It's that time of year again, when San Francisco does its bravest imitations of Hollywood and Broadway, gets dressed up, has too much to drink, and hands out trophies that resemble, in the words of one recipient Wednesday night, broken slinkies.
Downturn or no downturn, the fifth annual Webby Awards came on schedule, filling the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House with more gallows humor heard there since last season's world premiere of "Dead Man Walking."
Morbidity, heartbreak and wholesale destruction were the evening's unofficial themes, with "Founder, Director, Survivor" Tiffany Shlain opening the show with the inspiring quote, "Barn's Burnt Down, Now I Can See the Moon." She proceeded to compare the Internet over the last year to "a tempestuous love affair, where you woke up one day and he was gone and so was all his furniture."
Question most often posed to Executive Director Maya Draisin: "Will there be any more sites left to judge?"
San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown set the tone for the rest of the evening's humor when he recalled of Shlain that "the young woman called and said, 'I want to discuss the Web with you.' And I immediately thought of something kinky." The ever-elegant and tasteful mayor followed up these bons mots with the reminder: "No, my name's not Gary Condit."
It was only the first of many times I would have to hold my hand over the ears of my young companions, my 12-year-old son, Vermel, and his classmates Ammonia Blossom and Jai Pegue. Nonetheless, a good time was had by most, as the MC's quips, the glitzy lighting and the frenetic video clips kept the show moving along toward its tap-dancing conclusion.
Afterward, Vermel pontificated on the peculiar nature of the awards show.
"The high-tech industry lacks genuine celebrities," he said. "So the Webbies is like the Oscars minus all the acting nominees. To compensate they import a Broadway star (Tony Award-winning "Cabaret" host and two-time Webby Awards MC Alan Cumming) and they have to hyperinflate the production values so the show looks like a mutant hybrid of the Chinese circus, the San Francisco Opera, an Intel TV spot, an MTV video and a Burning Man talent show.
"Without all that," Vermel concluded, "it's just another Industry Standard rooftop gathering."
Perhaps Vermel was sore that the Rumor Mill once again did not succeed in taking home a Webby. Neither did News.com, which at least was nominated for one.
Meanwhile, the others weighed in with less grave opinions.
"The lasting legacy of the Webbies will be the five-word acceptance speech," Jai Pegue predicted. "And the Cocky Bastard's white fishnet tights."
"The five-word acceptance speech will be the lasting legacy of the Internet," Ammonia corrected Jai Pegue. "Ooh--there's Vint Cerf schmoozing with Andy Grove."
So much for the Internet not having celebrities. Vermel caught up to Cerf before the rest of us.
"So what do you think of the monster you've created?" Vermel demanded.
"This monster is more fun than anything I can think of," replied the jolly Cerf, who donned a ruffled black top hat. "I also think we're only at the beginning. There's an Internet in your future: Resistance is futile!"
We lost track of Andy Grove but were pleased to see him announce the winner of the Technical Achievement category, Microsoft Windows Update, with aplomb in the face of difficult circumstances.
While the hisses and boos that met the Microsoft nomination were merely raucous, those that greeted the announcement of the award itself to Microsoft were positively deafening. Grove was stony-faced as an anonymous Microserf braved the chorus of calumny, accepting the award with the speech, "I update, therefore I am." He was then ushered offstage with a lascivious comment from the MC.
First Annual Rumor Mill Awards for Best Webby Acceptance Speeches: Runner-up: "Bankruptcy never felt so good." First prize: "Sam Donaldson--Dude! Gnarly toupee!" But don't ask me who said them--being non-celebrities, they were not introduced.
Speaking of Sam Donaldson, we were pleased to see F***edCompany.com creator Phil "Pud" Kaplan trying to convince the anchor to pronounce the name of his Web site on the ABCNews.com Webcast.
"You can say it; this isn't TV," Pud cajoled. "I want to hear you say it!"
Sam didn't say it. Neither did the presenter of the comedy award, which was handed to The Onion. That award was met with a huge ovation, matched only by those lavished on the Google, Peter Pan and Craig's List victories--and on the lifetime achievement awards to ubergeek visionaries Ray Tomlinson and Douglas Engelbart.
But Pud's trip to San Francisco was not without its compensations. Tuesday night, the party he threw in his own honor was packed to the gills, with a line around the block the duration of the fete.
With uncharacteristic quietness, Pud is celebrating the partial sale of his famous dot-com deadpool.
It all started when Pud made the switch from Windows to Linux servers and found himself technically at sea.
"Windows was crashing constantly--it couldn't handle the load," Pud told the Rumor Mill. "But I don't know (anything) about Linux. I know my way around the OS, but if a network card stops working, I'm lost."
So Pud, who already gave his PK Interactive Web design business to his four employees--who now hire him as an occasional contractor on jobs that include Toyota and Mead--has now brought in a Linux-savvy partner and given him a minority stake in the lucrative deadpool.
Pud sold another minority stake in FC to an undisclosed investor that he promises will benefit the site in numerous ways, also undisclosed.
"I looked at it more as a barter," said Pud, who still owns a majority of the business. "It opened a lot of doors I wanted to be opened."
With the time freed up by giving away the Web design business and bringing on an FC partner, Pud says he's playing the drums a lot these days. And another Pud site is waiting in the wings.
Judging by the white Versace suit with gold frilly buttons Pud wore to the Webby Awards, it looks like he's found some time for spending some of his hard-earned money. I'm saving up for a Versace hankie. Chip in with your rumors.