Michael Macrone
Press

SoMa Hosts First Beauty Contest for Web Sites
(San Francisco Chronicle, March 7, 1997)

By Julia Angwin, Chronicle Staff Writer
Webby Award winners, 1997

The Web met Hollywood last night at the first-ever Webby Awards—the wired, South-of-Market crowd's cyberversion of the Academy Awards.

The young, the hip and the nerdy gathered at a swanky San Francisco club to drink martinis, swing dance and celebrate the best of the Web.

The show is run by The Web magazine, a 6-month-old San Francisco monthly that rates Web sites and interviews celebrities such as David Bowie and Baywatch star Gena Lee Nolin about their Internet habits.

The idea was to make the Web as glamorous as Hollywood, instead of a dreary world of bits and bytes.

So, no awards were given for technical Web prowess; instead, they were doled out to sites sporting sexy pictures and conspiracy theories.

Guests showed up wearing tuxedos and crushed-velvet dresses. They were greeted at the door of Bimbo's 365 Club in North Beach by fedora-clad paparazzi with old '40s-style cameras popping.

“It’s computer geeks playing dress up,” said Nina Hartley, a Bay Area porn star who has her own Web site and helped judge the sex sites category.

Inside, a swing band played while guests sipped cocktails and munched on kebabs and hummus, and surfed the Net at computer stations.

Mayor Willie Brown gave the opening speech, and the emcee was Cintra Wilson, a playwright and columnist.

The actual award ceremony was only an hour long—most of the evening was devoted to dancing and mingling.

Professional dancers in zoot suits did the jitterbug and offered dance lessons to the willing.

The show was one of the hottest tickets in town among Web folks. About 685 people—the legal limit—packed into the nightclub, and show organizers said more than 1,600 people requested the free tickets.

The awards presented last night were judged by a panel of new-and old-media professionals, including editors at Wired, SmartMoney and the Sacramento Bee.

Another set of awards, judged by The Web magazine's readers, were given out simultaneously during a live Webcast of the event.

The big overall winner was ESPN's sports site.

Other winners that took home a one-of-a-kind, hand-blown glass sculpture included a site called Persian Kitty and a site created by a Purdue University graduate student who runs the “Gallery of the Absurd,” which includes the “annoying J. Crew model of the week.”

“Of course, the judging is very subjective,” said 26-year-old show organizer Tiffany Shlain. “It's an overall feeling you get after you've experienced a site."

Even Seth Masia, whose ski site didn't win, was pleased with the awards. “Being nominated has done marvelous things for my career,” he saids, adding that he's received job offers since he was named as a contender.

Some critics said the Web moves too fast for awards to keep up. “Once something wins an award, it’s kind of too late,” said Greg Beasley, a 33-year-old Web consultant. “The things that are hot now won’t win until next year.”*

The Webbys are one of a handful of competitions vying for the title of “Oscars of the Web.”

Competitor NetGuide Magazine is staging its own glitzy award ceremony hosted by comedian Margaret Cho in Los Angeles next week. Another magazine, Yahoo! Internet Life, is considering an award ceremony as well.

Some in the industry felt slighted by the short invitation list for last night's event. Michael Hudes, the president of San Francisco-based Organic Online, one of the best-known Web design firms in the nation, was not invited.

When he heard about the loose criteria for the awards, he suggested an alternative honor: “How about an award for a site that is actually making money?"

* [@atlas won the People’s Voice award for the Arts at this ceremony. It would go on to win the same award the next year. The syllogism fails. —MM]

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First published in the San Francisco Chronicle (March 7, 1997)

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