Shortly after the market began to careen headlong into reality,
I had the unique opportunity to attend the 2000 Webby Awards in
San Francisco. Three of my friends were award nominees - all of
them in the Best Personal Site category.
With an entourage of 10 in total - each of us personal publishers
and/or developers of personal publishing tools - ours was definitely
the minority mindset...
The Grand Entrance
Moments after our cab dropped us off in front of the glittering
Mason Auditorium, my friend Halcyon was accosted by a FOX News
reporter and her hapless cameraman.
who are YOU?" asked Missy, or Muffy, or whatever her name was,
as she thrust a microphone in his face.
John Halcyon Styn is an old pal of mine. He's also the flamboyant
and camera-ready creator of cockybastard.com. I have
always had a mountain of respect for Halcyon. He's one of those
people who simply emanates positivity. He always finds ways to
re-purpose his obstacles into opportunities, and he's truly one
of the funniest people I've ever met.
A few months ago, we were sitting in Bruce Sterling's
back yard at a party for everyone attending the South by Southwest
Interactive Festival. Halcyon was talking about his site, when
he let me in on a little secret.
of my penis up there to get the hits," he confided. "But beyond
that, it's all about the love. The _real_ kind..."
Groening once said he writes The Simpsons such that it "rewards
people for paying attention." It's what Halcyon does, too, and
Missy, or Muffy, or whatever her name was, didn't know of his
celebrity penis OR his nomination when she descended on him like
a big-haired buzzard on roadkill. It was his sartorial choices
that got her attention. He told her he was indeed a nominee, and
- thrilled at her Spidey sense for the motherlode story - she
diligently worked him for sound bites.
love that I can order my books online, but, to me, that's not
what the Web is about," he said. "It is a medium of personal expression.
The web is where I turn myself inside out. If Picasso was alive,
he'd have a Web site like mine, only better." He looked into the
camera, "Go make a home page!"
Matt and Ev and I hang back to soak it all in. The spectacle is
Man. Beautiful people in black, hippy patchwork, techno, and
Prada are spilling out of limousines. Women in glittering body
suits and face paint, men in silver fly wings and holographic
pants; gender-neutral bots in oversized white space suits, branded,
of course, but I'll be damned if I can remember with what. Guys
in giant bean outfits with BEENZ.COM in big, bold mindshare-grabbing letters. Outrageous
costumes draped with brands, brands, brands galore.
Missy is instructing Halcyon to walk toward the camera. They'll
start the shot on his feet to capture his fuzzy white slippers.
Then they'll pan the length of his powder blue leisure suit and
fuzzy white polar bear coat, and close on his face with his butt-length
hair tied up in antennae as he walks past.
you say 'cockybastard' on the air?" I ask Missy, or Muffy, or
whatever her name was.
can say that stuff on the Internet, you know. Perhaps you
could use an asterisk instead of the 'o'?"
The color drains from behind Missy's perfectly applied make up.
the name of his site -- 'cockybastard.com.'" I gently confirm.
A belated lightbulb goes off under her blow-dried hair, and Missy
excuses herself to make a phone call.
The hubub in front of the auditorium is in full effect. Dangling
in harnesses over some 100 feet over the entryway are four writhing
aerial dancers clad in form-fitting red spandex with Amelia Earhart
hoods and aviator goggles. There are hanging banners with a close
up of doe-like aviator eyes cast rapturously Heavenward. There's
a huge stack of searchlights, and it's hard to tell if all the
flashing is due to the cameras and spotlights or the glamorous
Missy bounds back, triumphant. "Cockybastard" will run -- without
Halcyon is ecstatic, and we're all impressed by FOX. If any network
has a prayer at amplifying what remains of the Web's viral soul,
it's FOX. And if there's anyone who can slip the memes
in under FOX's scandal-seeking radar, it's Halcyon.
The red carpet gauntlet to the entrance is lined with paparrazzi
in fedoras like hep, 1950's pressmen wielding old school flash
and say IPO" chirps one of the greeters as we walk in.
A voice behind me bellows, "Fifteen minutes is fifteen minutes,
but it's .02 seconds in Internet time!!!"
Inside the towering lobby, the chatter is breathless and Hollywood-by-way-of-Wall Street:
heard that [so and so...I forget] won a Webby last year, and two
days later, he got a $50 mil deal..."
yeah, Joe is on his way. He and Ellen had a meeting with [some
VC] and are flying in on the Lear."
We tour through the crowd. The music is a bizarre audio tapestry
of rumbling bass and flanged dive-bomber engines. We pass Howard Rheingold who is gesticulating
wildly in a passionate conversation. The kid from Napster looks totally shell-shocked.
A shrine is set up for nominees to make offerings to The Great
A drunken woman in a bright flowered dress is crouched in front
of it, mumbling something.
Another woman in an all-white Vainglorious work suit walks
up to me with a tape measure and runs it along the length of my
forearm and the width of my shoulders. She looks quizzically at
the tape, then up at my face, back to the tape. Interactive art,
how do I measure up?" I joke as she takes note of my humerus.
She remains artfully silent.
is the whole point of this show, isn't it?"
She cracks a wry grin, but remains silent.
The Time Machine
Jason (of kottke.org,
also nominated for best personal site) and his entourage of Meg, Matt and I file in our appointed row to find aluminum lunch
boxes on our seats - they're stuffed with shwag. A Flyswat!" watch,
a bunch of branded Webby!" crap, and an Anatomy!" Bar (dairy free,
made with non-genetically modified soy protein which, for the
record, has the consistency of cow shit. Still, it's a thoughtful
gesture. Some of us were working late and didn't have time to
eat). All of this is nestled on a bed of twiggy filler for added
Urban Outfitters pseudo-organic effect.
Tiffany Schlain!", the creatrix and visionary behind all of this
retro-high-flying hoo-ha floats onstage and tells us of her inspiration
for this year's Webby Awards: H.G. Wells' novel, The Time Machine_ which, "like the Internet
today, bravely twisted assumptions about space, time, chance,
order, and chaos." This goes a long way to explain the annoying
audio and the sepia-toned aero-motifs.
She goes on to stoke the already-toxic levels of euphoric futurismo
in the room by reminding us that we - all of us who are implicitly
Someone Enough!" to be here tonight - are the privileged few who
are paving the way for a more glorious era. Our toiling over pixels
and packets has paid off, for we're building a real honest-to-Amelia
It's a beautifully delivered (and much needed) infusion of psychic
capital, as the markets herk and jerk in a spiral of doubt and
fear. It's a Real Time Hollywood fable about the little industry
that nobody took seriously, that DIY'ed itself from the humble
geek labs to send Us!" soaring Learjets into the sunset. Never
mind that we're nowhere near Act Three. The future is now!
She concludes her monologue by saying that, every once in a while,
something happens that really demonstrates that the Internet is
truly changing our experience of time. In this case, she tells
the story of a friend of hers who was seeing this guy. When the
friend decided she wanted to tell the guy she loved him, she did
- via email. She also cc'ed his parents, and bcc'ed all of his
one click, she effectively cut through what could have taken years
to talk through," Tiffany concluded.
It's a good point, as I can't help but think how email has totally
altered my relationships -- how I've met people I never would
have met without it. It's opened some channels, closed others,
and made for some confusing white space, too. In my mind's ear
-- above the dive-bombers and rabid applause -- I hear one of
my favorite Talking Heads lines, "Time isn't holding us. Time
is an act of us."
Brevity: The Soul of Mindshare
As anyone who has developed for 640x480 will attest, the Web forces
you to leverage the time/space continuum with care and intention.
If the Webby Awards got one thing right, it was the five-word
limit on acceptance speeches.
That said, I present this section the spirit of the event.
Academy Awards should do this!!!
Willie is unctuous and Tina
Brown may be a maven
but she doesn't know jack
shit about the Web. Even
Sandra Bernhardt isn't funny. Why
do these people get more frikkin' words than the winners???
Hey look! The Doublemint Twins!
Damn, this dress is itchy.
That is not Bill Gates
Google on Rollerblades go splat.
Napster makes mess, and wins!
(Clap now, everybody...cuz tomorrow you'll be obsolete.)
Jason is not Jim Romenesko.
Mahir talks about third world
and famine in broken English
But nobody can understand him
so he presents Best Personal
And Missy's story ends happily.
(Congratulations, Halcyon! People's Choice, too!)
Michael Samyn and Auriea Harvey
Win and kiss passionately onstage.
Who needs five words?! They sure as hell don't!!
And the finale...<drumroll please!>
Sponsor, sponsor, brand, brand, brand.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
And He Shall Reign...
We file out of the auditorium, exhausted. It was as though they'd
compressed Hugh Gallagher's "Seven Days
and Seven Nights Alone with MTV" into three hours, and now
it was time to celebrate survival. I'd lost my badge that would
grant me entrance to the swanky after party, but conveniently,
a greeter was handing out extras at the exits. "VIP," it said.
I put on my "VIP" badge, so easily procured, and headed across
the street for some free sushi and Absolut!" products. And it's
Three enormous, fully heated tents on the grounds of the Grace
Cathedral, fully leveraging the fountains and loggias and gardens
for maximum retro-divine/organic impact. Fourteen of SF's finest
restaurants had banquet tables set up, and total amount of alcohol
here could keep the entire country of Malaysia drunk for week,
I find my cohorts clustered around one of the fountains, and we're
all a little freaked out by the surreality of everything. As spectacles
go, this one was flawlessly executed. Clearly every detail was
thought through to the end, and from what I could tell, it went
off without a hitch. But for what? If The Simpsons rewards people
for paying attention, the Webbys is a targeted and punishing,
full-on assault for Mindshare!".
As we were heading out, Halcyon entered the "VIP Powder Room"
(a/k/a a portapotty with a sign that said "VIP Powder Room" on
the door.). A woman came up to our friend Lance, who was standing nearby
and said about Halcyon, "That man says he runs a site just about
him? But he's just making that up, right? I mean, what is he selling?
What service is he providing? What does he *do*?"
Lance told her that the Web used to be made up almost entirely
of "sites about me - that's 'me' in the larger sense," as he put
it. It was only recently that it was being put to task to make
people into millionaires.
Indeed, the self-made, self-promoting do well on the Web. It's
a different medium now than it was "once upon a time," and despite
the jaded tone of this trip report, I'm honestly thrilled by that.
It's growing up, and this grab-ass game for valuations-by-way-of-mindshare
is simply the natural order of Darwinian evolution from childhood
to adolescence. The Webby Awards - like any adolescent and like
the medium it celebrates - is bombastic, self-important, and tries
waaaay too hard. Of course it doesn't hurt if you have lots of
money and/or no compunction about putting pictures of your penis
online. But ultimately the Webby Awards made me realize that the
cockiest bastards of all are the ones who are psyched for Act
Three -- whether it runs with an asterisk, or not.