At Webbys, Collaboration Is in Vogue

NEW YORK Web 2.0 arrived at the Webbys. The decade-old Internet awards fest honored several companies exemplifying the trend toward collaboration, social networking and user participation igniting a revival in digital innovation.

The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences recognized social networking phenomenon MySpace as “breakout of the year,” while Google took home awards for its mapping and satellite imaging software, which let developers create new applications by adding data sources. Yahoo-owned photo-sharing service Flickr was also honored.

The awards, given out last night in Manhattan for the second year since relocating from San Francisco, honor dozens of categories online—from best insurance Web site to broadband application. For the last several years the Webbys have become famed for its five-word limit for acceptance speeches, producing last year’s memorable line from Al Gore when receiving a lifetime achievement award: “Please don’t recount this vote.”

This year’s honoree, Prince, was certainly flashier than Gore. The Webbys chose to honor the rock star for releasing the first full album online in 1997 and recognizing the Web as a place to connect with fans in the late 1990s, years before sites like MySpace became potent promotional vehicles. Accepting his award, Prince chose a sly nod to his rock star mystique: “Everything you think is true.”

Excitement at the possibilities that lie ahead was a major theme of the night. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, named the Webbys’ Person of the Year, predicted Net innovation would continue in an increasingly interdependent global community: “There’s only one question: Will it be done by you or to you?”

Robert Kahn, also honored with a lifetime achievement award for leading the development of the Internet with Vint Cerf, also chose to look ahead, using his five words to urge attendees to “discover digital objects and handles,” referring to work he is doing that will allow people to store all their information on a network.

With most focused on the possibilities of the future, the e-craziness of the dot-com era even came in for some rehabilitation. Tiffany Shlain, co-founder of the Webbys, characterized the excesses of the first Net boom as a messy but necessary phase that not only produced Pets.com but also Google.

“In hindsight, it took all of that hype to catapult the Internet into the mainstream and brought millions of people online,” she said.