An air of defiance marked the Webby Awards ceremony Wednesday evening, as the event honouring the best sites on the Internet brushed off the dot-com blues to pay tribute to the best of the online survivors.
Theatrical glamour has become a norm at the event, and some guests sported body glitter, feather boas and brightly coloured hair as they climbed a red-carpeted stairway to San Francisco's War Memorial Opera House. Now in its fifth year, the Webbys has earned a reputation as the Internet's equivalent to the Oscars.
"Tonight we are not only honoring excellence but tenacity and survival," said Tiffany Shlain, founder and director of the Webbys, setting the tone for the two-hour show.
The award for best commerce site went to Travelocity.com, which beat out nominees including mySimon and Half.com. Inside won for best news site over Salon and BBC News Online, while the Onion took the prize for best humour Web site. Sputnik7 won for best Music site, beating out Motown.com and live365.com.
Zanier winners included Dancing Paul for best personal Web site and Peter Pan's Home Page, which won for best "weird" site to the apparent delight of the audience. There was no overall winner as such, although Google picked up a best practices Webby for excelling in several criteria including content, functionality and design.
In all about 30 Webbys were handed out, chosen by judges including David Bowie and Francis Ford Coppola. Scottish actor Alan Cumming hosted the show, adding some camp to the proceedings, which played out before an almost-full house of some 3,000 people, according to organizers.
In Webbys tradition, acceptance speeches were kept to five words, inviting recipients to test their creativity.
"To advertise, call Phil Meyer," said a representative from the Onion, highlighting one potential upside of winning a Webby.
"Bankruptcy never felt so good," said a man collecting the award for Plastic, which won for best "print and zine".
The Webbys also presented its first lifetime achievement award, to Douglas Engelbart and Ray Tomlinson for their work pioneering email in the 1960s and 70s. Their award was presented by Internet grandfather Vint Cerf, a senior vice president at WorldCom who had five words of his own to silence those who may doubt the resilience of the Web.
"Internet endures; resistance is futile."
While the Internet may endure, many of those who sought to profit from it did not. In the first half of this year, at least 330 Internet companies around the world shut down or filed for bankruptcy, according to research firm Webmergers. Many past winners, including eToys, Kozmo and Webvan, didn't survive long enough to become repeat winners this year.
"I think there's a greater need than ever to celebrate good business models," said Webmergers President Tim Miller. "Maybe the Webbys should take more of an interest in the business models; pretty sites that die young aren't helping anyone."
One past winner at the event saw an upside to the dot-com downswing. The failure of get-rich-quick schemes has cleared the field for those who value innovation and expression over profit, said Dino Ignacio, who won for best weird site in 1998 for Bert is Evil.
"To be honest I'm glad they all failed, the Internet is finally going back to its roots," he said. He sported a t-shirt from recently defunct online delivery company Webvan, "just to make a statement," he said.
Other appearances were made by U.S. news presenter Sam Donaldson, who also hosted a webcast of the event, and Intel Corp. Chairman Andy Grove, who said the evolution of technology helps Web designers be more creative.
A complete list of winners along with their respective Web addresses is on the Webby Awards Web site.