Notes from October's "Internet World" Conference, 2000.
Just got back from Internet World 2K in New York. I have gone to every
Internet World in New York since 1993, and my approach is always the
same - skip the conference and the keynotes and go straight to the
trade floor, and then walk every aisle and look (briefly) at every
booth. Today was several hundred booths, and took 7 hours, because the
show not only filled the Javits end-to-end, but spilled over into a
temporary structure erected north of the Javits to take the overflow.
I do this because it doesn't matter to me when one company thinks they
have a good idea, but when I see three companies with the same idea,
then I start to take notice. As such, this write-up isn't about
individual companies so much as about industry themes.
In addition, the floor of Internet World is a good proxy for the
marketplace: if a company can't make its business proposition clear to
the person passing by their booth, they aren't going to be able to
make it clear in the market either. Most memorable tag line this year:
"Web Experience Management Solutions for Organizations that must
deliver successful web interactions." Oh good, my boss was just asking
for that. Another goodie: "It begins with 'e'" (for a company called
eon). That probably tested great with the focus groups, but to my eye
it looks like a commentary on how predictable naming strategies for
internet businesses have become.
Herewith my impressions of the IW2K zeitgeist:
What is Internet World for?
In years past, Internet World has had an identity crisis, as a
tradeshow for everyone from router engineers to media buyers to end
users. That is over now -- INterent World, at least in NY, is now a
tradeshow for companies that provides goods and services to companies
using the internet for their business.
There were only a handful of booths for sites for end users --
Atomfilms, MyFamily.com -- and they looked completely out of place
amidst the content syndicators, web site audit tools, multi-lingual
translation services and HR services. Internet World has become a
strictly b2b affair.
The New New Thing...
...didn't show up. I didn't see anything really new at the show, for
either or hardware or software. There were lots of new products and
services, of course, and lots of new companies, but no new ideas and
no new categories.
Internet World is now a trade show for a maturing industry, where the
emphasis is not on creating new kinds of functions but in making
improvements on existing ones -- CRM, ASP, content management,
hosting, et al.
The only really new thing at IW was Groove, Ray Ozzie's audacious
attempt at living up to the dream of the two-way web, and Ray was
holding court in meeting rooms off to the side -- Groove wasn't even
on the show floor.
I lost count of the number of times companies told me they were the
leading this or the leading that in their space. No one, in 7 hours
and many conversations, ever told me that their offering was unique,
or that they had no competition -- everyone wanted to be part of a
well-defined sector, and then to be the leading company in that
sector. I detect novelty fatigue, and a sense that its safer to be in
a validated business sector than to be pioneering a new one.
No big theme jumped out this year either. In other years, there's been
Java, or push, or some other bandwagon people were eager to jump on or
distance themselves from. This year though, the only broad theme I
could detect was fairly broad, and which I would call "Anxiety
Gone are the days when convicing businesses to go online in the first
place was the mission of IW: to a first approximation, every business
is now using the net. Many of the exhibitors in this show were linked
by trying to provide these businesses not great new opportunities,
but trying instead to solve particularly thorny problems, like
- "How can I manage all this content?"
Content management is back as a category. As the home grown solutions
groan under the weight of constant updates, and more businesses have
to move to dynamic content in order to be able to update the site
without breaking it, the competition for web publishing/content
management systems is heating up again, with Allaire introducing its
first offering in this space, and Vignette, the clear leader in
high-end web publishing, trying to outpace the competition by
re-positioning itself as an 'ebusiness solution', instead of merely
being a content tool.
- "How can I let my employees publish to the web while bypassing those
Lots of competitors to Microsoft's FrontPage as well, but designed
specifically for business environments. These products are more
workflow systems than full content management solutions, and are more
positioned around the idea that a companies Web site can't be allowed
to suffer from the bottleneck of an organizations IT group. The
general solution for this class of products is to allow certain
employees the ability to change web content, and then to give them
tools to let them update pages without requiring them to know HTML.
- "How can I use the Web for groups of employees?"
Many offerings for intranet/groupware, designed to "enable
collaborative workgroups" or "capture group intelligence." The days
when internet use was a largely personal affair seem to be ending, at
least for businesses, as concern for creating shared Web environments
grows. (The aforementioned groove.net is in this space as well.)
Another concern here was in "knowledge management", companies offering
ways to capture the collective wisdom of a sales force or work group.
- "How can I talk to/interact with my customers?"
Lots of companies offering to answer this question. Of all the
"Anxiety Alleviators" of the show, this was the category with the most
obvious anxiety around it: why are so few of the visitors to my site
buying anything? There were lots of related solutions here -- CRM,
internet call centers, real time chat with customers onsite -- and it
is all targetted at raising the the number of people who buy and
number of people who return to ecommerce web sites.
- "How can I get them this Zirconium ring they just bought?"
There were several companies offering to help with shipping and
tracking, from a start-up that is taking a page from Kozmo and
building package dropoffs in grocery stores, to UPS, who is trying to
make up for the ground it lost in letting FedEx become the ecommerce
shipper of choice for several high profile brands.
- "How can I monitor my customer base?"
The anxiety in the executive suites about how little they know about
how customers are using their web site was also in full flower.
WebTrends was there, of course, but most of the offerings weren't
stand-alone log file analysis but full-on suties of "ebusiness
intelligence monitoring" -- customer experience audits, site
performance analysis, data mining. All these businesses share an
idea that by their behaviors, customers are trying to tell you
something, and if you listen, you will be able to improve their
experinece and your bottom line.
- "How can I get a kicker on ecommerce revenues?"
I was amused to see several companies offering customized wrapping
paper, logo printing, and other ways to generate an extra $1 on
ecommerce transactions. Look for a lot of this sort of novelty/one off
upsell this Christmas.
- "What if I get sued?"
There were several insurance companies, a category I haven't even
been aware of in previous Internet Worlds. How's that for the net
- "How can I make my site more responsive?"
Many products or services designed to speed up the responsiveness of a
web site, by caching, streaming, or optimizing the way it is served.
Akamai has clearly raised the standards for web site responsiveness,
and in light of the slow roll-out of broadband, there are a number of
companies rushing into the breach.
- "How can I keep my servers running?"
As uptime becomes a mainstream business issue, it is driving growth in
the number of companies offering remote monitoring, testing, and
reporting on network health and web site responsiveness/uptime.
If they pay for you, they own you.
The only big surprise to me this year was the explosion of partner
pavilions. I have always been suspicious of partner pavilions, since
the real beneficiary is the sponsor, often at the expense of the
nominal partner: "BEHOLD THE MAJESTY THAT IS ORACLE!!!
(and here's our partner, MumbleCo....)".
The real effect of the Partner Pavilions is chest-beating. Companies
that sell services or solutions (Oracle, MS, Real) use the size of
their Partner Pavilion to signal how wide industry adoption of their
offering is. As a result, I found it impossible to take any of the
actual partenrs in the booths seriously -- they are the corporate
equivalent of booth babes. The bigger message, however, is that the
giants we have now are largely going to be the giants we have in the
future, and for smaller companies, their affilaitions with these
giants are going to become increasingly critical.
Even odder are the country pavilions, the "Made In Israel/Germany/
Sweden" booths with companies from their respective countries. These
companies are likewise impossible to take seriously, because the
message behind this supposed show of national pride is "Not Good
Not good enough to make it to Internet World on their own, that is, a
suspicion heightened when you see how many companies on the show floor
have dual headquarters in the US and Tel Aviv, or Berlin, or Hong Kong
without needing any help from their respective governments.
If a country really wants to spend its tax dollars helping local
businesses join the internet economy, it should buy 3 or 4 separate
spots on the show floor and give them to the companies, without the
self-defeating "Made in Sweden" label.
The power of the hosting providers
Hosting providers, those unsexy businesses that build network centers
and buy bandwidth, are suddenly the industry's new power brokers.
Globix, Global Center, and Genuity all had mammoth booths.
Because hosting providers have long term relationships with their
clients, unlike ad agencies and consultants, and because they get a
monthly check, unlike product vendors, and because they are the only
third party who has access behind the firewall, they have emereged as
the ideal broker of additinal services to companies that already use
The global internet and the local internet
Geography has arrived as a major force. Language translation is
everywhere as a service, as the days of the purely American-centric
There are also a surprising number of services offering to aggregate
content by local area, from a mapping company, to a search engine that
maps URLs to geography to a company that aggregates news/weather/etc
and lets you pick content modules for your website, tailored to your
area. The web is increasingly being mapped, literally and
figuratively, to the real world.
Many companies are offering content syndication tools, where they
provide some sort of dynamic service -- news, calendaring, "browser
buddy" navigation tools -- which you license for yo8ur website.
Along with the content management tools and template-driven publishing
tools, the push towards syndicated contetn is all part of the general
anxiety over managing a dynamic and constnatly updated web site
without having to become a publishing company.
Mobile has arrived, of course. The bad news for WAP is that everyone
is selling "Mobile Solutions", of which WAP is presented as a
sub-set. WAP had hoped to become synonymous with the mobile internet,
and that didn't happen.
In particular, Palm is emerging as the alternate platform of choice, a
move further dramatized by the side-by-side positioning of the packed
Palm pavilion and the relatively sparsely attended WAP pavilion.
Because Palm is a real OS, several companies are offering Palm
browsers (YadaYada) or Palm servers (Thin Air) to extend Palm's
functions as a mobile device.
Talk is back
Voice over the intenet is back in another incarnation. Last year,
there was lots of internet telephony -- that was all but gone this
year, to be replaced by several companies offering talk as a service
to increase customer retention and loyalty, whether through sales
agents, pre-recorded messages, or help functions.
VR/3D is back, with a vengeance.
Another hardy perennial is the idea of 3D shopping, sometimes with a
3D avatar, sometimes just to look at the product.
This has always seemed to me like the Videophone of the Web, an idea
that is always being pushed by technologists but never adopted by
users. In keeping with this year's theme of Anxiety Alleviation,
however, 3D is no longer being sold as a way to make a cool web site,
but as just the ticket for closing sales and encouraging customer
I'm not holding my breath.
Ontology is back, and so are search engines
After a few years in which AI and agents were largely ignored as
impractical, and in which a few major portals had the search space
locked up, specialized search engines, especially ones armed with
"inference engines" (sets of rules about which words mean what and are
related to which other words) or geared to smaller than Web-wide
searches (only industry veritcals, or corporate intranets, or in
Google proved that as the amount of data on the Web continues to
explode, new search solutions can find a market.
The dogs that didn't bark in the night.
- Digital Signatures. There were few companies trying to take
advantage of the new Digitial Signature Act. By next year, expect
services offering electronically enforceable signatures to be
- E-books. There was only one standalone "ebook" product I saw. This is
probably because ebooks don't (yet) have any b2b applications.
- Peer-to-peer. Softwax was the only peer-to-peer company there, and
no one was touting their peer-to-peer solutions. By next year this
meme will either be ubiquitous or gone.
- Linux. Only one company specifically touting Linux. When it comes to
operating systems, the concerns represented at the show were much
more about uptime, remote management, and reporting, rather than
being about which operating system to use.
- Napster, and the Entertainment Industry. Not a peep, except Atom
Film and one lonely NAPTE booth in the North PAvilion. The
entertainment industry's issues with the internet are being aired
- Likewise, there were very few companies offering employee
monitoring/copyright compliance software to comapnies, or Digital
Righta Management services to producers of content.
Other random notes.
- Two years ago, 'IP' at Internet World stopped meaning 'Internet
Protocol' and started meaning 'Intellectual Property.' This year,
'POP' stopped meaning 'Post Office Protocol' and started meaning
'Point of Presence' marketing.
- Lots of job recruitment sites and outsourced business solutions for
tech employees this year. Despite the layoffs in recent months, the
need for skilled labor is still strong.
- Magazines are a trailing indicator of a business sector. There were
lots of magazines there, presumably hoping to validate themselves as
good places to do all that spending on ads dot coms do. Even the NY
Times got into the act, publishing a gratuitious "Ecommerce' section
on the first day of the trade show, featuring not a single article
that wouldn't have been at home in the 'Circuits' section.
Expect this to contract this year. As a trailing indicator, its will
soon be the magazine world's turn to get big, get niche, or get out.
- Associations are a trailing indicator as well. There were lots of
associations you could join this year, whch blur in my mind into a
"Worldwide Consortium of Affiliated Web Managers and Marketers
Society". This presumably is occaisioned by the desire to keep a new
crop of upstarts from displacing us, the old crop of upstarts.
- AOL metamorphosis into an internet company is complete. The AOL
booth, complete with partner pavilion, and the ads for AOL6.0 and
AOL anywhere, put it at the center of the action.
- XML is no longer a service, now its a feature. Last year there were
several companies offering to help you with your XML needs. This
year, XML is simply a check-off on many products and services.
Like Java, XML won't live up to the hype, but like Java, once its
been widely enough adopted, it will find its niche and occupy it.
- The ASP model is now the norm. I had several conversations with
companies selling standalone corporate software products, but almost
all of them assured me they had an ASP alternative in the
works. This is related to the new power of the hosting providers,
who have the leverage to hasten adoption of ASP services.
- I did see two services that took bits of old models to make a new
thing. The first was Navixo, which is taking the "Yahoo Browser Bar"
idea, but allowing companies to populate it differently when users
come to their sites. Its a way, in other words, to add real pull-down
menus to site navigation, an idea that never really caught on with
the launch of DHTML.
The other was a company called Enkia, which uses its own database to
build "Find more like this..." features for sites using an ASP
model, rather than requiring those sites to install local software
on their database.
- The personal computer was nowhere to be seen. PCs are now as taken
for granted as routers, and while Compaq and IBM were there, they
weren't showing PCs, while the pure PC manufacturers like Toshiba
and Gateway weren't there at all.
- Ominously for Apple, the iMac, last year's booth acoutrement of
choice, was also nowhere to be seen.
- In general, this show was the most characterless Internet World I've
been to. You would never know, walking the trade floor, that this
industry had ever been considered threatening to corporate America,
since by now it largely is corporate America. I saw one head of
purple hair, but otherwise there was almost no one there who would
be unwelcome in the halls of General Electric.
As if to underline the point, as I was leaving I ran into Ugly
George, the Flying Dutchman of New York's Internet Industry, lugging
his albatross of a web cam with him, and not only did he seem
bizarrely out of place, even his identity had been
corporatized, as his access pass read "George Ugly".
Glad thats over. See you next year.