The 2011 International Consumer Electronics show in Las Vegas ended yesterday, not with a bang but with a whimper. 

Here's why it’s an anachronism:


  • No meaning. Let's face it, CES is still just a trade show. Historically, trade shows served an important community and conversational purpose; they were places that allowed sellers and buyers to share, compare, and write orders, and this was how various industries rolled out their stuff. That function became irrelevant quite some time ago, obviated by the Internet and the real-time nature of business relationships (i.e. any moment of every business day is a trade show, of sorts). There's an efficiency to scheduling face-to-face meetings at this or any of the few other surviving shows, but it's certainly not the meaning CES once possessed. Industry schmooze is not a terribly interesting event for the rest of us.   
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  • No authority. Anybody who's been in business for more than a decade remembers the good 'ol bad 'ol days of dealing with journalists; you had to try and influence them, but many had those nagging employment rules and professional standards that made it dicey. Not any more. The "media" covering CES were mostly bloggers and other self-anointed reporters, however, accountable to no objective standards for accuracy, or assurances of objectivity in what they chose to cover. Worse, many of the most quotable bloggers also provide social media consulting to the very brands they supposedly covered at the show. Their personal stylings at the show are no substitute for actual information.
  • No relevance. It's no surprise that an event with no purpose covered by conflicted amateurs (even the real news outlets have to stoop to the same approach) that whatever comes out of it has no real relevance. Trends? Not quite...more like the aspirations of marketers and the willingness to buy it from bloggers. Insights? Er, no, there were no surprises coming out of the show. Reliable or actionable information? Other than product announcements, not so much, and even those often came with squishy timetables.

My gut tells me that CES still exists because manufacturers and distributors don't know what to do instead. Here are three ideas for improving it:

  • Meaning. Why isn't CES an ongoing community that allows various stakeholder groups to interact all year long? This wouldn't blow up the need to meet in-person, but reaffirm its purposes (and maybe create opportunities for more meetings). It could become a true exchange for sellers and buyers, and a resource for everyone else.
  • Authority. Who ya gonna trust when it comes to information on consumer electronics? A Best Buy associate on Twitter? A gadget-loving blogger? Why couldn't CES establish exacting and public standards for information (ratings system, apples-to-apples comparison tools, etc.) that could affirm and correlate product and performance information? CES could skip outsourcing publishing to a mixed bag of folks and produce the content itself, couldn't it?
  • Relevance. The CES event(s) could become showpieces for the latest news coming from its conversations, vetted by the criteria of its standards for truth...think about the uses for this output, from writing news reports to making development and purchasing plans. The world needs more relevant information, and subjective opinion is no substitute for it.

But what did CES tell us this time around? Well, mostly that most manufacturers are going to try and chase Apple with their own tablet computers, and that they have high hopes for mobile devices in general. That's not news, is it? Oh, and apps are popular.


CES doesn't matter.

Image1 by: Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla

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