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Wednesday, 19 June, 2002, 18:14 GMT 19:14 UK
Net firms face up to tougher future
The Webby award ceremony
The Webby awards hand out 60 prizes

The Webby Awards, hailed as the so called Oscars of the Internet, lost some of its fizz this year as a lack of money and the general economic gloom forced organisers to tone things down.

The producers also said the fallout from the terrorist attacks of 11 September played a part in their decision to turn the San Francisco extravaganza into a more sober affair.

The founder and creative director of the Webbys, Tiffany Shlain, admits that just like the internet industry itself, the Webbys are not what they used to be.

"It's more core and we felt it made sense this year with everything that has happened since the last show, September the 11th and the continuing hard times in the economy. We just wanted to be respectful."

Rough ride ahead

The event has always been regarded as a barometer for the health of web businesses.

It was fun to call my mum and say I'm a multi-millionaire - but the life was awful

John Bates, co-founder
But putting a less than rosy glow on things is Stewart Brand of the Long Now Foundation who says the industry can expect this rough ride that has led to thousands being laid off to continue for some time.

"Lean years are not just punctuations between periods of fat years," he said.

"They are the discipline years when civilisation consolidates its gains and invents its way out of trouble.

"In the Long Now Foundation these are the good years. Don't waste them."

Avoiding burn-out

John Bates who co-founded a web company that sold text books online feels he has wasted some of his good years.

His company burned through $80m leaving him with little to show for it.

"It was fun to call my mum and say I'm a multi- millionaire. But the life was awful. I was on planes 25 out of 30 days. I had no personal life.

"I burned the candle at both ends. It's nice now to have the time to go surfing and walk the dog. That's the legacy of the dot com boom and bust."

Long run benefits

Some feel the shakedown that resulted in the dot bomb was all to the good.

We're just grateful we got over the bubble - now we're just waiting for the next mass hallucination

Craig Newmark, founder Craigslist
"I think it's very healthy the downturn we have seen," says Sergey Brin, a co-founder of the search engine Google.

"The past year and a half has really pruned out a lot of companies who were not viable and the ones that are remaining are really strong."

And as the head of a successful internet business, Brin says the battering that the industry has taken will benefit everyone in the long run.

"I found that the people who are in the market are the more dedicated people, not the people looking to make a quick buck.

"So I think it has made it a more honest place and a place where it's easier to do business even though there isn't piles and piles of money floating around."

Survival the key

Some are just happy to still be in existence.

Google's founders celebrate another success
Craig Newmark, who is a former Webby winner and founder of the online community bulletin board Craigslist says "We're just grateful we got over the bubble. Now we're just waiting for the next mass hallucination."

Google's co-founder Larry Page is less cynical and remains optimistic about a real turnaround for the sector.

"There is still a tremendous amount of innovation going on. There are new sites all the time.

"People are still using the internet more and more as part of their everyday lives and I think you really see that from the Webbys.

"But there is also less money and less exuberance than there was last year."

International development

Webbys' director Maya Draisin says the internet is in robust health and forever evolving.

She says that is obvious from the types of websites that were nominated and won awards.

"You see a lot of, and as we come out of the hype and all the focus on the dot.coms.

"We've also seen a lot more international nominees, so I think the epicentre of web development is also moving out into the world as more and more people everywhere are on line."

Despite the harsh economic climate forcing the organisers of the Webbys to lay off the glitz and the glamour this year, they remain confident that the internet will continue to make a major impact on our lives.

Tiffany Shlain says they are inspired by Arthur C Clarke who said: "When it comes to technology most people over estimate it in the short term and underestimate it in the long term."

See also:

19 Jun 02 | Entertainment
19 Jul 01 | Americas
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