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Cybernaut

The best of the Web

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On July 18, for the fifth year in a row, the International Academy of Digital Arts and Science will host the Webby Awards – a judged industry award program for the best Web sites in a wide range of categories. Admittedly, this event will lack the glamour of the Oscars, and, thankfully, Joan and Melissa Rivers will be nowhere near the red carpet for this event. It’s a celebration of Web geeks – the designers, programmers, marketers, and content generators who have made the Web media what it is today using the latest tools and devices to get their messages across.

So what if J-Lo won’t be making an appearance in a see through dress? Who cares if the winners are pasty Web geeks, squinting in the spotlight, Star Trek transponders sparkling on their tuxedo lapels and crinolin dresses as they make their way to the podium to reap the respect and recognition of their colleagues?

Newpapers have their Pulitzers, the movies have their Oscars, Golden Globes, and the Web media has their Webby awards. It’s fitting when you consider that more people read The Onion online every week than went to see Battle Field Earth.

It’s not your typical awards show, either. Unlike the boring Oscars, where winners try to spit out as many names and thank-yous as they can in 30 seconds, Webby winners are allowed just five words to express their gratitude – which is okay, because "live long and prosper" is just four words.

There are five nominees in 27 different Web categories, ranging from activism, to humour, to science, to spirituality, to broadband. A full list of categories is available at www.webbyawards.com/nominees/ .

While the winners are chosen by a panel of judges handpicked form the industry, there is also a people’s choice award. Ballots will be made available by the site about a month before the awards show.

Before you can vote, though, you’ll want to review the 135 different sites selected. These are my own personal favourites.

Activism:

www.peta.org – This is the official Web site of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a personal belief and the only entry that didn’t have a noticeable U.S. bent. If you are against animal testing or animal research, it might be a good idea to brush up on your list of companies to boycott.

In close second is www.indymedia.com , mainly for their coverage of the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas protest coverage in Quebec City in late April.

Broadband

www.120seconds.com – this is a broadband only site run by the CBC to showcase the talents of Canadian artists. Inside you’ll find a large collection of music, animation, short movies, and video essays, sometimes artsy, sometimes fartsy, always edgy and occasionally mind-blowing. Don’t even think about touring this site without a fast Internet connection.

The runner up would have to be www.heavy.com , a broadband entertainment/pop culture site that is visually stunning and incredibly sophisticated – while this site will likely win the award for its sheer beauty, I wasn’t a big fan of the content or the editorial voices of its creators.

Commerce

www.gorptravel.gorp.com

One of the most profitable sectors of the web is the travel sector, enabling would-be travellers to research travel destinations, cost-compare and book flights, hotels and cars. The GORP (Great Outdoor Recreation Page) Travel section is bigger, better and often cheaper than most, catering to younger, more adventurous, and generally more active people who want more out of their vacations than a sun tan.

The runner up would have to be www.mysimon.com , a kind of online department store where you can actually pick a product and compare prices on a wide selection of other e-commerce Web sites. Not only do you get the lowest price possible on those products, the site regularly posts special offers for products that you can’t afford not to buy.

Community

The winner, in my books, is www.fray.com , a semi-voyeuristic look into the lives of real people. People submit true stories about their lives and their experiences for whatever reason, whether it’s to share the lessons they’ve learned, to entertain, to garner empathy, or because sometimes it’s therapeutic to share your story with strangers. There are four main story headings: Criminal, Hope, Work and Drugs. Many of the stories are illustrated, and the artwork is typically excellent.

The runner-up would have to be www.beliefnet.com , a kind of interfaith Web site that attempts to reconcile beliefs, both spiritual and religious, encourages tolerance of other beliefs, and generally tries to lighten up the whole belief issue.

Education

The National Geographic Society ( www.nationalgeographic.com ) has been an institution for more than one hundred years, mixing science and nature, history and literature, photography and adventure, with a scope that spans the past, present and future; from the subatomic level to the universal. The Web site is spectacular, featuring articles and insight from the monthly magazine and a wide range of Web-only features for all interests and ages.

My runner-up choice would have to be the New York Times Learning Network at www.nytimes.com/learning . This is a resource for parents and educators, furnishing articles and essays relating to every school topic, from calculus to history to world issues. The content is fresh, applicable to our world, and far more interesting than the typical classroom fare – if they had this when I was in school, I might have stayed awake now and then.

The content can be U.S.-centric, but not always – math is math after all. You will need a free membership to access all the content.