Why trade shows still matter

By Joel Snyder
Network World, 09/30/02

Original Article on Network World Web Site

A few weeks ago NetWorld+Interop Atlanta was pronounced dead on arrival (see story), a victim of economic circumstance and bad timing - who wanted to be away from home the week of Sept. 11? N+I was a much smaller show than in years past, with a smaller exhibit hall and fewer attendees. But the key factors that make N+I important for users and vendors are still true.

I participated in N+I as part of the iLabs vendor-neutral technology interoperability demonstration. From what I saw, there are huge reasons to keep supporting, attending and exhibiting at trade shows such as N+I:

• It's not all on the Web. Certainly huge amounts of product information are now available via the Internet. But to really learn about a product, there's nothing like talking to the vendor directly, especially the engineering people. For example, there were times in the iLabs when an attendee would ask a question about the specific details of a product that we couldn't answer. If the vendor had been on the trade show floor, we could have gotten an answer or a contact and closed the loop.

• It's not just an exhibit floor. Most conferences have a strong education component, and the technologies we deal with are getting more complex every day. Designing and installing new technologies such as voice over IP, VPNs, Windows .Net and secure wireless networks is an order of magnitude harder than just getting your core network installed. People have to learn how to do that, and surfing Web pages and reading Complete Moron's Guide to Security is not enough. The training and classes at conferences such as N+I are unmatched - it's what you need to do your job.

• It's not just you. The Internet makes communication fast, inexpensive and easy, but you have to know who you want to talk to first. Conferences are an ideal way to network with your peers and make contact with other network managers trying to solve the same problems. Many times, after showing a group of attendees something in the iLabs, I saw them huddle and exchange business cards, having found a common interest and reason to keep in touch.

• You need to know what you need to know. Products and vendors are constantly coming to market. Reading Network World only takes you so far. Wandering the aisles of a trade show, especially areas such as N+I's Startup City, can bring interesting new products to your attention. I'm pretty well connected to what's going on, but every time I go to N+I, I learn about really interesting new products and companies.

The trade show business definitely has some room to contract - perhaps N+I is better off doing one big show a year rather than two. But it's not in anyone's interest for it to go away entirely.