; all I had to do was make PhotoLucida’s list look like mine. The first problem was that the names were randomized, so it was a little hard to find the one I was looking for. The second problem was the number of clicks and screen repaints necessary to get the job done. I figured maybe 1000. As I started to work, I realized that there was a third problem. If I had to scroll down to find a name, the screen repaint after I clicked on an arrow reset the scrolling, so that I had to scroll down and find the name again. This was maddening.
As I spent several unpleasant hours getting the reviewer priorities right, I was plagued by a gnawing worry. With the blast of gratuitous email messages, the PhotoLucida people had already proven that they weren’t the world’s greatest computer programmers. What if they had a glitch that reset all my priorities and I had to do the whole thing all over?
After I had been at it awhile, I took a break. When I logged back on, a new kind of up-arrow had been added; one that moved the entry to the top. I sure could have used that when I first started this process, but, since I had been building my list from the top down, the new arrow was too late for me, except it did give a way around the resetting-the-scrolling problem at the bottom of the list; I could send a name all the way to the top, then work it down one at a time. Better, even if more clicks. What I’d really like is to be able to type a number in a box next to the person’s name and have the person move to that place on the list.
I just got a mildly defensive email from PhotoLucida that explained that the reason the lists were initially randomized is that people stop prioritizing towards the bottom of the list, and if you started in alphabetical order, it meant the reviewers from the last part of the alphabet were disadvantaged. I’m sure they’re right. Exhausted by the time I got the top two-thirds right, I left the bottom third alone.