Big trade shows have lost luster

An invitation dropped into my in-box the other day - I was invited to apply for a press pass for PC Expo, coming up next week at New York's Javits Centre. It doesn't seem that long ago that I would have had to struggle to prove to the people running the show that I deserved press credentials. Now they were begging me to come. As an enticement, the note mentioned that not only would this event include PC Expo, but also "Networks For Business New York" and "OutSourceWorld"!

It suddenly occurred to me that it's been almost three years since my last "big show" trade event (NetWorld+Interop Atlanta in fall 2000). Three years without a Comdex or a PC Expo or a NetWorld or an Interop. Have I become a hermit?

No, I still go to as many trade events each year as I ever did - in fact, I might go to more now. But they are smaller, more focused events. Gatherings such as Microsoft's TechED, Novell's BrainShare, NetPro's Directory Experts Conference and the Burton Group's Catalyst. By trade show standards, the last two could be considered "intimate little gatherings": They use only one hotel and all sessions are in that hotel building. No need to queue for shuttle buses or taxis, no sitting in traffic for hours to go three miles. You can go back to your hotel room if you need some peace and quiet (or you have a deadline looming).

It did always rankle a bit that I'd spend a week in some large, noisy, anonymous city (Vegas, New York, Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, Boston) spending more than a monthly mortgage payment on a not-quite-clean hotel room, eating anonymous meat-on-a-stick in an endless round of hospitality suites (which offered little hospitality).

At least 15 years ago, if you visited a vendor's booth you got a T-shirt. An ugly T-shirt, true, but they were great souvenirs for the folks you left at home fighting the network while you "enjoyed" your "vacation" in the big city! Ten years ago, the vendors started making you sit through a presentation before giving you the shirt. Five years ago, you had to sit through the presentation, fill out the contact card and then one of the 20 to 30 folks in the crowd would get a T-shirt. It just wasn't worth it any more.

Check out the smaller shows. You'll learn more, spend less and enjoy a trade show once again.

Kearns, a former network administrator, is a freelance writer and consultant in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at wired@ vquill.com.

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