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As the 140,000 CES attendees have been making their way back home from Las Vegas over the weekend, I can’t help wondering if the cost, time, and effort of CES is really worth it.

My wife recently came across my Comdex badge from 1986:
It may have been my first big technology trade show.  The card has no magnetic strip to swipe; the letters were raised to allow an old-fashioned credit-card imprint to be made when visiting booths.  This was pre-internet: no instant exchange of information, no Youtube product demos and product reviews.  A lot of what you saw at trade shows was stuff you hadn’t heard about, and a big reason for going was to see what was going on.

You can still see new products and technology at CES.  Keynotes can be illuminating, and some companies use CES to make product announcements.  But online access to news and product information makes trudging out to a booth superfluous.  In richer times, you could at least collect a healthy set of hats, t-shirts, and other goodies.  Even in today’s challenging conditions, large companies still show up with multi-million-dollar booths and armies of support staff.  The cost is hard to justify from a shareholder perspective, and I understand why Apple pulled out years ago.

One reason to attend CES is to have face-to-face meetings with partners.  That was true in 1986 and is true today, and is the only reason I have been attending for years.  I would love to see CES evolve into a venue that focused on industry networking and enabled high-quality peer-to-peer engagement.

In its current form, CES seems like a giant, expensive science fair.

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