Six years in the Valley

The Economist’s correspondent in Silicon Valley is moving on. Here’s his valedictory report.

IN 2003, when your correspondent arrived in Silicon Valley, a common response to “How is the Valley?” was “In a nuclear winter.” The dotcom bust had incinerated an entire generation of start-ups. A much-debated essay argued that “IT [information technology] doesn’t matter.” The Valley itself seemed to matter less.

Its geeks were desperately looking for their “next big thing” and minting neologisms (“utility computing”, “the digital home”) in the hope that one might stick. But ordinary people outside the Valley were no longer paying attention. Valley geeks were already hopping onto Wi-Fi hotspots and playing with “smart” phones, but most people were still dialling up to connect to the internet and using mobile phones only for talking. There was some excitement about a fairly new gadget, Apple’s iPod, but nobody suspected that its progeny, in the form of a phone, might one day make the internet “mobile”. Nor did a popular search engine, Google, show signs that it might be a lucrative business, much less a new technology superpower. It was still a world of personal computers, dominated by Microsoft through its Windows operating system.

But towards the end of 2003 two conference organisers, Dale Dougherty and Tim O’Reilly, were brainstorming when Mr Dougherty used the words “Web 2.0”. They immediately realised that the phrase—with its software connotation of a newly released, better and more stable version—had enormous appeal as a rallying cry for the Valley. The Web 2.0 Conference was born, and the first one, in San Francisco in October 2004, created a stir…

Nice piece, which reminds one of how much can happen in a few years. Essentially his stint saw Google rise from an ingenious start-up to a commercial giant.