"And the Webby goes to…"

I love the originality and discoverability of the Web.

It never ceases to amaze me. It offers a never-ending supply of startling content, spectac-ular design and tributes to the weird.

While the last two years have seen the deflation of hype around the Web, a more real view of the Web has prevailed.

Through this somber time, there has been a ray of light and festive view of the Web with the annual San Francisco gala called the Webby Awards.

The Webbys are the leading international honors for Web sites and individual achievement in creativity and technology online.

The sold-out event is known for its trademark five-word acceptance speeches and quirky nominees for the “Weird” category.

The Webby Awards have more than just survived the dot-com decline, they have thrived and continued to grow through the past six years.

And you can always count on the Webby list of nominees to provide hours of surfing fun.

On June 18, the annual San Francisco event will happen again.

The Webby Awards is the brainchild of Tiffany Schlain. She is also its founder and director.

Schlain is an Internet expert and a commentator for ABC News and Good Morning America.

Newsweek has also honored her as one of their “Women Shaping the 21st Century.”

Besides managing the Webbys, Schlain is an award winning filmmaker and co-founder of The International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences, the 370-member judging academy that presents the annual awards.

We caught up with Tiffany Schlain to talk about the current net climate and how this year’s event is coming together.

Q: Can you briefly tell us how the Webby’s were born?

A: Many moons ago in a galaxy far, far away, I saw the Internet in ’94 and it blew my mind. I felt that it was going to be this incredible form of communication.

A couple of years later, I started the Webby Awards. At the time, I was working for The Web magazine at IDG. It just exploded. We always honored a whole array of categories: everything from activism to film to sports to weird. Through the years, we added categories. In fact, we only added a commerce category (.com) just a couple of years ago. I’m really happy we’re still here, honoring people and fulfilling our mission.

Q: Can you give us some perspective on how big the Webby’s were back in 1996 vs. how big it is coming into the 2002 awards?

A: We didn’t actually have an official call for entries the first year, so it’s hard to gauge on that barometer. Just to give you a sense, this year we actually received more entries than we ever received before, even in this current climate, from over 35 countries and 44 states. We had about 20 judges the first year, and now we have 370 from all over the world. We had 40,000 people registered to vote for our People’s Voice Awards the first year – almost like a People’s Choice Awards and the Oscars in the same show – and now we have well over hundreds of thousands of people voting.

Q: Has it been more difficult building the event over the past two years than back in the Net’s heyday of the dot-com boom?

A: It’s an interesting thing. The Webby Awards had more sponsors give us things for the event, so the event may have seemed bigger. But we never actually had a lot of money, even during the boom. We’re in a similar position now. Our mission was never to make scads of money – and maybe that’s why we’re still around. I often joke with my business partner about that. We never really had fancy chairs or a fancy office and we’re doing just fine.

Our sponsors are very loyal: Hewlett Packard, Price Waterhouse Cooper, SBC, Getty Images, NetRatings. We have just wonderful sponsors. Of course it’s a harder climate and we’re going to try to reflect that in the show this year. I don’t think the world needs another glitzy awards show.

This year we’re going to make it much more like a symposium, a lot more dialog as well as entertainment and the typical “webbyness” of it with the five-word acceptance speeches and a lot of surprises.

We wanted to really reflect the time we’re in, be more thoughtful, where we came from, where we’re going and kind of evolve with the whole industry.

Q: I’ve always enjoyed reading some of the five-word acceptance speeches. I have my favorite. Do you?

A: I have so many! Who would have ever thought that, when I thought of this five years ago, that no one would ever go beyond five words! They’re beautiful. They’re like these little haikus. I would love to hear your favorite.

Q: When Swell.com won the Sports category – something like “Sam Donaldson, dude, gnarly toupee.”

A: Ah – I felt bad about that because Sam did such a nice job hosting the Webbys last year! We’ve posted some of the acceptance speeches on the site. Oh, I know one I like! When Craigslist.com won for Best Community, he said, “Hey Mom, I love you.”

Q: What are some of this years categories?

A: We honor .org, .net, .edu, .gov, .com, .info – the whole gamut. The categories that I’ve seen grow over the past few years are the spirituality category, the education category and the government category.

It’s really interesting to see .gov because they, ironically, funded the beginning of the Internet.

I’m really excited to see the education and distance-learning component take off. I think that’s going to be a huge industry. I’m not looking forward to people trying to proselytize on the Internet. My e-mail spam is to such a horrible degree right now.

Q: So it’s safe to say you’re not adding a category for Best E-mail Marketing Campaign?

A: No, but we actually are considering doing a Webby Business Awards because we have such interest from people. Our categories are divided around content like activism, community, education, film, sports. We have so many requests from businesses like “Why don’t you have a MarCom Award (Marketing) or Promotional Site Award or Campaign Award,” so we might spin it out into a separate awards show.

Q: How important is an awards event like this to the long-term success of the Internet itself?

A: I think every industry should have a program like this – not just for the industry to honor their own, but for the public who, certainly with the Web, need filters to tell them who is the best because there simply is, more than any other medium, just too much out there.

We have a lot of new people who are just getting online who will go to the Webby Awards first to check out our winners. The silver lining to all of the hype is it brought 500 million people online from all over the world and they haven’t left.

Our nominees range from the Vatican to Planned Parenthood to the Peace Corp to the U.S. Army – everyone’s online.

Now more that ever, people need a filter pointing them to standards of excellence and sites they can trust that are really good.

More information on the Webby Awards is at their Web site at www.webbyawards.com. The site lists the nominees, all the winners since 1997 and several years of the five-word acceptance speeches.

The full audio interview with Tiffany Schlain will broadcast Saturday, June 15 on Tacoma’s KLAY 1180 AM and on CNET Radio stations in San Francisco and Boston. It’s available for listening anytime at webtalkguys.com.

Dana Greenlee is a Web designer and co-host of the WebTalkGuys Radio Show, a Tacoma-based talk show featuring technology news and interviews. It is broadcast locally on KLAY 1180 AM Saturdays at 11 a.m. The show is also on CNET Radio in San Francisco and Boston, on the Web www.CNETRadio.com, www.WebTalkGuys.com and via the XM Satellite Network, on IM Networks’ Sonic Box and on the Mobil Broadcast Network. Past shows and interviews are also Webcast via the Internet at www.webtalkguys.com.