A stunned Webmaster rises from his seat, shaking his head in disbelief. As he makes his way to the aisle, fellow programmers and designers pat him heartily on the back and shake his hand. After accepting his trophy from a cybercelebrity, he stands there speechless, and finally says with a trembling voice, “Mom, Dad, Mr. Spock … this is for you.” He air-kisses in the direction of his sponsors and exits stage left
Log on to www.webbyawards.com next week and you might just witness such a scene broadcast live on the Net (granted the details might be a tad fuzzy on your little RealPlayer screen).
The organizers of the Webby Awards, now in their third year, are billing their accolades as “the Oscars of the Internet.” There are 110 nominees, chosen in 22 categories ranging from music, film and games to news, health and finance. The judges are a gaggle of big-name cyberwhatevers (David Bowie, Francis Coppola, Tina Brown, Guy Kawasaki … R.U. Sirius, yeah I’m serious), and the ceremony will be held at the swanky Herbst Theater in San Francisco.
There are bound to be Net positivists who gush “but we’re all winners.” Next to them will surely be the beret and beanie brigades, decrying the capitalist takeover of the Internet. They all have their points, but seeing as how they don’t have a column, let me voice mine.
Haven’t we met before? There are a number of familiar (inter)faces returning among the nominees, be they Web startups such as Salon (Best Print/Zine for past two years) and bandwagon passengers such as The New York Times. They do what they do oh-so-well, but under the current rules, it’s hard to imagine these powerhouses being eliminated from the competition (barring any financial straits or editorial strikes). But the Web is all about flux. So how about some new blood, at least sub-categories for newcomers?
Best 365-day performance? Oscars, schmoscars. Maybe a Web-site production is like a movie’s: It requires careful planning, a strong cast (content makers) and crew (designers and technicians) and a lot of patience. But there are no tearjerking farewell scenes on the Web, no white-knuckle car chases. Many of the nominees are 24-hour businesses. Do judges take into account news gaffes, broken links, server errors? Or are they merely going on how the site looked the day they dropped by? At least in the news sections, applauding specific online stories would make more sense.
Enormity matters: The Webby Awards are just supplying a list of classy bookmarks, filters in black tie. Granted, the recommendations are helpful, and it’s encouraging to see Web innovators getting due respect, but isn’t this event trying to stuff new messages into old bottles? The categories cover a broad spectrum, but oversights aside (Best Kids’ site? Best Reference site?), there are scads of sites falling between the cracks.
I’d rather see more precise recognition and more varied categories. Take Daily Arts & Letters’ intelligent portal (www.cybereditions.com/aldaily). I’d create a Best New Concept category and put it at the top of the list, but who asked me?
The Webby’s gratuitous Weird section is telling. The Web is full of weirdness. Couldn’t they have found better nominees? One is devoted to trepanning — you know, those individuals who seek karmic transcendence by boring holes in their heads. Does the “edginess” of weirdness qualify it for an award of distinction? And I can’t imagine who thought to nominate the geeky one-liner of www.absurd.org. A unsuccessful trepanner perhaps.
Awards? We don’t need no stinkin’ awards? The Webby Awards have inaugurated a People’s Choice Awards as well. Perhaps you’ve seen the pleas for votes on the front pages of your favorite sites. One might view this as power to the people. One could also see it as an attempt to overshadow the Cool Sites of the Year awards, which are decided in a similar fashion.
At any rate, if you think about it, Netscape has already built a People’s Choice ballot into its browser. If you’ve tried the latest versions, equipped with Alexa, you’ll know what I mean. Go to a good site, pull down the What’s Related list and there you go: a dynamic and impartial list of the people’s ever-evolving choices.
But contrary to the tenor of my gripes, I have to admit that I enjoyed browsing some of the new discoveries among the Webby hopefuls. The Multicultural Recycler in the Art division (shoko.calarats.edu/alex/
recycler.html) deserves a special citation for beautiful randommess. Go click through the nominees yourself. Maybe you wouldn’t have thought to include the Tire Rack site as a stellar example of e-commerce, but then again, you’ve probably never tried trepanning.