Talking Points Preview: Early Notes on New York Magazine's "Life is Tweet" Start-Up Guide
Every week, as the clock strikes midnight and Monday begins, New York magazine releases its new issue online. Because the April 26 issue is about the Internet, I went to the corner magazine store and bought it, hours before it's available for free. For some reason, though counterintuitive, that seemed like an important thing to do. The cover reads "Life is Tweet," followed by a teaser line: "A gaggle of young social-media entrepreneurs is turning New York into a hub of blinding techno-optimism." Bold and enticing, especially if you're young, in New York and technologically inclined. How many followers do you have, anyway?
Surely there's no rush -- the piece is bound to dominate a fair percentage of NYC media conversations for most of the coming week -- but many people will acknowledge that a lot of success these days, online in particular, is based on being first. And it's rare that you can hold something before you can click it, so I made the tiny trek and threw down my $5.
[Note: the piece is now online.]
There's a lot to unpack here, both on the piece, and on the medium and the message: an article in a print magazine about the Internet (that more people will probably read online for free), bought in a store to be written up a blog. Wrap your head around that. Or don't, and just check out Runnin' Scared's preview of the article sure to be lighting up all of your Internet feeds come midnight and for the next few days:
1. You Should Read the Prequel
Part-time Gawker culture writer and freelance veteran about town Doree Shafrir, author of this cover story, first touched on this particular technology beat back in December on New York's Daily Intel blog, in a piece entitled, "The Warm-Fuzzy Web." In it, she mused on the positivity of much of today's new web, specifically David Karp's social blogging platform Tumblr, which she saw as contributing to the Internet becoming "a more friendly, and perhaps cloying, place." The piece could be credited with bringing to light the idea of The New Niceness, which picked up steam in the following months. Amid nasty anonymous commenters and cyber bullying, Shafrir's "techno-optimism" takes more of a business bent in her new piece, but she's obviously had her eye on this scene for quite some time. "To spend a couple of months immersed in this new culture of optimism was, mostly, refreshing, if startling," she writes in the magazine.
2. The City is a Playground
It's interesting to read a piece in New York magazine about how local companies are changing the geographical center of technology and the worlds of venture capital and start-ups. For a local, the locations referenced are ubiquitous:
And of course there are the myriad smaller gatherings of 27-year-olds who talk knowingly of series-A rounds and angel investing at places like the Scratcher, the bar on East 5th Street that has seen legions of 27-year-olds come and go, and Destination Bar on Avenue A and 13th Street, which is co-owned by a founder of an online product-development firm called Hard Candy Shell that shares office space with geographical social-networking company Foursquare and the mini bog empire Curbed, in the building on Cooper Square that also houses the Village Voice.
Ah, the incest. That said, the New Silicon Valley is constantly being crowned -- even simultaneously at BarCamp Boston -- but the sheer number of young, big money players makes a convincing case for New York City and the beginnings of its "start-up culture." "The West Coast tech world, for once, was at least sipping New York's Kool-Aid," Shafrir writes of Foursquare's recent California trip. "Foursquare and its brethren are, for the moment, on the cutting edge." Which brings us to...
3. The Players
Highlighted on the cover are social-media start-ups Drop.io, Art.sy, Foursquare, and Tumblr, with Twitter referenced in the headline (more on that in a minute). The other companies highlighted and photographed -- in various states of high-five, rope-swinging, head-standing, ladder-climbing or lounging -- include Mile Wise (still invite only), Boxee, Aviary, Venmo, Blip.tv, Hot Potato, Instinctiv, Hunch, SpeakerText, AnyClip, Meetup (the oldest company, launched 2002), Go Try It On, Kickstarter and Yipit. Whew. Get familiar. (Side note: notice how many are two syllable names.)
4. These Are Your Friends, or Your Friends' Friends...
Or they're you. If this piece is of any interest to you, the amount of converging New York City worlds it covers means that it's bound to mention a friend, an acquaintance or at least that bar on your block. Hitting close to home for the interconnected class will certainly help give this piece legs. (Fred Wilson, NYU's ITP school, Clay Shirky, and more all make appearances, in addition to the bars and people already mentioned.)
5. How About Some New Puns, Editors?
The last New York story about Twitter, in February of 2009, punned on the same word for its headline, "How Tweet It Is." Did they think we wouldn't remember? Or Google it?
6. It's a Boy's World, Still
Of the 53 entrepreneurs photographed, only 6 are women. According to the New York Times, women create only 8 percent of venture-backed tech start-ups.
"Men refer men," says Elizabeth Stark, a Yale professor of law and technology. "So if we just keep it status quo, for all the reasons defined in these self-reinforcing networks, they will stay self-reinforcing with the white, geeky, male, Stanford/Harvard-dropout types." Shafrir offers a list of female exceptions, but the point, and its long-term implications, stand. "I mean, I don't know what the problem is," Fred Wilson says.
7. The Bottom Line is the Bottom Line
Along with each company's photograph is a mini-profile including founders, "what it does," date launched and, most notably, "business model." Obviously, that will determine not only the lifespan of these companies, but ultimately whether they're seen as successes or failures. This weekend, the LA Times spoke with Tumblr creator David Karp about that very issue, highlighting the money quote, "We're pretty opposed to advertising." Expect countless blog posts on this aspect of the piece in the coming days. Wilson, your move.
8. The "H-word" Makes an Early Appearance
You could see it in Karp and Crowley's eyes, but it's written in there just in case you missed it:
Foursquare is essentially an urban network of hipsters, their favorite haunts, their favorite food and drinks -- a marketer's dream, in other words.
Frustrating or not, Shafrir's right on: Hipsters are not necessarily just a media boogeyman; they're a demographic to sell to. She goes on: "While consumerism is at the core of the business model for many of these start-ups, that's only part of the point." It's about the "rising generation," but it's also about their wallets.
8. There's a War Going on Outside
And it's against the Old Guard. "Here we were schlepping around, protecting the power of gatekeepers and publishers and Barry Diller," says Meetup founder Scott Heiferman. "Fuck that. We really have to look at ourselves -- the Internet is reinventing and rejiggering everything. We need to see ourselves as making a new New York." And that spirit's contagious.
From art to fashion to food to music, it's all here. It's exciting and it's available and now, it has a fairly comprehensive, definitive piece chronicling these companies at a crucial moment: The money has flooded in and some investors are beginning to get antsy. Dollars are next. The iPad has landed and our world -- online and off -- is shifting. But for these companies to be seen as successes, they'll have to make Shafrir's piece seem outdated and fast -- a relic of a moment before they exploded and changed everything. Read it while it's relevant and remember it moving forward.
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