If you're America Online, the next America Online or even the next "next America Online," Fall Internet World is the place to be. This sprawling event, held at the Jacob Javits Convention Center here, brings the dot-com community together for three days of deal-making, hype and hucksterism.
Only six years old, the show keeps getting bigger with each installment. Show representatives said "conservatively 45,000 attendees"--a third more than last year--were on hand to check out the offerings of more than 800 exhibitors.
Most of the attention here was devoted to Web sites and the companies that provide the Internet connections to them. In this industry, there's almost always something new under the sun, with new business models waiting on each aisle. In general, if a business or product can be connected to the Internet--photo albums, faxes, women's jewelry, fitness training, whatever--it will find itself Web-ified in one way or another, and by as many companies as possible.
"It's not the Internet economy, it's the economy," said Bill White, a vice president for marketing at Andover, Mass.-based CMGI, which runs a batch of Web sites, including the AltaVista search engine.
An increasing number of these Web services are free to use, which helps to explain why hardly anybody is making any money yet. Mike Mulligan, chief executive of New York-based MapQuest, a provider of maps and trip directions, suggested his firm won't break even until the second quarter of 2001.
Actual product introductions, as opposed to Web-site launches, were hard to come by. America Online launched its Version 5.0 software Tuesday; it adds a calendar, an online photo-album tool and improved search functions; a forthcoming "AOL-Plus" feature will provide fancier multimedia for AOL members on high-speed connections. And Handspring, a company founded by the developers of the PalmPilot, drew lines of convention-goers eager to gawk at its Visor handheld organizer and the array of plug-in modules being developed for it.
Throughout the show floor, the silliness factor seemed to be up this year compared with previous shows, with significantly more people walking around in goofy costumes. Several exhibitors engaged in a somewhat bizarre form of one-upmanship with their giveaway contests: Win a Palm V! Win a Palm VII! Win an iBook! Win a Porsche Boxster!
There is a point to all this madness--the industry mantra of grow, grow, grow. There's still a lot of people out there waiting to be turned into customers, and so the investment capital continues to pour in at a stupefying rate. Said CMGI's White: "We're here at the sweet spot, and the wallets are open."