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Remember when President Clinton came to Spring Comdex? When Microsoft launched Windows 95 with 20,000 of its closest friends at the Omnidome in Atlanta? Or perhaps you can recall when Comdex was the biggest show in Vegas?

Things have changed.

The day of the mega-tech tradeshow is over. Oh, the guys behind Comdex still say that it will be coming back. I also know people who think that OS/2 is going to make a comeback, but I don’t pay either of them much mind.

The only remaining questions are, should you be going to any tradeshows, and, if so, which ones?

There are two good reasons why you should still go to tradeshows, but you do need to be darn choosey.

The first reason is networking. No, I don’t mean with Ethernet; I mean actually seeing your vendors and partners. You can do a heck of a lot these days with phones, e-mail, instant messaging and videoconferencing. Lord knows with a staff that is scattered across nine time zones, from London to San Francisco, Ziff Davis Internet is living proof that the distributed workplace can work.

But eventually, whether it’s your co-workers or your distributors, you need to actually see and talk with your partners. Without at least occasional get-togethers, you’re going to find yourself drifting apart and no longer working on the same page.

Also, sometimes you just need to get out there and press the flesh. Maybe there’s a customer out there who you’d be perfect for, but until you’re there in front of them, they’d never know it.

The other reason to attend tradeshows is that it really isn’t enough to see just the products your vendor or your distributor puts in front of you, but you should see everyone’s products and services. Maybe the bug that’s been driving you up the wall for the last three years in your best-selling program doesn’t exist in another company’s program that does everything the old one does and more.

Maybe a distributor can offer you a better deal on white boxes. Maybe another ISP is willing to cut you a better deal for T-1 lines than what you’re currently getting. Until you go out there and look, you just don’t know.

So, the question really isn’t: “Should I go?” It’s “Where should I go?”

First on your list should be tradeshows run by your partners for partners. For example, if you do anything with Novell, BrainShare is a must. And whether you hate or love SCO’s current policies, if you sell UnixWare or OpenServer, you must go to SCO Forum.

Smaller shows can also be worth your time. For example, I’ve gone to several tradeshows put on by DTR Business Systems, a value-added distributor with a Unix focus, and I always found the resellers who went to be happy to be there.

Why? Because DTR and other smaller vendors and distributors were focused on delivering what resellers—not end users who want to see the latest game gadget, not people who only go to ogle the scantily clad booth bimbos—wanted to see.

The other type of show that’s worth your time is the one that’s dedicated to a particular technology that you’ve built your business around. For example, if you’re a system builder who works with Microsoft, WinHEC is a must. If you’re a network integrator, I hope you’ve already got your bags packed for the Interop (formerly NetWorld+Interop) show.

Finally, I think we all too often think of tradeshows only in terms of technology shows. What about your customers’ tradeshows? In particular, if you’re working in a vertical industry, don’t you think that going to that industry’s big tradeshow is good business? I certainly think so.