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Old 06-07-2005, 02:27 PM
MedMech
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OMG a shining day for ex-presidents to be.

Five Words of Wisdom Each From the Web's Winning Sites
By DAVID CARR

One of the more charming idiosyncrasies of the Webby Awards, the annual awards for achievement in Web creation, is that recipients get five words, and five words only, to make their acceptance speeches.

So after a night full of award innuendos and one-line haiku at Gotham Hall in Manhattan, the 550 people in attendance were wondering how Al Gore, the former vice president, would respond to his lifetime achievement award.

He did not disappoint.

"Please don't recount this vote," he said. The place went nuts.

Mr. Gore, who was politically savaged during the 2000 presidential campaign for a remark that seemed to imply that he had created the Internet, was introduced by Vinton Cerf, a man who has a more legitimate purchase on that claim. Mr. Cerf, one of the scientists credited with having built the Internet, had his own five-word speech - "We all invented the Internet" - before pointing out that Mr. Gore had been responsible for spearheading critical legislation and providing much-needed political support, which is not exactly creating a paradigm shifting piece of technology, but is not bad for a politician.

Mr. Gore, by virtue of his résumé, was dragged back to the dais to say a few more words.

"It is time to reinvent the Internet for all of us to make it more robust and much more accessible and use it to reinvigorate our democracy," he said, again to thunderous applause.

It was an awards banquet where hype and self-congratulation were mixed with bracing messages about the cultural and civic good that can come from the Internet. Once a raucous celebration of the World Wide Web's potential to change everything, the awards slimmed down along with the digital economy after the bust, forgoing a huge party for an online event in the last two years. But the Web is no longer a bad word among business people, and it has left the hermetic, homey confines of San Francisco for New York, the first time in its nine-year history.

The decision to present the awards in New York is less a recognition of the city's growing role in digital culture than its longer-running one as the media capital of the Western hemisphere. It is also an indication that the Web does not live exclusively in Silicon Valley; its ubiquity has rendered it transparent and free-floating.

"Every year we have done something different to reflect the pulse of the Web, and tonight we are in New York because the Web has been dispersed," said Tiffany Shlain, one of the founders of the ceremony. "Great Web sites are being created and accessed everywhere."

Including Amarillo, Tex. Tyler Morgan, 19, was getting all of a dozen hits a day on the personal Web site he built in his bedroom - Rtm86.com - until Yahoo named it as a site of the day and he was listed as a nominee for the Webby. In May he had 1.2 million hits.

After he learned he had won the Webby, there was the problem of getting to New York.

"I put a personal plea on my Web site, and people sent in something like $1,700 and here I am," he said, wearing one of the red corsages that identified the winners. His five-word speech was to the point: "Desperate - need money for college."

Mr. Morgan took his place in a line that included the likes of Pfizer, the C.I.A. and Geico Insurance, but also The Paly Voice, the Web site of Palo Alto High School, and RatherGood, a compendium of weirdly wonderful things. The broad range of winners was a reminder of the Web's fungibility, an elastic nature that allows the medium to trumpet mass and granular manifestations of what people are thinking about.

Because the Webby sculpture is shaped like a large spring, it invited short-form, salacious annotations, with many speeches that drew hoots from the crowd but might draw flags from the editor of a family newspaper. One of the more demure, low-tech speeches came from a staff member at Vogue.com.uk, who stepped up to get her award in a gorgeous white frock.

"Do you like my dress?" she said. Yes, they did, and her speech as well.

The event was businesslike, as businesslike as an awards ceremony whose central icon is a cartoonishly large spring can be. The host was Ron Corddry, one of the funny guys on "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart," who brought an air of knowing befuddlement to the events at hand.

To the extent that any awards serve as a mood ring on the industry they celebrate - not all that farfetched, if you deconstruct the average year for the Tonys and the Oscars - the Web has become a sandbox where anarchy and commerce have business in common. While these may not be the heady, freaky days of 2000 and 2001, when old-media luminaries presented awards and thousands of people fought for tickets, the Web is still making noise after the boom.

The Webby for Person of the Year went to Craig Newmark of craigslist.org, whose once-tiny community bulletin board now attracts more than eight million people in 120 cities, including Sydney, Australia, and Bangalore, India. Mr. Newmark's various sites have given fits to the classified ad business of both daily and weekly papers.

Innovators in both music and images, two hot buttons of Internet culture, were cited as well. The Kleptones, a band from Britain, received an award for their music site, which uses the music of others, most recently Freddy Mercury of Queen, to mash together new versions of old motifs. The band's "Night at the Hip-Hopera" became a viral sensation after they plopped it out on the Web for mashing and downloading. And Flickr.com, a photo management site that uses elements of community and Web "tagging" and RSS feeds, made a trip to the podium to be honored for its groundbreaking approach to image sharing.

Whimsy always gets a front-row seat at the Webby's, and this year Dogster.com , a San Francisco Web site, picked up the community award for its creation of a virtual dog run for pets and their owners. BoingBoing.net, whose idiosyncratic approach to what constitutes information worth sharing - robot bands, charts on disappearing oil, or an Osama Bin Laden cigarette lighter replete with World Trade Center towers - received top blogging honors.

As was only fitting, there was a significant populist element to the awards, with 200,000 people voting for "The People's Voice Award," one of more than 60 categories in the program, which drew entries from all 50 states and 40 countries. Comedy Central's "Indecision 2004" on "The Daily show," won both a Webby and the People's Voice Award.

(A complete list of the winners is at www.webbyawards.com .)

The Webbys got off to a wobbly but impressive start in 1997. Ms. Shlain, an independent filmmaker and designer who was then designing the Web site for a print magazine called The Web put out by IDG, cobbled $30,000 and in-kind donations from 11 companies to gin up the first annual awards, which drew 700 people to Bimbo's 365 Club in San Francisco. Willie Brown, then the city's mayor, was at the event, which was sponsored by The Web. The following year, the company closed down The Web, but the Webby Awards lived on, with the second show featuring the likes of Scott Adams, the creator of the comic strip "Dilbert," and the well-known Web savant Dennis Rodman - well, he was well known, anyway. The show, feeding off the growing hype surrounding the Web, attracted significant media attention, and Rudolph Giuliani, then mayor of New York City, made an offer in 1998 to bring the Webbys to Radio City Music Hall. Mayor Brown countered and the awards stayed on the West Coast, but this year the Webby Awards decided to come east.

Also in 1998, Ms. Shlain and a partner, Maya Draisin, helped form the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences to oversee the awards, enrolling luminaries like the rock star David Bowie, the filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola and the digital thinker Esther Dyson, and securing PricewaterhouseCoopers to oversee the judging process. After the crash, the Webbys were strictly a virtual event, with live Webcasts in 2003 and 2004, but they have since returned to an awards show format, always featuring the now-trademark short acceptance speech. The winning winner on Monday night? It may have been the man from LonelyPlanet.com, the People's Voice winner in the travel category:

"Love your country. Leave it."