At press time it was impossible to know for certain what Barack Obama would say during this week's State of the Union address. But if the commander in chief followed his previous scripts (and those of his predecessors), at some point Tuesday night he uttered the phrase: "The state of the union is strong."
And that got us thinking. One could use the same term to describe St. Louis' online community. Its health is strong. Its interests vast. Its ability to entertain boundless. We should know. We just spent weeks poring over some 1,000 websites, blogs and social-media accounts nominated from more than 400 readers.
Along the way we ran across a few familiar sites and many more hidden gems. No matter the topic — be it a blog on architecture or sex, a video series on sports or music, a restaurant's Twitter account or the mad tweets of amusing micro-blogger — all nominees shared one thing in common: an obsession with their subject matter that made following along a delight and an education.
Choosing finalists for each of the following 21 categories was no easy task. Electing a winner was even harder. Congratulations, then, to those whose names appear on the next several pages.
And to those of you whose site didn't make the list? Here's hoping we'll see your name nominated again next year when the state of our union is, no doubt, even stronger. — Chad Garrison
The social-media gurus who agreed to serve as this year's judges are, in some cases, associated with projects or companies receiving awards. They recused themselves from judging the categories in question.
Best Neighborhood Blog
The Judges Say: In Soulard, you never know what the day will bring. One afternoon you might be admiring the architecture and imaging yourself in old-timey France, the next you're staring at exposed breasts or witnessing a holdup. Thank God there's iLoveSoulard to chronicle it all with a hefty dose of humor and snark to inform us of the neighborhood's vast array of flavors.
Best Music Blog
The Judges Say: OK, it's not really fair. KDHX (88.1 FM) has tremendous resources, including an army of volunteer writers and DJs and an in-house studio for shooting great live performances. But, hey, at least the radio station isn't squandering its opportunities. Instead, it has made KDHX Blog the envy of any music site out there, with expert reviews and interviews of local and traveling acts, music downloads and a breadth of content as diverse as its over-the-air broadcasts.
Best Personal Blog
City in a Jar
The Judges Say: Two twentysomethings coming of age in the city. We know; it sounds like the insipid plot of a network sitcom. But City in a Jar is anything but vapid, with bloggers Jessica and Maddie deftly chronicling their experiences with everything from food to fashion to movies and literature. Not only are Jessica and Maddie exceptional writers, but their stunning photography ensures we don't click to the next channel.
Best Sports Blog
Viva El Birdos
The Judges Say: You claim you're the "world's biggest Cardinals fan," do you? Well, do you read Viva El Birdos? If not, you're an imposter. The unofficial fanboy/sabermetric-geek website of the Cardinals, Viva El Birdos delivers amusing, in-depth coverage of the Redbirds that can't be found elsewhere. And a fan base? To quote Harry Caray, "Holy cow!" It's hard to find a post on Viva El Birdos with fewer than 200 comments from its dedicated readers. Disclaimer: Aaron Schafer and Dan Moore of Viva El Birdos are frequent contributors to Riverfront Times.
Best Arts Blog
Temporary Art Review
The Judges Say: This beautiful site, a project of the Luminary Center for the Arts, features in-depth essays, interviews and criticism of the contemporary arts scene both in St. Louis and across the nation. A treasure trove of information with gorgeous slideshows to boot, Temporary Art Review has established itself as a must-read for the St. Louis arts community.
Best Political Blog
The Judges Say: So many independent blogs out there favor one political party or push a solitary agenda. That's fine. But what makes PoliticMo so unusual is that it is completely nonpartisan and features honest-to-God reporting on Missouri politics. All the more impressive is that this site competes in coverage quantity and quality with some of the biggest newspapers in the state — and is written and edited by a nineteen-year-old college student.
Occasional Planet — www.occasionalplanet.org
St. Louis Activist Hub — www.stlactivisthub.blogspot.com
Beacon Backroom — www.stlbeacon.org/content/blogcategory/213/314
St. Louis Tea Party — www.dev.stlouisteaparty.com/blog
Best Food Blog
Every Little Thing
The Judges Say: What's not to like about this blog? With its incredible photos, wealth of intriguing recipes and — best of all — its relaxed and unassuming writing style, Stacy Anderson does a stellar job of introducing readers to new food ideas and following up with them in the comments section of her blog and via social media. Disclaimer: Stacy Anderson is an occasional freelancer for Riverfront Times' food blog, Gut Check.
Best Architecture Blog
St. Louis Patina
The Judges Say: St. Louis Patina is a field trip to the hidden corners of St. Louis that many of us have never visited or noticed even though they're right in our own back yard. Updated almost daily with great photos and researched articles on forgotten landmarks, St. Louis Patina is a love letter to the dwellings, structures and architecture that define our city.
NextSTL — www.nextstl.com
Built St. Louis — www.builtstlouis.net
Preservation Research Office — www.preservationresearch.com
B.E.L.T. — www.beltstl.com
The Judges Say: It takes more than a fancy lens to be a photographer, and it takes more than a good eye for composition to be a music photographer. What separates Jason Stoff, who runs the website Encor.es, is his enthusiasm for his subjects, which you can see in the way his concert photos find bands in telling moments. In addition to highlight frames, the site includes Stoff's notes on the shoots and snippets of whatever grabbed his attention as a music fan. Disclaimer: Jason Stoff is a contributing photographer for Riverfront Times.
Nate Burrell – www.beforetheblink.com
Elaine Marschik — www.flickr.com/photos/marschik
Corey Woodruff — www.coreywoodruff.com
Todd Owyoung — www.ishootshows.com
Mark Scott Abeln — www.romeofthewest.com
Darren Snow — www.flickr.com/photos/darrensnow
Best Use of Twitter to Promote a Business or Organization
The Judges Say: It's the only Twitter account that will get us to change our plans of where to eat while driving to another restaurant. The tweets are personable and often include links to images of Milagro's amazing food and come at a steady pace. Bonus: Milagro will even take reservations via Twitter.
@YoungFreeSTL (Vantage Credit Union)
Best Use of Twitter to Promote a Personal Brand
The Judges Say: Sure, she's a professional social-media maven, tweeting for the Post-Dispatch as @WeatherBird. But it's Erica Smith's personal Twitter account where she shines brightest. Smith is one of those rare, obsessive tweeters who doesn't get on you nerves with her prolific posts. Always quick with a joke, a thanks or a quick response, Smith has positioned herself as St. Louis' Twitter sweetheart.
Best Use of Video
Show Me Shows
The Judges Say: Jarred Gastreich's Show Me Shows are worth watching even if you aren't a St. Louis music fan. The clips feature local bands in conversation and playing unreleased songs in carefully selected settings around the city (an abandoned warehouse, the World's Fair Pavilion in Forest Park and a highway underpass have all made appearances). The shot selection and editing make them a pleasure to watch whether you started out caring about the band or not. R&R Music Labs' sound editing ensures that you don't get a garbled mix, and Gastreich's accompanying photos are gorgeous.
Best Use of Social Media for a Civic Campaign
The Judges Say: From the Arab Spring in the Middle East to the Occupy Movement in the United States, this was the year that social media morphed from a million little vanity projects into a cohesive front for change, or — in St. Louis' case — for keeping things the same. Last summer thousands of Facebook users rallied to help save the Del Taco "saucer" building in Midtown. But it was the smaller "Save Pratzel's" campaign that exemplified the true power of social media. Alerted that the cherished Pratzel's Bakery was closing shop after after 98 years, the brand communication firm Falk Harrison sprang to action with a tweet and a blog post announcing its plans to provide a new owner for the bakery a year's worth of social media if they kept it in business. Soon other local companies (24 in total) would offer similar volunteer services to anyone willing to purchase the kosher bakery. Meanwhile, the social-media fury (hashtag "savepratzels") spawned dozens of local news stories that brought further attention to the cause. And the result? Within a few weeks that buyer — Jon Mills — emerged, inspired by the outpouring of social-media support for the old bakery.
Save St. Louis Del Taco — www.facebook.com/savedeltaco
Best Use of Facebook to Promote a Business
Miss Ohio Vintage
The Judges Say: Social-media coordinator by day, fashion diva by night, Lindsay Pattan has mastered the ability to mix business with pleasure by taking her brand to new levels. Visiting the Miss Ohio Vintage on Facebook is always a delight. New questions, comments, polls or pictures are posted daily, and you can always check out the MOV Instagram and Twitter feeds right from the page. The integrated Etsy shop makes purchasing that MOV skirt or necklace you just fell in love with extremely easy.
Best Local Mobile App
The Judges Say: Stodgy Gents does an amazing job of mixing the tried-and-true memory game Simon with humor and colorful art. Instead of hitting colored squares to test your memory, Stodgy Gents has you slapping the faces of cartooned aristocrats. Yes, it's a lot of fun and incredibly addictive. And with a price of free and an impressive 4.5 star rating on iTunes, Stodgy Gents always has a top spot on our gaming library.
Explore St. Louis — http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/explore-st.-louis/id405338104?mt=8
Pocketbooth — http://projectbox.com/pocketbooth/
Best Restaurant Site
The Judges Say: Visiting Pi online is a delight with big, beautiful photos on every page and an extremely user-friendly layout. Menus are easy to read, and everything from finding current specials to following the Pi food truck just makes sense. Its online ordering system is a breeze.
Cicero's — www.ciceros-stl.com
Best Designed Website
The Judges Say: This site is seriously gorgeous with its sleek black-and-white layout and subtle flair. Atomicdust is also one of the few creative agencies that effectively harnesses the personalities of its employees and displays that energy online without being cheesy. For examples of that, just check out its frequently updated blog.
Best Club/Concert Site
The Judges Say: Firebird's website looks exactly like what you'd pick up at the merch table — a black T-shirt with a logo, a band's photo and some tour dates. And that's a good thing. Instead of mucking itself up with puffy words and glitter-coated photos, it simply says, "Wear me." And then you think, "Hell, yes, you'll look great on my boobs!"
Best Sex Blog
Pieces of Jade
The Judges Say: Pieces of Jade is the dirtiest, freakiest sex site out there and, we warn you, not for the squeamish. We're not sure how the site got its name, but we're guessing it's because author "Jade" is so eager to showoff every "piece" of her body (especially the naughty ones) and floridly describe what she's subjected said pieces to lately. Particularly intriguing was her series last month, "The 12 Kinky Days of Christmas," that included the posts Two Ball Gags, Three Butt Plugs, Four Floggers Flogging and Five Gulps of Pee. Gulp, indeed.
Funniest Twitter Feed
The Judges Say: Matt Sebek might best be compared to the Post-Dispatch's sports media critic Dan Caesar — if Dan Caesar were intentionally hilarious and an unrepentant asshole. Sebek's irreverent tweets mocking St. Louis sports stars, journalists and power brokers always bring a smile to the face and demonstrate just how entertaining social media can be. Two of our recent faves from @mattsebek: "SLU coach Rick Majerus got ol' number 500 today. That's 'college wins' not 'stamps on his Golden Corral card', kids." and, "The St. Louis media giddy over Stan Kroenke's appearance today at Rams Park. Of course, they were; they no longer had the worst toupee in the room."
Best Kickstarter Campaign
Sentinels of the Multiverse
The Judges Say: These guys truly embraced the spirit of "kick starting" a project better than anyone we've seen. They did not ask for a handout or simply ask people to preorder something they were going to make anyway. No. They created a game out of funding production costs for an enhancement of their card game, Sentinels of the Multiverse. Their rewards for funding the project were ridiculous and fun, and they motivated additional donations by rewarding all contributors with additional rewards when the campaign reached certain goals. And what goals it achieved, exceeding its funding objective by more than 200 percent to raise $27, 880.
(en)Visioning Hyde Park — www.kickstarter.com/projects/raimist/envisioning-hyde-park
Sukkah City STL — www.kickstarter.com/projects/39213099/sukkah-city-stl-defining-and-defying-boundries
We Are Church — www.kickstarter.com/michaeljamesmette/we-are-church-christian-rock-album-by-michael-jame
Daughters of Cambodia — www.kickstarter.com/projects/lesliesanazaro/daughters-of-cambodia-a-new-album
MEET THE JUDGES
Josh Kocurek is an associate brand manager at the marketing agency Switch and board member of the Social Media Club St. Louis.
Pamela Merritt blogs at angryblackbitch.com, which was named one of the World's 50 Most-Powerful Blogs by the UK's The Guardian.
Bill Streeter is a former RFT Web Awards winner for his vlog, www.lofistl.com, and last year released his first feature film, Brick by Chance and Fortune.
Allison Babka works in marketing for Saint Louis University, blogs at www.reviewstl.com and last year was named "St. Louis Sexiest Cybergeek" by Girl's Guide to the Galaxy.
Chad Garrison is the managing editor at Riverfront Times and former blog manager at www.dailyrft.com.