Scoble is right: Portland deserves more geek cred

Wow. Two Scoble mentions in one week. Who’d of thunk? (For those curious types, the other Scoble mention.)

Aaron Hockley shook me from my travel stupor, highlighting Scoble’s recent post “Israel: A country too far from Mike Arrington’s house” and advising me that the post was “perfect fodder for a Silicon Florist post. ”

He’s right. It is.

Scoble’s post is mostly about Israel. And, honestly, I have to agree with him. I had the opportunity to work with a Portland startup whose development team was in Israel. And I also got to work with some Israeli developers at another not-so-startup gig in Portland.

Scoble nails it. It’s an amazing tech scene over there.

But that’s not why I’m posting.

I’m posting because he also says this:

I’ve started noticing a trend: that the further away a tech area is from Silicon Valley the less respect that area will get…. Do you agree or disagree that people, companies, countries can get the respect and/or tech industry PR they deserve if they are far away from Silicon Valley?

And I can’t even begin to tell you how happy this makes me. How thrilled I am to hear this kind of thinking. You mean, there might actually be something interesting happening in technology outside of Silicon Valley? Do you think?

But, as to his question, that’s a bit more difficult. Because I honestly don’t know. It’s really, really hard to get folks in the Valley to pay attention to folks outside of the Valley.

There is a ton of noise down there. And what’s more, there’s always the potential for face-to-face meetings. There’s real, honest-to-goodness networking. Like the stuff we do around here with Portland Lunch 2.0, Ignite Portland, and BarCamp Portland.

But the access points are entirely different.

Down there, you have access to a bunch of people like Arrington, Scoble, Om Malik, Jerimiah Owyang, Jason Calacanis, Scott Beale… the list goes on and on. Up here? You can only bug Marshall Kirkpatrick for coverage about five to six times a week before he starts getting upset. (Trust me, I’ve tested this limit, time and time again.)

Now, Scoble’s been to Portland before, so I know he’s aware of some of the stuff happening up here. But he’s not here enough. We’re not connected enough.

Down there, there’s more potential:

I’ve noticed this when I visited MySpace: they were so excited when I visited because they say that tech bloggers never visit. I was thinking back to my own experiences. Yes, that’s true. Facebook employees regularly meet up with us at parties and dinners and conferences. We run into MySpace employees far less often. These personal connections turn into stories on blogs.

And yes, while it’s nice and quaint that I try to make sure your projects are getting coverage here on the little ol’ Silicon Florist blog, that’s only going to get us part of the way. And a small part of the way, at that.

Ideally, I’d really like to see Portland getting the credit it deserves—on a regular basis—in more well-read publications, like TechCrunch, Scobelizer, GigaOm, and ReadWriteWeb. And The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the San Jose Merc.

We’re on the right path. And the tide is starting to turn. But there’s still a long ways to go.

I’d be interested in your thoughts on how we can continue to grease the skids. What more can I be doing to help you? What more can we be doing as a community to get the startups here in Portland more of the attention they deserve?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  1. There is a double-edged sword here that I think is relevant. Apologies if it is difficult to express this point, which I will first attempt by analogy.

    Your point can be extended to individual companies, too. The larger and more prominent one gets, the more respect and admiration it gains. Everyone is amazed and envious of Google just as they were of Microsoft pre-1995 or so, GM, IBM etc. Smaller companies want to become these companies, to follow and to learn from them. They want to be partners, and to be acquired by these “leaders”.

    This while those internal to the companies bail for greener pastures for many recurring reasons. Perhaps size makes the organization slower to innovate, thus stifling intellect, and scale leads to onerous process and bureaucracy. Internal politics and unrealistic, bottom-line-driven expectations conflict the heart, mind and morality. Dunno, but it always happens.

    Silicon Valley is that large company, and the celebrities you mention are its fairweather stakeholders. Similar to Wall Street, it is a narcissistic, me me culture of envy, competition and self-motivation. If one company or person does it “right” (read: makes money), then everyone follows suit – in droves. “Serial entrepreneurs”, VCs, gold rush geographic transplants – everyone wants a piece of the flavor-of-the-month, including other cities/countries.

    Similar to world politics, the more an entity “pays attention to you”, the more it wants something from you, but moreso it wants to make you just like it. I guarantee that if Portland, Israel or Sydney got more attention, it would consistently be in comparison to the benchmark – themselves. That would be the intent, to point the finger and say “not invented here, therefore merely cute, interesting and wannabe”. Just as the preserved cultures of the world disallow such attention, visits, imports, consumption and other external influences, so should those unique cities, companies and persons who are ALREADY OK in their own skins. What you are asking for is the extension of the California migration (disclosure: I relocated from California) and the Californication that always comes with it.

    IMO, Scoble’s statements reveal a truth, but do so in a way that preserves the illusion that the “leaders” should be emulated. The next Big Thing will most likely come out of NOWHERE because that is the only place where freshness still lives. I am not proposing that Portland or anywhere isolate itself and otherwise shun “attention”, but I am advocating more cautious consideration of the reasons why that attention is desirable, and what drawbacks it brings. Portland has all it needs; namely, heart and soul, and both seem to be in the right place.

    Your point is not lost in this contrarian viewpoint, for more attention would bring press would bring usage would bring revenues would bring jobs would bring happiness etc. However, that too is a double edged sword, for when filtered through its comparative lens, Silicon Valley and its luminaries are likely to view Portland through rose colored lenses, if you will.

  2. In the last few months I have seen lots of noise in Portland. I think PDX is tech culture is similar to the bay area, its just very small. The few events I have been to people are very passionate and driven. I worked at Web Trends a few summers ago and I got a similar vibe. I think the only problem is that innovators in Portland need to come out of their shell, more oregonians need to start blogging, more people need to start talking about their passions and innovations.
    It is only a matter of time until people start noticing PDX.

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