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<nettime> sf chronicle on webby awards

Webbies Go for Glitz
World's best Web sites honored -- Hollywood-style 

Verne Kopytoff, Chronicle Staff Writer 		Friday,May 12, 2000  

For a few hours last night, the Internet industry forgot its recent
worries about falling stock prices and nonexistent profits to congratulate
itself on a job well done.

Company executives and designers gathered at the Masonic Auditorium on Nob
Hill for the 4th Annual Webby Awards, a celebration in the tradition of
the Oscars that honors the world's best Web sites in 27 categories. The
awards have become increasingly popular as a measure of quality and as a
source of bragging rights, especially in the Bay Area, considered the
capital of the technology industry. The rapid growth of the Internet has
propelled the Webbys from its modest birth in a San Francisco nightclub to
last night's extravagant, Hollywood-style event.

``I'm feeling psyched,'' said Adam Miller, chief technical officer of, a music Web site in San Francisco, who was wearing an
astronaut suit and carrying a company flag. ``Ever since we've been
nominated, it's been a big boost.'' Creating a veneer of prestige was
clearly a goal of the event's organizers. Guests entered the auditorium on
a red carpet patrolled by paparazzi, actually actors paid to shout
questions and use flash cameras that had no film.

The event itself had other authentic Hollywood touches. Alan Cumming, the
Tony Award winning actor who has appeared in such films as ``Eyes Wide
Shut,'' was the master of ceremonies, while actress Sandra Bernhard and
Talk magazine editor Tina Brown presented awards. ``I think awards shows
in general fulfill this primal need in people to seek validation,'' said
Tiffany Shlain, the event's founder and director.  ``And really, the Webby
Awards are a large dramatic way of saying, `Good job.' '' As has been the
case throughout the Webbys' short history, invitations were difficult to
come by. Signaling how much the Internet industry covets awards, or simply
how much it enjoys a night out, Shlain said that ticket demand exceeded
the venue's 2,400-seat capacity by at least a factor of two or three. The
Webby ceremony was a mixture of tribute, irreverence, satire and
multimedia spectacle that mimicked the tenor of the Internet. Event
organizers called it an ``antidote to the Oscars,'' and in many ways that
was true. As has been the Webbys' hallmark, victory speeches were limited
to five words. However, the winners still managed to include some
whimsical phrasing that made the audience laugh. ``Three letters --
I.P.O,'' a representative from Adbusters, the winner in the activism
category, told the crowd.  Award presentations were juggled between
animated film clips, live music and special effects. The hall was
decorated in the theme of H.G. Wells' ``The Time Machine,'' which included
such futuristic decor as a round movie screen and flashing lights.

Categories included arts, commerce, games, humor and kids. Judging was
done by 270 members of the International Academy of Digital Arts and
Sciences, a group that describes itself as encouraging the ``progress of
new media'' and includes celebrities such as actor Robin Williams and
musician David Bowie. ``Actually, it wasn't very difficult for me to
choose a winner,'' said Deepak Chopra, the spiritual adviser and author
who was a judge in the health category but did not attend the ceremony.
``I think the Webbys are a good way to get people interested in the
Internet.'' Not surprisingly, representatives from the Webby-nominated
sites were pleased to be part of the competition. Their sentiments ranged
from pride for receiving the recognition to the expectation of free
publicity and its residual riches. Eric Greenberg, co-president of, a health Web site from Pennsylvania, said it was an
honor to be nominated out of the ``30,000 other health sites out there.''
Others had a more understated view of the event. Ryan Edwards, who helped
design the Web site of KROQ, a Los Angeles radio station nominated in the
radio category, said the event was better when people took it less
seriously. He has attended several Webby ceremonies and was a little
disappointed with this one. ``It used to be a good party,'' Edwards said
outside the auditorium. ``Now its just a great big corporate mixer.''

Some categories featured relatively unknown Internet sites rather than the
multimillion-dollar companies that can afford to build fancy ones. In many
cases, the operators of those small sites had no idea how they got
nominated.  ``It's nice to get all dressed up and go to some fancy
shindig,'' said Jason Kottke, a Web designer from Minneapolis, whose
online diary,, was up for an award in the personal category.
``It's an excuse to go to San Francisco.'' One early winner was
Entropy8Zuper, a graphics-intensive Web site (
operated by Michael Samyn, of Belgium, and Auriea Harvey, an American
living in Belgium. It won the inaugural SFMOMA Webby Prize for Excellence
in Online Art, run in conjunction with the Webbys and the San Francisco
Museum of Modern Art.  Unlike the other Webby awards, the winners of this
prize received $30,000.  The judging was also different in that it was
based on a body of work rather than a single Web site. Other winners
included BabyCenter, a children's retailer owned by eToys, in the commerce
category. Cafe Utne won in the community category. And Video Farm, an
online resource center for film makers, won in the broadband category.

The Webby ceremony was preceded by a party at Grace Cathedral that
featured ``cyber angels,'' acrobats that appeared to floating in the air
inside the church. A party after the ceremony was held in the cathedral's
plaza and in a tent at nearby Huntington Park. Companies that were not
nominated showed up anyway, turning the event into a marketing carnival.
Workers from several companies stood outside the venues and handed out
cards and candy. In keeping with the event's satirical edge, the Webbys
hired people to roam the festivities and fuss over guests to make them
feel important. But what got much of the attention were some of the
outrageously dressed guests, including some wearing silver insect wings,
space suits and feathered headdresses. 

Despite all the buzz around the Webbys, it is difficult to measure what
winning one means. Some Webby-winning sites report a surge in visitors,
while others say the benefits are unclear. Nevertheless, companies try to
capitalize on the event as much as they can, judging from the number of
them that issued press releases touting their nominations. Many nominees
also placed the Webby emblem on their Internet sites and encouraged their
users to vote for them in the Webby's popularity competition, the People's
Voice. Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of the Webbys are the Webbys
themselves, which are owned by IDG, a technology market research company
in Framingham, Mass., that publishes the ``. . . for Dummies'' series of
books. The event has grown dramatically from its first year in 1997, when
it was held at Bimbo's nightclub in North Beach. 



--Activism: Ad Busters - 
--Arts: Web Stalker - 
--Broadband: Video Farm - 
--Commerce: BabyCenter - 
--Community: Cafe Utne - 
--Education: Merriam Websters-Word Central - 
--Fashion: Paul Smith - 
--Film: Atom Films - 
--Finance: - 
--Games: GameSpy Industries - 
--Health: Thrive Online - 
--Humor: The Onion - 
--Kids: - 
--Living: Epicurious - 
--Music: Napster - 
--News: Jim Romenesko's Media News - 
--Personal Web Site: Cocky Bastard - 
--Politics & Law: - 
--Print/Zines: Nerve - 
--Radio: Lost and Found Sound - 
--Science: Lascaux - 
--Services: Evite - 
--Sports: ESPN 
--Technical Achievement: Google - 
--Travel: Outside Online - 
--Television: MSNBC - 
--Weird: Stile Project - 

E-mail Verne Kopytoff at Chronicle staff writer Carrie
Kirby contributed to this report. 

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