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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Are web companies all "high tech"?

In a follow-up to the Silicon Valley discussion, I've been cruising around various entrepreneur blogs. One thing that I detect is an assumption that all ventures that make heavy use of the web are "high technology companies".

As a hardcore techie, I'm somewhat annoyed by this idea. As technologies go, the web is fairly mature, and much web infrastructure is based on even more antique technologies like client-server SQL databases (little real changes in the past quarter century), Linux or Windows (both fairly mature in their recent incarnations, and, with Linux, little different in practice than the BSD Unix I used at Berkeley in the early 1980s), and various scripting languages (PHP, Perl, Java, Python, C# and the various .Netisms, etc) that arose in the 1990s. Very few newer web companies, including most "Web 2.0" companies, are doing anything more technically interesting than IT-level back-office application work. The applications themselves are obviously new and involve many technical challenges, but these companies usually aren't creating any primary-level technologies that can be heavily leveraged for IP or barriers-to-competition purposes. Their differentiators are in new business and marketing approaches, not in technology.

This relates back to the "Silicon Valley question". Silicon Valley has a vast pool of advanced tech talent, but it is expensive and probably best deployed in primary technology startups versus web application startups.

That said, there are many other reasons to do a startup in the Valley other than its technologists, especially its startup culture and other professionals with startup experience. But someone doing a startup needs to consider whether their company is truly a technology company or an application company? If they don't, their investors will...

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