Controversial winner of U.K. Internet awards

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LONDON--A high-profile U.K. Internet award ceremony attended by several new-media marketing experts turned controversial when the top trophy was awarded to a site devoted to bird watchers.

Now in its fourth year, the Yell U.K. Web Awards is the brainchild of Yell, the online edition of Yellow Pages, the telephone directory specialist owned by British telecommunications giant BT.

At this year's televised ceremony on July 7, there were prizes for 12 categories, including the best commercial Web site, e-commerce site, youth site and the most innovative use of the Web.

However, the prestigious Site of the Year trophy for the overall winner was won by Birds in a Cheshire Garden. This site had also clinched the prize for the Best Personal Web Site, for the most captivating recreational use of the Internet.

Its creator is Phil Barrett, who is wheelchair-bound from a debilitating disease. He developed the site to combine his passion for the birds that flock his garden in the North of England region of Cheshire and his fascination with the Internet. Rock star Mick Jagger is said to be a fan.

But when Mr. Barrett's site scooped the top prize against high-profile competitors such as Time Warner's Cartoon Network and the international mobile phone brand Orange, the reaction of several audience members ranged from bewilderment to dismay.

"What does it say of the state of the U.K. Internet industry when the overall winner is someone who stays at home all day looking at his garden?'' asked a delegate who declined to be named.

He and other delegates couldn't understand the rationale behind the choice. The judges included brand experts, such as Charles Dobres, CEO at i-Level, the London-based online media-buying specialist; Evan Rudowski, director of European operations at search engine group Excite!, and Mark Curtis, of Omnicom Group subsidiary Razorfish. They believed the winner should, at least, demonstrate the Internet's commercial potential.

However, one of the judges, Excite!'s Mr. Rudowski, argued in the 1999 Yell Awards brochure, "You might expect the likely winner to be a commercial site with a huge amount of resources, but a site built on passion and enthusiasm can outshine something built for commercial purposes.''

Copyright July 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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