More Canadians than ever up for ‘Oscars of the Internet’

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Have you heard the one about Halo’s Master Chief and Greek goddess Aphrodite crossing the river Styx? Well the punch line has received honoree status from the Internet’s biggest award show.

That’s actually not a joke, but a special-effects laden video created by students in their first year of the masters of digital media program at the Great Northern Way campus in Vancouver, B.C. The brand new program is in its first year of operation.

Aerlyn Weissman and her partners were surprised when they learned their class assignment had been honoured in the 12th annual Webby awards in the student film and video category.

“Ours was a completely new team that came together to do this class assignment,” she says. “To get honourable mention is big, we’re a starter program, not some well-established [one] that’s been running for years.”

 

Weissman’s team is just one example of the many Canadians who are either participants in this year’s Webby awards, or already listed as honorees.

 

Whether it’s a large corporation or a basement-dwelling Web prodigy, more Canadians are being recognized in what’s been dubbed “the Oscars of the Internet” than ever before.

 

The 2008 awards received 40 per cent more Canadian entries than last year, according to Allen Mendelsohn, a Webby ambassador to Canada.

 

“It really proves that we’re not second-class citizens in the Web-design world,” he says. “When there are so many Web sites being recognized for their excellence, that shows we can compete.”

 

Anyone can enter to receive an award. Sites are judged by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, a 550-member panel of industry leaders including rocker David Bowie and Virgin Atlantic Chairman Richard Branson.

 

About 15 per cent of the entries are selected to receive honours by the panel.

 

Five other finalists in each category can win a Webby award either through the judge’s decision, or by a popular vote. Awards will be announced May 6 and are handed over in a New York ceremony on June 9.

 

Winners deliver five word speeches.

 

“No longer a lonely planet,” was the speech Montreal-based Evan Prodromou gave when accepting Best Travel Web site award for Wikitravel.

 

The founder won last year and hopes to receive it again this year.

 

“Getting it twice in a row would really say we are the travel powerhouse on the Web,” the Web site founder says.

 

It is hard to directly measure the award’s effect, because of the long timeline over which the nominees are unveiled and winners chosen, Prodromou says. But even if slapping a trophy on his mantle and new logo on his site doesn’t translate into dollars and cents, it offers validation.

 

“Critics said it would never be as good as a traditional travel guide,” he says. “When it came down to it, we were able to stand up to these other players and win this award.”

 

Wikitravel’s ability to beat out heavy-weights such as www.kayak.com and www.tripadvisor.com shows the awards reflect the democratic landscape offered by the Web, Mendelsohn says.

“Anyone can make a Web site or a Web video, and if there’s a good idea behind it and some talent behind it, it doesn’t matter if you’re working out of a one-person apartment or a large corporation,” he says.

Canada’s entries run the gamut from amateurs to top-level professionals. Big media corporations such as the CBC (radio Web site) and The Globe and Mail (documentary series) are entrants alongside beginner teams like Weissman’s.

But the filmmaker doesn’t pretend that the finished product came easily.

To package together the convergence of movies, video games and television they wanted, it took many sleepless nights of 3D modeling, post-production effects work and programming.

 


Wikitravel co-founder Evan Prodromou.

 

“There were people sleeping on bean bag chairs on the floor for quite a few nights to get this done,” Weisman recalls.

 

The student was pleased to be listed as an honoree because she often browses through past winners to see the best content on the Web. That list is getting larger every year.

 


The student team that created Crossing.

More than 10,000 entries were submitted for consideration in this year’s awards. It’s come a long way since it first started in 1996, Mendelsohn says.

The awards have grown with the Web as it entered the mainstream.

“Everyone was on 28K or even 14K modems,” he says. “Pages didn’t load like they do now.”

As the years pass, the Webbies have gained traction as the most-recognized international awards on the Internet. But the annual show was dominated by American sites for a long time. To branch out to other countries, Webby ambassadors like Mendelsohn were appointed.

Also vice-president of marketing for past Webby-nominee Plank Design Inc., Mendelsohn helps the New York-based awards communicate their relevance north of the border.

And that hasn’t proven too difficult.

“Canada has always had a thriving Internet industry,” he says. Access to American media means most Canadians know about the awards and have a positive image of them.

Canadians winners enjoy the softer benefits of positive press generated around the event, and often use it as a promotional opportunity, the ambassador adds. It is a token of recognition from industry peers that a Web project is on the right track.

“It’s a real feather in their cap,” Mendelsohn adds.

For Weissman, it’s also a nice bullet point on her resume as her career developing digital media begins.

She’s currently wrapping up a school project that created a virtual ocean for use in studying fisheries data at the University of British Columbia.

“We think we’re amongst the first to use video game technology to model scientific data,” she says.

The program will help conservation planners figure out what areas need protection. Of course, it could always be entered for next year’s Webby awards. And what five words would Weissman give as her acceptance speech?

“I’m proud of my team.”

See all the Canadian nominees

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