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THE TIME has come for us to unleash our spies out on the Web to find the best of the best to join the BIA, that is, the Billiards Internet Awards. To qualify, the Web sites must be at the top of their game in keeping up with the latest news and technologies. Of course, they must have the right skills to thwart enemies and provide personalized service to their industry and customers.

No matter where you are, you can uncover all the intelligence you need to know about billiards on the Internet. If you want to know what movie featured the following line and who said it, you'll spy it online. "No bar, no pinball machines, no bowling alleys, just pool... nothing else." When did Billiards Digest publish its first issue? How many major titles has Allison Fisher won? It'll never be mission impossible to find what you want to know about billiards.

Now we begin our latest mission to bestow eighth annual BD Web Awards honors. Like 007, they're trained to kill their visitors with how they carry out their missions in design, navigation, usability and content. Again, winners from 2007 and 2008 aren't eligible this year. With millions of billiard sites on the Web, our spies can't catch every suspect. If you know of one that eluded detection, tell us about it and maybe we'll add it to our spy ring next year.


Best Player Site
Ewa Laurance - The Striking Viking
www.strikingviking.com



Laurance's site has a nice overall package with a consistent top-level menu and easy-to-read content. The problem with the player category is that most of the sites received updates over a year ago or longer. They also use outdated design practices and need facelifts. A Web site needs consistent nurturing to entice fans to return.

Laurance's site contains key features expected on a player site: bio, current schedule, press, photos, contact information and news. Her well-designed video page shows her in action and making trick shots. Although the body of the content flips around, the main menu remains in place so you know where to go. Her "Show Info" page gives excellent details about her appearances and the things to have when planning an event. The press gallery organizes her cover pages and includes the contents of all print and online articles.

Runner-Up Player Site
Raj Hundal - The Hitman
www.rajhundal.com



No, his site didn't win us over with his almost "spy-like" theme, but his site oozes his nickname. Hundal's cyber home missed top honors because of its inability to show the home page instantly (you have to wait for it to load), tiny text and the too dark pages. We know the spy industry is a "dark place," but a Web site needs to ensure its visitors can read things without squinting or requiring a magnifying glass.

Hitman's photo gallery blows us away without spraying bullets. The images load fast and browsing them is a breeze. He even makes all of the images available for downloading. Despite the unorthodox navigation, it works. Hundal is up to speed with the latest technology by taking advantage of social media (see pgs. 52-53) with links to his Facebook pages. His site also has news from this year and an updated calendar, a rarity in this category.

Best Vendor Site/Manufacturer or Distributor
Legacy Billiards
www.legacybilliards.com



The sites in this category need to entice consumers to take an interest in their product and then find a dealer to make the buy. They also serve as a resource for billiard retailers who resell their products. Legacy Billiards has the most effective and easy to navigate catalog of all the sites in this category. The colors mesh well without going overboard, something many sites in this category fail to do.

Legacy includes information about the business and its factory. The "Factory Tour" takes you on a photographic journey although the amateur slide effects dampen it a little. The table construction section is a fascinating read as Legacy explains how it makes its tables in a well-organized way with supporting images. Use the room planner to design your dream game room. The manufacturer has the all-important dealer locator, as well as a separate protected section for dealers.

Runner-Up Vendor Site/Manufacturer or Distributor
Hood Leather Goods
www.hoodleather.com



Our spies learn something new at Hood Leather Goods. Until this mission, we had no idea a company specialized in restoring pool table pockets and covers. Hood Leathers Goods succeeds in explaining the repair and restoration process as well as what it can do to revive pool tables. The company shares its history in a gripping "About" page.

Sites in this category often lack personality. Hood Leather Goods' character shines through the site's look and feel. Much of the important content appears below the fold (requires scrolling to see it) as its banners take up too much space. While we love the old-fashioned images, the site can still display them while moving up the important content.


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