Webby Awards Founder on Internet Oscars, Web's Future by spectacular

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									Webby Awards Founder on Internet "Oscars," Web's Future
Stefan Lovgren
for National Geographic News
May 4, 2005

The winners of the annual Webby Awards, hailed as the "Internet industry's Oscars,"
were announced yesterday. Nationalgeographic.com's Forces of Nature site grabbed
the People's Voice award in the science category, and National Geographic News
was recognized as Webby Worthy.

Other winning Web sites ranged from powerhouses like Yahoo! to lesser-known sites such as the
blog Boing Boing.

When the Webbys were established in 1996, few people took notice. Still in its infancy, the
Internet was seen by some as the exclusive domain of tech nerds.

Since then the Internet has reached into the homes of millions of people around the world,
transforming the way many of us get our information, communicate, and shop.

The Webbys, not surprisingly, have also mushroomed into a prestigious award show. Their more
than 60 categories range from employment and finance to science and movies.

National Geographic News spoke with Tiffany Shlain, the San Francisco-based founder of the
Webbys, about what it takes to win a Webby.

Who are your judges?

The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences comprises 550 judges from all disciplines.
We have experts in activism, music, film, politics, business. It's growing every year, and it's a real
"mind trust" for the Internet.

Any famous names?

We have musicians like Beck and David Bowie; [Virgin Atlantic Airlines founder] Richard Branson;
Rob Glaser [the CEO] of Real Networks; Matt Groening, the creator of The Simpsons; and many
others. We let people do an all-academy vote, so they get to choose the category they want to
vote in.

How did the Webbys come about?

I started it almost a decade ago. As soon as I was shown the Web, I thought it was going to
change the world. This was before the Internet boom, and a lot of people didn't know what the
Web was. Of course, it grew enormously with the boom, and then the crash happened.

The dot-com bubble burst. How did that affect you?

People were skeptical that the Internet was just a fad. Then something happened. After 9/11
people were using all these tools that had been set up during the boom, like online donations.
People were getting news from sources that had been funded by the boom. And suddenly people
stopped talking about the hype and started to acknowledge that the Web was a part of everyone's
life.

For those of us talking about the power of the Web in the early days, well, we're now seeing it
happening.
What kind of changes have you seen in the quality of Internet sites in these nine years?

The Internet is such a young medium, and I just get astonished at how much better the nominees
get every year. They are developmentally better, because more people are on the Internet, more
people know how to use it.

There's something called the network effect—when more people are on the network, the stronger
the network becomes. Things are happening now that could never have happened when there
were only a few thousand people on the Internet. It's a very exciting time.

What makes a great Web site? Is there some sort of magic formula that applies to all?

I think the best part of the Web is that you're able to link to so many other places. My favorite
sites are thinking of the links that I'd be interested in, based on that subject, and they aren't afraid
I'm not going to come back to their site. The best sites all involve interactivity, lots of links, and
fresh information.

And what evaluation criteria do you use for the Webbys?

Content, design, functionality, navigation, and interactivity. It's interesting that over the nine years
we haven't changed that criteria. Is the content relevant and engaging? What's the overall
experience?

OK, so what are some of your favorites among this year's winners?

There are so many good ones. I love the World Citizens Guide (www.worldcitizenguide.com),
which gives you this big perspective on the world. There's Relief Web (www.reliefweb.int), which
allows you to get a picture of the state of the world and the crises we face. There are blogs, like
Boing Boing: A Directory of Wonderful Things (www.boingboing.net). As a parent, I go to
goCityKids (www.gocitykids.com), which has lots of fun things to do with your kids if you live in a
city.

One of your categories is news. Do you think online news has finally attained the
respectability that it perhaps didn't have a few years ago?

Absolutely. People are tuning in now to these alternative news sources, which are perceived as
not being as controlled as traditional media. I think people feel like it's more authentic, less driven
by corporate concerns. I think online media fit much more to our lives.

During our parents' generation, people would come up and watch the news at a certain time.
Today we can tap in and get the most up-to-date news whenever it's right for us, instead of
having to schedule our lives around getting together in front of a TV.

What do you look for in a good news Web site?

I still look for those things that let me know it's credible. I like to see that it's linking to different
sites so that I have a sense that it's being transparent with me. I want to feel that it's current and
up-to-date.

Do you think we'll see the same kind of merging of entertainment and news that we've
seen in television?

I hope not. I think people that are going for news online are clearly interested in news, whereas
[with] television it's more ambiguous. If you're on the Web, you're specifically going to a news
site, and that makes a difference.
Just to toot our own horn a bit, Nationalgeographic.com has been recognized many times.
What makes it Webby worthy?

You guys have been consistently excellent. It's educational, interactive, it's got great navigation.
For a site to be recognized for a Webby award, it needs to be constantly in development. You
can't have any sloppiness.

Do you think the Internet has come close to reaching its potential?

Not at all. When you have a population of over six billion people and only a small percentage of
those people on computers—just imagine what will happen when more people get on the
computer. The potential is just enormous.

								
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