Originally created 05/05/02

Net's Webby Awards reflect changing times



Undaunted by the dot-com bust, the Webby Awards has announced its nominees for this year's best Web sites by emphasizing the medium's success as a town square and library.

The list for the sixth annual Webbys provides another sign of the Internet's transformation from a potential diamond mine to its original billing as a source of global information.

In contrast to recent years, many of the 140 nominees appear to have modest commercial ambitions, if any at all. Only a handful of them are publicly traded dot-coms, another sharp contrast to the awards' past installments.

"This year's nominees reflect the diversity of the Web, from the Vatican and Planned Parenthood to the U.S. Army and the Peace Corps," said Tiffany Shlain, the Webbys' founder and director. "People are using the Web for what it was really meant for."

The Webbys, the self-proclaimed Oscars of the Internet, feature 30 categories, including activism, commerce, education, fashion and weird. Web sites are nominated based on criteria such as content, functionality and overall experience. The panel of judges includes musician Beck and movie producer Peter Guber.

Among the nominated Web sites were PETA.org, the animal rights group, in the activist category; online retailer Amazon.com in commerce, and NASA, in government and law. Others included SFS Kids, the San Francisco Symphony's children's destination, in the kids category; the 49ers, in sports; and, in the weird category, Cut Off My Feet, one man's mission to amputate his own feet with a guillotine.

A full list of nominees is available at www.webbyawards.com.

Ontherail.com, an online magazine about the restaurant industry nominated in the print category, is typical of this year's crop. It is a labor of love; its owners make money by designing multimedia for other Web sites and conducting market research.

"Our Web site was never designed to be a dot-bomb," said Janet Fouts, chief executive for Ontherail.com, which is based in San Francisco and will compete against relative giants Salon.com and National Geographic Magazine. "We have no illusions of grandeur.

Last year, the economy was so tough that several nominees declared bankruptcy before the winners were announced. This year's awards are following a similar pattern.

Beliefnet, a Web site about religion nominated in the spiritual category, declared Chapter 11 earlier this month. But being nominated may help the Web site lure much-needed investment - at least that's the hope of Steve Waldman, Beliefnet's editor in chief.

"They can look at the dollars on the spread sheet and the traffic statistics, but it helps to have an outside validation of quality," Waldman said.

Many of this year's nominees have become Webby mainstays. For example, BabyCenter, the children's store, has been nominated five straight years, while this is the fourth straight year for humor site TheOnion.com.

The Webby award ceremony will be held June 18 in San Francisco.