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Net agenda shifts into high gear

As Net devotees gathered at Internet World to check out the Net's latest and greatest, most noteworthy was how the nature of the industry has changed.

LOS ANGELES--Broadband companies and high-speed communications carriers are booming on Wall Street, and the reason is clear: Their businesses are officially synonymous with the Internet.

As thousands of Net devotees gathered here at the Spring Internet World '99 this week to check out the Net's latest and greatest, most noteworthy was how the nature of the industry has changed--and, with it, the definition of a typical "Internet company."

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Years earlier, scrappy firms such as Yahoo and Netscape Communications struggled for the attention of attendees and the associated gathered media horde. Now, only a sprinkling of Net-based upstarts could fit between the packed booths of the communications giants--Qwest Communications, AT&T, and Lucent Technologies.

That shift coincides with increasing interest in what method the common surfer uses to get on the Net, whether it be through a high-speed cable modem or digital subscriber line (DSL). In addition, the boom in the construction of high-speed Net backbones has created a new set of communications players that want to showcase their wares to the masses.

"The future's going to be driven by broadband," noted Stefan Smith, an industry analyst for market researcher Dataquest.

Where have all the Net pioneers gone? Many are either out of business or on to bigger things than Internet World. That was the feeling of many returnees at the trade show, a venue that just four years ago was the physical gathering place for the builders of the virtual world.

Attendance and exhibitors at the show has increased, says show organizer Penton Media, but there's a qualitative change from the good old days of 1994 and 1995, which in Internet time, is more than a lifetime ago.

Netscape was but one of the brands in the America Online booth. Yahoo was minimally represented at the show, and Excite didn't come.

In their places were the bandwidth types and associated Internet service providers (ISPs) who have been here since the early years, but now seem to be muscling out the upstarts.

"It's changed beyond recognition," said Saul Klein, who has changed considerably himself. An early marketing executive at personalization technology pioneer Firefly Networks, he's now with Microsoft. Bill Gates' gang bought Firefly last year, and Klein works as Microsoft's privacy czar--a position he couldn't have predicted he'd fill when Firefly launched its first product at Internet World.

Some personalities, however, haven't faded away. Rob Glaser, chairman and founder of Real Networks, was the week's most popular keynoter. Four years ago, his company, then called Progressive Networks, launched its RealAudio radio-on-the-Net technology.

"It's been a remarkable four years," said Glaser, whose company now has a $5 billion market capitalization. Sounding a bit like a campaigning politician, he added: "Four more years."

"We are now at an inflection point in getting broadcast quality media for everyone. Now is the time to jump into broadband," said Glaser, who was mobbed after the speech rather like a rock star. It's L.A., after all.

Doug Schulze, general manager of iCat, now a division of chip giant Intel, also noted the changes from the past within the Net industry.

"We had to come to the show for information and lead generation. Now we have the Web--You can demo the product. The real Internet-savvy [people] are not here," he said.

"Now the new guys come to tell their story. The older, established ones don't have to," he added.

Some upstarts like PassLogix, BrainPlay, andYack! rented meeting rooms to pitch journalists and analysts, their tiny spaces dwarfed among the heavy-hitters like AT&T, Hewlett Packard, Adobe Systems, and Lycos.

Wendy Ziner, director of marketing communications at e-commerce trailblazer Open Market, termed the show "lackluster." Others called it quiet. Organizer Penton Media predicted the show would attract close to 40,000 attendees, but final figures are not yet available.