Requiem for an Expo

You did not exactly need psychic powers or even a Magic 8-ball widget to see that the end of the East Coast Macworld Expo was coming sooner rather than later. One glance at the less-than-robust attendance and the general lack of interest in the Boston-based shows of the past two years told you all you needed to know, even if Apple’s conspicuous absence from Macworld Expo Boston hadn’t already clued you in.

There are plenty of reasons why IDG Expo pulled the plug on the Boston version of Macworld Expo Friday. For one thing, massively-attended tech trade shows appear to be an artifact of the past. The once-mighty Comdex has been relegated to the trade-show boneyard. Seybold is still alive and kicking, though it’s hardly the sprawling event it used to be. On the Mac side, the Tokyo Macworld Expo has been in the deep freeze for a few years, while this month’s Apple Expo in Paris will still go forward but without the benefit of a Steve Jobs keynote. Really, the Macworld Expo held each January in San Francisco is one of the few trade shows to still retain a semblance of its marquee event status in an era where companies and attendees are less inclined to shoulder the expenses incurred by these sorts of happenings.

Apple contributed to the end of the East Coast Macworld Expo, primarily by eliminating its involvement once Expo organizers decided to move the event to Boston. Even before then, however, Apple’s interest in the East Coast show seemed to be on the wane. Remember the 2002 Macworld Expo in New York, held long before the plans to move the event to Boston were hatched? That was the Expo that featured one of the few dud keynotes ever delivered by Steve Jobs in which the highlights included the bad news that previously free iTools services would now cost $99 per year and a seemingly endless presentation on processor efficiency. That’s the sign of a company that no longer feels compelled to bring its A-game to trade shows held in the Eastern time zone.

But if the East Coast edition of Macworld Expo was hurt by Apple’s apparent disinterest, the event’s fate was sealed when IDG Expo moved it to Boston—a decision we can charitably describe as “ill-advised.” A note to all you would-be trade show organizers out there: if you’re planning a venue change, make sure your headliner participant signs on to the move. Otherwise, you’ve got the equivalent of staging a production of Hamlet where the title character remains entirely off-stage. (“Say, anybody seen Hamlet lately?” “I think he's in the other room, muttering something about a dagger…”)

Of course, listing all the reasons behind Macworld Expo Boston’s demise is of little comfort to the people most affected by the development—East Coast-based Mac users who now find themselves without a major Mac-centric event to call their own. And that’s the biggest shame in all of this.

An Expo is about more than flashy product announcements and memorable keynotes—above all, it’s a chance for users to get together and share ideas, learn new tricks, and get acquainted with the cutting-edge technology that’s either available to them now or on its way. Yeah, you can get the same information about Expo product announcements from scanning the Internet that you could walking the show floor. If you prefer a more hands-on experience, you can even hustle down to the nearest Apple Store to see the same products that are the talk of the Expo. But until you sit in a conference session along with hundreds of other Mac users who share the same interests and passions that you have, you’re just not getting the same experience.

Apple is more or less unaffected by whether there’s an East Coast Mac trade show or not; to a lesser extent, so is IDG World Expo. The same can’t be said for Mac users from that region, unless they’ve got a lot of frequent flyer miles and a fair amount of time on their hands around the first week of January. We shouldn’t let the Boston Expo pass without recognizing that it’s a shame these folks are being left out in the cold.

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