Launching a tech company has changed since the last dotcom bubble. These days, you don’t even need an idea anymore to catch the attention of the Silicon Valley in-crowd; simply being part of the right "scene" is enough. But even that scene is now becoming optional, as New York starts to eclipse Silicon Valley as the go-to place for tech talent.
This idea has been burbling around in op-eds, blogs, and articles for a while. But this map of New York’s tech companies, created by the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, Internet Week NY, and the New York Tech Meetup, makes this trend visible. According to this interactive map, over 800 "NYC tech companies are hiring" and over 100 are clustered around the Union Square area of Manhattan alone.
As a piece of well-designed buzz marketing, the Made in NYC map is a slam dunk. (Watch out, Palo Alto--New York looks like it could beat you up for your lunch money!) Even better, it’s actually useful: If you’re a job seeker with a skillset that’s tangent in any way to some kind of "digitalness," you can probably pick any NYC neighborhood or industry you like and find a company with a friendly "We are hiring!" badge on the map.
Granted, there’s a certain vacuousness in this map: When every NYC-based company that uses the Internet or data in some way counts as a "digital company," the label is essentially meaningless. "Is a company that has staff members with 'programmer’ or 'engineer’ in their titles a technology company?" asks Alex Payne, CTO of Simple. "Are they a technology company if their founder was using a laptop when she came up with the idea for the business?" It’s hype, basically. "People equate technology with growth: societal, cultural, and economic," Payne tells Co.Design. "That makes technology"--even just the word itself--"a good lure for capital, talent, and passion."
Which, of course, isn’t a bad thing. If hyping NYC’s "digitalness" helps more innovators like The Atavist, Tumblr, Adafruit Industries, and Codecademy set up shop here and attract the talent they need in order to grow, what’s the downside? "Digital" or not, good companies will thrive by "resolving market failures and social injustices, not just leveraging a new technology or making fast money," Payne says. In other words, the missions and actions of these organizations will define them in the long term (if there is a long term), not some mostly vestigial label as a "technology" company.
In fact, framing the activity of these companies as a map (instead of, say, a press release) gets its most important message across perfectly: Location matters. You may not need a clear vision to launch a startup anymore, and you probably don’t need Silicon Valley. But you do need a community--that is, like-minded people mixing and meeting in the same physical places. Whether "tech company" meaningfully describes each member of this community or not, the point is that in New York, right now, that community exists. Not on paper, not in the vaporous explanations of trendy blogs, but in the real world, in brick and mortar and flesh and blood. The Made in NYC map is an affordance for the idea that people innovate here. Is it b.s., the new world order, or something in between? Only one way to find out--pick a spot on the map and go see for yourself.