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Actress Lisa Kudrow hosted the 15th annual Webby Awards in New York.
Actress Lisa Kudrow hosted the 15th annual Webby Awards in New York.

Looking for more interesting bookmarks? Check out the Webby winners

The 15th annual Webby Awards offered entertainment as well as a rich clearing house for some of the most interesting material on the Internet today.

The Webby Awards would love to cast themselves as the Oscars of the web. And, to be fair, they do "honour excellence on the Internet", just as the Oscars reward the previous year's greatest cinematic achievements.

In fact, the 15th annual ceremony this week was, to the outsider, remarkably similar to Hollywood's yearly bunfight. It was hosted by a famous comedian - Lisa Kudrow - featured stars such as Norah Jones and Brooke Shields from the world of entertainment, and had a dominant winner: in their case, the Funny Or Die website.

But there's a refreshing difference to this award show: it doesn't go on all night because the winners have to make their speeches in five words or fewer.

So when the editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine, Anna Wintour, accepted the People's Voice award in the fashion category (from Harry Potter's Daniel Radcliffe, no less) she simply said "sometimes geeks can be chic". She was talking about the effect of her website, but could easily have been making a more general comment on the Webbys themselves. As Kudrow pointed out, the audience might recognise many of the award-winners "from when you beat them up in high school", and the Webbys does have a less starchy, more self-deprecating air than many an awards ceremony.

But then, it is the kind of night where an irreverent comedy website can be a big winner. Funny Or Die was founded by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay's production company and is a ridiculously simple idea: well-known actors such as Jerry Seinfeld and Lindsay Lohan perform skits on which users of the site then vote. Those that are funny stay, but those that don't pass muster must "die" in the site's crypt. Contributions from US stand-up Zach Galifianakis - the "one with the beard" in The Hangover - most definitely did stay. He won four awards alone for his Funny Or Die celebrity interview series.

There were also awards for the chat-show host Conan O'Brien's website (each category has two awards, one voted on by the International Academy of the Digital Arts and Sciences, and one voted by the public) and Antoine Dodson/The Gregory Brothers, who performed the musical parody and YouTube sensation Bed Intruder. All of which might make the Webbys seem just a little throwaway, particularly when there are a frankly ridiculous 70 categories. What do you mean, you don't want to know the Best Corporate Communications website?

But the Webbys also celebrate the power of the medium for good. So it was cheering that among the whooping for LCD Soundsystem (Artist of the Year) and Arcade Fire (Best Experimental and Weird Short Video - see what we mean about the category overload?) there was a Special Recognition Award. Accepted on behalf of the Egyptian people by filmmaker Mohamed Diab for their use of Facebook and Twitter to affect change in Tahrir Square, Diab's five words were "Injustice, oppression, social media = revolution." And there was also a standing ovation for Martin Cooper. Only a gathering of tech geeks would have recognised why he should receive a Lifetime Achievement award but most of the rest of us have his invention at our side 24 hours a day. It's called the mobile phone.

But even Cooper was refreshingly deprecating. He came to the stage holding a giant brick of a mobile phone and said his five words - "Can you hear me, now?" - with a glint in his eye. The final line, though, had to go to a bird and a catapult. If you're one of the 200 million people who downloaded the Angry Birds game on to laptops, PCs and smartphones since its release in December 2009, you'll know what we're talking about. This is a seriously addictive waste of time - and it won both the academy and the public vote for best game.

Yet there will be those who have never played it, and the Webbys does fulfil another function - the list of winners and nominees are like a web browser preloaded with some of the coolest bookmarked links on the planet. Well, if you live in America.

Angry Birds may be Finnish, the BBC won an award for drama for its online EastEnders-themed video series, and The Guardian snatched a couple of gongs for online video, but generally this is a celebration of Stateside web talent. Which is fine, but if the Webbys really have pretensions about being the Oscars of the Internet, perhaps a "best website in a foreign language" would be a nice idea for next year. After all, there are 70 categories. One more is hardly likely to hurt.

* Ben East

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