Category Inflation at the Webbys

The nominations for the 13th Annual Webby Awards are in, and browsing the list, I’m a little surprised at how much it’s grown. I remember the novelty of the first ceremony at Bimbo’s back in 1997, with its quirky five-word speeches and humble 15 categories.

I was curious to see the growth trend, so I tallied up the total number of categories on their official site. In the last five years, we’ve seen a 330% increase in new categories to a total of 129 today. In the chart below you can see the gradual rise during the dot-com era and brief reduction after the bust, only to swell along with the Web 2.0 movement. In 2005, with the introduction of the new Mobile, Advertising, and Film award types, the number of categories more than doubled to 63 and continued to expand every year since.

With so many categories, you’d think that their business model hinged on getting as many entries as possible… Which, of course, it does. Submitting an entry for Webby consideration costs $275 for the Website, Mobile, and Advertising categories, while the Film categories costs $195.

All of this reminds me of Cool Site of the Day, a former web mainstay that’s long since drifted into irrelevance. Once they started taking cash for consideration, the award became less meaningful and the picks were less interesting because of it.

At what point does the Webbys meet the same fate as CSOTD, where the only people who care about the awards are the nominees themselves?

30 thoughts on “Category Inflation at the Webbys

  1. I think the answer to your question is it already happened. I went to check the site out and in order to vote or even look at the nominees (at least in the People’s Choice) section you have to register/log in. They may argue it’s to prevent fraud, but all it did was make me not care.

  2. Funny… until I read this post, I assumed the Webbys had already long since met that same fate.

    Or, translated into today’s idiom (and with all due respect to John Hodgman)… “Meh.”

  3. I already thought they were irrelevant. Paid for awards are always a bad apple when it comes to saying “I’ve won something”.

    129, just ridiculous.

  4. All awards are pay-to-enter and do whatever they can to encourage as many entrants in as many obscure categories.

    A friend of mine worked for the Emmys, but not the primetime Emmys, one of the insanely numerous sub-Emmy shows that exist primarily for this reason. The wikipedia page doesn’t even list all of them, but with all the “regional” and “other” talk you can tell there’s many dozens:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emmy#Other_Emmys

    I suppose the real world lesson Webbys should take is to separate Website, Mobile, Advertising, and Film into their own shows so they can balloon and independently pull in all the suckers paying for entrance.

  5. Based on limited experience in my field (TV promo), I wouldn’t be surprised if many, many awards organizations are the same. Some will even give out multiple golds & silvers in the same categories.

  6. It’s certainly a widespread practice, but not all awards do this. Nominees for the Academy Awards, for example, are determined by Academy members from all eligible films and don’t require a fee to enter. (Maybe that’s why the Academy doesn’t feel the need to grow past their 24 categories?)

  7. How the hell did “Sad Guys on Trading Floors” get a People’s Voice nom (under “Weird”)?

    When you see sites like that being nominated, you know they’ve jumped a magnificently large whale shark.

  8. I can’t believe I still haven’t learned never to use the word “all”.

    From what I can tell, the Academy makes its revenue from the broadcast of the Awards, presumably advertising (or payment by the network?). Interestingly, they in essence charge their judges fees (dues), rather than their entrants.

    2007 tax form: http://www.guidestar.org/FinDocuments/2007/950/473/2007-950473280-046621ae-9O.pdf

    So the Webbies will become credible once they figure out how to make $70M from airing their ceremony.

  9. I think the Game Developer’s Choice Awards are the closest gaming equivalent of the Webbies, with their own big ceremony every year, so I checked their site to see if they charge a nomination fee. Their site says, “The Game Developers Choice Awards are about peer recognition and rewarding excellence and innovation in games: there are no fees or costs associated with making nominations.”

    To me, that’s the only thing that makes sense, if you’re trying to create an award based on merit.

  10. I forked over $150 for an entry fee several years back and did not even get an acknowledgement that my site was nominated or even up for nomination. It was like a black hole. Take your money and then ignore you. The sites that won that year were all professionally-run media sites. Indie blogs and one-man shops were virtually ignored; but they were more than happy to take your money!

    I guess I learned that lesson the hard way.

  11. Can’t be as bad as the Telly Awards. You pay money to submit (& win). You then pay $200+ to buy the statuette. One of the biggest scams in the video world. Every time I receive a resume with a mention of a Telly award, I laugh and chuck the resume in the trash.

  12. The biggest fail is that you’re required to have Silverlight installed just to *vote*. Since they only made Silverlight 1.0 for PPC Macs, they don’t get my votes.

  13. My take away after having paid for Webby-consideration some years back: it’s kind of a scam. What it got me was a name-mispelled framed certificate that I was a top-1000-or-so runners-up — which probably meant some moderator had checked I wasn’t a troll marketing a Viagra shop or something –, plus a stream of snail mail color brochure spam over the years asking me to pay for similar award shows. I didn’t expect to win or anything though and found the whole experience somewhat funny, if rather expensive. Just keep in mind that if their award show were neutral & cool, then sites wouldn’t be required to *pay* to be considered.

  14. The Webby Awards are an even bigger scam than you think… if you get a “People’s Voice” award, you have to pay for the statue, and pay for the “right” to attend their “gala”.

    If you don’t pay for any of those, you get nothing. Oh, right, a stupid “badge” you can display on your site… whatever.

    The money you put forward goes to pay people like Steven Colbert to appear at the show to get their “award”. Because you know they wouldn’t show up for any such “award” unless they were being paid.

  15. … sorry, not “statue”, I meant “trophy”. It’s a little metal spring-like thing on a metal base. Feels cheap. Not impressed. And you have to pay for it.

  16. I don’t know any site developer who wouldn’t want to win a Webby. The reality is that they are the biggest and most competitive game in town.

    Yes, there are now lots of categories but the new ones are there largely to account for the increasing breadth and complexity of the web. The mobile and video sites need to be on their own as do each of the specialty verticals (banks etc). When it comes down to it most sites only find 2 or 3 cats that really interest them and that is as it should be.

    Comparing the Webbys to the Oscars is frankly nonsense. The Internet is vastly larger and more diverse than the film industry and cuts across all industries.

  17. We don’t want one.

    It is an industry masturbation session. Just do work that you are proud of showing. Why pay for a pat on the back?

    Chalk us up as you first site developer who doesn’t want one because I can assure you there are many others with the same philosophy.

  18. At what point does the Webbys meet the same fate as CSOTD

    Well considering the response in my office was “what’s a webby”, we think that’s already happened.

  19. I think it’s worth noting that the Crunchies is now what the Webbys used to be — an award for websites based on merit. They have an open nomination process, there’s no fee to nominate someone, the winners are selected from a committee of industry experts, and the winners really tend to represent great work. They throw a big awards show, funded by sponsors, and all the nominees are given a free ticket to attend. As a result, they’ve become something that website developers actually care about.

    Unfortunately, they only cover startups and companies, not the creative side of technology (e.g. writers, artists, designers, etc.). I think the decline of the Webbys have left a big gap here that can be filled.

  20. Martin Hosking: You neglect to mention that your company paid to be nominated, so you’re a bit biased. It has to mean something to RedBubble or it was just a waste of money.

  21. BoingBoing Video is up for four Webby’s and they are ecstatic… to the point that they are removing any comment which links to this article.

  22. Last year I did some judging for the webbies. You’re expected to rank entries from first through fifteenth, in as many categories as you can. For many entries, the amount of time I spent evaluating them was of necessity on the order of seconds, and I still committed probably 10 hours of time to not even finishing the whole thing. This year I just ignored the mails from them. For the vast majority of the categories, the winners are probably completely arbitrary and random.

  23. It may have changed since 1999 (when my online game was a Webby nominee), but you don’t have to submit and pay the fee to be considered (I didn’t). The jury panelists can suggest any sites they want–and of course those sites get the most serious consideration.

Comments are closed.