Australia wins first online `Oscar`

Travel guide publisher Lonely Planet has brought home Australia`s first Webby - the online world`s equivalent to the Oscar - at a ceremony in San Francisco which binds winners to an acceptance speech of just five words.

Webby nominees, drawn from 35 countries, were considered by a panel of judges from the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, whose members include creator of the comic strip Dilbert, Scott Adams, pop singer Beck and actress Susan Sarandon.

Another local Website,
, which raised the ire of the music industry when it moved to Sydney from the Netherlands amid claims it encouraged piracy, has picked up a “people`s voice” award in the broadband category.
project producer Lisa Kerrigan said the Website considered itself a racier and more tongue-in-cheek cousin to the guidebooks. The online version is created by a team of nine content staff in Melbourne and 16 technicians in San Francisco. On a big day, most often Mondays, 700,000 pages are downloaded by travellers.

The “Thorn Tree” is a popular feature, posting thousands of travel tips and warnings from people as they pass through a country, offering far more detail than the books.
“Thorn Tree is the epitome of a travelling community using a Lonely Planet resource, talking to each other and getting information,” said Ms Kerrigan.


“Thorn Tree users who have met on the board will go and stay with one another. They have very strong ties and hold regular piss-ups around the world.”

In the weeks after the September 11 terrorist attacks, Lonely Planet introduced a new requirement that travellers register their details. It was an attempt to cut out a wave of offensive comments fired at both sides of the ideological divide. After an initial desertion, the travellers came back and registration now stands at 96,000.

One of the Website`s strong points was that it did not carry advertising, Ms Kerrigan said.
Initial concerns the Internet would cannibalise sales of printed books had passed - Ms Kerrigan said Lonely Planet believed people are prepared to pay for a quality product that was bound and contained pictures, rather than carrying a bundle of downloaded paper.

At Backpackers World on Sydney`s Sussex Street yesterday, German tourist Conny Reindl sat in a row of travellers glued to computer screens researching their next destination or sending email home.

Ms Reindl, 20, will head to Malaysia in July after spending 10 months in Australia and described Lonely Planet as “the backpackers` bible”. She had bought the New Zealand guide, but also used the Internet for information because it was cheaper.

Kiwi Chris O`Callaghan said the Lonely Planet Website was often on the computer screen because backpackers couldn`t afford the books.