David-Michel Davies, Executive Director IADAS
On June 3rd, New York’s first ever Internet Week kicks off. The event is a promotional, social and educational effort that is based on the same model of openness and diversity as the Internet itself. Anyone can register an event and practically anything goes in terms of topics or theme. The week is topped off with the celebration of the Webby Awards, the popular and glamorous awards ceremony for excellent online achievements. We wanted to learn more about the people behind this initiative and decided to catch up with David-Michel Davies (no it’s not a typo, he’s half French), Executive Director of IADAS (International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences), the organization behind both the Internet Week and the Webby’s.
What exactly is the role of the IADAS?
The IADAS was formed in the early days of the web, in 1998. It was modeled after the academies in the TV, film and recording industries and the purpose was to be a platform for the emerging talents in this new medium. We facilitate education and discussion through events and lectures and recognize excellence in interactive creativity at the Webby Awards.
How did the Internet Week come about?
The first seeds were planted when I became the Executive Director of IADAS when I moved to NYC three years ago, after working as a new media consultant in Paris. We have a close relationship with New York City Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting, and Katherine Oliver [the commissioner] and I were discussing how we could grow the industry here and serve the community better. We already bring a lot of people here for the Webby’s so we thought we should do something in conjunction with that. We came up with the idea of having a lot of different conferences rather than one unifying event. There already are events that are geared towards specific parts of the industry, but we wanted to address all sides and speak to everybody, like tech people, bloggers, the advertising world etc. at the same time. We wanted to reflect the diversity and openness of the Internet and create a landscape where companies could get a platform to celebrate and promote their work.
What is unique to the Internet industry in NYC?
New York is the media capital of the world. When the Internet started it was more tech focused and most startups came out of Silicon Valley. As it evolved past the tech focus it became much more media focused and now it’s a huge media platform. The media companies in NYC all interact with the Internet, it’s gone from being an experiment to becoming their main focus, especially in their developments for the future. It’s transforming very quickly, if you look at what New York Times’ web site looked like 12 years ago, you would chuckle.
Some people speculate that online media will wipe out paper media fairly soon. What do you think about that?
I find this talk about new media vs. old media kind of silly. Newspapers and magazines have amazing expertise, it takes a long time to learn how to develop good content and paper media have perfected that. I know I’ll always want to have magazines and newspapers in my hands to read. But at the same time, big publishing companies have a lot to learn from new media companies in terms of speed, tone and freshness.
Speaking of evolution, how have the Webby Awards evolved since their inception?
When the Webby’s started in 98 they were a reflection of a niche medium. If you were really into French film or collected pez dispensers you could find a place on the web that catered to that. Now that the Internet has grown from niche culture to mass culture, the Webby’s reflect that change. We started with 12 categories, we now have 119 and I think it could get much bigger.
It is often called the Internet version of the Academy Awards. Are the Webby’s modeled after the Oscars?
Well, we try to take the good parts from traditional awards ceremonies and revitalize the less good parts and bring a fresh attitude. The show is run by people in their 20s and 30s, which contributes to a more irreverent look and tone. For example, people are only allowed to say five words in their acceptance speech and we also try to involve the winners into the show itself, like when [satirical paper] The Onion made special videos for the show. We also have the People’s Voice Award, which anyone can vote for and that is honored the same way as the winners that are selected by the Academy.
2-D and Murdoc of platinum-selling band Gorillaz accept their award for Webby Artist of the Year in 2006
One of the goals of Internet week is to bring the online community together. How did you initiate that?
We haven’t programmed the events, we let the schedule evolve on its own. What we did do was to assemble an incredibly talented group of media leaders that could cheer lead the rest of the city to get involved. It’s about promotion and encouragement and you’ll see people from all parts of the community out together for a week. We really try to be an open source and I think we’ve managed to strike a nice balance between openness and organization. There’s a great mix of events hosted by both small and big companies and the schedule is the red thread binds it all together.
Is there a particular need to encourage networking efforts in the Internet industry?
The easiest and most convenient place to network is online, so I personally enjoy to have to get out behind the screen and meet people for real. People in this business also tend to be really awesome and interesting so it’s great to come out have fun together, especially since everyone tends to be so busy that you don’t get a lot of opportunities to socialize.
What events are you personally most excited about?
The Maker Fair event with Make and Craft magazines at the Saatchi gallery. I never had a chance to go to the previous Maker Fairs so I’m excited about that. And the Wiimbledon tournament of course !
But on a more serious note, I also look forward to the more educational events like the Conversational Marketing summit.
There are only a few days left now, are you still keeping the schedule open for more events?
Yes anyone can go to the site and register an event. Everyone is approved as long as there’s nothing that could be offensive. Initially, when we posted the schedule online there were seven things on it, now there’s around 60 events. We’ll continue to keep it open until the end, I don’t see any reason for it to close.
Will Internet Week be a recurring tradition?
Absolutely. We’re here to rival Fashion Week. No but seriously, we plan to have this happen every year.
Designer and writer Kate Andrews was the original editor of Notes on Design blog, founded in 2007.