Monday, June 24, 2013

You Should be Impressed with the Silicon Prairie

Disappointed with Silicon Valley, you should look
to the Silicon prairie. 
As a technologist, you meet lots of people and all of them have an opinion about technology.  Some eagerly embrace the latest gadgets and gizmos; others, still struggle with text messaging and Facebook.  It is also that way in the technology press.  Farhad Manjoo is one of those voices I trust.  He attended the release of a new and improved video service courtesy of Instagram and like McKayla Maroney, he was not impressed.  He even lamented the state of innovation in Silicon Valley.  In this post, I wanted to talk about where the real innovation exists out on the web.

In the United States, technology is clustered around several key geographic regions.  There is the research triangle in North Carolina and then the empire built by Texas Instruments but the real action is centered on New York, Chicago, and San Francisco.  Silicon Valley gets much of the attention today and this enclave of engineers, venture capitalists and visionaries came into being thanks to an odd collection of factors.  Once that community got started, it became synonymous with the promise of technology innovation within the United States.

Since the dot-com boom of the 1990’s, New York has emerged as a technology powerhouse.  This is primarily due to all the media companies, financial firms and book publishers who call that city home.  Big media and big Finance need to get on the web and so they did what they always do when they need talent: they paid big bucks.  This wealthy new cohort of technologists then began to create its own culture of cynical, ink stained wretches who put together web sites for all the major networks, banks and publishing houses.  They also spawned some great blogs and magazines like Slate, Gawker, Wonkette, and Salon.  This cluster of technology was nicknamed Silicon Alley because instead of flashy corporate headquarter, many of these New York firms existed in office suites and lofts which were not prime real estate in Manhattan.

Chicago has a very different technology tradition.  During the dot-com boom, the Chicago Tribune called the Midwest “The Silicon Prairie” and used that moniker for its technology want-ads.  The want ads and newspaper became a victim of Craigslist and the web but the technology environment of the mid-west is alive and well.  Unlike Silicon Valley which wants to changes the world or Silicon Alley which wants to make tons of money.  The Silicon Prairies is focused on infrastructure and doing business better, faster, and cheaper.  It is not sexy or sensation but it is a vital niche.

My company E3 systems is part of this tradition.  Already, we have inventory and warehouse management software.  We also have a big release coming in July which will make fleet maintenance as easy as scanning a bar code.

Farhad, may be depressed about Silicon Valley but if he spends some time on the Silicon Prairie I think he will be impressed with all the innovation quietly taking place.

Until next time.