- The Washington Times - Monday, March 19, 2001


If, in some strange "Left Behind: The Movie" type of scenario where one had been "raptured" away from planet Earth for the past two months, only to return for the Spring Internet World show here, you'd still be able to discern a marked change in the high-tech industry.

Gone, at this year's event, was any vestige of the hype and hoopla, the endless optimism that surrounded anything with a "dot-com" attached to its name. The money isn't flowing from venture capitalists like water; there isn't the army of start-ups eager to sell cinderblocks on line.

Instead, like a bunch of sailors back on ship after two days of liberty in Manila, there's a fair amount of sobering up on all fronts. Some of it has a positively funereal cast: the Upside Spring Preview 2001, sponsored by a "new economy" magazine at the swank Beverly Hills Hotel looked more like a wake this year than anything. The usual press was in attendance, but the number of companies present seemed to have been cut in half. Optimism was greater in the hotel's famed Polo lounge, where many of Hollywood's elite gather for a drink or a bite.

Three firms and their products did stand out, at the Upside event however. Fairfax-based Audiopoint offers "voice portals" for businesses that want to add speech recognition and interaction to their phone systems, taking content from the Internet and making it audible. They have a free service (888/38-AUDIO) offering news and information, and it's also a demonstration site for potential customers. Details of the firm's services are also on line at www.myaudiopoint.com.

PrinterOn Corp., a Canadian company, has an interesting premise for its Web-based service: you can, they claim, print from any Internet-enabled computer or wireless device to any printer that's also connected. The service is called PrintWhere, and builds in a global directory of printers, a "universal" printer driver and routes jobs to the proper spot.

It sounds interesting and rather cool. Let's say you're a sales person, visiting a client's office or home. You work up the deal on your wireless handheld device, select an option or two and, boom, the contract prints out on their machine, ready for signature. That would impress some folks, to be sure.

Perhaps the most promising company at the Upside soiree was 2ce Inc. of King of Prussia, Pa. The firm's initial product, CubicEye, lets you put a series of three-dimensional cubic views on your computer screen, say five different Web pages (or applications) at a time. You can pivot among the views, zoom in on a page and so forth. It's a way, I guess, to view more information at a single time, or to more easily switch among applications. The beta version available now at www.2ce.com will only work as a multifaceted Web browser; a commercial release will let you perform the same magic on different applications. It's worth investigating, I believe; my own trial gave me a new perspective on how computers can display information.

The following night saw the Internet:Press event at the Regal Biltmore downtown, last noted as the place where Democrats feared mass riots during their 2000 convention. Here, the mood was a bit more buoyant, the crowd of press larger.

Among those pushing their wares was, surprisingly, the U.S. Postal Service, which has a host of e-commerce items including one that'll print and mail letters for you. The USPS, a quasi-governmental corporation that doesn't receive taxpayer money, is edging more and more into business areas it once shunned, such as electronic bill paying. They believe the confidence people have in the Postal Service (much-maligned, it is perhaps the world's best, certainly for the territory covered) will translate into cyberspace. Information on their e-services is on line, of course, at www.usps.com.

For those looking beyond American shores, AsiaBooster.com is a Hong Kong-based start-up that claims to provide everything in terms of staff, support and most important local know-how to companies seeking to enter the Asian marketplace. Given the rockiness of America's stock market (you weren't "Left Behind," gentle reader, now, were you?) and the nascent recovery in Asia, it might be an opportune moment to explore that realm.

• Write to Mark Kellner in care of The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; send e-mail to [email protected], or visit the writer's Web page, www.kellner2000.com. Talk back live to Mark every Thursday from 8 to 9 p.m., Eastern time, on www.adrenaline-radio.com.

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