The Webby Awards: What’s the Pattern of Selected Sites?

Upon venturing to The Webby Awards (herein referred to as the Webbys) for the first time it is hard to gauge what you should or are to expect. Many sites are alike in professionalism and quality, but some break from the traditional pack. Assessing a pattern as a result can be very challenging. The main reason for this is that the target audiences and content of the sites that have been gathered differ greatly from web page to web page (e.g. PBS's Nova Online in comparison to Peter Pan's Home Page). In order to establish a pattern, therefore, criteria must be chosen that narrow focus for the sake of unwarranted bandwidth usage. The following factors will be taken into account: content, structure, navigation (with that ease of use), and the intended audience for the sites -- which directly corresponds with the notion of functionality. For certain factors where there exists two websites on other ends of the spectrum, both will be contrasted. The major goal of this essay is to get a broader understanding of the web and how it works by using “The Ultimate Bookmark” - a.k.a. the Webbys.

One of the key qualifications for all the sites that have been selected is content. With every web page there needs to be a specific need (or purpose) for which they fill. Across the board, every site that the Webbys has chosen to represent a category does just that. The content of all the sites vary however. Some sites like National Geographic provide information and content in the same way a reference book in a library would. There you can find maps of the world and information about different cultures and countries. You could also find information about travel to areas you don’t know much about. On the other hand there are sites, which were created to say, promote a call for action on a particular issue in society. One example of such a site is VolunteerMatch. It was created to match those who want to volunteer for a specific cause with those organizations which need volunteers for that cause. The notion of the site is very simple. It connects people and provides the opportunity to allow volunteers to do exactly what they want to do for their community. VolunteerMatch is a perfect example for content because it fulfills a niche that someone felt needed to be covered. And every site that has won a Webby has a creator who has done exactly that.

The second criteria for websites is structure. The layout of a web page needs to be flawless and complete so that the user doesn’t become dissatisfied with the site. Web pages are intended to capture their viewers first with their ascetic beauty. The layout of a website is as a result always a significant component of beauty. It is for this reason that visual design is so important. Good visual design is design that is appropriate for the user. The Dancing Paul Page serves as an example of great layout. The method in which you move through the site is very intuitive. And on the same token, you have a good idea of what you are going to get when you click. All nominated sites and chosen winners of Webbys have structure and layout which tailor to the site’s intended audience. The same goes for sites on the web. All successful sites tend to have consistent and intuitive structure, which allows the user to build a mental model of where information can be found within the site.

A third criterion is navigation and ease of use. Almost all of the featured sites have multiple modes of navigation. The reason for this is simple: people use different methods of interacting in the online world. A perfect example of great website navigation is Travelocity. At the top is a navigation bar that has all the major categories of the site. And as a compliment to the aforementioned menu are the same categories with clickable images. This website therefore serves as a notable example of a site with a small learning curve. On the web, sites that are easy for anyone to learn how to navigate will always do better than their ambiguous (you really don’t know what you are going to get when you click a link) counterparts. But on the opposite end of the stick, one site is purposely difficult to navigate: Requiem for a Dream. When you first go to the site it seems like you are going to your typical movie online presence. But then there is a flashing image that says "CLICK HERE NOW!" You click the flashing image and you are whisked away to a show who's host is "Tabby Tibbons." If you hadn't seen the movie and wanted to find out information about it, you might be a little thrown off. But if you have seen the movie, you would know that "Tabby Tibbons" is a character that plays a very important role in the movie. Those who aren't annoyed by the lack of navigation will learn something from the site. Persistence will guide you to various addictions that people face in life (like net, gambling, and weight-loss). The pattern in both sites is that navigation plays an important role in the experience of the user. The Webbys recognize this as something crucial to the web. For it is.

Another criteria that has a pattern throughout awarded sites is the intended audience of websites and with that functionality. How accessible is the site to different users? Every person that accesses the Internet does so differently. People use different types of Internet browsers to view the sites (such as Microsoft Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator) which interpret website html and coding differently. Some people also may not have the most current versions of such browsers. Because the technology of web coding is constantly changing certain people may not have programs current enough to view the site the way the author intended. For this reason, those sites that wish to cater to their largest possible audience must keep the technology that they use in the creation of their layout fairly simplistic. One site that follows this principle is craigslist. In order to ensure the broadest amount of users will be able to access the site, no images are used. Also text and information are displayed within tables. And the majority of browsers that are currently being used today can interpret tables. The speeds at which people access the Internet also varies widely from user to user (broadband is still a relatively new creation while the 56k modem is still how the majority of Internet users get online). Only when users are able to properly view the site will they begin to navigate through the sites content. Sputnik7 is a great example of great functionality. Because the intended audience of the site are broadband users, the layout (which is very pleasing and interactive) isn’t excessive. If it were intended for 56k users, there would be a problem -- lack of bandwidth. That is why the site won best site in the “Broadband” category of the Webby awards. Sites that were nominated or won Webbys all cater their functionality to the users who will access the sites.

The web is a constantly growing and expanding resource. Just looking at the number of categories for awards that the Webbys began with (fifteen) and how many there are now (thirty) you see an instant parallel between the Webbys and the network from which it finds its nominees. In 1997 when the first Webbys were awarded, there was no need for a category that would focus on broadband. Now there is. This serves as a key point as to how the Webbys does its best to model the Internet. As the people who judge the sites could probably tell you, this isn’t an easy task. The web is huge. Yet in the Webbys patterns can be found which exist throughout the Internet. There is a fundamental basis for all websites: they are generally made with the user in mind. In conclusion, the Webbys are outdated the moment the awards are handed out. But the model that the Webbys creates of the Internet is not.