The latest edition of the world's largest IT and comms fair - Cebit, in Hanover, Germany - ended yesterday. Preliminary figures suggest that 480,000 visitors passed through the turnstiles over the seven days of the show.
Yet this year's Cebit was beset by soul-searching and angst. Some observers referred to its heydays when more like a million visitors came, and to the fact that several of the industry's biggest names no longer consider it an essential event, including Cisco, Motorola, Nokia and philips.
There's also nowhere near as many British journalists along as there used to be in the 90s, when the city acquired the nickname of Hangover - and of course that has a big effect on how the event is portrayed in the press.
I've been going to Cebit for fifteen or more years though, and I don't think the press centre has ever been as full as it is now. The difference is twofold - firstly, so many of us now write for news services and websites that we can no longer spend two or three days tramping the halls for research, and then write it all up when we get back to the office. Now we can spend half our on-site time writing in the press centre workrooms.
The other thing is the huge growth in the number of press from further east and south, and indeed from news organisations all over the world.
That's mirrored in the exhibitors too - while some USAnians and West Europeans pull out, both the Near and Far East are flocking to Hanover. To give just a few examples, this year's listed partner country was Russia, Polish exhibitor numbers were sharply up, and it seemed to me as if there were Taiwanese and mainland Chinese pavilions in every single hall.
Playing the Anglophone
Then there is the German aspect to the event. Yes, it has been cast for decades as an international show, but the bulk of the visitors are German and when it comes to certain areas of business, such as software for SMEs, it is inevitable that much of that will be aimed at local SMEs, which is why some halls can feel unwelcoming to the non-German speaking visitor.
And as the show draws fewer British and US visitors, journalists and exhibitors - and if the organisers shift its focus away from large enterprise and towards SMEs, as has been suggested - the show could become even less Anglophone.
Already it's often the local offices of the international companies that insist on being there - they know how important it is to how they are perceived by their customers in Europe's largest IT market. As a result, they get tasked with organising their company's presence there, and they naturally tend to treat it as a German event.
The challenge for organisers and exhibitors alike is that it's not just the British and Americans who prefer to speak and read English rather than German. So the organisers need to bring back the show's international and Anglophone character, without putting off the locals, while exhibitors need to ensure they look past the "it's in Germany" aspect.
One other thing is that Cebit has lost its battle with IFA in Berlin to become the European equivalent of CES (the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas). On the debit side, that will probably mean Cebit gets less publicity in the daily newspapers, but it will greatly hearten business IT exhibitors as it means less distracting consumer-tech noise in the halls and in the press.
It should also mean fewer pestilential "beutelratte" at the weekend - yes, German has a name for the kids who turn up at the weekend with, as far as anyone can tell, the sole aim of collecting as many bags, pens, mouse-mats, posters and other branded junk as they can. (It means bag-rat, or perhaps more idiomatically, pack-rat.)
Next year, it's all change, with Cebit dropping a day and moving to a single week - for years now it has started in the middle of one week and run through the weekend to end in the middle of the following week. As a result, it has evolved into three semi-distinct events - two or three press and international business days, followed by the weekend for local SMEs (and beutelratte...) and then three days for Central European business.
From 2008, it will start on Tuesday and finish on Sunday. Several exhibitors and others, who use the show to conduct a series of business meetings with suppliers, customers, analysts and press so concentrated that it would be nigh impossible anywhere else (except perhaps 3GSM), have already told me they like the idea.
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