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Webby Awards Founder Predicts Trends
Interview with Tiffany Shlain, one of the 'women of the 21st century'
David Wilson (bambo1)     Print Article 
Published 2006-03-22 10:45 (KST)   
Her glitzy name belies her shrewd nature: in 1987, when she was a high school student and the internet was uncommon, Tiffany Shlain had made a wise prediction.

©2006 Tiffany Shlain
She said that, eventually, interlinked computers would bring individuals, communities and nations closer to each other. Her essay that presented this theory earned her a year's stint as a student ambassador to the former Soviet Union.

Ms Shlain, who was named after the 1960s Hollywood classic "Breakfast at Tiffany's, has been attuned to the future ever since.

Now 35, Ms Shlain has become synonymous with the prize she founded -- the Webby Awards -- which has been dubbed "the Oscars of the Internet." The list of public figures who have judged the awards is impressive - ranging from Richard Branson, David Bowie and Susan Sarandon, to former South China Morning Post columnist Esther Dyson and Chicago Bulls basketball star Dennis Rodman.

More than star power, it is the award ceremony's acceptance speeches -- which must be limited to five words -- that grab the maximum attention.

"It was the one part of award shows that I always found so painful to watch -- acceptance speeches. However, if you give people a constraint, you would not believe how creative they can be," Shlain said.

"Now in our 10th year, hardly anyone has gone over five words with their haikus -- they have become one of the favorite parts of the evening," she said.

Shlain's favorite Webby acceptance speech so far was made last year by former U.S. vice-president Al Gore. When Gore won the Lifetime Achievement Award, in a line worthy of the satirist PJ O'Rourke, he said, "Please don't recount this vote."

When asked what would be her acceptance speech if she were to receive a Webby Award, she said, "It's an honor to honor."

Newsweek listed the San Francisco-based prophet in its "Women of the 21st Century" feature.

While answering various questions, Shlain said Google was the website she could not live without and her favorite browser was Safari.

"I am an early, devout Apple follower," she said.

Shlain said she was resistant to novelty that did not have any genuine purpose or benefit. Her ring tone, she said, had a soft, unobtrusive sound.

"I hope to not contribute to the technological jungle where ring tones become wild beasts that disrupt serene moments," she said.

Her favorite appliance is the dishwasher. Shlain, who is married to robotics wizard Ken Goldberg, said: "As a working mom, I still think this is one of the greatest technologies of the 20th century."

She said the Web would become an increasingly pervasive force in the coming years.

"With WiMAX, a more powerful form of Wi-fi, making its debut next year, and cities from New York to San Francisco completing their plans for installing citywide wireless access, you will be able to log on, whether you are at the Statue of Liberty or on the Golden Gate," Shlain said.

She said the internet-surfing experience would improve.

"As search engines grew more intuitive and fed off your social networks, results would key in more to your unique outlook," Shlain said.

Besides search, the killer app for the Net would be TV programs, she said -- when the likes of MTV and Comedy Central start original programs for e-computer.

According to Shlain, the mobile would blossom into the ultimate communication tool. She said mobile phones would begin to see, hear, and scan as voice, image, and sensor recognition technologies evolve.

Previously published in the South China Morning Post.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter David Wilson

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