February 2, 2001

Observations on the 'real' LinuxWorld

Author: JT Smith

- by Eric Ries -
The first step in attending a computronic mega extravaganza is to
get there. So I took a train into the big city Wednesday morning, hoping to
run
into something called the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center without
really any good directions.

(For a bit of comedy, you might want to
take a
look at their directions
to Javits
page. I dare you to decipher their "by train" directions)
I figure, What
the heck, I'll just take a train into the city, and keep my eyes peeled
for somebody busy complaining about MCSE certifications. Sure enough, I
pegged a crowd of purple-backpacks using the word "system" about every
four seconds right in Grand Central Station. They led me right to the
show.

I wandered in, sporting my shiny "exhibitor" badge. Of course,
exhibitor
badges are
"invalid without badgeholder" which, contrary to my expectations, does
not
refer to me, but to the equally shiny badge holding devices you get to
wear around your neck. Security helpfully pointed me in the right
direction, where I had the privilege of standing in a very long line.
The
service that we could expect at the end of this line was a bit vague,
but
once near the front I realized the problem. We had to have our magnetic
stripe swiped (and our privacy violated) first.

The 'real' expo

Now, at a trade show like this one, by far the least interesting stuff
is
what you can find in the program. Or at least, that's what I was hoping
since I couldn't seem to get one for myself. No press conferences for
me,
no, I wanted to uncover the "real" LinuxWorld Expo. The one you won't
find
in any glossy brochures or press releases. It was time to go beyond the
warm glow of the Slashdot crew's l33t PSX2 fighting skills
reflecting off the faces of their gawking fans.

'All-powerful' media badge

It was Robin "roblimo" Miller who decided I should get a badge upgrade from
"exhibitions" to "media" -- that's when the fun really started.
Conferences are full of PR flacks who live to attach themselves to
people
with all-powerful Media passes. Like me.

It was time to make the rounds. Big corporate monoliths lined every
walkway. Brightly colored, blinking, streaming, waving, screaming,
talking
signs of every kind assault the senses. companies compete for valuable
mind share, or eyeballs, or something. At least, I think that's what
they're doing. A very helpful rep from HP starts to chat me up, and
makes
sure I get a good block of time with none other than Bruce Perens, who
is generously signing free copies of his book, Open Sources. It's good
to
be an important agent of the Media.

Anomalies in the suit/geek ratio

The LinuxWorld crowd is pretty much what you'd expect. As one marketing
rep explained to me, you've got your usual combination of geeks and
suits. By my calculations, it's about 75% trade show and 25% star trek
convention. But after a while, I start to notice a few anomalies. Here
and
there, I catch a few too-perky sales reps, who can't quite pronounce
industry buzzwords like
"symmetric multiprocessing" or "software" properly.
And then it starts to get really egregious.

At the booth of one company, they've
got two women dressed in devil
costumes. Every hour, they have a photo shoot where you can get your
picture taken with them. At another
booth
, I notice two very slender
police officers handing out literature. Yet another company had
its entire
info desk staffed by Very High Heels, including one decked out in a
Carrie-Anne
Moss
special. Does that stuff really work? You
already know the answer.

These are not regular employees, of course. In fact, they are provided
by
modeling agencies in places like California. Trade shows are not a
bad gig, as I've discovered. It apparently beats waitressing while
working on your modeling or acting career. And being a now officially
embadgeoned member of the Media, I decided to see what these outsiders
thought of the LinuxWorld crowd.

The response was mixed, although there was some consensus that
computer shows are slightly more fun than fitness conventions, but not
quite as good as food shows. At least, that's how the devils and cops
described it to me.

And how do Linux attendees compare to other computer shows? "They're
nice,"
according to one, and "a lot more laid back," according to another
model. One was a real LinuxWorld veteran, having served in this
capacity
in some four consecutive shows. How does this one compare? "Last year's
crowd was a lot more grungy, definitely." So good news for Linux, I
guess -- even its geeks are making the move into the mainstream.

Of course, not everybody is thrilled by these kinds of gimmicks. One
model was simply trying to give away free watches. I watched her get
accosted by several attendees who didn't want to fill out the
registration
form (required to get the freebie). Ever seen a flame in real life? It
wasn't pretty. Afterwards, she told me a few
horror stories about conferences past.
Last year, her agency tried to trick her into wearing a giant penguin
outfit. She declined.

And how is this year's giant
penguin
?
He gave me a pat on the head, a poke in the ear, and declined comment.
I
guess some people just aren't impressed by a Media badge.

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