Online, they used to say, content is king. But anyone who visited the Internet World trade show in New York City last week could see that's a lie. Downstairs, in the peasant quarters of the Javits Convention Center, lots of struggling Web publishers huddled in drab booths and unadorned stalls, lonely as Maytag repairmen. Who among them could afford to rent a place on the ground floor?

Upstairs, the digital aristocracy was on parade. IBM, Compaq, the company formerly known as Bell Labs. There was Microsoft in a sprawling "pavilion," surrounded by legions of loyal affiliates. Next door, Sun Microsystems occupied...

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