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Webby awards crown Net's best

Billionaire basketball team owner Mark Cuban was a no show, but the head of UNICEF made it, and pop star Prince rounded off occasion if the 10th annual Webby awards by throwing a guitar over his head.

india Updated: Jun 17, 2006 20:05 IST

Billionaire basketball team owner Mark Cuban was a no-show, but the head of UNICEF made it and pop star Prince rounded off the evening by throwing a guitar over his head.

The occasion was the 10th annual Webby awards, the self-proclaimed Oscars of the Internet, which drew a large and varied group of winners from across the cyberspace world to their industry's big night out Monday in the heart of New York's financial district.

Nearly 70 awards, chosen from a record 5,500 entries from more than 40 countries were handed out to websites specialising in everything from fashion and film to politics and business.

"It's been a year of fulfillment," said Webby Awards executive director David-Michel Davies. "A year for the dreams we had for the Internet to finally come true."

There were special prizes for people like MySpace.com founders Chris DeWolfe and Tom Anderson, who won the Breakout of the Year Webby for the phenomenal expansion of their popular social networking site, which now boasts more than 75 million registered users.

The Webby Person of the Year was New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who was specifically cited for his best-selling globalisation bible, The World is Flat.

"At a time when Washington seems totally brain dead there is an incredible explosion of innovation happening around this country," Friedman told the audience.

"If you've got an idea, don't wait six months," he warned. "Whatever can be done, will be done. The only question is, will it be done by you?"

Webby winners are chosen by the grandly titled International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, which claims a membership that includes David Bowie, Virgin Group founder Richard Branson and The Simpsons creator Matt Groening.

While the Webbys may lack the glamour of the Oscars, they do offer one welcome departure from all other awards shows.

With the exception of the special award recipients, all other winners are strictly limited to acceptance speeches of just five words, thus avoiding gushingly tearful testimonials of gratitude to family and agents.

"We are eating this up," said the representative for the best food site winner, epicurious.com.

"Babycenter. You push. We deliver," offered the best website for expectant mothers, babycenter.com.

The winner for the best charitable organisation website was the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), whose acceptance speech was delivered by its executive director and former US agriculture secretary Ann Veneman.

"Make UNICEF obsolete. Help kids," Veneman said.

Webby Awards founder Tiffany Shlain marvelled not only at the exponential growth in the number of websites, but also the speed with which some have achieved global stature.

"I remember at the 4th annual awards when Google won a prize and nobody knew what it was. Can you imagine that?" Shlain said.

"Once it was telephones which were one-to-one, then television which was one-to-many and now the Internet which is many-to-many. This is such an amazing time to be alive," she added.

One winner who failed to pick up his award was Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball franchise, who won Webby Entrepreneur of the Year for his evangelical promotion of Internet technology.

"I have five words for you -- Mark. Cuban. Is. Not. Here," said the master of ceremonies, comic Rob Corddry.

However, the biggest star of the night did turn up, albeit late and right at the end of the evening.

The former unpronounceable symbol Prince was honoured with a Webby Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his "visionary" use of the Internet that included becoming the first major artist to release an entire album -- 1997's "Crystal Ball" -- exclusively on the Web.

"You think. It's true," Prince said, coming in under the five-word limit and leaving everyone wondering what he meant as he launched into a solo number.

The performance ended abruptly as he suddenly chucked his guitar back over his head with a crash and raced off to a waiting limousine.