Thursday, June 5, 2003

What the Webbys Want

On March 7, 1997, the Webbys were born. Eleven awards were handed out in the first of what has become the annual Oscars ceremony for the Internet.

The Webby Awards honor sites that Internet users visit daily for information, entertainment, community, products and services. This year's 7th annual Webby's ceremony rewarded winners in thirty categories a range of accolades – Webbys, people's choice awards, business Webbys, and, for the second year in a row, the internet's "Rising Star" (based on a site's traffic as established by Nielsen/NetRatings). Webbys are awarded by Members of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences, based on creative and technical criteria, and people's choice awards are awarded based on democratic online voting – in each case, balloting is tabulated by PricewaterhouseCoopers to insure fairness and accuracy.

But what are they looking for?

The Webby Award nominees and winners are chosen from the best sites entered through an annual Call for Entries and sites encountered in the judges' experience. Each site is judged against six criteria. According to, they are:

The information provided on the site – not just text, but anything that communicates a site's body of knowledge. Good content should be engaging, relevant, appropriate for the audience and the medium. Good content takes a stand, is informative, useful, or funny, and always leaves you wanting more.

Structure and Navigation
The framework of a site, the organization of content, the prioritization of information, and the method in which you move through the site. Sites with good structure and navigation are consistent, intuitive, and transparent. Good navigation gets you where you want to go quickly and offers easy access to the breadth of the site's content.

Visual Design
The appearance of the site. It's more than just a pretty homepage and it doesn't have to be cutting edge or trendy. Good visual design is high quality, appropriate, and relevant for the audience and the message it is supporting. It communicates a visual experience and may even take your breath away.

The use of technology on the site. Good functionality means the site works well, loads quickly, has live links, work cross-platform and cross-browser, and any new technology used is functional and relevant for the intended audience. Highly functional sites anticipate the diversity of user requirements from file size to file format and download speed. The most functional sites also take into consideration those with special access needs. Good functionality makes the experience center stage and the technology invisible.

The way a site allows you to do something. Good interactivity is more than a rollover or choosing what to click on next; it's input/output, as in searches, chat rooms, e-commerce and gaming or notification agents, peer-to-peer applications, and real-time feedback. Interactive elements are what separates the Web from other media.

Overall Experience
Demonstrating that sites are frequently more – or less than the sum of their parts, the overall experience encompasses content, structure and navigation, visual design, functionality, and interactivity, but it also includes the intangibles that make one stay or leave, place a bookmark, sign up for a newsletter, participate, email the site to a friend, or stay for a while, intrigued.

Candidate sites also undergo a rigorous six-month, three-tiered process to win the coveted Webby Award.

First is the review of sites entered in the Call For Entries. Thousands of sites are submitted each year and Academy reviewers – Internet professionals who work with and on the Internet – independently inspect each site, rate them based on the six judging criteria described above, and compile those ratings to compare all of the sites entered in each category. The resultant "short list" is then presented for consideration by the nominating judges in each category.

Second, judges establish nominee sites for The Webby Awards.
Beginning with the list of sites distilled from the Call for Entries, the five nominating judges in each category contribute some of their own recommended sites and deliberate online directly for up to six weeks. At the end of this period each nominating judge rates their top five sites according to the judging criteria and casts a vote for each of them. The resultant list comprise Webby nominees.

Lastly, winner are chosen. Each member of The Academy casts one vote for the best of the five nominees in any given category. Sites with the most votes win. In the case of people's choice awards, the sites with the greatest number of votes win. In many cases, Webby and people's choice award winner are the same.

What value do the Webbys really have? From an Interactive communications perspective, the Webbys monitor trends, reward thoughtful and well-executed web activity, and publicize (and in some regards, legitimize) good online practices. In a world where the kid down the street can build you a website for $100 and poorly-conceived institutional website abound, the Webbys do much to remind us of what can be done well online.

And what good does it do us to know what the Webby's are looking for? Simple. The Webby's look for the same thing your website's audience look for: engaging content, clear navigation, clean design, functionality, interactivity, and a quality visitor experience. It isn't too much to ask. fb

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