It's been said that employees engaging in social media while at work cost the U.S. economy $650 billion a year in lost productivity. That's $4,452 per company, and it doesn't even factor in the economic losses from plain, old Web surfing. Throw that into the mix, and good lordy: No wonder the economy has been sputtering along since, oh, the dawn of Facebook and Reddit.
But what the economists can't factor into their balance sheet is the intrinsic value of the Web. Sure, it's a great place to goof off on the company dime. But it's also the first place we turn to these days to interact with each other and stay informed.
Over the past month, Riverfront Times has had the pleasure of spending hundreds of hours dawdling in the St. Louis online community for this year's RFT Web Awards. And we've got to say, it hardly felt like a waste of time. We uncovered dozens of smart and well-researched blogs, a vibrant and engaged social-media network and too many compelling online personas to list in these pages.
Here, in no certain order, are some of the finds that our judges deemed to be worth your time (or your employer's) to check out.
See Also: - Slideshow: RFT Web Awards Party - Meet Your 2013 RFT Web Awards Judges - 2013 RFT Web Awards Finalists - 2012 RFT Web Awards Winners and Finalists - 2011 RFT Web Awards Winners and Finalists
Best Neighborhood Blog Cherokee Street News
The judges say: Inspired by a neighborhood insert that used to accompany the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Cherokee Street News serves as a community forum and events page for one of the city's most eclectic strips of pavement. Engaging design and frequent updates keep us coming back.
Best Arts Blog Hours of Idleness
The judges say: It's not a traditional arts blog in that it doesn't cover exhibits or show openings. Instead, Hours of Idleness focuses on the whimsies of its author, Jason Gray, a photographer and artist whose work showcases the people and places of St. Louis. As its name suggests, you can get lost in this blog for hours. But idleness? A better descriptor for the blog's content is "moving."
Best Music Blog Encor.es
The judges say: A previous RFT Web Awards winner for "Best Photostream/Flickr," Jason Stoff's Encor.es has evolved over the past twelve months to more than just a photo blog of concert pics. Tossed into the mix these days are show reviews, backstage etiquette tips, interviews with other local music photo dorks and plenty of music recommendations. Meanwhile, the blog's "photo-nerdery" section keeps the camera geeks happy.
Best Personal Blog Distilled History
The judges say: Distilled History combines two of the best things about St. Louis -- its rich history and its tasty booze -- in one fascinating and well-researched blog. Ever wondered where to get the best Manhattan in town? Distilled History will tell you. Interested in learning more about T.S. Eliot's time here? Distilled History has the facts and the historic photos to fill you in, as well as an Eliot-themed drink recommendation. If knowledge is your poison, you could easily get drunk on this site.
Best Entertainment/Gossip Blog Punching Kitty
The judges say: Nothing is sacred at Punching Kitty. Author Mike Flynn, a 2011 RFT Web Awards winner, calls the site The Daily Show, but for St. Louis. Flynn's witty and sarcastic view on St. Louis crime, politics and general happenings kept us laughing, post after post. Only someone with genuine St. Louis pride could know how to make fun of his city so well.
Best Activism/Opinion Blog Vanishing STL
The judges say: Vanishing STL is like those Sarah McLachlan commercials for abused pets, only for St. Louis architecture. Paul Hohmann's detailed research and hauntingly beautiful photographs capture a city in flux. As St. Louis embraces change and novelty, what treasures are we destroying in the name of innovation?
Best Sports Blog Viva El Birdos
The judges say: Viva El Birdos serves as the ultimate fan-boy site for those of us obsessed with the St. Louis Cardinals. Want to talk VORP, DIPS and the alphabet soup of other sabermetrics? This is the site for you. And while it's true that the site can be a bit wonky at times, it also knows how to have fun. (See the hilarious "Legopiece Theater" archive for proof of that.) More than anything though, El Birdos serves as the most engaging Redbird forum in town with dozens and dozens of comments per post. Disclaimer: Viva El Birdos writers Dan Moore and Aaron Schafer freelance for Riverfront Times.
Best Political Blog Occasional Planet
The judges say: Feeling depressed from all the negativity in the news? Occasional Planet is the antidote to the doom-and-gloom political stories that are so prevalent these days. With the guiding notion that "good things ARE happening," Occasional Planet seeks to bring readers positive stories from the St. Louis area and beyond, and its easily navigable site means that finding good news is no longer a chore.
Best Food Blog A Periodic Table
The judges say: Though you may be tempted to try to eat your computer screen when you start reading A Periodic Table, please don't. And don't assume this is one of those stuffy wonder-woman food blogs, either. Yes, its creator, Shannon Weber, is a masterful cook, but she always owns up to her shortcomings and perseveres through battles with everything from yeast to blenders. And if the scrumptious photos of items like biscotti, stuffed mushrooms and, yes, even bacon candy make you drool all over your keyboard, it's OK. Weber won't judge.
Best Sex Blog The Beautiful Kind
The judges say: Kendra Holliday knows sex, and she wants you to know it too. The once -anonymous sex blogger is anything but private these days, baring her body and her soul and all the kinks therein on the Beautiful Kind, a 2011 RFT Web Awards winner. Holliday is not only interested in her own escapades, however; she wants to help the community become "sex-positive," and she encourages readers to come to her with questions or concerns. But be forewarned -- Dear Abby, she ain't!
Best Architecture Blog B.E.L.T.
The judges say: Even if you're not a fan of midcentury-modern architecture (our panel had a few detractors), it's hard not to love Toby Weiss' blog dedicated to the style. Weiss proves to be both a diligent reporter and storyteller, tracking down the history of these forgotten gems from the 1950s and '60s and -- more often than not -- chronicling their demolition. Our only complaint? B.E.L.T. (Built Environment in Layman's Terms) is too compelling to go days -- sometimes weeks -- between posts.
Finalists: Preservation Research Office: Ecology of Absence Vanishing STL St. Louis Patina Disclaimer: Finalist Chris Naffziger, author of stlouispatina.com, was a judge for this year's RFT Web Awards. He left the room during the judging for this category.
>>Up next: websites, social media and collections of stuff.>>
Best Website Design STL Design Week
The judges say: The highlight of last September's St. Louis Design Week just may have been its website. With bright sunny colors, twirling weather vanes and an art-deco rooster as a mascot, the site resembles a freaky farm of the future. There are details galore, but somehow nothing feels cluttered. Interface is a breeze, too, with large calendar panels making it easy to navigate the happenings for this annual event.
Best Club/Concert Website The Firebird
The judges say: The Firebird website has risen from the ashes over the years. Long ago, it was a depressing hole. Users had to muddle through a clunky calendar and parse crazy font colors. Now, though, this phoenix helpfully treats readers to robust information about booked artists, a blog full of Spotify playlists and photos, easy contact info and a thorough list of tech and equipment the club offers to bands.
Best Restaurant Website Pastaria
The judges say: Restaurant websites are traditionally like a bowl of pasta: chaotic and messy. When Gerard Craft's Italian eatery Pastaria opened in Clayton in September, it already had a website. That already put it leaps and bounds above many St. Louis restaurants. Designed by the creative team at Atomicdust, pastariastl.com features clean, succinct design. Through enticing photography and typography, a user is able to efficiently navigate the site, and basic information such as hours, menus, location and contact info are all readily available. Links to active Twitter and Facebook accounts give users a way to find out what's going on at the restaurant on any given day, as well as interact with the restaurant, which is as refreshing as it is important.
Best Mobile Website Guerrilla Street Food
The judges say: When the pick-up counter of your restaurant is on wheels, it's hyper-essential that you're Web savvy. But Filipino food truck Guerrilla Street Food hits it out of the park with its social media and website. Not only does Guerrilla offer valuable information such as a schedule of its whereabouts up to five days in advance, but its contact information and menus are easy to find and clear to read. Gorgeous food photography entices, and minimal, navigable design ensures users find what they need without popping aspirin in the process.
SOCIAL MEDIA AND COLLECTIONS
Funniest Twitter Feed Chris Ward @wardcrap
The judges say: Self-proclaimed "above-ground pool ladder salesman" Chris Ward's Twitter feed is unrelenting. Mocking, sarcastic and oftentimes self-deprecating, Ward's favorite prey is other Twitter users. Such as his tweet to @MyloHateSuckaz that goes "Real quick: How long have you been Sucka Free and what advice can you give to recovering Suckaz addicts." Painfully dumb puns also abound on Ward's Twitter feed as does facetious advice and a recurring obsession with having his "pudding" tickled. We suspect this is either a euphemism for something dirty or actually involves caressing Snack Packs. It's up to Chris Ward to solve that mystery. Disclaimer: Chris Ward was a judge for this year's RFT Web Awards. He left the room during the judging for this category.
Biggest Twitter Twerp Mark Bland @markbland
The judges say: Be it shameless bragging, heckling or nitpicking, Mark Bland's tweets all carry a similar theme: They are twerpy to the max. But then you don't become the host of the "most popular mod/lib radio show in 8 Midwest states" by pulling your punches. No, you do it by crawling under people's skin to the point that they'll either tune you out or begrudgingly respect you. Count us among the latter.
Best Use of Twitter to Promote a Business or Organization Charter Communications @charter
The judges say: Until last month, Charter had one of the most responsive Twitter teams in the country. Wondering why your installation dude was running late? Interested in a new cable package? Internet still gone four days after a storm? If you tweeted it, Charter came running. But then in December Charter decided to yank its social-media teams dedicated to customer service. Oh, sure, the cable company still exists on Twitter, but good luck getting a helpful drone to respond. So this year's Twitter award is an acknowledgment of what Charter once accomplished and, hopefully, incentive to return to its former glory.
Best Use of Twitter to Promote a Personal Brand STLVegGirl @stlveggirl
The judges say: The success of promoting anything on Twitter is in updating frequently and engaging often, both strengths of Caryn Dugan's @sSTLVegGirl account. When Dugan created her Twitter account in 2009, it was purely as a resource to connect with vegetarian and vegan communities local, regional, national and global to learn all she could about eating a plant-based diet. At the time she was assisting a plant-based cooking instructor in St. Louis, and soon she herself was a resource for others curious about plant-based eating. In 2012 Dugan launched STLVegGirl as a full-service business offering cooking classes, nutrition and education courses, personal counsel, restaurant consulting and personal chef services. She credits Twitter for connecting her with a larger plant-based community and helping to grow her brand -- and in turn, grow awareness, acceptance and access for others interested in plant-based eating.
Best Use of Facebook to Promote a Business or Organization Humane Society of Missouri
The judges say: Some may think that cute kitty photos swayed our decision in this category, but the Humane Society of Missouri deserves more credit than that. Pet-care tips, fan photos and letters, behind-the-scenes pics and videos, media appearance recaps and quality events also anchor the organization's highly engaging Facebook presence. In December, HSMO smartly developed a companion page dedicated to Trooper, the pup who was severely injured after being dragged by a truck for more than a mile. By putting Trooper in the spotlight, HSMO raised local, national and international awareness about animal negligence and adoption thoughtfulness.
Best Digital Photo Collection This Is St. Louis
The judges say: This blog provides an intimate look at everyday street scenes in our beloved city. A couple holds hands downtown, a man hula-hoops in Tower Grove Park, a bartender serves a Budweiser in a bar in Soulard. These beautiful, simple photographs -- paired with captions that are sometimes short and sweet and other times mini interviews -- are snapshots of the people and culture that make this city tick. The product of a collaboration between the St. Louis Beacon, Jarred Gastreich Photography and St. Louis for the Love, the site's layout is clean and easily digestible.
Best Pinterest Board The Upcycle Exchange
The judges say: Tens of thousands of followers pinning and re-pinning its projects can't be wrong. The Upcycle Exchange (3206 South Grand Boulevard) uses Pinterest to share creativity in myriad forms through do-it-yourself projects complete with tutorials that inform and educate. Its Pinterest board is a resource for its followers, and in that way, a valuable extension of this arts-and-crafts store's mission.
Best Use of Social Media for Civic Campaign Face Off Against Hunger -- Atomicdust
The judges say: Most people stuff their faces; they don't photocopy them. The folks at Atomicdust aren't most people, though. They turned their late-night workplace shenanigans into a force for good when they began beckoning digital socialites into the office for some hot action with a Xerox machine, promising to donate $5 to St. Louis Food Outreach for every face scanned.
>>But wait, there's more! Apps, memes, video, crowdfunding and overall strategy.>>
Best Mobile or Tablet App Bonfyre
The judges say: Just like gathering your friends around a crackling bonfire to roast marshmallows, tell jokes and share stories, the new St. Louis-based social app Bonfyre is a private platform to share pictures, messages and events with friends and family. With more control over your social network, Bonfyre makes oversharing a thing of the past. Or it would be, if Mom would stop posting all those baby pictures. Disclaimer: Bonfyre is a sponsor of the RFT Web Awards party. Judges were not aware of this when casting their ballots.
Best Local Meme What High School Should We Call Me?
The judges say: Just call Lisa Derus and Lindsey Herzog the unofficial spokeswomen for St. Louis. They love this city, and their Tumblr blog made up of GIFs that reflect local truisms are a testament to that love. And sometimes frustration. Especially with the Cardinals. And the fickle weather. But mostly this site is all about love for St. Louis illustrated with bitmap images of Real Housewives, goofy animals and anything from Mean Girls.
Finalist: Hey, Girl. I'm Mike Matheny.
Best Use of Video for a Personal Blog or Website Mark Watson, Soldier Knows Best
The judges say: Mark Watson, otherwise known as Soldier Knows Best, has racked up more than 100,000,000 video views since he set up his technology-review channel on YouTube more than four years ago. His videos are snappy, relevant and frequently reposted by major technology outlets across the country. He primarily focuses on Apple products, offering a host of information about computers, software, hardware and tutorials. The best thing about Soldier Knows Best? Watson films, writes and produces segments himself within the comfort of his downtown St. Louis loft.
Best Use of Video for a Business or Organization Feast magazine
The judges say: Go behind the scenes of the St. Louis culinary world with Feast Magazine's video interviews with local chefs, restauranteurs and other foodies. In the short clips, chefs explain what makes their cuisine stand out and give sneak peeks at restaurants that haven't yet opened. Feast also offers a series of how-to videos for the intrepid home cook. The videos capture the magazine's essence and extend the Feast name from print to multimedia.
Best Crowd-Funded Campaign Viticulture: The Strategic Game of Winemaking
The judges say: Finally, thanks to generous contributions from the public, Alan Stone and Jamey Stegmaier's board game about winemaking is now available in five countries and online. The enterprising game-lovers created a Kickstarter campaign in August, hoping to raise the $25,000 needed to make their vision a reality. By early October, the duo had met their goal, and since then, the money has continued to pour in. And why wouldn't it? For a pledge of only $1, Alan and Jamey will toast you personally on camera once the project is complete. And for those who are willing to pledge $999 or more, either Alan or Jamey will hand-deliver a copy of the game anywhere in the continental United States. Hurry and be the first to take them up on that offer!
Finalists: The Adventures of Time Slot The JoeSportsFan Show The Luminary Moves to Cherokee Street New Years Rulins: Photos Inspired by Woody Guthrie Sentinels of the Multiverse: Shattered Timelines and Infernal Relics Whisk: A Sustainable Bakeshop
Best Overall Digital Campaign/Strategy American Patriot Beer
The judges say: Some businesses thoughtfully plan a digital strategy. Other businesses vomit out WTF posts on every social-media outlet available while antagonizing naysayers. Honestly, we're not entirely sure which category American Patriot Beer belongs to, but whatever it is doing seems to work. The beer's fans eagerly share photos of themselves imbibing APB, while the business itself proudly positions its brew to be as patriotic as bald eagles. This is America, dammit, and American Patriot Beer is happy to embrace your right to bear hops.