Stephen Colbert's use of the Internet to connect with fans earned the Comedy Central host special recognition as recipients of the annual Webby awards for Web sites and online achievements were announced Tuesday.
A special achievement award also went to will.i.am, the Black Eyed Peas frontman behind the popular "Yes We Can" video supporting presidential candidate Barack Obama. And movie director Michel Gondry won a special mention for encouraging filmmakers around the world to recreate their favorite movies — the concept behind his film "Be Kind Rewind" — and share them online.
Meanwhile, The New York Times' online unit won eight regular Webby Awards in such categories as news, mobile listings and animation. The Onion satire site won seven, while Web sites for Apple Inc. and National Geographic magazine along with a user-confession site, PostSecret, won four awards each.
The awards will be presented during ceremonies June 9 and 10 in New York. Webby ceremonies are known for their zany tone, with winners limited to five-word acceptance speeches, including Al Gore's "Please don't recount this vote."
As host of cable television's "The Colbert Report," Colbert has managed to persuade fans to inject his version of reality into the user-edited encyclopedia Wikipedia while getting Web sites to add enough references to him that a Google search for "greatest living American" at one point brought his Colbert Nation Web site to the top.
In naming him Webby Person of the Year, judges recognized his online fan base and credited him with raising more than $250,000 online for an education charity.
In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Colbert spoke of how instantly he gets feedback from his audience online:
"The Web is essentially improvisational. ... The Internet is the shortest, hardest wall against which your voice will echo back," Colbert said. "It's a big place, but, boy, you get an echo back really fast."
The Webby Artist of the Year was will.i.am, whose inspirational video "Yes We Can" was a viral sensation that has garnered millions of hits since February on Google Inc.'s YouTube alone.
Produced independent of Obama's campaign, the video features Obama's voice from a New Hampshire concession speech set to will.i.am's music and melody, with vocalizations of the speech from Scarlet Johansson, John Legend, Kate Walsh, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Herbie Hancock and other celebrity supporters. The chorus is one of Obama's campaign slogans: "Yes We Can."
Gondry, who also directed "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," won for Webby Film and Video Person of the Year, largely for an "inventive visual style and storytelling."
His latest comedy, "Be Kind Rewind," stars Jack Black and Mos Def and tells of two video store clerks who hatch a scheme to re-shoot campy versions of hit movies and rent them out after they accidentally erase every tape at the store.