Silicon Alley no more

It’s been a tumultuous decade and a half for the tech industry here in New York City. Fred Wilson, one of the founders of the NYC VC firm Union Square Ventures, gave attendees here at the Web 2.0 Expo a breezy history of the boom, bust and rebirth of Silicon Alley.

And with that, in keeping with Fred’s wishes, we’ll now strike that term from the lexicon of this blog.

“We’re not an alley,” Wilson appealed. “Let’s bury ‘Silicon Alley.'”

What we are, according to a man who sits in the catbird’s seat when it comes to NYC tech startups, is a reemerging market center with a tech industry whose growth rate is outpacing the Bay Area.

Wilson offered these figures for comparison: In 1995, there were 230 tech startups born from seed money in the Bay Area, compared to 30 in New York City. This year, if the current rate holds, there will be 360 in the Bay Area and 116 in New York.

Wilson hopes that someday New York might be home to something like 70 percent or 80 percent of the number of companies that reside in the Valley’s. But in the two coasts, he finds an important contrast.

“There’s something different about New York from Silicon Valley,” Wilson said. “It’s more about media, it’s about advertising. It’s business.”

This is the first Web 2.0 expo to grace New York. While that has made people like Anil Dash very happy, the organizers were planning for a more hopeful linkage between the tech industry and Wall Street than the recent unpleasantness has afforded them.

Nevertheless, looking back at some of the video clips Wilson showed us from yesteryear, it’s impossible not to feel as if the tech industry has turned a corner, that the pie-eyed frenzy of the late 1990s has given way to a more sober, mature economy. Thanks to the mortgage and credit collapse, the tech bubble isn’t even the grand economic hubris of most recent memory.

So it’s easy now to look back and laugh at clips of Josh Harris’ weird (if prescient) experiments. And of Jason Calacanis telling 60 Minutes that he’d just given a guest lecture at Harvard Business School and advised the students to drop out immediately, and take whatever money they had available and start an Internet company.

Ah, weren’t those the days?

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