In March 2001, I attended Spring Internet World in Los Angeles, the largest Internet conference in the world. This article was first published in 2001 and outlines some of the things I learnt at the conference. What is interesting for me is how some things have changed while others have not.

I was very excited to attend this trip as I was told that this conference would be the biggest in the world for the Internet industry. My friend was right. The conference was amazing!

Interestingly, the 1st day of the conference was a bad day on the US stock market with many dot com companies losing millions of dollars. As a result, the conference was smaller in the number of exhibitors and attendees present. However, this is not to say that people were pessimistic about the US economy. In fact the general consensus of many presenters was that the things would get better and more dollars were to be made on the condition that the right business model was established.

Meg Whitman CEO and President of the world’s most popular website eBay (www.ebay.com)(140 million page views per day) said that for businesses to survive the current economic climate they needed to “stay focused” on serving the needs of their members/clients.

In fact, there was a very positive atmosphere at the conference. From my perspective, American businesses work on a “go for it” attitude. Also, they only talk about business today, that is, they focus on generating profits on what it available on the Internet landscape today. Thus, there was hardly any talk about 3G or some would say a lack of interest in 3G. It appears that US Internet companies only focus on exercises, which make money today. When the “next big thing” appears then they will focus on it and make sure that they will reap the benefits from it.

Within the exhibit halls all of the major players of the Internet industry were showing off their latest products. Some of these companies included Real Networks, Microsoft, Intel, Webtrends, Macromedia, America Online, Sun Microsystems and WorldCom. Furthermore, an Internet conference wouldn’t be the same without many start-up companies and Internet World Spring 2001 was no exception.

Many companies exhibit presentations were fantastic and appeared not to have a “BUDGET”. Most of presenters used wireless microphones, they stood on stages in which the lighting used could have easily been used by any band performing at a nightclub, and of course a large TV screen was mandatory. The presentations were a great way of selling a company’s product and to many people in Australia they would seem over the top. However, the presentations were entertaining and more importantly informative.

Many of the companies at the conference used buzz words such as “faster access”, “broadband”, “streaming media”, “convergence”, “interactivity”, “dynamic content”, “wireless” and probably the term most talked about was “customer relationship management”.

Companies in the business of network hardware were all promising faster Internet access via their servers and caching products. Like in Australia, the emergence of broadband was a key focus at the conference. Many times you would hear ”…with broadband we will be able to do…” and then you would hear a variety of great solutions. For instance, webcasts would be of the same or even better quality than television. The possibilities with broadband were apparently endless. With the advent of broadband many talked about “convergence”.

Convergence
A keynote speaker at the conference was Barry Diller, founder and CEO of USA Networks. During his address, Diller defined convergence as the merging and sharing of telephones, computers, retail and televisions. He also added that the power of convergence lies ”…in the interplay between them…”. However, Diller warned against “media imperialism” by the large and established entertainment companies, which in his opinion were trying to conduct or dictate business with the Internet the old way. According to Diller “Hollywood is coming to see Silicon Valley and vice versa without really knowing why…”.

On a positive note, Diller commented that the merger between AOL (America Online) and Time Warner was a good example of how convergence can work. According to Diller AOL Time Warner is positioned to be ”…a dominant company forever…”. The reason for this is that the merger between these companies brought together the best assets in the old and new media fields.

Away from the conference, I watched a lot of TV in my hotel room. Many of the TV shows had an online presence. However, the website linked to the show was not a brochure site promoting the show but rather offered uncensored versions of the show or gave an opportunity to the end user to purchase merchandise from the show.https://www.blindate.excite.com/ is an example of a website in which the content is both designed for a TV audience as well as an online. “Convergence” in simplistic terms is where traditional media and the Internet meet.

Streaming Media
While at the conference I asked many people at the exhibit if they used webcasting in their workplace. Almost every response I received was “yes”. Many people informed me that streaming media was used for training and communications within the company as well as to promote their company in a more dynamic way on the company website. I was impressed to learn that webcasting in many companies in the US is a standard form of communication and the number of companies webcasting is growing constantly.

What impressed me even more was that many people that I spoke to said that webcasting is considered very important in the day to day running of a large company. The cost effective benefits of webcasting such as reduced travel and therefore reduced associated costs, reduced number of presentations and online training as opposed to offsite training justified the existence of content producers, scriptwriters, camera crew and editors within some companies.

Streaming media is a serious business in the US and it was no surprise to see the emergence of cost effective editing software (www.avid.com), servers optimised for streaming (www.trilligent.com) and companies such as Real Networks showing off the latest products for webcasting. On a personal level, Philips’ Mpeg 4 video browser was awesome (https://www.broadcast.philips.com). The quality of the audio and video is one of the best I have seen. Based on what I heard and saw at the conference, webcasting will become the standard form of communication in the business environment in Australia within 3-5 years.

Customer Relationship Management and Workplace lifestyle
A large percentage of the exhibitors at the conference were from companies, which developed CRM software. At other similar conferences, which I attended, CRM software was primarily for your external clients. The CRM software at Internet world was for your external clients but also for your internal clients, that is, the employees of a company. While the software itself did not interest me the notion that CRM software should also be used for employees did.

In this new era, of B to E (business to employee) and in this era where it is vital to retain talented staff, the software offered by these companies was designed to make an employee’s work life as easy as possible. Want to know how many annual days you are owed? Did you receive your pay on time? Wouldn’t it be nice to receive a birthday message from your boss? Well, the various CRM software packages on offer at Internet World provided such features.

The fact that CRM software should be used on employees inspired me to ask people at the conference about some of their work practises. Was there a difference in the way that Americans in the IT industry worked compared to Australians in the same industry?

One of the terms I heard a lot from people when responding to my question was “flexibility”. It appears it is the norm for someone working in IT to be given the choice as to where to work, that is, at the office or at home. Many people in the US have Internet access at home; even more impressive is that many people have access speeds higher than 56k.

Regardless of the access speed, what is the difference for someone working at home or at the office? None. Should you need to attend a meeting at the office you will attend the meeting. However, because many more people will work from home, it was of no surprise to see many companies selling web cams that would allow people to meet and see each other in a virtual environment. Examples of such products can be found at https://www.behere.com and https://www.pentaxtech.com.

Employers in the IT industry know that it is so important to hold on to staff and therefore to be an employer of choice companies offer this type of work flexibility to their staff. It was also common to hear people (especially from the software development area) say that they could start their day at the office at a time that suited them. It was also common to hear some people mention that sometimes they slept at the office. Interestingly, some people told me that some companies encouraged people to work from home because their company saw it as a cost effective exercise for the company, that is, the company did not have to have a desk for an employee if they worked from home. Furthermore, costs could be substantially reduced by not renting more office space if employees worked from home.

3G and the Mobile Internet
One of the major surprises from me at the conference was that there was hardly any mention of 3G. Perhaps it was because in Australia, it seems as if it’s all we hear about and therefore I missed hearing about it in the US. Even the Stock market channels on cable TV did not mention 3G. Interestingly, there did not appear to be any hype about the “mobile internet”. It appeared that in the US that the mobile Internet is just an extension of what already exists… so why get excited? This is not to say that it is considered irrelevant, but rather it is in its infancy and when the right content comes along the mobile Internet will be a significant part of our everyday lives. Some companies in the US are preparing for the mobile Internet revolution by offering services such as accessing your bookmarks on wireless devices (www.blink.com).

Summary
All in all, the conference, though smaller than previous years, was excellent. If you are interested in the Internet the conference was a smorgasbord of information, hardware, software, applications and entertainment that will change our lives both at work and at home. Furthermore, it was great to hear how some people in the industry took advantage of the Internet both to fulfil their work commitments but at the same time enjoy a lifestyle that suits them. Internet World Spring 2001 left me inspired and excited. I wait with great anticipation as to what will happen over the next year in the Internet World.

By STEVE YANKO

Copyright © STEVE YANKO 2001, 2004

About the Author


Steve Yanko is a Music Teacher, Musician, Song Writer & Consultant who loves working in the world of music.