Webbies, Digital Photography, And Blogs

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Heidi Schumann for The New York Times

Tyler Morgan, 19, who won a Webby Award for his personal Web site

June 8, 2005

Accepting a Webby? Brevity, Please

One of the more charming idiosyncrasies of the Webby Awards, the annual awards for achievement in Web creation, requires that recipients use five words, and five words only, to make their acceptance speeches.

So after a night full of award innuendos and one-line haiku at Gotham Hall in Manhattan, the 550 people in attendance were wondering how Al Gore, the loquacious former vice president, would respond to his lifetime achievement award.

He did not disappoint.

"Please don’t recount this vote," he said. The place went nuts.

Mr. Gore, who was politically savaged during the 2000 presidential campaign for a remark that seemed to imply that he had created the Internet, was introduced by Vinton Cerf, one of the scientists credited with actually having built the architecture behind the Web. He had his own five-word speech – "We all invented the Internet" – before pointing out that Mr. Gore had been responsible for spearheading critical legislation and providing much-needed political support – not exactly creating a new medium, but not bad for a politician.

Mr. Gore, by virtue of his résumé, was dragged back to the dais to say a few more words.

"It is time to reinvent the Internet for all of us to make it more robust and much more accessible and use it to reinvigorate our democracy," he said, again to thunderous applause.

It was an awards banquet where hype and self-congratulation were mixed with huggy messages about the cultural and civic good that can come from the Internet. Once a raucous San Francisco celebration of the World Wide Web’s potential to change everything, the awards slimmed down along with the digital economy after the bust, forgoing a huge party for an online event the last two years. But the Web is no longer a bad word among business people, and the awards ceremony has left the hermetic, homey confines of San Francisco for New York for the first time in its nine-year history. That decision was less a recognition of New York’s growing role in digital culture than its longer-running one as the media capital of the Western hemisphere.

"Every year we have done something different to reflect the pulse of the Web, and tonight we are in New York because the Web has been dispersed," said Tiffany Shlain, a founder of the ceremony. "Great Web sites are being created and accessed everywhere."

Including Amarillo, Tex. Tyler Morgan, 19, was getting all of a dozen hits a day on the personal Web site he built in his bedroom – Rtm86.com – until Yahoo named it as a site of the day and he was listed as a nominee for the Webby. In May he had 1.2 million hits.

After he learned he had won the Webby, there was the problem of getting to New York.

"I put a personal plea on my Web site, and people sent in something like $1,700 and here I am," he said, wearing one of the red corsages that identified the winners. His five-word speech was to the point: "Desperate – need money for college." (It worked: at the after-party at the Bryant Park Hotel, the Creative Group, the lead sponsor of the event, announced it was going to pitch in.)

Mr. Morgan took his place in a line that included the likes of Pfizer, the C.I.A. and Geico Insurance, but also The Paly Voice, the Web site of Palo Alto High School; and Rathergood.com, a compendium of weirdly wonderful things. The range of winners was a reminder of the Web’s elastic nature, which allows both mass and granular manifestations of what people are thinking about.

Because the Webby sculpture is shaped like a large spring, it invited short-form, salacious annotations, with many speeches that drew hoots from the crowd. One of the more demure, low-tech speeches came from Abigail Chisman, a staff member at Vogue.co.uk, who stepped up to get her award in a gorgeous white frock.

"Do you like my dress?" she said. Yes, they did, and her speech as well.

The event was as businesslike as an awards ceremony whose central icon is a cartoonishly large spring can be, with the host Rob Corddry, a funny guy on "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart," lending an air of knowing befuddlement to the proceedings.

To the extent that any awards serve as a mood ring on the industry they celebrate – not all that farfetched, if you deconstruct the average year for the Tonys and the Oscars – the Web has become a sandbox where anarchy and commerce play. While these may not be the heady, freaky days of 2000 and 2001, the Web is still making noise after the boom.

The Webby for Person of the Year went to Craig Newmark of craigslist.org, whose once-tiny community bulletin board now attracts more than eight million people monthly in 120 cities, including Sydney, Australia, and Bangalore, India. Mr. Newmark’s various sites have given fits to the classified-ad business of both daily and weekly papers.

Innovators in both music and images, two hot buttons of Internet culture, were cited as well. The Kleptones, a band from Britain, received an award for their music site, which features "Night at the Hip-Hopera," an album that became a viral sensation after they plopped it out on their Web site for mashing and downloading. And Flickr.com, a photo management site that uses elements of Web "tagging" and RSS feeds, went to the podium to be honored for its groundbreaking approach to image sharing.

Whimsy always gets a front-row seat at the Webbys, and this year Dogster.com, a San Francisco Web site, picked up a community award for its creation of a virtual playground for pets and their owners. BoingBoing.net, whose idiosyncratic approach to what constitutes information worth sharing – robot bands, storm chasers or an Osama bin Laden cigarette lighter replete with World Trade Center towers – received top blogging honors.

As was only fitting, there was a significant populist element to the awards, with 200,000 people voting for the People’s Voice Award in each of more than 60 categories in the program, which drew entries from all 50 states and 40 countries. Comedy Central’s "Indecision 2004" on "The Daily Show," won both a Webby and the People’s Voice Award. (A complete list of the winners is at www.webbyawards.com.)

The Webbys got off to a wobbly but impressive start in 1997. Ms. Shlain, an independent filmmaker and designer who was then designing the Web site for a print magazine called The Web put out by International Data Group, cobbled $30,000 and in-kind donations from 11 companies to gin up the first annual awards, which drew 700 people to Bimbo’s 365 Club in San Francisco.

Willie Brown, then the city’s mayor, was at the event, sponsored by The Web. The following year, the company closed down The Web, but the Webby Awards lived on, with the second show featuring the likes of Scott Adams, the creator of the comic strip "Dilbert," and the well-known Web savant Dennis Rodman – well, he was well known, anyway.

The show, feeding off the growing hype surrounding the Web, attracted significant media attention, and Rudolph W. Giuliani, then mayor of New York City, made an offer in 1998 to bring the Webbys to Radio City Music Hall. Mayor Brown countered and the awards stayed on the West Coast, but this year the Webby Awards decided to switch coasts.

Also in 1998, Ms. Shlain and a partner, Maya Draisin, helped form the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences to oversee the awards, enrolling luminaries like the rock star David Bowie, the filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola and the digital thinker Esther Dyson, and securing PricewaterhouseCoopers to oversee the judging process. But the competition for the best five-word speech was ferocious, including a woman who compared the trophy to an IUD. The winning winner on Monday night? It may have been Todd Sotkiewicz, the president of LonelyPlanet.com, the People’s Voice winner in the travel category:

"Love your country. Leave it."

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company


Andy Rash

June 8, 2005
Less Cursing, Better Pictures: 10 Suggestions

RECENTLY, I was lying next to a hotel pool, keeping an eye on the children, when the guy on the next chaise swore like a sailor.

He was peering at his little digital camera, looking furious. I couldn’t help myself. "Do you need help with that?" I asked.

"This is the stupidest camera," he said. "I’ve tried three times to take a picture of my son going off the diving board, but the delay is so bad, I miss it every time."

I knew he was talking about shutter lag, the maddening time it takes for most digital cameras to focus and calculate the exposure after you have squeezed the shutter button but before the shot is captured.

I nodded sympathetically. "And even the half-pressing trick doesn’t work, eh?"

He looked at me as though I had just spoken Aramaic. "The what?"

Suddenly it dawned on me that this guy didn’t know the half-pressing trick. He didn’t realize that you can usually eliminate the shutter lag by half-pressing the shutter button before the action begins. The camera prefocuses, precalculates and locks in those settings as long as you continue to half-press. Then, when the child finally leaves the diving board, you press the rest of the way down to capture the shot. No lag – no lie.

The guy was so happy, he bought me a ginger ale.

I realized that day that the world could use a handy, clip-and-save digital camera primer – not so much an FAQ (frequently asked questions) list, but more of an FGA (frequently given answers) list. Here are 10 tips everyone should know:

1. End shutter lag. If your camera has a shutter-lag problem, the prefocusing trick may be your best bet. Another option: many cameras offer a continuous-focus option that eats up your battery faster but also reduces shutter lag by focusing constantly as you aim the camera (or as the subject moves).

Newer and more expensive cameras tend to have the least shutter lag, and digital single-lens reflex, or S.L.R., models (the big, heavy, $900-ish cameras that take interchangeable lenses) have none at all.

2. Don’t believe the megapixel myth. More megapixels do not make a better camera.

Megapixels measure the maximum size of each photo. For example, a four-megapixel camera captures pictures made up of four million tiny dots. Trouble is, camera companies hawk megapixel ratings as though they are a measure of photo quality, and lots of consumers are falling for it.

In truth, the number of megapixels is a measure of size, not quality. There are terrible seven-megapixel photos, just as there are spectacular three-megapixel shots. (Lens and sensor quality are better determinants of your photographic results; too bad there are no easy-to-compare statistics for these attributes.)

Meanwhile, more megapixels means you have to buy a bigger, more expensive memory card to hold them. And you have to do a lot more waiting: between shots, during the transfer to your computer, and opening and editing.

Megapixels are something to think about only in two situations: when you want to make giant prints (20-by-30-inch posters, for example), and when you want the freedom to crop out a large portion of a photo to isolate the really good stuff, while still leaving enough pixels to make reasonably sized prints.

But if you don’t edit your shots and don’t need them larger than life, don’t get caught up in the megapixel race. Four or five megapixels is a nice sweet spot.

(Bonus tip: Photos intended for display on the screen – the Web, e-mail, slideshows – don’t need many pixels at all. Even a two-megapixel photo is probably too big to fit your computer screen without zooming out. High megapixel counts are primarily related to printing, which requires much higher dot density.)

3. Ignore digital zoom. In a further effort to market their way into your heart, camera companies also tout two different zoom factors: the optical zoom (usually 3X) and digital zoom (10X! 20X! 30X!).

Digital zoom just means blowing up the photo. It doesn’t bring you closer to the action or capture more detail; in fact, at higher settings, it degrades your photo into a botchy mess. For best results, leave this feature turned off. The optical zoom number is the one that matters; it means a lens that brings you closer to the subject.

4. Ditch the starter card. Unfortunately, it’s a universal practice to include a very low-capacity memory card with the camera-a teaser that lets you take a shot or two while you’re still under the Christmas tree. But it fills up after only four or five shots.

When shopping for a camera, therefore, factor a decent-size memory card – 512 megabytes, for example – into the price.

5. Beware the format factor. Memory cards come in an infuriating variety of sizes and shapes. The least expensive formats are Compact Flash (big and rugged, about $55 online for a one-gigabyte card; available in capacities up to eight gigabytes) and SD (about $70 online for a one-gigabyte card; maximum two gigabytes).

Most Olympus and Fuji cameras require XD cards (about $85 online for a one-gigabyte card, the maximum), and most Sony cameras require either the Memory Stick Pro (about $90 online for a one-gigabyte card; maximum four gigabytes) or the smaller Memory Stick Duo (about $115 online for a one-gigabyte card; maximum two gigabytes).

Note, too, that you can also find memory-card slots built into laptops, palmtops, cellphones, game consoles, printers, photo-printing kiosks and other machinery. They are most likely to accommodate Compact Flash or SD cards. Memory Stick-compatible slots are less common, and XD slots are downright rare.

6. Do your research. Fortunately for you, the prospective camera buyer, the Web is filled with sites, including dpreview.com and dcresource.com, that do elaborate testing and reviews of every camera that comes along. Look them up before you buy; if you’re pressed for time, at least read the intro and conclusion pages, and look at the sample photos.

7. Know your class. Please don’t ask a technology columnist, "What digital camera should I buy?"

That’s like asking, "What car should I buy?" or "Whom should I marry?" There just isn’t a single good answer.

Cameras now come in several different classes with different pros and cons. There are card cameras, no larger than a Visa card and less than an inch thick (gorgeous and very convenient but with few manual controls and short battery life); coat-pocketable cameras (bigger, but still self-contained with built-in lens covers, longer battery life and more features); semipro zoom models (too big for a pocket but with built-in super-zoom lens ); and S.L.R. models (endless battery life, no shutter lag and astonishing photos).

8. Turn off the flash. A typical digital camera’s flash has a range of about eight feet. In other words, using it at the school play does nothing but fluster the performers.

9. Turn on the flash. On the other hand, here’s a great trick for when someone’s face is in shadow: turn the flash on manually. Forced flash or fill flash brings your subject’s face out of the shadows, and rescues many a portrait that would otherwise turn into a silhouette. (On most cameras, you turn the flash on or off by pressing a lightning-bolt button.)

10. Turn off the screen. The back-panel screen is, of course, one of the joys of digital photography. But it’s also the No. 1 consumer of your battery power. If you’re comfortable holding the camera up to your eye and peering through its optical viewfinder, turning off the screen while shooting can double the life of each battery charge.

There you have it – the 10 habits of highly effective digital camera owners. And may all your diving-board photos be lagless.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company | Home | Privacy Policy | Search | Corrections | RSS | Help | Back to Top


June 8, 2005


A Mundane Shot? If It’s on a Photoblog, Someone’s Interested


BLOGS are great for those who like to write and wonderful for those who like to read, but what about people who don’t like to do either?

They are expressing themselves through photoblogs, Web sites that are part visual diary, part photo gallery, where in recent years anyone with a digital camera and Internet connection can take part. Many sites have made it easier than ever to share photographs, including Fotolog.net and Flickr.com, which was recently bought by Yahoo.

Among the most interesting photoblogs to peruse are group oriented, where many people post pictures, all of them around a central theme. You will find abandoned bicycles, subway scenes, pets. Group sites celebrate the ordinary, the mundane, the ephemeral, things that everyone can understand.

The Mirror Project

The Mirror Project, mirrorproject.com, gathers self-portraits reflected in different surfaces: windows, bodies of water, shiny balloons and rearview mirrors. More than 29,000 photos have been submitted from all seven continents since the project began in October 1999.

It began as "Friends of Jezebel’s Mirror," or FOJM, a spinoff site to Jezebel’s Mirror, where a Web designer named Heather Champ posted 250 of her own self-portraits after the death of her parents, who had been the primary documenters of her life.

For the Mirror Project, Ms. Champ invites guest curators to sift through the submissions and collect photos around themes, some of these have been Ikea, Sept. 11 and books.

The value of the self-portraits, from supermodel-esque poses to corner-of-the-eye glimpses, is that people are less likely to put on airs when they are photographing themselves.

Guess Where

New York photobloggers have created a group photoblog game called "GuessWhere" on Flickr.com, where people post photos from specific cities and others have to guess where they were taken (often with hints).

The original, and most vibrant, is Guess Where NYC, with a hundred or so members. That inspired Guess Where DC, Guess Where San Francisco and Guess Where Tokyo. (At Flickr.com, type in "guesswhere.") In New York, all five boroughs qualify. And the photos are sometimes well-recognized places with a twist – in a reflection, say, or close up.

Those posting photos have learned never to underestimate people’s intimacy with the city. One challenger posted a shot of a round street sign that read "Guardians of Hydrocephalus Research Foundation – Water on the Brain." Within a day, a person identified it as a sign at Sackett Street and Court Street in Brooklyn.


A number of photoblogs pose one-word themes as a challenge for photographers. Wordphoto, at word photo.org, often poses words that have multiple definitions. The interpretation of the word can express as much of the photographer’s personality as the actual photo. "Slide," for example, was expressed both as a child on a playground and a professor with an overhead projector.

Photo Friday, photofriday.com, and Thursday Challenge, spunwithtears.com/thursday.html, each pose a weekly theme, where people can then submit links to photos.


Digital photography makes it cheap to take photos of things that are otherwise ignored in daily life – like broken umbrellas, discarded bicycles or abandoned televisions.

But vibrant collections along such ordinary themes have shown up on Fotolog.net, a popular photoblogging site. The hundreds upon hundreds of photos from around the world reinforce a sense of universality.

Jason Wilson developed a fascination for the carcasses of mutilated and destroyed bicycles and started a group photoblog on Fotolog.net that quickly attracted contributors. "It turned out that many people had one, two or 40 of these pics sitting around looking for a context to thrive in," Mr. Wilson said.

Europeans, who commonly use bicycles to get around rural areas and some cities, have contributed many of the most provocative photos.

"Sad Umbrellas" got its start with Eric Brown, who moved to New York from Los Angeles six years ago and became fascinated with the number of abandoned umbrellas on the street. He wanted to save the graceful, broken umbrellas, but that was impractical. Inspired by the "Sad Bikes" group, he found a home for his infatuation on Fotolog.net. Now there is also a "Sad TV’s" and "Sad Carts" (for shopping carts).

The Anonymous Archives

Almost all photoblogs have a contemporary feel – a product of the instant digital photography age. By contrast, bighappyfunhouse.com has the feel of a group photoblog that pulls the past into the present, with a jarring voyeuristic effect.

For years, Ron Slattery, a 40-year-old entrepreneur from Chicago, has scoured flea markets, garage sales and trash bins for old photos. Last year, he started putting them onto the Internet: vacation photos from the beach, snapshots of pets, family portraits at birthday parties.

The photos are anonymous, both the subjects and the photographers. At a time when we routinely browse photo albums on Snapfish and Kodak’s gallery, there is something disquieting to see photos that were never meant to be public. His photos span from the late 1800’s to almost the present – a mishmash of hairdos, fashions and photo quality throughout the decades. So far, he has put up more than 900 photos. He often wonders about the people shown, smiling and not, and where their lives took them after that instantaneous meeting with a lens.

In May, he received an e-mail message from a man who had found a picture of himself and a friend, who was wearing a Hello Kitty costume, on his site. The picture was taken in 1982 in Houston when the two men, then teenagers, were hired by someone to pass out balloons at the grand opening of an office supply store. "What is driving me CRAZY is this. … How did you come across that photo?" the man wrote.

The Willis Avenue Bridge connecting Manhattan and the Bronx.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company | Home | Privacy Policy | Search | Corrections | RSS | Help | Back to Top

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