Webby Gala Long On Brevity

The awards for the best Web sites taught us a few things: The world is flat, Arianna is anti-war and dudes like Rob Corddry.

The tenth annual Webby awards were handed out last night — or, more precisely, the winners got to hoist a spring-shaped statuette for a few moments and deliver a blog-style acceptance speech before gently placing the oversized spring back on the podium.

The three-hour, $400-a-head ceremony, held in a Wall Street building formerly home to the New York Stock Exchange, included a dinner of risotto, chicken, asparagus and polenta, unlimited drinks from the Webby statuette carved in ice at the upstairs bar and the company of several hundred winners, representatives of corporate sponsors, and assorted revelers - with a male-to-female ratio roughly equal to that of your average professional football game.

Emcee Rob Corddry of The Daily Show kicked off the evening with a slightly off-color stand-up routine that the male-dominated audience seemed to appreciate. Corddry reminded the winners that they were limited to just five words for their acceptance speeches and that “If you go over, Johann will kick you in the balls,” gesturing offstage toward what one presumes was a large man wearing heavy boots. “If you don’t have balls, you’ll still get kicked, it just won’t be as funny,” he concluded.

With the winners having been announced in advance and listed in the glossy program left on every seat, most of the evening’s drama came from listening to what each honoree would say. The speeches ranged from corporate (Dell: “Thanks! Go buy a Dell!”) to earnest (UNICEF: “Make UNICEF obsolete - help kids”) to humorous, generally in a nerdy way (RememberSegregation.org: “Two crackers fighting racism, yo!”). Arianna Huffington, who earlier in the day blogged her anxiety about coming up with her speech to accept the award for Best Political Blog, went with “Dahlings: Make Blogs, Not War.” That was immediately followed by a loud bang from a piece of equipment falling over in the back of the room, prompting Corddry to remark, “The apocalypse just started!” (Full disclosure/self-promotion: CJR Daily was a runner-up for Best Political Blog; we would have gone with “Gin. Vermouth. Ice. Shake well.”) Completing the range of remarks was a representative of ESPN.com: “Sports. Pornography. Sports. Pornography. Sports!” — moments before a performance of “The Internet is for Porn” from the musical Avenue Q.

About two-thirds of the way through the program, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman was given the “Webby Person of the Year Award.” He started out with a five-word acceptance: “The world really is flat!” Then, blithely ignoring his word limit, Friedman launched into a speech about the future of technology, energy and the environment that included the phrase “tipping point,” as well as two separate plugs for his book (bringing to three the total repetitions of the words “the world is flat” for the evening). Disappointingly, Corddry’s earlier threat went unenforced.

The most interesting part of the evening was the acceptance speech of Robert Kahn, whom Cordrry credited as “co-inventor of the Internet.” Given license by the host to go longer than five words, Kahn started with a five-word line anyway (first in binary, then in hexidecimal, then finally in English), “Discover digital objects and handles,” urging the audience to “Google it to find out what it means.” Kahn, one of the developers of the TCP/IP protocol that forms the backbone of all Internet communications, spoke of a future in which more information will be available through distributed networks, and linked even more closely. “We’re still at a very early stage in the evolution of the Internet,” he concluded.

The evening ended with an acoustic performance by Prince, who also picked up a lifetime achievement award. And while Style.com made a reference to Manolo Blahniks in their acceptance speech, Prince did them one better, showing up in tennis shoes with LED lights in the heels that flashed red every time he took a step.

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Bryan Keefer was CJR Daily’s deputy managing editor.