Chat Transcript: Internet Expert Tiffany Shlain (Sept. 15, 2000)

If you want to know about the Internet, Tiffany Shlain is the woman to ask. A recognized authority on the best of the Internet, Shlain has been an outspoken and articulate commentator on media, design, Internet culture and technology. Shlain co-founded The International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences and she’s also the director and founder of The Webby Awards, created in 1996 to honor the people behind the Web.

Shlain made her debut today as Good Morning America’s new Internet expert and then joined us for an online chat. Below is a transcript of a chat.

Moderator at 10:22am ET

Learn more about the Webby Awards. Welcome, Tiffany Shlain.

James F. from at 12:00pm ET

Which one or two Web sites can't you live without daily?

Tiffany Shlain at 12:01pm ET

Well,, of course, because that would be the homepage of my company. I do use to order all of my groceries, and, which is my favorite search engine — and it also won a Webby Award. Those are a couple. I use so many sites.

Digital Degrees from at 12:02pm ET

Hello, Tiffany. What's your opinion of the advent of accredited online education, and which institutions do you see as innovators?-Ed

Tiffany Shlain at 12:02pm ET

I am all for getting education online. I know a lot of people are limited by where they live. The Internet provides the opportunity to get educated by some of the best teachers in the world no matter where you are. I personally haven't tried these so I can't recommend the best, but I recommend going to the education page on our site.

Jeanne from at 12:03pm ET

I would like to know how you see the the Internet used in the daily functions of hospitals.

Tiffany Shlain at 12:05pm ET

My father is surgeon and my brother is a doctor, so I have a lot of familiarity with this issue. As medicine discovers more cures, doctors need to have access to more information. Not only do doctors have information about the patient's past history, but they also have access to information on all the latest studies and cures online.

Another way that it's really helping the medical profession — and this is full disclosure, that my brother runs this company — is with What it allows you to do is, before you go on any trip, to get medical information to prepare for your trip. If you get sick while you're travelling it will hook you up with a network of respected and English-speaking doctors around the world.

Truluck at 12:06pm ET

What are the Web site addresses, again, that you spoke about this morning?

Tiffany Shlain at 12:06pm ET was the first site that I talked about. I understand that it might have buckled under the traffic after I talked about it today. is a great one. The second site I talked about was

Moderator at 12:07pm ET

We often hear about the "digital divide" on the Web. Are you seeing more minorities and women getting access to the Internet?

Tiffany Shlain at 12:10pm ET

I heard recently that the number of women that are now online is increasing exponentially. I always think of hunters and gatherers, and women are gatherers — they're gathering information online. As far as minorities, the Webby Awards and the Academy work a lot with organizations on helping with this issue.

There are a lot of programs that I know of in the Bay area that are training people. They let minority teenagers come in, and they will train them and then place them in a job with one of the high-tech companies. We are actively involved in supporting any organizations that bridge the digitial divide. I think it's a big issue that will take a lot of work and a lot of people's commitments, to bridge this gap.

airsick9 at 12:10pm ET

What technical avenues are open to make using credit cards a safe way for a consumer to make purchases via the Internet?

Tiffany Shlain at 12:11pm ET

There are a lot of privacy technologies that are used and/or being developed. Etrust is one that I look to. I also look for PricewaterhouseCoopers' seal of approval. I still believe that we're in the stage that we're looking for brands and companies that we recognize and respect to place their seal or approval to give the consumer/user the trust needed to make a purchase.

Jamie at 12:12pm ET

What references would you recommend a young professional use in order to become versed in Web technology?

Tiffany Shlain at 12:14pm ET

There are several sites that speak directly to Web developers. I'm not sure what the best one is for new people who have never Web-developed. A couple of them are:, which is on the Wirednews site; and Those are for people that have more experience developing, but I'm sure that's a great place to start.

Chris Skeeles from at 12:14pm ET

How can a person get the attention of the media about a Web site they run?

Tiffany Shlain at 12:16pm ET

As director of the Webby Awards, we like to feel like we're providing a service where we put the spotlight on the very best sites. Currently we have a big call for open submissions, where people can enter their site with A lot of our winners from last year came from this open call for submissions. They received press and attention that money couldn't buy.

B.M. Playa from at 12:16pm ET

Have you had any experiences with some of the new online food-delivery services (i.e. Webvan, Peapod, Kozmo, etc.)?

Tiffany Shlain at 12:17pm ET

I use both Webvan and Kozmo frequently. I have not been to a grocery store in a year now. It really has changed my life. Having the ability to save time like that has really been wonderful. When people ask me how it has been life-changing, as a busy person, that's one of the first things I think of.

Moderator at 12:17pm ET

Tell us about some the best Web sites that were seen at this year's Webbys.

Tiffany Shlain at 12:19pm ET

The best film site was Atomfilms. You can watch great animations and original short films on this site. A longtime favorite and multi-year winner is, which is a great humor site. One that a lot of people hadn't heard of this year was a finance-category winner called

The people's voice winner — the peoples' component of the Webby Awards — was, which is a great site to facilitate paying people — or if people owe you money. They facilitate the transaction.

In the community category, the café,, from the Utne Reader, is really a strong community site. One of the nominees in community which didn't win but which is a personal favorite is It has everything from job listings to apartments. Most people said they can find a job, get an apartment and get a date all with one site. A lot of people around the world are looking to Craigslist as a model for creating a strong, local, community-based Web site.

CharlieN at 12:22pm ET

Could you shed some light on how sites like Priceline and Dial Pad make a profit?

Tiffany Shlain at 12:23pm ET

In the Internet industry I think there's a lot of speculation on who's making a profit and how. I personally don't know what the specifics are for those sites mentioned. But we're in a phase right now where only the business models that are profitable are going to survive — of course, as business works that way. I think the press is especially interested in watching these companies, so just stay posted.

Moderator at 12:23pm ET

Have you met people that still have a phobia about the Web?

Tiffany Shlain at 12:25pm ET

Yes, yes. I try to help dispel that. I think people have a fear that a revolution is happening and they don't quite know how it's going to affect them. They know that it's going to, but they feel that they're missing out and they're going to be left behind. I think that the speed at which changes are occurring is part of what instills the fear, but I also think that change of any sort is also often feared.

I think, in addition, people get overwhelmed online. They do a search query and get thousands of results and don't even know where to start. One of our goals at the Webbys, with my wonderful staff, is to shine the spotlight on the very best, so that when people have their first experience, we're providing a filter of the very best.

Dr. Megavolt from at 12:26pm ET

What's your feeling about how the Napster issue will resolve?

Tiffany Shlain at 12:27pm ET

I think that Napster has raised some really important questions that haven't been asked about copyright and ownership. The fact that Napster was able to shake up an entire industry is a beautiful example of the power of the Internet. I think that the whole world, especially America — the fact that so many Americans were talking about this issue — is hopefully going to evolve the industry and the process.

Jan from at 12:28pm ET

What is your recommendation for someone who has a great idea for a Web site, but just doesn't know how to get started?

Tiffany Shlain at 12:30pm ET

The great thing about the Web is it does not require a lot of money. One of our Webby awards in sports last year was for a guy with a day job who was competing against all the major sports sites. He created a site,, by himself, and taught himself HTML — slowly, by himself (but it's not that difficult) — and he won.

So here's an example of someone slowly learning the process and creating the best. So I would encourage you: Trial by error — get an HTML book, or find it online, and get started. Take some risks, make some mistakes, but start.

Michael Polidoro from at 12:30pm ET

With all the Web sites on the Internet today, Do you feel that a lot of them will be out of business because there is so much you can obtain for free?

Tiffany Shlain at 12:31pm ET

We're definitely seeing a shakeup in the industry right now. But as with anything, the best will survive. Some of those best might incorporate giving away things for free to get new customers. But I think you'll see a lot of these companies whose business models are not strong not making it to the next level that we're about to enter.

MJ-on-lunch-break at 12:32pm ET

How would one go about becoming a judge for the Webbys? I have been a Web designer since late 1994 and would love to hear about the process.

Tiffany Shlain at 12:32pm ET

They should write to the Academy with their bio and credentials, which will be evaluated by the Academy. They can go to

Nathan Lewin from at 12:33pm ET

Do you have concerns about the impending omnipresence of information services? Any thing we can do to combat "Big Brother's" reach into our private lives?

Tiffany Shlain at 12:34pm ET

I think that the Internet is bringing up an issue, once again, that people should be talking about. I think many people don't realize that just by having your cell phone on people know where to find you. I moved recently and the catalog found me in a week! I think everyone should be given the choice about what information is private or public. They should also be made aware of how much they're being tracked already.

Steven Gray at 12:35pm ET

Unlike some people, I recognize that Al Gore didn't create the Internet. However, there are some companies out there that would like to be the first to control the Internet. I would say that the biggest company is Microsoft. I see the Internet as almost alive, because it's so dynamic. Do you honestly believe that one company will be able to control Internet? If so, how would they control it and what kind of impacts would it have on the Internet itself?

Tiffany Shlain at 12:37pm ET

Two things: First of all, a lot of people misread when Al Gore made that comment, which is a shame because he really was one of the first politicians to bring the Internet and the importance of it to the forefront of his policies.

Secondly, the very nature of the Internet is that it is decentralized. As much as people try to control it, the equal and opposing force will try to break it down. That is its beauty. No one company should have that much control. The power of the Internet is its decentralization. I think you'll constantly see that struggle and equalization.

Moderator at 12:38pm ET

Sadly, we are out of time. Tiffany, do you have any final thoughts?

Tiffany Shlain at 12:39pm ET

It's very exciting to share my enthusiasm for the Internet with a broader audience, to make it more accessible. I also hope people who want to see the best of the Internet will go to the Webby Awards site. We have a rigorous one-year process of judging.

Any of you out there who have personal Web sites, we also have a personal Web-site category, which is a lot of fun for people. So definitely answer our call for entries. I look forward to speaking with you all again.

Moderator at 12:44pm ET

Read some of our recent chats available in our Chat Archive. Thank you for joining us.