Economy's woes color Spring Internet World in L.A.

In the shadow of a crashing stock market and vast uncertainty about the economy, a smaller Spring Internet World -- lacking the frenzied hype of previous years -- served as the backdrop for those serious about business on the Web.

"I'm surprised there is anyone here," said Barry Diller, chairman and chief executive officer (CEO) of USA Networks in his keynote address on the opening day of the exhibit hall. "The euphoria of the past has been crushed by new business realities."

The hype around pure-play Internet-based businesses seems to have evaporated as brick-and-mortars look to get their businesses on the Web.

The percentage of attendees who were serious about Internet business was much higher this year than previous years, said Sheryl Hawk, vice president of sales and business development at San Francisco-based Kurant Corp., which sells store software for e-commerce sites. "People here today are very upbeat," Hawk said. "They are also very educated about what they are looking for. There is a lot of intelligence behind their questions."

But all the prospects Hawk spoke with at the show were brick-and-mortar companies looking to get on the Web. No pure-play startups were shopping for software.

Other vendors related similar experiences. "We're not focusing our marketing efforts on dot-coms anymore," said Tom Fox-Sellers, public relations manager at eGain. "Our customers are more likely to be a brick-and-mortar company that's looking to interact with its customers on the Web."

Although dot-coms are not currently clamoring for the talent, brick-and-mortar operations that are moving online need help to do it, said A.J. Johnson, Western regional manager at hotjobs.com.

At the height of the dot-com boom last year, Spring Internet World hosted 800 to 900 exhibitors. This year the number was between 500 and 600, and a few booth areas were marked with company names but remain empty. Some of the exhibitors at last year's show have since gone out of business.

Still, this year's show was the second biggest in the spring show's 8-year history, according to Courtney Miller, vice president of Internet world events at Penton, the company that owns the show. Throwing out last year's numbers, the show has grown steadily year after year.

Exhibitors, mindful of a different economic environment, have revised their strategies for the show. "HostPro is working harder to prequalify leads from the booth rather than scan everyone's badges and add them all to the mailing list," said Jill Hudes, director of public relations at the San Francisco-based Web hosting services provider.

Los Angeles-based search provider Oingo scaled back its presence at the show this year. "We looked at how much we get out of the show versus what we pay," said Neil Estacio, creative director at the company, which rented a small meeting room rather than buy booth space.

Lines for the keynote addresses were noticeably shorter this year, Estacio added.

Perhaps reflecting the lack of adrenaline this year compared to last year, "the coffee line is still a half-hour long," said Toni Moore, business development manager at Ecopia, a Web-services provider.

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