Marc 'Armed Liberal' Danziger and Glenn Reynolds profess themselves pleased by the inaugural BlogWorld Expo, last week in Vegas. I had a more mixed reaction, perhaps based on my jaded appetites: I've been going to shows back to the old COMDEX in its heyday and the West Coast Computer Faires. And I've been to a fair number of 'first time' shows, due to a career split between developing and investing in new technologies - CD-ROMs, Atari STs, HyperCard, 'hypertext', WiFi wireless data, and on it goes. Since a first time show by definition addresses a market that is only partially defined, and due to its low cost attracts a fair number of out-and-out hucksters, it's often hard to extract a consistent theme, or to forecast the survival of the show and market.
BlogWorld certainly fits the pattern. In no particular order, there were exhibitors representing:
- Aggregators: directories, topical specialists, horizontal blog portals, branded content networks, audio and video
- Tool vendors, from basic text blogs to sound and video and DIY blog-to-book
- Far too many blog advertising networks and gimmicks
- Far too many 'feature level' technologies
- Platform providers: Yahoo, Windows Live, AOL
- Old media about new media: books, magazines, movies
- Corporate and other PR presences
Many of these have the hallmarks of first time exhibitors: minimal signage, no clear message, no attempt to qualify the people that came past the booth. You can easily guess that half of them won't be back next time.
But that cacophony is normal at this stage. What matters is whether the underlying market is viable, and whether the show turns out to be a nexus bringing together potential partners and customers and vendors. That's a more relevant measure than the fact the show took up no more than one third of one of Vegas' exhibit halls, and the attendees at the sessions rattled around in the large meeting rooms. I had only a limited sample, but at least some attendees thought there was value in the connections made on the floor, in the hallways, and at the parties.
And yet, there's a difference between this show and many of the other first-timers. If you compare the still-minimalist 'large' BlogWorld presences to what you'd find at even a specialty technology show (e.g., RSA), you'd be ignoring the reality: This is an upstart sector that has discomfited the traditional media - stolen audience, discredited stories and brands, and credibly threatens to build completely new distribution networks. It has meaningfully affected everything from the value of major corporate brands to national military strategies and political campaigns. How many wannabe shows draw official representation from both the White House and Dept. of Defense communications staffs?
So, lesson one: This is a crowd that punches way above its weight. You can't judge it by the metrics of an established or even emergent technology market.
Perhaps a better comparison would be a Cable Show. There you get juxtapositions like the Playboy Channel (displaying its wares, shall we say), located right across from hard core tech vendors of video servers and optical fiber. BlogWorld was a small, low rent version of that melange of everything from content to infrastructure. You had your cheese cake, your celebrities, your live shows from the floor, as well as the techie bits. (Credit for first two images: Glenn Reynolds)
So here's my second lesson: I have seen the future of media, and it is low rent. Those big booths at the Cable Show and other mass media conclaves are made possible by high margins, which are in turn enabled by a stranglehold over distribution. What I saw in Vegas is competing effectively for part of that audience, distribution and hence margins. BlogWorld will never really look like a Cable Show, and the latter will never go away. But everything about the old media, from brands to margins and audience is at threat of being corroded by the participants in this little show.