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The inaugural Onya Awards will celebrate the achievements of our best-is-yet-to-come web luminaries.
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New Zealand’s web industry proves its class every day. Want proof? Compare eBay to Trade Me some time—the homegrown product is hands-down the better site. Local Web 2.0 sites like Eventfinder and Throng are the equal of anything offshore, while Ponoko is inventing a whole new category, on-demand manufacture. Star Now and ReadWriteWeb are building a global audience from Antipodean offices, Xero is pushing aggressively to become the leading online accounting site and is being joined by promising upstarts like Dunedin-based PocketSmith, a financial forecasting site, and Valuecruncher, an interactive site that allows users to value companies in the US, Canada, UK, Australia and Enzed.

Of course, there are plenty more outstanding Kiwi sites—so it’s high time that the local web industry had its own awards. In August, the inaugural Onya Awards will be held at the Wellington Town Hall to celebrate the achievements of our best-is-yet-to-come web luminaries.

Fittingly, the Onyas are created by the organisers of Webstock, the Kiwi web conference that has inspired many local web entrepreneurs, designers and developers. Webstock co-founder Mike Brown says the Onyas, in association with Shift, will recognise websites and applications that represent the state of the art. “They’re different to the others because these awards are by the industry, for the industry,” he says.

Brown and co-founder Natasha Hall have invited a bunch of judges who know the web industry inside-out. They include Thomas Fuchs, the creator of the groundbreaking script.aculo.us JavaScript framework, Russ Weakley, an Australian CSS expert, mobile innovator Brian Fling, Etsy.com designer Bek Hodgson, interaction designer Amy Hoy and Alex Wright, The New York Times’ director of user experience.

To get your work in front of them, get your entry in by July 17. There are ten categories, including the Idealog-sponsored Most Innovative category. The awards will be held on August 20; more info at the Onyas website. [Update: the awards have been rescheduled to coincide with the next Webstock conference in February, which means the closing date for entries will be announced too. –Ed.]

Four questions with Alex Wright, The New York Times’ director of user experience and product research, author of Glut: Mastering Information Through the Ages and a member of the judging panel at New Zealand’s inaugural Onya Awards

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If there were one thing you could ‘fix’ about the Internet, what would it be?

I would say better copyright and intellectual property controls. While the web has triggered an unprecedented outpouring of human expression, it has also created some pretty drastic economic disruptions. Many of these effects could have been mitigated or prevented with simple safeguards for intellectual property and a mechanism for ensuring that content creators get paid for their work. We can learn a lot by looking back at some of the earlier hypertext systems that predated the web—especially the work of Ted Nelson, who thought deeply about these issues as far back as the 1960s. Early hypertext systems also featured a number of other useful features like two-way linking, identity management and interaction models that stretched far beyond the web’s paper-based ‘page’ metaphor. We can sometimes learn a lot by looking backwards.

Is there a future as an information architect? Won’t we soon have personal agents filtering the raw data to find just what we need?

For at least 20 years, people have been predicting the coming age of intelligent agents, bots or other fanciful gizmos that will bring the information we need right to our noses. I’m sceptical. For one thing, most of these promises were wildly overblown. For another, human beings share a fundamental urge to collect, organise and retrieve information. We’re hunter–gatherers. There will always be a need for well-designed systems that allow people to search (and, one hopes, find) information that interests them.

Today there’s such fear in media industries about the implications of the Internet. Is it really such a threat? Or is the right media business model yet to emerge?

There’s no question the Internet has wreaked drastic change on the entire news industry. Like most news organisations, my employer, The New York Times, is grappling with the question of how to adapt its business model in a rapidly changing climate. These are thorny questions, and there are no pat answers. That said, a lot of the doom and gloom out there about the death of print media is overstated. Print newspapers will be around for years to come, and news companies need to figure out how to operate in a hybrid climate, finding the right balance of advertising revenues and end-user revenue.

It will be interesting to see whether new models emerge in the realm of e-reader devices like the Kindle, but it’s still early going on that front.

What are you looking forward to in New Zealand?

This will be my first time in the country, so I’m looking forward to pretty much the whole thing. This trip is also my honeymoon, so what I’m most looking forward to in New Zealand is spending quality time with my new bride.

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