Virtual trade shows haven't replaced the original, but they can make navigating the real thing easier on your feet.
Sometime over the next couple of weeks, the most popular event at PC Expo and New York's weeklong TechXNY trade show won't be on the convention floor, or even in Manhattan. It will take place in cyberspace.

That's where almost all of the high-technology trade show's 85,000 attendees will first visit the show. Long before they show up at the Jacob Javits Center on the city's West Side, they'll log on via the Internet to a virtual floor show and explore virtual exhibitor booths.

"We know the attendees have only a limited amount of time, so we want to help them use it the best way they can," says Jennifer Pataki, manager of trade show and event marketing for Palm Inc., the hand-held computer manufacturer that is building a virtual booth at PC Expo for the second consecutive year. "We want them to see what we have before they get there, so we don't waste their time."

That's the mantra for virtual exhibitions. They're not designed to replace the live event, but to make it better for potential customers, by allowing them to use their time at the show itself more efficiently and productively.

Virtual exhibits have become an integral part of trade shows across the U.S., with three out of five of the 12,188 shows in North America allowing online registration, and one in five featuring some sort of cyberspace convention hall. This is a far cry from five years ago, when conventions and trade shows were terrified that this sort of faux reality - which was cheaper for attendees to go to, since they didn't have to leave their office - would put them out of business.