Challenge: Five-word acceptance speeches

June 18, 2006|By STEVE JOHNSON | STEVE JOHNSON,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Trying to draw lessons from the Webby Awards given out last week for one organization's idea of what's best on the Internet, you mostly come away impressed at the greatest awards-show gimmick ever:

Winners' acceptance speeches are limited to five words.

Five words. Not one more.

So last year, Al Gore, picking up a lifetime-achievement award from the Webby-dispensing group known as the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences, said, "Please don't recount this vote."

This year, Arianna Huffington, accepting the best political blog award for her year-old Huffington Post site, said, "Darlings. Make blogs, not war."

Chris DeWolfe, co-founder of the burgeoning and controversial social networking site MySpace, said, "Fun for the whole family."

The drudgery of people who've already won something pretending to be humble about their victory turns into a battle of wits. The nakedly commercial speeches - Dell's "Thanks, go buy a Dell" - sound tinny, while the clever ones - Earthcam's "for complete speech, visit Earthcam" - win praise and, likely, site traffic.

That a Web awards ceremony celebrates, even imposes, pithiness, is ironic. What is the Internet, after all, if not the world's most sprawling book?

But it also makes a kind of sense. When your medium lets you say anything, it becomes that much more powerful when you find just the right thing.

The Webbys were born in 1996 as an offshoot of The Web magazine. The magazine died in 1998, but the awards lived on.

How much standing is there to a 500-member academy whose own press release touts not the digital luminaries in the membership but "Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, The Body Shop president Anita Roddick, Simpsons creator Matt Groening, Naked Chef Jamie Oliver, and fashion designer Max Azria"?

The whole thing has the taint of trying to borrow some celebrity for the Web, when everybody knows the biggest Web celebrities - Paris Hilton, Brad and Angelina - make the cut because they're naked or gossip fodder or both.

Certainly, the Webbys were wise to bestow a lifetime award on the musician Prince, who used the Internet to deliver music directly to fans long before MySpace or iTunes. He performed at the awards ceremony, held Monday in New York City, and he gave a zen gem of an acceptance speech: "Everything you think is true."

Steve Johnson writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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