The large IT trade show is in decline all over North America. Comdex disappeared a few years ago, and, despite the thriving market for GNU/Linux, LinuxWorld Expo cut back from twice a year to one. However, since many of these events have been replaced by smaller gatherings, I thought that room might still exist for a local show. However, after spending yesterday at the Vancouver Massive Technology Show, I doubt that trade shows can survive in even such a truncated form.
I was at the show as a volunteer for the Free Geek booth, so my time wasn’t wasted. Recycling and free software education are causes that I am happy to support, and honing my impromptu speaking skills can’t hurt. Still, with five or six volunteers at the booth and a free ticket or two, I had plenty of time to observe the show.
Attendance was only moderate, and, to judge from the way people were strolling around the exhibit hall and from the bland looks on their faces, the main reason for attending the show was to get away from the office for a few hours. On another day, a lazy cup of coffee at Starbuck’s might have provided the same excuse.
But the lack of excitement was hardly surprising. Even allowing for a wish for Canadian content, my first reaction to the list of people was, “Who are these people?” Aside from one or two whose competence I could vouch for because I know them personally, none were exactly acknowledged experts in their fields. In general, the lackluster field made the claim that the show was the place to find out about the latest in technology ring hollow.
As for those exhibiting – well, “provincial” is the phrase that springs to mind. Not only was Free Geek the only exhibitor I saw who was doing anything with free and open source software, but at least one was so clueless that he told a colleague that he wouldn’t use it because it was insecure.
To say the least, that’s not an attitude that you associate with the cutting edge of anything, except maybe a dull knife.
For the most part, the exhibitors were typified by their mediocrity and cheapness. Some wanted to be the next FaceBook, others the next Linkedin. Others were local web designers. Many offered search engine optimization, a piece of voodoo that always reminds me that almost nobody knows how or why marketing works. Many offered marketing or HR services. All were on such tight budgets that few could afford the usual swag – not even a cheap pen in many cases, although one company’s booth team were giving out small oranges or tangerines from woven baskets (which made me think of Nell Gwyn), and one energy drink company offer half-a-swallow samples. None had anything beyond the most basics of booths, the kind that at a really large show practically gets swallowed by any booth of reasonable size.
When I say that the only booth that I easily remember is the one selling IM Buddies – USB dongles that could be made to whirl and emit different color lights depending on who is messaging – you can get an idea of just how unmemorable the exhibits were.
In the center of the exhibit were amusements allegedly designed to appeal for geeks (never mind that I doubt a technical person was at the show), such as foosball and Guitar Hero. The apparent prize amusement was a mechanical bull (THAT’S RIGHT, A MECHANICAL BULL! the program screamed). Aging executives bored with imagining themselves Antarctic explorers could don cowboy boots and hats and be gently bucked about with all the energy of the kiddy rides that used to be placed outside grocery stores.
I haven’t had so much fun since the last time I rolled pennies. But I did think a mechanical bull was an appropriate symbol of a lackluster show full of marketing people going through the motions.
I also noticed that there were plenty of posters and cardboard flats advertising the new cable TV program on which Massive’s owner appears. These did their best to make her look geeky, tough, and 18 – none of which she has ever shown the least sign of being in my contacts with her.
As for her male co-hosts, let me just say (as a middle-aged man myself) that it is embarrassing for everyone when overweight or middle-aged men try to act hip or cool. The result was rather like catching a re-run of Mod Squad on the television screen before the DVD kicks in.
I was far from the only one to come away unimpressed, either. In the Tazzu forum, one of the leading network sites for Vancouver IT, other posters were no more thrilled with the day than I was. One forgot all about the show, one decided he would rather work, and the rest expressed sentiments in keeping with mine.
Massive’s only hope of survival lies in the hope that advertisers and those whose egos are stoked by a brief moment at the podium won’t notice the modified rapture of attendees, or look at the attendance figures. If they ever do, I give it two or three more years before extinction. Meanwhile, you can put Massive and other big time trade shows in the CITES Appendices of endangered species.