It's not just about excellence, it's about perseverance. With that opening mantra, Tiffany Shlain--the founder, director, and "digital diva" of the Webby Awards--set the tone for Wednesday night's fifth-annual awards ceremony.
As always, the event was festive and strange with a dress code described simply as "gutsy." While the evening was largely a celebration, nobody was pretending the last year was an easy one on the Web. Host Alan Cummings even executed several skits to help explain the Web's drastic economic downturn, which he described as "the great cash drought."
Filled with industry in-jokes and nods to some Web sites that few average surfers would recognize, the ceremony itself proved as eclectic as the guests. After an interesting opening video montage that explored themes of natural selection and rebirth, Shlain gave an industry pep talk suggesting the woes of the last year can lead to "a more resilient industry."
Then, in an unintentionally awkward nod to those same powers of commerce, Shlain brought the event to a screeching halt to list and thank the event's numerous sponsors.
San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown helped jumpstart the proceedings with stories of New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani trying to steal the Webbys away from the West Coast.
"You can't take the Webbys out of San Francisco," he said.
Once the awards began, the ceremony moved at a good clip as dignitaries such as Intel's Andy Grove, ABC News's Sam Donaldson, and environmental activist Julia Butterfly Hill presented awards. Unlike other big-name awards shows, winners had to limit their acceptance speeches to five words.
From VolunteerMatch, the winners of the Activism award: "Bush volunteers. It's that easy." From Best Community site winner, Craigslist: "Hey Mom, I love you." And from Strange Web site winner Peter Pan's Home Page: "Weird? God loves us all."
In one of the more surreal moments, a heavily tattooed "tele-actor" filming the event for the live Webcast sized up ABC's Donaldson. Then she asked attendees to shout out which three People's Voice category winners they wanted to hear, since the winners were too numerous to list them all.
It was probably one of the first times in history a live audience and home viewers communicated in such a manner. And it could only happen at the Webbys.
The awards include both People's Voice winners and those chosen by a panel that includes celebrity judges. Members of this year's International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences include familiar names from the tech industry, such as Larry Ellison, Rob Glaser, James Clark, Guy Kawasaki, and Meg Whitman.
But it also draws notables from diverse fields. Participants included U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, political commentator Ariana Huffington, athlete Jackie Joyner-Kersey, chef Julia Child, and business consultant Tom Peters. Representing diverse entertainment fields were Dilbert creator Scott Adams and Simpsons creator Matt Groening; musicians David Bowie and Courtney Love; and actors Gillian Anderson, Parker Posey, Patrick Stewart, and Robin Williams.
This year's award winners include:
Fashion: Hint Fashion Magazine
Film: Requiem for a Dream
Finance: Yahoo Finance
Games: 3D Groove
Government & Law: Nolo Self-Help.
Law CenterHealth: Planned Parenthood Golden Gate.
Humor: The Onion.
Kids: Fact Monster.
Living: Campaign for Our Children.
Personal: Dancing Paul.
Print & Zines: Plastic.
Radio: BBC World Service.
Science: Plus Magazine.
Services: Volunteer Match.
TV: PBS Online.
Weird: Peter Pan's Home Page.
Best Practices: Google.
Art: Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries.
Technical Achievement: Microsoft Windows Update.
Lifetime Achievement: Ray Tomlinson.
Lifetime Achievement: Douglas Engelbart