Australian crowdsourcing site 99Designs wins big at Webby Awards

Australian and New Zealand businesses have won big at this year’s Webby Awards, with Melbourne-based 99Designs taking out the People’s Choice Award, besting US-based Dropbox and Tumblr.

The annual Webbies Awards celebrate innovation and excellence in internet services and business, with giants including Twitter and Foursquare taking out awards for achievements in social networking and mobile development.

This year a number of Australian businesses were honoured in the nominations, including interactive advertising firm Profero Sydney, which won the People’s Voice award, while New Zealand company Yellow Treehouse won in the telecommunications category.

But Australian-based 99Designs was the surprise of the day, winning the People’s Choice award for web services and applications. The crowdsourcing company allows users to post work for sale, with designers making pitches and offers for the projects put on the site.

When a user is satisfied with a pitch, they hire the designer of their choice and they can then complete the project. Other projects can have a number of designers edit a project together for a company.

Founder Mark Harbottle says the win is a welcomed surprise, especially as the company was up against giants such as Dropbox, Tumblr and Fonolo.

“We haven’t wiped the smiles off our faces, really. We’re very excited, especially because the two bigger companies in the category were bigger than us in customer size.”

Harbottle says the company was able to win more votes because of the methods it used to raise excitement within its own customer base.

“I think this demonstrates it’s not necessarily the size of the community, but how engaged the community is to what you are doing. We advertised to our community the voting process, reminded them about it, and so on.”

“We also marketed ourselves by letting them know that if we won, our team would sing We Are The Champions by Queen on a street in Melbourne and put it up on the internet if we won. They haven’t forgotten! We are working on that this week.”

The company, which is currently turning over about $3.2 million per year, boasts 250,000 members on its forums and a community of 50,000 designers. It says a new project is pitched on the site every 10 seconds, and claims it “remains the most successful” design company on the internet.

Other award winners included film critic Roger Ebert, who was honoured for using a European software service to replace his voice after undergoing extensive throat surgery which left him mute.

Vinton Cerf, one of the original founders of the internet, was awarded a lifetime achievement award, while The New Yorker and Mashable.com won awards for best writing and best cultural blog respectively.

The 14th annual Webbys are voted on by the 550-member strong International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences. A full list of award-winners is available on the official site.

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