Destroying the Silicon Valley

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For some time now, I’ve wondered if my destiny is to destroy the Silicon Valley. I grew up here, the weather is nice, but I’ve watched it change time and again into a massive marketing function too expensive to live in.

Pascal Zachary opines in the Times that When it Comes to Innovation, Geography is Destiny. An apparent fact is that the Valley picked it self up after the crash and some innovations have borne fruit for us to relish. In his research he visited Estonia, which is as cool, or at least as cold, as you can get. But his take away is that Estonia, Finland and Iceland were blindsided by the penultimate innovation, Google. Nevermind Skype, I suppose. But his point is true in a MSM or Wikiality kind of way, we believe we are the center of the innovative universe. A great mashup pit in the sky.

You can’t argue that the interpersonal Silicon Valley cross pollinates within a culture of sharing, and the result is fantacular. But half of what makes this work is our ability to collaborate in creating something new, but the other is how we can bring it to the world as an edge that cuts across. Look, we kick the world’s ass in marketing technology, so much so you expect it. If it comes from here, odds are you will be a fan. Until favor tips to a new marketing engine the valley will remain.

But innovations brought to market really could happen everywhere and nowhere.

A cluster of technologists could not only innovate elsewhere, but perhaps have an edge on the Vally. An optimal social network structure is a dense core and dynamic periphery. A group of close collaborators experimenting at the margin of what they do. Informed by changing ideas and people from as far as possible. We have this all here. We have the collaborative dynamic. But while face-to-face is the greatest bandwidth, new collaborative models will test the establishment.

Commercial open source business models, for example, can base a company’s capital formation and marketing function in the Valley, but benefit from a dynamic periphery open to participation. Skype did something similar with management and marketing in a capital center and development in a periphery of expertise. Many a startup leverages the rest of the world, but while the Valley takes credit for pipelining it really is everywhere already.

So what I’m really interested in is how and if the promise of remote collaboration will undermine the Valley’s lead. Today 85% of workers collaborate remotely. Business models like the above embrace. If Socialtext does its job it, innovation can happen despite geography and with mass collaboration.

We had an all hands meeting here this week, bringing together the 2/3rds of the company that work from their far flung homes to collaborate face-to-face (F2F). Christine covers the innovations that happened in our open to the public Wikithon. This was one mechanism to cross-pollinate our distributed culture with the locals. Large companies do so through executive tours of innovative companies that I host occasionally with dubious effect. F2F is part of the answer. Ideally you form some bonds for remote and more effective collaboration, but at the least you know who the voice on the conference call or handle in IRC is. Remote collaboration is more efficient, but if not paired with F2F it is not as effective.

The counter increasingly effective remote collaboration is how the Valley upleveled the F2F advantage. Open Space methodology, Barcamps, Co-working, Wiki Wednesday, Upcoming and Eventful discovery and other ad-hoc easy group forming mechanisms have more people meeting and sharing than ever. Here, but the models themselves have been shared (Barcamp is global by now).

The contrarian in me says there is opportunity elsewhere. Perhaps it is in combination with here as I’m exploring now, but if you aren’t here god bless you because it is too crowded and you may be better off for your next big thing.

But if you want to destroy the advantage of the the Valley, work in the collaboration industry.


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About the Author

Ross Mayfield is CEO and co-founder of Socialtext, an emerging provider of Enterprise Social Software that dramatically increases group productivity and develops a group memory.

He also writes Ross Mayfield’s Weblog which focuses on markets, technology and musings.

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