Multi-Media Gulch: Once you know it's happening, you begin to spot the evidence. The first clue was the 40 per cent rise in rents. Then came the ads in the computing section of the hip weekly freebie the Guardian asking for "Net Masters and Mistresses. Must be proficient in Yahoo!" Finally flyers began to appear in the coffee shops highlighting techno- vids, sonic soundblaster club nights and a digital film season instead of the usual jazz and blues evenings.

There's a new buzz in San Francisco. It's part creative energy, part economic boom. The city is experiencing its second Gold Rush and it's all taking place in SoMa, formerly South of Market now known as Multi- Media Gulch. Thousands of young techno-wizards are moving to San Francisco (hence the rent rises) to become part of a mushrooming Internet industry. Around South Park between 4th and 5th Streets, an area which was once basically a slum and home to a few intrepid creative types, hundreds of start-up companies are taking over the warehouses and searching for wealth on the World Wide Web.

South of San Francisco is Silicon Valley, home of the big boys in computing like Apple and Adobe. MultiMedia Gulch is to Silicon Valley what Red or Dead is to Calvin Klein. This is the computer industry fringe, home of Wired magazine and companies which produce on-line publications, music, web pages and videos. With one fifth of Web Pages sporting San Francisco's 415 telephone area code, SoMa easily outweighs New York's Silicon Alley, Siliwood in LA and Boston's The Hub. That's why thousands of young "computer artists" are heading West.

They congregate in South Park in the aptly named Caffe Centro, indeed the centre of it all. What Haight Ashbury once was to the Hippies of the 1970s, South Park is to these "radical geeks". The crowd is distinctive to say the least. They have reclaimed nerdhood and made it their own. Among the men, goatees and thick-rimmed glasses are big, so is the Joe Ninety look. The women shop at Urban Outfitters where they buy the sort of brown wraparound cardigans and zig-zagged nylon dresses that anyone over 30 was forced to wear as a pre-teen.

Kim (early Madonna but with dark brown lipstick) arrived from San Diego last week and designs web pages which she'd "do for free because this is just a great scene". With the average age of new arrivals just 25 - when they're not working, they're partying. Thursday night is usually a theme evening at Cyborganics, Kim explains. Or there are the Whole Earth office parties and the supersonically cool Anon Salon, where Kim met people IRL (in real life) who she'd known via computer for months.

But are they rich yet? Kim's lunch partner Doug says confidently that they will be, because although they earn a pittance they have both taken share options in the tiny company. Look at Netscape, he says, referring to the web search engine which started it all and made a millionaire of its creator. But doesn't the arrival of giants Microsoft on the block cause concern that the free-spirited creative community could disappear overnight? Kim and Doug look bored already. Why don't I come to a party tonight? Where is it? Http://www.cyber ...