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Start Your Engines!: Networking and Go-Cart Motor Racing Power Cybernet Expo '02

Start Your Engines!: Networking and Go-Cart Motor Racing Power Cybernet Expo '02

All post-show indicators lead to the same conclusion: that Cybernet Expo Montreal 2002, - aka the Faye Show ("think warm and cozy") - was a success, not as a rip-roaring party perhaps, but as a well-planned and businesslike event.

"I am delighted that I have had nothing but positive feedback," Faye Sharp told AVN Online. "Of course, nobody calls me up if something sucks, but on the boards they'll tell you if they don't like something, and I've read nothing but positive feedback, so maybe [Montreal was] a nice size group." The final attendance number was about 500, 250 or so less than the Cybernet Expo Miami show, according to Faye.

She chalked up the lower numbers to three factors. "We've had 9/11," she said, "we've had businesses go south, not able to keep their heads above water, and we've had a lot Webmasters decide that this [business] is not for them. So I think that while we've had fewer Webmasters and fewer companies, maybe we're starting to get stronger as a group because our numbers are thinning."

According to Sharp, the organizers (she, Dave Gould, Raw Alex, and Vegas Lee) had to be both receptive and flexible in their planning. "We hear what people have to say and try to give them what they want, but in the end, a trade show comes down to what people make of it. We can do the nuts and bolts, set up agendas and rooms suitable for different things, but it's the exhibitors, the sponsors, and the attendees who make it successful. The Netpond racing, for instance, was not our doing. We didn't call up Netpond and say 'Would you sponsor racing?' This was a sponsor who came up with a great idea and our show happened to be the premiere for it."

To their credit, Faye and crew did not promise more than they could deliver, and more than delivered on what they promised. The only exception was the seminars, which were substantively excellent but made virtually irrelevant due to feloniously low attendance. Faye was philosophical. "It's the same old story," she said. "You can bring a horse to water but you can't make it drink." (Yes, and it can still sent to the glue factory for not having an erect penis on its tour, but that's a horse tale for another day.)

Laissez Days

Languorously covering four days in late May and early June, there was plenty of time to network, swim in the pretty little hotel pool, go shopping, or laze in the executive lounge at the upper reaches of the hotel, where an unhurried breakfast buffet was provided every morning along with a breathtaking view of the city. And of course, there was plenty of time to explore the exhibit hall tactfully located two escalator-rides below street level. Indeed, if you'd allowed 60 seconds for that purpose, you'd have had to find something to do with the thirty remaining.

That's not a criticism, but a well-known fact of Faye Show life. No one attends these for the exhibits, but to network, and maybe - maybe - to party. (Or, if you're an amateur, to make content, i.e. fuck.) Visual proof of this was the fact that at no time during the day was the Webmaster lounge outside the exhibit hall less crowded than the hall itself, though that was also because it was a great place to kick back, with space, privacy and wireless Internet connections to spare, that last detail the inspiration of Raw and Vegas.

Les Environs

The Hotel Delta Centre-Ville was the finest venue for a Cybernet Expo or AdultDex to date. It was attractive, well appointed, clean, centrally-located, and best of all, graced with a staff of employees that made everyone - including the most hooligan-like of adult Webmasters - feel like an honored guest. (Are you listening, Venetian management?) To our knowledge, the only complaint from an attendee was a bizarre grievance to the effect that the buttons in the elevators were not in English, and even then the hotel management offered to have them translated immediately. (That's a lie, but they might have if asked.)

But you can't separate the hotel from the city. Montreal exudes an almost Amsterdam-like level of tolerance. "That the show was held here was a major plus for both the webmasters and the show because the city is so liberal," said YNOT's LA Jay.

Whether due to its French traditions or a desire to differentiate itself from the puritanical neighbor to the south, one is always aware of Montreal's laissez-faire approach to life. Yes, there is crime and there are laws, but they don't vary from community to community (like you know where) and they don't devolve at the whim of local nabobs. According to Canadian Webmasters who attended the show, the same attitude holds true for the whole of Quebec province, but the farther west one goes, the more conservative the culture becomes, until finally one reaches lovely British Columbia, where altogether divergent beliefs rears their pointy little conformist heads.

Let's put it this way. If it weren't for the monumental headache that comes with shipping adult exhibit booths through Customs, Montreal, with its great clubs, great food, and oh so great women, would be a great place to hold a great big adult Internet trade show every year... until the end of time.

Le Networking

There seemed to be a theme of sorts that a lot of people, knowing this show's particular structure, made a point of setting up networking meetings in advance.

"With Cybernet Expo, we do make some contacts before we go," said Rand from Epoch, "and usually we know who's going to be there before we get to the show." He added, "This was one of the best networking shows that we've been to; it was very good for us, and in fact we'll probably take a few more guys the next time."

"You definitely want to plan to meet people," said Craig Tant from ManSites.com, which sponsored a May 31 party in the upstairs lounge, "and then you also want to meet up with people you didn't know were going to show up. The thing is to be flexible. I thought it was an outstanding networking event and a nice environment for building relationships."

For Scott Rabinowitz, aka Traffic Dude, pre-planning is essential to his basic business model, and remains constant from show to show. "It's consistent to our business model because we're not just trying to draw in affiliates and new content buyers," he said. "It's very specifically for traffic sales, so we represent a tiny percentage of the industry. Happily, though, even for being a small sized event, and also because of everything that's been going on in the industry, and the time of year, many more people even from overseas who wouldn't necessarily make it to mid-size shows were present and ready to do business."

"It was all very centralized," said LA Jay. "People had more of an opportunity to network because there weren't as many parties. Everybody was pretty much together at every event. There was a pack mentality. It wasn't like I'm going to choose this party over that one because of political reasons or whatever. Everybody came to the YNOT party, and then everyone who wanted to venture off went to the Netpond races, and then everyone was there for Insite's party. So as far as smaller conferences go, I thought there was less politics and bullshit at this one than at any other."

Some attendees from the bigger pond included Ron Levi from CyberErotica, Lee Burnstein from Pornication, David van der Poel from Python, and JB from CEN.

Le Grand Prix

The most anticipated "party" of the show was the Netpond-sponsored motorized go-cart races, reported to be a lasting fixture at certain shows, though exactly which is unclear. If it augurs a general direction toward more activity-oriented parties, that's great. If the idea is to stir up competition among companies, we'll take a wait and see attitude. Don't get us wrong. The night was a blast. It was so much fun to put a team together and plot strategy, and then get in those little smokers and tear around the tire-bound track, swerving to avoid spin-outs right and left, rooting for your partners. But we're not betting the farm on the final stats. Nope, we're not touching those. We just want to have fun.

Les Seminars

Sharp seemed resigned to the low turnout. "It was the worst we've ever had," she said, "but I've given up trying to in any way control this group. It's impossible. You can steer them in some ways, but that's as far as it goes. They're a bunch of individuals, and there's no way you're going to get them to do anything they don't want to do."

There were four days of seminars. Wasteland.com's Colin Rowntree moderated on May 30. The first seminar was "Industry Highlights," with Yishai Habari of Web Media Interactive, Samantha Lee from Insite Adult, Aly Drummond from Python, and Greg Geelan from YNOT, four veteran thinkers who underscored the areas where Webmasters should be putting their focus: targeting traffic, retaining members, safe and focused content, and, as Yishai loudly proclaimed, billing, billing, billing.

Next was credit card processing, helmed by PayPal's Tyler Hoffman, Dave Peterson from Ibill, and Rand Pate from Epoch. It was mostly a Q&A session, with an immediate question regarding MasterCard's status as far as adult online transactions. Peterson said that the word they got was that MC overreacted when it announced that those types of transaction would be suspended, and they were awaiting clarification, which would take a year. The rest of the time was mostly taken up with issues surrounding alternative forms of billing, of which there are exciting new ones on the horizon, a topic for its own article.

Last of the day was "Alternative Revenue Streams," with Yishai Habari, Holly Moss, and John Davies, CEO of iconXXX.com. Suffice to say, the products and services that people like Habari and Davies are offering are the billing systems of the future, if not universally in this country, then certainly throughout the rest of the world. Ignore them at your peril.

Friday, May 31, YNOT Bob moderated. The first seminar was "Niche Marketing," with Aly Drummond, Colin Rowntree, and Bob Ruffcorn from Insite, all of whom are experienced niche monsters. According to Drummond, a niche is anything that is micro-targeted. Colin said that Google (or any Inktomi-based search engine) was a great place to find niche-looking surfers. Bob entreated all to consistently check their stats in order to know what kind of traffic is coming in, and where it's going. Then they talked about technical issues, like text alt tags and how to label images so that the search engines pick them up, too. They also said that when you're starting out, buying targeted traffic is more important than branding through advertising, which is important but comes later.

Next was "The Gay Marketplace," helmed by Craig Tant from ManSites.com, Aly (again?), and Sal Abbate from xxxcash.com. The bottom line with this seminar was pretty much the same as it always is: Gay surfer retention is great, but you have to understand the market. If you don't take the time to do that, you'll get your ass and hat handed to you. One comment of note was that there seems to be an increasing dearth of original gay content. Can we pick it up out there, please?

Next was "Webmaster Resources," a new topic of sorts, with Dravyk from AllOfEm.com, Greg Geelan from YNOT, Stephen Yagielowicz from XBiz, and Meat from Netpond. They all talked a lot, but really, what is there to say about the Webmaster resource sites? That they exist to serve? That they abhor brutish behavior? A lot of the questions had to do with responsibility of those moderating the particular message boards to make sure that false information isn't disseminated. All (except for Meat, who doesn't have a moderator) said that though they try, ultimately it's the Webmasters' responsibility to not take any proffered information at face value. In short, let the reader beware. Good advice.

The last panel of the day was the saddest, because so much more was expected than was delivered. It was the Free Speech Coalition's (FSC) presentation by attorney Jeffrey Douglas, with a reception before and after. Douglas spoke effectively about legislation that continues to haunt American adult Webmasters, covering all the recent territory and painting a picture of an industry still threatened with imminent extinction. He referred to the Ashcroft crowd as "Bad hostile people with a lot of power." He said that Webmasters should not plan for litigation because it's a loser's game, and entreated the audience to support the FSC so that the lobbying group could afford to oppose the most threatening legislation. It was a legal fund-raiser directed at an audience of about 20 poor people.

Day three was the all-day amateur clinic, moderated by Farrell Timlake of Homegrown Video. There were five separate panels, "The Basics of Marketing to an Amateur Site," "You Have Your Site - Now How do you Make it Grow," the "Performer Panel," "Content Production," and "Doing Business in Canada - The Legal Issues." Attendance was mixed, with perhaps more amateurs in the audience than mainstream Webmasters, but that is to be expected. No space here to go through each panel, but suffice to say that more amateurs should be attending these seminars. They'd learn a lot, and they might make some great new contacts. Our favorite panel was of course the performer panel, with Seska, Nina Marachino, and Elsa Bangz, three women who could not be more different from one another but for their willingness to share their experiences, especially the advice to establish firm sexual boundaries; failure to do so usually ends in a crash and burn.

The last day had two seminars, "Link Sites and TGPs," and "Legal Subjects." Unfortunately, this writer was conducting an interview during the first seminar, so he has to pass on comment, except to say that he was told that the room was three-quarters full. It was no doubt deserved.

The legal panel, with Joe Obenberger, Lawrence Walters, Greg Piccionelli and Reed Lee, also deserved a sizeable audience, but there were only about 15 people on hand. It's too bad. These lawyers aren't whistling Dixie, and the adult American sky might yet fall.

Reed Lee offered a comparison of Canadian and U.S constitutional law. Piccionelli laid out a frighteningly possible scenario in which every AVS, processor, and sponsor is both civilly and criminally liable for the actions of people to which he is linked. Walters brought us up to speed on COPA, CPPA II and other pending legislation, and Obenberger told a story about an Internet-and-the-law conference for prosecutors and law enforcement types. He met up with a "very, very important guy," to whom he complained that 2257 federal labeling requirements were unfair to amateur performers who work out of their homes and didn't want their addresses posted on the Internet for all to see. The guy turned to him and said, "What makes you think I care?" Not surprising, but we'd still like to see his of-age daughter getting her ass reamed on a cam network.

Les Parties

Not a party-heavy show, but there were a few, and most people seemed happy to not have to rush about like idiots in search of remote clubs. Thursday, May 30, YNOT sponsored an old timers class reunion, and everyone seemed to be there, even some newbies. It was a very pleasant opportunity to meet and greet, no matter how long you'd been around.

Friday was a bit busier, with ManSites.com holding their reception in the executive lounge, generously offering an open bar to go along with a social networking opportunity that came off splendidly.

Also Friday, Gamma Entertainment held an invitation-only dinner at Buona Notte that feted over 80 Webmasters. This writer did not make the cut, but Virginie from Gamma reported, "Limos were the official ride to get to Buona Notte, where the staff received our guests as if they were international stars who usually hang out there... Most major players of the industry were there... We felt it was a good way to get together all the players that make our success possible and let them exchange [ideas] with one another."

Saturday saw Insite Investment host an early reception in the executive lounge, a perfect springboard from which to head off to the Netpond races. Wild Rose Productions threw their party at their studios out in the Montreal suburbs. We made it there after the races, taking a cab and making it in time to see the fire department respond to a false alarm of smoke emanating from the studios, and the girls falling over one particular Canadian GQ fireman, begging him to return after his shift.

Also to be noted was the daily hospitality lounge outside of the exhibit hall, sponsored by Netpond and IGallery.

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Tom Hymes

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