Close-Up: 'Everything that really matters on the internet'

Nicolas Roope explains why the Webby Awards, now in their 14th year, are a cut above the standard industry gong-fests.

So here we are at the 2010 Webby Awards, honouring excellence on the internet. We have won a few over the years, and at the after-parties and the after-after-parties have got to know the Webby crew very well. They have got to know us, too, and thus they crowned me UK Webby ambassador.

I am still waiting for the flags for the front of my car - they promised me they are on their way.

The Webby Awards are important because in our little internet business, there are not too many places to look for pats on the back. And because our general industry awards man their juries with insider folk, we more often than not simply end up applauding the most fashionable, and enviable, entries.

A consensus does not mean the right idea, or even a good one, has been recognised. It just means that a bunch of people gathered in a room happened to agree on something. And the more those people have in common, the more likely it is that they are going to agree with each other.

So, what can you do? Well, the Webby Awards is now in its 14th year (please don't forget that the internet itself as we know it has hardly been around much longer than that). The organisers don't get the hot new web adolescents on the block to call the shots, but reach out to the grown-up International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences for help to separate the bad from the good, the epic from the insignificant, the meaningful from the "meh".

The Simpsons creator, Matt Groening, the computer boffin Vint Cerf, the Huffington Post co-founder Arianna Huffington, the Miramax Films co-founder Harvey Weinstein (not to mention David Bowie and Jamie Oliver) are esteemed academy members. The IADAS - whose membership is composed of 700 or so of the most respected cultural figures from in and around the big bubbling cauldron of the internet - pores over the growing number of categories year after year.

When you have seen it all before, but you spot something new and outstanding, not only are you pleasantly surprised but you also know you have picked a real winner, something that probably transcends the latest buzz farting its way through the blogosphere.

We won our first Webby in 2004 for our work with the aforementioned TV chef and the late fashion designer Alexander McQueen.

When there weren't so many categories, every winner got their five-word speech. Mine was: "We beat the fucking Muppets." Sounds a little strong, but it was true. Jamieoliver.com had won and the little fluffy puppets came in at number two. Al Gore was in the audience (as well as CNN viewers. who caught it later that night). Mr Gore had just collected his lifetime achievement award for inventing the internet - slightly tongue in cheek - although it is, in fact, true that his agenda was very supportive of the web's development in the early days. His speech was: "Please don't re-count this vote."

Since then the web has changed irreproachably. Not just the place for people to buy plane tickets and Hoover up the foothills of the porn Himalayas, the internet is now a mirror held up to life. It reflects everything - and occasionally adds a little magic to go even further, making the impossible possible.

The awards have grown to reflect this. What is today's web without video, the mobile internet, societal initiatives, politics, community, art, activism, charity and the random shit some spookily capable and utterly brilliant kid knocks up in his bedroom?

The award organisers have also opened their eyes to the wealth of advertising on the web. In recent years, the dusty old names you might have thought were dead have not only surfaced, but innovated, swinging their ideas-bats like they are 15 again and demonstrating that they can elbow their way out of the straitjacket of the 60-second spot and do something really compelling.

I was initially annoyed that institutions, seemingly sustained on a drip and "not getting it" for so long, had finally woken up. But then I was encouraged to see the great power of interaction inspiring those I had (perhaps with some prejudice) believed to be beyond inspiration.

This year's Agency of the Year is none other than BBDO, which certainly tells you something. Of particular note is great work from DDB Stockholm, Albion, Dare, Goodby Silverstein & Partners and Wieden & Kennedy - names Campaign readers will know well. These examples demonstrate a new fluency with, and understanding of, the web, what it is there for and what it is good at. And whether or not these guys are aware of it, this accolade is the most defining of any real success on the web.

The gongs are handed out at an event at Cipriani on Wall Street, New York. Winners are announced a month before (is it really fair to ask an international industry to come to the Big Apple to maybe win?) so the atmosphere is different to other ceremonies. The "did we, didn't we?" anxiety is not in the air. The vibe is more like that at a Crufts lap of honour: everyone has got that winner's swagger, that flush of pride on their cheeks.

After a dazzling night, we are left with a list of the year's very best digital work from around the world - the most significant and comprehensive record of what really mattered among all that data sloshing around the pipes, nodes, PCs and phones. I recently looked at the list from ten years ago and found names such as eBay, Paypal and the BBC, all nascent web presences at the time. They have not just remained, however, but are now behemoths (the friendly type).

Even Napster, recognised in 2000 only to implode soon after, left an indelible mark. Napster, like Marilyn Monroe, will never get old because it died in its youth, and like her inspired a million followers. Ten years on, would Spotify be here without Napster?

The Webby Awards have created a way of rewarding things that really matter on the web. Whether they live or die, they are worthy of recognition and respect for their part in building this universe.

- Nicolas Roope is a founder of Poke.

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