Security is booming, so it is no surprise that a decent number of people will queue up at the end of this month to visit the Infosecurity Europe Show, now one of the most interesting trade shows on the calendar.

Last year, nearly 10,000 people visited the London show, 14 percent up on the previous year, a testament to the show’s popularity. Successful though it is, it is important to put it in context. After bumping along for years as the event nobody much wanted to go to unless they had specific business to attend to, Infosecurity has turned out to be the right show in the right place, at the right time.

People who queue up to part with the entrance fee might ponder how it used to be. The 1990s were the golden era of business computer shows, a roaring 20s world full of the big stands, marketing hype, energetic salesmanship, and, most precious of all, throngs and throngs of visitors. Hotel rooms at the big US shows, Comdex and Networld-Interop, were in such demand that most people ended staying in the seediest part of Las Vegas and turning a blind eye to life’s rougher side.

This happened just long enough ago for us to see that it was not, after all, the natural order of things. Only two weeks back came news that Comdex had been cancelled for the second year running, more confirmation if it were needed that the big trade shows are a thing of the past. There is the still the huge Computer Electronics Show (CES), of course, and that chore of the North German plain, CeBit, lives on, but they are both shows for consumers not specialists. They are as hated as revered.

In the UK, the once-beery Networks Show in Birmingham declined until put out of its embarrassing misery in 2003 by the indifference of the IT people who had once loved it. Kicked out of the National Exhibition Centre, it lives on in reduced form under new management but it is no longer a date that fills you with foreboding about the need to make hotel and travel reservations.

In more austere times, Infosecurity’s success might have something to do with the basic fact that it is not a huge computer show. Run in 10 countries around the world, the modest visitor numbers belie the fact that it needs little marketing investment to explain what it is about, and to convince users to come. The promises it makes are small ones, and people seem to feel more comfortable with that nowadays.

Even before the visitor figures for Comdex started declining from the peaks where several hundred thousand people packed into its halls, people had serious doubts about whether it was the best venue for getting technology’s message across. It was as if the show industry had grown as or more important than the industry it was showcasing.

In the end, big companies decided they didn’t necessarily need to pay huge amounts of money when people weren’t actually buying anything at these events. If it was marketing, well they already spent loads on that anyway. The mega-shows soared on beyond their life-span because the tech spending bubble somehow managed to push the marketing spend of smaller companies and startups into over-drive. They were bigger than ever but there wasn’t much of anything holding them up.

It’s past history now. The computing industry was forced to grow up and has since found that smaller, more targeted shows are what the business market feels more in tune with. The atmosphere is more intimate, less frenetic, and everyone appears to be getting a better deal out of their investment of time and money.

Don’t rule out a return of the mega-show for good. It’s all governed by economics and how much money marketing managers feel it is appropriate to burn. The organisers of Infosecurity would, no doubt, welcome 100,000 visitors if that many people wanted to visit. The show would bet bigger and before long the Comdex stories would be regaled by the few 1990’s survivors with long memories. By the time that happens you’ll know that the real work is being done elsewhere.