This is a draft of the talk I’ll give at the 140conf tomorrow at 9AM.
My little story begins in Silicon Valley — in 1979 — 31 years ago.
I went there with an idea and some software. The idea was that computers could be used by normal people as a creative tool. And that creating software was itself a creative act. Both of these ideas were considered way out there at the time, but I wasn’t the only one who believed this. The other people who did were clustered in an area of California with romantic names like Sunnyvale, Mountain View and Los Gatos.
I had visions of small communities in an idyllic climate with people who all knew and helped each other. I was young and idealistic! When I got there, I quickly found my place. I pitched my product at Apple, then a company with about 100 people, and they sent me down the street to a company in Sunnyvale that was publishing the first spreadsheet. Later I started my own company to publish the outlining software I was working on and we became rich and famous in the first boom of the Macintosh when we had one of the most successful creative tools on the platform. The vision I came to Silicon Valley with had become reality! The Macintosh and our idea processing software were the ultimate tools for creative thinkers. This happened in the space of a few short years.
I started another company, but this one got mired in the land of big tech companies. Eventually another opportunity came up, another great vision — and we were able to restart the company and out of that came ideas that led to this conference we’re at here: blogging, podcasting, RSS — and that’s why I have the honor of speaking to you this morning.
I was born in Brooklyn, many years ago. I was raised in Flushing, spent my formative years playing baseball and going to Shea Stadium. I went to Bronx Science before leaving New York to go to college in 1973. I am, in my blood, a New Yorker. Always have been and I guess I always will be.
I came back in 2010 because, now, it’s the right place for me to be.
I bring with me all that I’ve learned about technology and publishing, and lots of experience in the tech industry, and after saying Hello to my native city (Hello!) I have something else I want to say.
New York is, among other things, the center of the media industry. I think it will be that for a long time to come. And that industry must make the transition to the new communication technology. And it must do so with abandon — without knowing in advance what the business models are.
Ten years ago I gave a talk at a conference in Switzerland where I told the publishing industry that it must jump out of the airplane, without a parachute. I’m here in NY, ten years later, saying the same thing.
On the way down, with the ground rushing up to meet you, you’re going to have to learn how to fly. Or else suffer the consequences.
The media industry must embrace the change the way a Silicon Valley startup with nothing to lose embraces change.
It must embrace change the way a European vintner embraced change when Napa Valley came along. Like gaslight makers at the advent of electricity. There’s a new way to distribute information. Media is all about distributing information. Be media mavens, follow your love for news, and build the best news systems you can make, now, without fear.
There’s a simple reason for this — you can’t understand how a new system works until you use it, until you immerse yourself in it. And you can’t use it until it exists. So the first thing you must do is create the news system of the future. Then you must depend on the universe being fair, and the users’ greed for the latest stuff. We can find a way to make it pay. But only when we understand it. And understanding comes with experience. And there is no experience until you can use it.
That’s why the startups of New York are so precious. Tumblr, Foursquare, bit.ly, gdgt, drop.io, Gawker, Boxee, Etsy, Hot Potato, Bug Labs, Hunch. These companies are not only incubating ideas that may turn into businesses, they are also developing New York-based human capital. Experience has shown that the next generation of startups will be born in the previous-generation startups. So by concentrating inteligence here, the network can develop and new ideas can develop, around the realities of a changing media business, which is a very different perspective from that of Silicon Valley.
That’s why it’s important that New York not think of itself as an outpost of the tech industry. It is something unto itself. The goal of the new media industry is to create the news system of the future. Not to exist as an appendage to Silicon Valley’s vision of that.
I have chosen to move back to New York because this is where I want to be. The people I want to work with are here. The mission of New York is closer to my mission than Silicon Valley’s.
So all I wanted to say is Hello and it’s great to be back!