Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Webbys Swell Again: Part 1

Posted By on Thu, May 9, 2013 at 5:16 PM

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SURF is a new column featuring transcendent, collaborative practices of art and tech on the Web.

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Nowadays, professing you don’t own a television lacks punch if you own a computer. That said, my DVR has been collecting dust since the Webbys announced winners last week. How do you sum up the Webbys? My favorite line is the New Yorker’s: “It's a rabbit hole of great stuff on the Web.” A rabbit hole, indeed.

The Webbys gave their first awards in 1996. It was the age of Netscape, Geocities, and MSPaint. Yes, we lived before Google. I was rocking AOL with my very first username. Among the first Webby winners are the Internet Movie Database, Salon, and PBS Online. (Check out the Wayback Machine to refresh your memory on the look and feel of sites back then.) The first judges included writers and editors, Ira Flatow from National Public Radio, Dennis Rodman, and magician Penn Jillette. Then, the Webbys were based in San Francisco.

The awards are a reflection of the achievements of the Web, and they have evolved as the Internet has matured. That first panel of judges led to the establishment of the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences (IADAS), which now includes journalists and critics as well as practitioners like Internet inventor Vint Cerf, Twitter Founder Biz Stone, Arianna Huffington, Tumblr’s David Karp, David Bowie, and Björk, of course.

Critics point out the high entry fees and the ever-swelling award categories. The tone visibly shifted from a scrappy start-up to a sleek agency. There’s even a Webby for Agency of the Year; Tribal DD Worldwide wins it this year. There are almost 150 categories, up from the 15 that started it all. Entry fees are a few Franklins, and they keep increasing. So, unlike the Oscars, nominees pay to play, and a sea of talent is excluded from consideration.

The Webbys may not award the purest rip of excellence and innovation on the Web. Still, it’s awesome to see the acrobatics of engineers, artists, and entrepreneurs on display. There is substantial work to be applauded, and it’s gratifying when the People’s Voice coincides with the Academy’s, as it does for one of my favorite Tumblrs, Humans of New York (HONY).

In my next post, I round up my favorite winners across the categories. For now, I leave you with a quick look at some outstanding recognitions from the 17th Annual Webby Awards, which will broadcast on demand May 22nd.

  • Musician Frank Ocean is the Webby Person of the Year in recognition of frankocean.tumblr.com and his published letter “Thank You’s,” in which the rising R&B star shares an intimate, unrequited love with another man.

  • “Comedian in Cars Getting Coffee” (Jerry Seinfeld), “Burning Love” (Ben Stiller), and “House of Cards” (Kevin Spacey) are all awarded for challenging the standards of Hollywood and network television. Ricky Gervais, post Golden Globes, stars in one of my favorite episodes of “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” and “Burning Love” is the antidote to “The Bachelor.”

  • Grimes wins the Webby Artist of the Year. Björk won the award last year; both artists are bewitching. Yet, Grimes’ work, thrilling as it is, does not match the veteran’s multimedia collection “Biophilia,” the first “app album.”

  • Best of them all is the Lifetime Achievement Award going to Steve Wilhite, inventor of the GIF. From the creator’s mouth, it’s pronounced “like ‘jif’ as in the peanut butter.” Last year was the 25th anniversary of the GIF (graphics interchange format), and it’s the star of a rollicking resurgence throughout the interwebs.


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