The Internet World show in London this week confirmed signs that dot-coms are having to rethink their strategies to survive as the hype deflates. Exhibitor numbers were up 20 percent on last year to 450, according to the organisers, but non-paying visitors shied away this year.
"People are staying in their offices to keep their businesses afloat," said show manager Tom Ward-Lee of Penton Media Europe. "Last year, the Internet was hype, it was a fashion statement," he said to justify the sinking attendance rates. Neither he nor the participants blamed the weak showing on yesterday's election or the planned underground strike, called off just days before the doors at Earls Court opened.
On the floor, big names such as IBM and KPNQwest jostled with smaller firms, both showing and visiting. However, according to one survey conducted for the show, many smaller companies are still convinced of the value of the Internet. The survey for Mistral, a Brighton-based business ISP, found that a mere 12 percent of the respondents would rely on the web for purchasing, while just 44 percent of the same community said they would use the internet to sell their goods or services.
Assessments from the exhibitors were also mixed. One recruitment specialist dubbed the show "so-so". The recruiter, whose business addresses more general recruitment needs than intensively IT-focused positions, noted that the industry has got "more technical".
At the Integra booth, marketing executive Richard Bewley was taken aback at the broad range of the visitor profiles, which he said included many students. "Everybody and anybody that has to do with the Internet is here." For Integra, more focus might have helped. "We are not a cheapie $9 a month Internet service provider," he said.
Organiser Ward-Lee said the conference segments of the show did well, but Autonomy chief executive Mike Lynch admitted "there is not a lot of good news around".
Overall, his advice to hopeful startups was to hitch their wagon to a clever bricks and mortar with a smart strategy for the Internet age. Supermarkets, especially, could be a safe bet, he said, and Tesco is the "best internet company in the UK".
Judith Sullivan is ZDNet UK's enterprise editor
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