The fifth annual Webby Awards in five words:
"Are they still in business?"
That was the most frequently asked question at the War Memorial Opera House Wednesday night, where the Web faithful had gathered to circle the wagons and honor their own in a year that found some Webby winners out of business, but not out of the limelight. Take this morbid gallows-humor acceptance speech from Plastic.com, winner in the print and zine category: "Bankruptcy never felt so good!"
No, the party wasn't as lavish as last year's three-ring circus on the top of Nob Hill. But, yes, the indomitable Tiffany Shlain and posse can still rustle up a crowd geeky enough and San Francisco enough to boo a representative from Microsoft when he accepted the award for technical achievement but clap reverently when Mark Pauline from Survival Research Laboratories took the stage to deliver the award in the arts category.
"It feels like halftime. It's not the end of the game," proclaimed one Web survivor, Bill O'Connor, a dot-org kind of guy from S.F. EpiCenter, as he surveyed the Webby pre-party cocktail guzzling. (Like a wedding that balloons from a ceremony and reception to fill a whole weekend with pre- and post-events, the Webby Awards is now a three-day festival replete with high teas and after-parties.) Another geek, Steve Lerner, who declared himself "vice president, streaming media technology" for a company called SpeedEra, wasn't so charitable: "This is the sound of the NASDAQ deflating," he groused.
Maybe. But the show must go on. And it did with drag queens and gospel singers and enigmatic performance art antics and a Judy Garland/Dorothy impersonator singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" -- "You were there! And you were there! And you were a MILLIONAIRE" -- and a double dose of Craig Newmark of Craig's List. Because after all, any Web-fest in San Francisco -- I don't care if you're decked out in a $15,000 Vera Wang ball gown with a beehive wig and glitter on your face -- is essentially a party with Newmark.
And it was Craig's night. He was out on the red carpet before the event, looking out of character in a black tuxedo. Armed with a microphone, he was "covering" the event for a techie TV network. Then, during the awards, the crowd went ballistic when their hometown geek-boy took the community award. Newmark's "Hug me because I'm a cuddly nerd" acceptance speech: "Mom, I love you." He also walked away with the People's Voice Award in the same category.
In the spirit of these austere times, it was a night for the indies, with sites like OpenSecrets.org beating out CNN AllPolitics in the politics category -- "Spy on Washington. It's fun" -- and surfing site Swell vanquishing both CBS SportsLine.com and ESPN.com in the sports category -- "Sam Donaldson, dude, gnarly toupee."
The showstopper on the production side: a hilarious parody of VH-1's "Behind the Music" docudrama called "Behind the Website" devoted to the meteoric rise, tragic fall and spiritual redemption of "CockyBastard," whose life was transformed by fame after he won the Webby for personal Web site last year. Peppered with heart-wrenching interviews with his mom and brother, it culminated in CockyBastard having to lose his domain name to find himself. Humbled and wiser, he now lives on the Web at an incomprehensible address on Geocities. Let this tale be a lesson to you "Dancing Paul," the winner this year in the personal Web site category -- don't let the glory go to your head.
But it was Internet pioneer Vint Cerf who really had the last word. He took the stage and donned a cap with a gray-ponytail wig sticking out the back to bestow lifetime achievement awards on Ray Tomlinson, the inventor of e-mail, and Douglas Engelbart, the inventor of the mouse, with these words: "The Internet endures. Resistance is futile."