No, that’s not a joke, although the founders once meant it as such. When I asked Greg Galant, chief executive of Sawhorse Media, which produces the show, what was most surprising to him about the event, he said,“That it exists in the first place.”
Way back in 2008 — “You may not remember back then,” Galant said in a phone interview — people saw Twitter as useless, and some even found offensive the idea that writing of any meaning could be condensed to 140 characters.
Galant and his partners were experimenting with all sorts of digital products and, as a lark, spent two weekends putting together a Web site to celebrate the best of Twitter. Of all their digital ideas, that was the one they least expected to catch on, but they were wrong. Sponsors started signing up for an event they never planned to host, and M.C. Hammer offered to be a presenter. Two months later, in February 2009, they were throwing an awards show, and the Shortys were born.
In four years, the show has grown to be an impressive event. Last year, 650 people from around the world attended.
Anthem BlueCross, PepsiCo and the Weather Channel will be sponsors this year, and “The Daily Show” correspondents Samantha Bee and Jason Jones will host. (Viewers can watch it at shortyawards.com, where it will be streamed live.)
There are other award shows that shower accolades on work across the Web, but none is dedicated to the idea that just about anyone can be broadcast across the Internet. It’s what first intrigued Galant about Twitter: Unlike other social media sites at the time, people were speaking out to folks other than their friends. Galant also soon noticed that they were integrating those conversations into their employment. Journalists used Twitter to report. Fitness instructors used it to encourage dieters. Celebrities wrote on it to be, well, celebrities.
The Shorty Awards raise a brief, goofy toast to all that conversation, while keeping in mind that much of the talk is still just a lot of noise. The awards have also grown to include other sites: It will award the best question answered on Quora, the smartest Tumblr comic site and the best location on 4Square, among others. Galant sees the awards show as a way for users to curate the best of social media.
The nominations alone are worth scrolling through. There’s the “Kim Jong Il Looking At Things Tumblr” blog, which masterfully mixes humor with geopolitical criticism, and the Web series “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl,” which follows the fictional life of, yes, an awkward, black girl.
Thanks to the international voting base, there are smart submissions from abroad, such as Gidi Traffic, a Twitter feed nominated for the “Live Saving Hero” category. The feed started in Lagos, Nigeria, to update motorists on the safest, least congested routes.
The awards are won in part by a popular vote by way of online nominations — this year, they received more than 1.6 million — and by a decision of its judging panel, a mix of actors, journalists and technology leaders.
Now that social media are integrated into news shows, presidential campaigns and global dialogues, the awards don’t need to prove their utility. But they can and will celebrate social media in short, staccato bursts of praise.