As the stock market did a dot-com death spiral, geeks were partying in Tinsel Town during the Spring Internet World 2000 <www.internet.com> trade show. While some enjoyed the lavish Internet company parties at the Playboy Mansion, House of Blues and other glam venues, I grabbed a shopping bag and joined the masses on a virtual scavenger hunt for freebies at the Los Angeles Convention Center, ground zero for the world's largest exhibition for e-commerce and Internet technology. And if the quality of nicknacks is any indication, it may be time to bail out on the NASDAQ.
The first trinket I came across was a postage stamp-sized EtchASketch key ring promoting an outfit called Quintus Corp. <www.quintus.com>. To get the key ring I had to get "scanned," which means they zapped my ID badge like I was a can of corn at the grocery store, so Quintus could later bombard me with junk e-mails. Plus, I had to sit through a presentation on eCustomer Relationship Management, which is like customer relations, only longer.
CRM was a theme of the show. A fellow scavenger explained to me that it had to do with integrating databases, so one division of a company, say, the complaint department, had access to information from other divisions of the company, say, sales. Supposedly CRM is the wave of the future, so someday when you call your credit card company on the telephone and a robot asks for your credit card number and you press the right combination of buttons to talk to a real human being, that human being won't have to ask for your credit card number again.
The best bauble of show was a hard rubber transparent ball from NetGenesis <www.netgenesis.com>, which was also into CRM. Occasionally someone would walk by and bounce one of the balls, causing two tiny red lights inside to strobe. Wandering through the pavilions in search of a laser ball was kind of like surfing for a Web site -- as I browsed I kept stumbling over unrelated ink pens, key chains, software demos and novelty items, like an ink pen/bubble blower courtesy of CarsDirect.com, and a mini-squeegee for dusting off computer screens given away by QSound <www.qsound.com>.
Among the search engine/portal companies with booths was a startup called Blink <www.blink.com>, which was giving away plastic monogrammed Slinkys. Blink saves your bookmarks on its Web site so you can have access to them even when you are away from your own computer. Blink has also created a searchable database made up of other people's bookmarks. The quality of such a search engine depends on the quality of the people contributing bookmarks, and Blink is negotiating with politicians, athletes, entertainers and celebrities for rights to their bookmarks.
A sales rep gave the example of being able to see the bookmarks of Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani, or when a new movie comes out, viewing the bookmarks of its stars. How much celebrities might charge for their bookmarks is unclear, as is how Blink will ensure the bookmarks aren't really from publicists and flacks. But I've always been a sucker for a Slinky.
Even though Apple interim CEO for life Steve Jobs canceled out on being a keynote speaker, there was an Apple <www.apple.com> pavilion, and several vendors even used Apple computers for their displays. While iMacs haven't put a dent in the business world, they have caught on at business trade shows because they're cute and easy to lug around.
Talisma <www.talisma.com>, which manages large e-mail systems, gave away matchbox-sized Porches, which was as close as I got to the real one it raffled off. But my award for most creative use of venture capital goes to Inventa, a business-to-business e-commerce consulting company that recently filed its initial public stock offering.
Inventa <www.inventa.com> had erected one of those high craggy climbing walls inside the convention center and was giving away purple carabiners, which are metal rings used by mountain climbers, only these were stamped "TAIWAN - NOT FOR CLIMBING USE." I couldn't figure out what a climbing wall had to do with "B2B eCommerce" until a spokeswoman explained the company is sponsoring the Inventa Everest 2000 Environmental Expedition <www.everestcleanup.com>, a mission to climb Mount Everest and clean up debris from earlier expeditions on what has become the world's highest trash dump.
That's nice. But whether it's Super
Bowl commercials, parties at
Hef's house or Everest expeditions, the amount of money being tossed
by Internet companies nowadays is enough to give a person laser balls.