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T.R.A.F.F.I.C. East 2008 Review: Domainers Fall Under Disney's Spell During Conference Week in the Magic Kingdom
By Ron Jackson 

The 2008 T.R.A.F.F.I.C. East show in Orlando May 20-24 was different - and despite all of the past success this pioneering conference has enjoyed that is exactly what it needed to be. The formula that T.R.A.F.F.I.C. introduced when they staged the first major domain conference in October 2004 is now being utilized by other promoters and with all of the competing shows spaced no more than 60 days apart "conference fatigue" has started to set in. To combat that, all of the promoters now have to find a way to stand out from the crowd.

Since they were the guys who started it all, it's not surprising that T.R.A.F.F.I.C. co-founders Rick Schwartz and Howard Neu are also the ones forging a new path in an effort to stay ahead of the curve. As they try to reinvent the "traditional" domain show they may pay a price in the short run, but it could well be the smartest strategy for the long haul because it looks like standing pat is no longer going to be a viable option in the conference game.

Rick Schwartz (left) and Howard Neu 
produced a magical week at Disney World
for T.R.A.F.F.I.C. East 2008 attendees.

For Schwartz and Neu, the bad news was that attendance at this show was down considerably from their February show in Las Vegas, south of 300 by most estimates. The good news is that many people who went to Orlando, including me, will tell you that it was the most enjoyable conference they've ever attended. In the short term customer satisfaction may not cover the cost of taking over the entire conference center (and guaranteeing a huge block of expensive rooms) at Disney World's crown jewel - the Grand Floridian Resort. However, those happy campers will create word of mouth buzz, letting people know that someone is hitting the refresh button on the conference scene. I believe that is the prescription needed to cure the current trade show blues. 

A lot of people advised Schwartz and Neu not to go to Orlando in late May. Domainers were used to attending T.R.A.F.F.I.C. East in the fall at an Atlantic Coast resort. Skeptics correctly pointed out that Orlando is hot in late May and Disney World is not a big attraction for the many young single guys who are active in the domain business. They also noted that for those who do have families and would be attracted to Disney, the dates fell before their kids were out of school. 

Brittany Jackson in front of Cinderella's 
May 23 during domainer's late 
night out in the Magic Kingdom.

So what made it such a great week despite all of that? One thing I learned was that a lot of people (again including me) had a misconception about how adult friendly Disney World is for conventioneers today. I only live 75 minutes from the park but my wife and I had not been there since our daughter entered middle school over a decade ago. To us the thrill of Disney World came from the wonder in our daughter Brittany's eyes as she explored the Magic Kingdom

I didn't know about the night clubs and shopping that have grown up on Disney's Pleasure Island. TrafficZ's traditional show party at the Raglan Road Irish Pub (which we will talk about more later) was a riot - one of the best ever. To top it off, we got to experience it through our daughter's eyes again as she made it  to her first domain conference, having just gotten home after finishing her junior year in college.

Several more college age kids were there with their parents too and we all had a fabulous time together as T.R.A.F.F.I.C. delivered in a big way on their promise of a family friendly show. The nice thing is that the young single guys loved it too. 

The brilliant 20-something founder of Skenzo, Divyank Turakhia, went Disney hook, line and sinker, wearing mouse ears just about everywhere he went. Because of that I am now in his debt. After being in a large group that wore various Disney headgear at the farewell dinner Friday night, I was alarmed to find I was the only one still wearing mine when a large group got together to go into the Magic Kingdom for hotel guest only extended hours from 11pm - 2am. Seeing my discomfort, Divyank promptly pulled his mouse ears out of his pocket and placed them on his head. With a great sense of relief I exclaimed  "All right! Now there are two idiots in the crowd!" I'm not sure that was the right way to phrase it, but I now owe Div big time.

Some of the domain "mouseketeers" at Friday night's farewell dinner. (L to R): My new hero 
Divyank Turakhia, Caroline Grant, Ron Jackson, Brittany Jackson, Rob Grant, Diana Jackson, Gregg McNair and Elizabeth Grant (Caroline and Elizabeth are Rob's daughters)

The next morning my daughter commented on what a great night it had been noting "I have never been in a crowd where people ranging in age from 20 to close to 70 had so much fun together."  I know you are saying, "That's all well and good but I thought there were supposed to be some business benefits to going to conferences!"  There were plenty of those too. I have to refer to Turakhia again (he was lit up like a 500-watt halogen bulb all week). Near the end of the show he told me "I thought this show might suck, but it has been a blast and I did some great business deals too!" 

Michael Gilmour (WhizzbangsBlog.com)

Michael Gilmour, the PPC expert who came all the way from Australia expressed similar sentiments on his blog writing "In terms of business T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Orlando was by far the best conference that I've ever been to. Deals were coming left, right and center. Not just small ones but BIG ones! My opinion is that it was a well run event that had some very interesting and thought provoking sessions."

That potent combination of brisk business and loads of fun was the story of the week. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's pick things up from the beginning and give you the grand tour you've come to expect. 

The event got underway with a Tuesday evening cocktail party (May 20). We made the short drive from Tampa to Orlando and reached the hotel shortly after check in time. We had stayed at several other hotels at Disney World but had never been to the

Grand Floridian, which was a revelation. The facility is stunning with classic Victorian architecture, multiple swimming pools (one open around the clock and usually frequented at 4am by a group of insomniac domainers), waterfalls, a private beach, marina, 24-hour restaurant, direct monorail service to the Disney parks, etc. Just a wonderful venue that, at least to my tastes, was the best I've been to at any show.

View from the balcony of our room at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort.


The first story we heard upon arrival was how "lead foot" Sahar Sarid had made the drive from South Florida to the Disney gate in record time, only to get lost inside the complex for an hour and a half while he futilely searched for the Grand Floridian! You wouldn't think it would be hard to find, but locating the narrow road that leads to the resort is a bit tricky. Here's the secret. Ask which road to take when you go through the gate! Worked like a charm for us :-)

Sahar Sarid (at far right above) finally found his way to the hotel where his 
partner Jeff Bhavnanie (far left) and Alina Schwartz helped cheer him up! 
(Photo courtesy of Barbara Neu)

We had plenty of time to change and head down to the cocktail party where many new faces were sprinkled among the old friends. Show organizers said this was the first domain conference for about a third of attendees. They picked a good one. The fact that the crowd was smaller than usual was actually a plus for registrants. It allows you to spend more time networking with specific individuals you might never have a chance to talk to in a crowd of 600. 

(Left to right): Ray Neu, Barbara Neu, Pat Carbonaro and Greg Carbonaro 
at the opening night cocktail party.

The cocktail party wrapped up at 8 on the button so people could move into an adjacent room for Moniker.com's auction appetizer, a no or low reserve sale limited to about 30 domains. That trial run for the main live auction event Friday produced $62,750 in sales despite the short list (DayCare.org was the top name, going for $16,500). 

The first full day of business opened Wednesday (May 21) with welcoming remarks from Schwartz and Neu. Schwartz talked about how the malaise in the general economy would open up some great opportunities to acquire premium assets at below market prices in 2008 as some owners will be forced to sell names they would not put on the market in better times.

Internet Commerce Association Legal Counsel Phil Corwin and Executive Director Michael Collins also spoke during the opening hour. Corwin gave an update on the success the ICA has had in fending off the Snowe bill that threatens all domain owners. While our side seems to have the upper hand in the opening battle, there is still a war to be fought and won that will continue over the next several years.

Collins asked domain owners to get involved with the association as it will take all of us rowing the same direction to fend off the increasing threats to our assets.

The decline in parking revenue has been the hot topic in the industry over the past year so it was fitting that the opening seminar at 11am addressed that 

ICA Legal Counsel Phil Corwin

subject. The panel included Michael Gilmour, Donny Simonton (Parked.com), Jonathan Boswell  (LeaseThis.com) and Jerry Nolte (Domainer's Magazine). Gilmour is a numbers guy who has posted a lot of terrific research and articles on his Whizzbang's Blog. In fact both of the complete Powerpoint presentations he delivered in Orlando have been posted on his blog.

I thought Simonton made one of the most interesting observations of this session. He said that a number of advertisers had told him they were now buying domains outright instead of buying traffic from Google and Yahoo as it was more cost effective in the long run. If that is occurring it would partially explain both the fall off in advertiser bids and the fact that the aftermarket has continued to outperform previous years despite the big falloff in PPC revenue. 

Parking panel members (left to right): Jerry Nolte, Jonathan Boswell
Michael Gilmour and at the podium, Donny Simonton.

As Boswell pointed out, the nice thing about domains is that there are many ways to profit from them beyond PPC. "Domain owners have tons of options," Boswell said. You can raise cash through CPA programs (that pay for each completed sale rather than each click), selling domains, leasing, partnerships and of course full-scale development.

During the lunch break Domain Name Wire founder Andrew Allemann delivered some previously unreleased results from his site's annual survey of domainers. Schwartz and Neu were happy to hear that 60% of DNW's readers picked T.R.A.F.F.I.C. as the top domain conference (more than double the percentage that went to the runner up). 

Survey respondents also picked Schwartz as the most influential person in the industry (outpointing runner up Frank Schilling 27% to 19%). You can see the complete survey results on these and other questions here

Andrew does an excellent job with his site and is a great guy as well. I take a lot of pleasure in seeing the domain media corps (that includes sites like his) that has grown up around this business. It is a sure sign of a healthy, growing industry. We are really blessed to have so many good writers with interesting and insightful points of view covering this space.

Andrew Allemann

After lunch, Rick Schwartz unveiled a fascinating new product, Vertisi, that he has taken an ownership interest in.  In a nutshell the product allows you to apply a special film on any glass surface and turn it into an interactive display (with full web access). Schwartz predicted it would be a billion dollar product and the possibilities for the technology do indeed appear to be endless. We wrote about it from Orlando in our Lowdown section May 22 so check that out for more details.

In the first afternoon informational session a half dozen experts took seats on the dais to talk about the future of parking. The participants included Ammar Kubba (TrafficZ), Divyank Turakhia (Skenzo), Don Ham (HitFarm), Matt Bentley (Sedo), Jeff Kupietsky (Oversee.net) and the afore-mentioned Micheal Gilmour

Kubba said that parking is never going to go away (no matter what Google and Yahoo do) but that it will evolve into a form that will include other monetization methods beyond PPC, including the ability for domain owners to sell their own direct advertising on their landing pages. "That's how we are going to get revenue back up," Kubba said. 

Ham agreed that parking will become a hybrid model and that was the upshot of the whole discussion - all of the participants are working on ways to incorporate multiple revenue sources into the parking model. With PPC revenue down, the parking companies are catching some flack but it is worth remembering that they make more money if you make more money, so they have a vested interested in improving the current model and keeping their client base happy. 


Don Ham (HitFarm.com)

The final seminar Wednesday focused on what is happening with the Snowe bill and how the industry needs to prepare for this and other threats in the future. ICA Legal Counsel Phil Corwin, Nat Cohen (Telepathy.com) and Andrew Allemann (Domain Name Wire) were the panelists. Corwin said the Snowe bill is currently bottled up (partly due to stiff opposition the ICA was able to help rally) but that backers of the bill will keep fine tuning it and trotting it out there in new iterations in an effort to make it easier to get assets away from domain owners without paying for them. This is not the time to fall asleep at the wheel, rather it is a time to arm and prepare for the inevitable next skirmish in the battle.

That was it in terms of seminars on opening day - just three of them - part of T.R.A.F.F.I.C.'s plan to refresh the show model and give people more of what they want and that in a word is "networking". At 5pm the first of two speed networking sessions was held (the second followed the next morning), this one returning to a popular format introduced at T.R.A.F.F.I.C. East two years ago. 

Participants faced each other across tables throughout the hall, with one row moving down a seat every 90 seconds so that everyone got to meet, exchange cards and comments with over two dozen people before the hour ended. You would be amazed how many valuable contacts you can make in those 90-second bursts.

Scene from the speed networking session Wednesday (May 21)

The networking continued at a TrafficZ cocktail party that got the crowd warmed up for the evening's main event - a bus trip to Pleasure Island and TrafficZ's Official T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Party at the Raglan Road Irish Pub. I already commented on this earlier in the article, so I will just reiterate that it was a great party with Irish music, dancing, drinks and great conversation. This is a point where the old adage "a picture is worth a thousand words" proves itself, so here are some scenes from that memorable night out:

It was wall to wall domainers inside the Raglan Road Irish Pub.

Fabulous.com's Michael Robertson learning the finer points of Irish folk dancing.

Taking a break from the action inside (left to right): Michael Bahlitzanakis (BPHG Media), 
Patrick Carleton (Associated Cities), Uri Kerbel (NetRocket), Lonnie Borck (NetRocket), 
Sean Stafford (DNZoom) and Dan Kimball (DNZoom).

Coming up on Page 2

  • The Search for the "Holy Grail" - Developing Domains En Masse

  • Parked.com's Indoor Beach Party!

  • Moniker's Multi-Million Dollar Live Domain Auction

  • Domainers Run Wild in the Magic Kingdom!

  • More Cool Photos and Show Highlights from Thursday & Friday

  • Future Plans for T.R.A.F.F.I.C.

  • Continue to Page 2

Or skip ahead to the T.R.A.F.F.I.C. East 2008 Photo Gallery

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