Amy Webb brings Awesome to Baltimore

Amy Webb believes in the power of awesomeness so much that she wants to bring some to Baltimore.

As the founder of Webbmedia Group, a Baltimore-based digital media consulting firm, Webb moves in technology circles, where the idea for the Awesome Foundation originated.

The Boston-based foundation, begun in 2009, is encouraging the creation of chapters around the world. The idea is that a "dean" and 10 trustees at each chapter give $1,000 grants every month to a project in their community that they deem, ahem, awesome. Each board member is required to donate $100 a month to fund the grants.

Webb is the dean of the Baltimore chapter and is now recruiting trustees to help her fund Baltimore-based community initiatives each month.

A graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Webb is a former reporter for Newsweek and The Wall Street Journal in Asia, where she covered emerging technology. When she's not volunteering on boards and organizing events in the digital media world, she's advising corporate, nonprofit and government clients on how to harness the power of the Web and social media.

In a recent interview with The Baltimore Sun, Webb talked about the Awesome Foundation, her work and technology trends.

Question: Tell us about the Awesome Foundation. What's it about?

Answer: Rather than trying to reward people for huge projects that could take a long time to implement or ultimately not work out, the idea is to give people a chance to come up with something creative that somehow makes the city more awesome. The way we think about it is if the MacArthur Foundation had micro-grants to award for geniuses.

It's not a gigantic initiative. It's a way to help creative communities flourish and bring creative ideas into a city. People feel excited about the project. A thousand dollars is not a ton of money, but it's meant as a way to help get ideas off the ground.

Q: Why did you want to bring it to Baltimore?

A: Baltimore has a very strong tech community and urban development community, but I feel these groups are siloed. Or they're painting in broad strokes, and it has taken a long time to get simpler initiatives off the ground. I really, really like this city a lot. And I would like for others to see it as I do, versus it being seen as a hiccup on [Interstate] 95 between Washington and New York or, worse, [perceived as] "The Wire."

This city has a lot going for it. I would like to help the people in this city who are hyper-creative themselves.

Q: How does the group function?

A: This is not one of those things where we'll go out and approach foundations. I've had all these groups come forward and say they want a seat on the board. This is about 10 trustees and one dean who sit on the board. It's about handing someone an envelope of cash with no strings attached.

We meet once a month and we go through the proposals. We'll try to have a launch party each month. [We want] to bring different groups of people together who are doing great things.

Q: Are there any trustees to announce?

A: We're not ready. We're still in the process of putting people on the board.

We have four seats right now that are still available. But I can tell you the people we have lined up are awesome Baltimoreans. This is really intended for Baltimore City. The people who are trustees have to live in the city and be part of the fabric of the city.

Q: Since you work in media, would you be interested in seeing good local ideas for improving news and information resources in the community?

A: Absolutely. As someone who is a veteran of the industry and now is a consultant, I would love to see ideas that help Baltimore's media community and news and information. We're looking for things that will be tangible and doable.

Q: Tell us a little about your business advising companies on using the Web and social media. How is it going?

A: People started asking me how to do stuff. Five years ago, I launched a consulting business. It was just me, but the business grew so quickly I had to hire people. We work with a number of large clients. We do training for media, for parts of the federal government, foundations. We work with large PR and communications firms. We also do strategic advising.

It has really grown. And Baltimore is the base.

Q: Looking back on 2010, what were some key pieces of advice you found yourself sharing with media outlets? What were the major themes?

A: Try social media. Do you know what Foursquare is? Have you used Twitter? The reason people say "no" is they claim they don't have time, but you have to know how these things work, why they work, and why they're attractive and appealing to people.

Social networks are fundamentally changing the way we think and communicate. The biggest piece of advice is to pick a network a week and learn the fundamentals. None of this is so complicated that you can't grasp it. And then you can stop using it. But at least have the lexicon.

I tell everybody to put aside $10 a month and make that your allowance for downloading mobile apps. ... Too many people have smart phones, but they're not taking full advantage of what the phone has to offer. It's changing business strategy and a whole bunch of other things. For cost of two cups of coffee at Starbucks, that should give you at least one new app a week.