How the Webbys Work

Steve Chen and Chad Hurley, co-founders of YouTube, accept the Webby Person of the Year Award at the 11th Annual Webby Awards. See more popular Web site pictures.
Photo courtesy The Webby Awards

There's one big difference between the Webby Awards and other ceremonies, like the Oscars, Emmys and Grammys: Virtually no one who wins a Webby thanks the academy.

In spite of that difference, the Webbys have a lot in common with other industry awards. In addition to their similar names, statuettes and ceremonies, the Webbys, the Oscars, the Emmys and the Grammys all rely on groups of professionals to select their winners. Plus, the awards are among the most prestigious that people can receive in each of their respective fields.

In this article, we'll talk about what the Webby Awards are and how they've changed and grown as the very thing they honor -- online excellence -- has also changed and grown. You'll also learn why almost no one who wins a Webby thanks the academy, even though there is an academy to thank.





Webby History

Webby Awards Founder and Ambassador Tiffany Schlain addresses gala attendees at the 10th annual Webby Awards.
Webby Awards Founder and Ambassador Tiffany Schlain addresses gala attendees at the 10th annual Webby Awards.
Photo courtesy The Webby Awards

Let's start with some Webby history. The Webby Awards made their debut in 1996, long before the Internet was as prevalent as it is today. A magazine called The Web used donations to fund the awards, which recognized sites in 15 categories. Around 700 people attended the first Webby Awards ceremony, which was held at a San Francisco nightclub.

In 1998, The Web folded, and the newly formed International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences took over the Webby Awards. The Academy still exists today -- it's a voting body of Internet experts, business leaders and others. Its purpose is to recognize and encourage high-quality Internet content as well as to provide education and networking for technology professionals and the public. As with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, membership in the Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences is by invitation only.

The Webby Awards grew in tandem with the dot-com bubble. In 2000, about 3,000 people attended the awards ceremony at the San Francisco Opera House. By 2002, after the collapse of the bubble, the size of the production had shrunk dramatically -- about 600 people attended the event, which was more like a conference than a flashy awards show. In 2003, the Webby Awards temporarily retreated to the virtual world, recognizing sites in 30 categories in an online ceremony.

As the industry recovered from the dot-com collapse, the Webby Awards started to grow again. The 13th annual awards, which took place in 2009, recognized winners from about 10,000 entries that came from more than 60 countries around the world [source: Webby Awards].

Today, the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences has more than 750 members, and the 2010 awards involved more than 100 categories. The winners aren't just be Web sites you can browse on your computer. The Academy expanded its scope, and it now recognizes the sites you can visit and services you can use from mobile devices. It also bestows awards in interactive advertising and online film and video.

Next, we'll look at how the academy selects all these winners and why winning the spiral statue is a prestigious honor.

Webby Selection

The Webby trophy
The Webby trophy
Photo courtesy The Webby Awards

The Webby Awards selection process works much like that of other major awards. People who are affiliated with Web sites, or who have permission to represent those Web sites, submit entries to the Academy and pay a fee to do so. This fee does not guarantee that the site will win an award -- it simply grants the site a place in the pool of entries. This is much like the nomination process for the Emmy Awards, but different from the Grammy Awards, in which the Recording Academy's members nominate artists for awards.

Companies that have some kind of presence on the Web can enter in four categories:

  • Web
  • Interactive advertising, including banner ads and viral advertising
  • Online film and video, which became its own category with its own ceremony at the 11th annual Webby Awards
  • Mobile Web, or the sites you can visit from your cell phone or other mobile device

In order to be eligible for an award, sites must be:

  • In existence for at least part of the year prior to the award ceremony
  • Accessible until after the ceremony is over
  • Free from hate speech or pornographic content

Competing sites must also be accessible to the primarily English-speaking Academy members. Non-English film and video entries must be dubbed in English so the judges can understand them.

Once the deadline for nominations passes, site reviewers, who are experts in related fields, judge each of the nominees. Reviewers aren't permitted to discuss their analysis with other reviewers, and they can't review sites that present a conflict of interest. At least two judges review each site, and the Academy compiles a list of results into a short list of finalists. Academy members review the short list and narrow it down to five nominees in each category.

The Academy has specific judging criteria for Web sites, videos, advertisements and mobile applications. The overall experience is part of every category. When judging Web sites and mobile sites, reviewers look at several aspects, including content, structure, navigation, visual design, functionality and interactivity. Criteria for advertising entries include creativity and integration. For video and film entries, reviewers look at the concept and writing and the craft of the finished piece. Academy members weigh the criteria differently depending on the purpose of the site.

Academy members can vote for one site in each category that is within their area of expertise. The Academy also designates exceptional sites that do not earn a nomination or award as Official Honorees. A maximum of 20 percent of the sites entered can become Official Honorees. Members of the public get to vote, too -- in each category, the site that receives the most public votes wins the People's Voice Award. All voting takes place online, and the independent firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers oversees the process to make sure the final tallies are accurate.

In 2010, the selection process for the Webby Awards involved narrowing down a pool of more than 10,000 entries from all 50 U.S. states and more than 60 countries. Next, we'll look at what happens when the votes are all tallied and it's time to hand out the awards.

The Webby Ceremony

Ninja of Ask A Ninja, Fritz Grobe and Stephen Voltz, creators of Extreme Diet Coke and Mentos Experiment, & Kent Nichols, creator of Ask A Ninja at the Webby Film & Video Awards
Ninja of Ask A Ninja, Fritz Grobe and Stephen Voltz, creators of Extreme Diet Coke and Mentos Experiment, & Kent Nichols, creator of Ask A Ninja at the Webby Film & Video Awards
Photo courtesy The Webby Awards

Once the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences has made its choices, Webby Award winners are announced at official ceremonies. In 2010, the Webby Awards were announced on May 4, but the Annual Webby Gala will take place in New York City on June 14. Winners receive certificates and statuettes that look like springs inscribed with binary code.

The Webby Awards ceremony has one big difference from many other major award ceremonies -- recipients have a strict limit for the length of their acceptance speech. The Oscars give recipients a time limit, and we all know about the infamous tactic of "cuing the music" to encourage especially verbose award-winners to leave the stage. But the Webbys go one step further, giving recipients an explicit word limit. People who receive Webby Awards have to make their point in five words or fewer. Here are a few of the five-word speeches from the 2009 ceremony, from the Webby Awards official site:

  • Sir Tim Berners-Lee: Free... open... Keep one Web.
  • Wired wins another Webby, wow.
  • International Women's Media Foundation: Newspapers die, we're not.
  • The Nature Conservancy - Protecting Nature, Preserving Life: Thanks, now save the planet.
  • Dude, we got an A.
  • Biz Stone/Twitter: Creativity is a renewable resource.

For more information about the Webbys and other awards, please check out the links on the next page.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


  • Hailey, Arin. "Webbys Recognize Best Sites." PCWorld. June 6, 2003.,aid,111060,00.asp
  • International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences.
  • "Webbys Attract Diverse Nominees." BBC News.
  • Webby Awards.
  • "Springbox's Lollapalooza site up for award." MSN Money.
  • "Welcome to the Webby Awards."