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Comdex by the numbers, and other tidbits

By DAVE GUSSOW

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 23, 1998


LAS VEGAS -- Everything is big about the Comdex trade show, as the numbers show:

* 220,000: number of people attending.

* 10,000: number of new products.

* 2,400: number of companies with exhibits.

* 111: number of devices attached to one PC because, well, because they could.

* 2: very sore feet after walking uncounted miles trying to see as much as possible.

* 1: wedding, but, fortunately, I missed Dennis Rodman.

* * *

Not everything at Comdex went off without a glitch.

Actor Richard Karn of TV's Home Improvement made a guest appearance to help demonstrate the ease of setting up a home networking system developed by Epigram. Karn's shtick was to install the wiring by knocking down walls, which isn't really necessary with this system.

But when it came time to plug the line into the modem on a computer, Karn couldn't figure it out. He got an assist from Epigram vice president Tony Zuccarino.

The problems didn't stop there, though. The video came on, but not the sound.

"I don't think you hooked it up right," Karn ad-libbed, before they finally got it working.

* * *

It was a good news-bad news theme for Internet portal companies, sites offering a variety of Web services (such as free e-mail), content (such as news) and community (a warm and fuzzy feeling one gets while meeting others with similar interests while sitting in front of a computer).

The good: Surfers use the portals. The bad: They're not using them as the companies want. That is the gist of surveys released by by PC World and Newsweek magazines.

A majority in both surveys (see chart) visit portals, but fewer than half used the portal as their home page, the first site viewed when going on the Web. Most go to multiple portals, and most use the sites for their search engines.

But companies such as Yahoo, Excite, Netscape and Microsoft created these all-in-one sites to attract browsers, and keep them within their sites, to build advertising revenues.

A panel made up of experts from each magazine concluded portals will be with us for a while, but it will take some time for the industry to sort out what works and doesn't work.

"I don't think it's an accident that portals have almost the same features," said Steven Levy, senior technology editor of Newsweek.

Yahoo was the most popular site, with AltaVista, NetCenter, Excite, msn.com, InfoSeek and Lycos also listed high in survey results. The least visited was Snap, despite NBC's ad campaign to boost its visibility.

Since we're talking surveys, what do Tech Times readers think of portals? Do you use them? How? Send responses to techtimes@sptimes.com.

* * *

Online chat got a big thumbs down from Cathryn Baskin, editor in chief of PC World magazine.

Baskin received a tip that someone was using her name in a chat room on America Online, and visited the site to check it out. Her assessment:

"The quality of the chat going on was appalling," she said. "It was really useless and juvenile."

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