We don't surf, we walk the Net

New York's Flatiron district has a new name - Silicon Alley - and the first Internet walking tour, writes Tom Standage

According to the West Coast slang that dominates the language associated with the Internet, there are a number of means of travel through the virtual realm. You can surf the Net, you can speed down the superhighway, you can cruise the infobahn. There is no mention of walking.

But visit the East Coast - New York City, to be precise - and that is exactly what you can do, thanks to two business writers who have organised the first Internet walking tour through the city's Flatiron district. Extending from Greenwich Village up to the distinctive Flatiron building, the neighbourhood was abandoned by the business community earlier this century in favour of the more fashionable Midtown area. But it is now home to a sudden flowering of new media businesses attracted by low rents and unconventional spaces. It has even earned itself the distinction of a new nickname: Silicon Alley.

"We thought it would be fun to continue our research of the emerging media community by actually going in person to visit the business owners and entrepreneurs, and to bring a group with us," says Sharon McDonnell, who operates the walking tour with her partner Katherine Cavanaugh. "We also thought it would be a good way to stay on top of what was happening."

Each tour gives a group of about a dozen walkers an inside look at key sites in the Silicon Alley community, and demand has been strong since the first walk took place in July. I joined a tour on a Sunday afternoon, starting at the dx.com Internet Business Centre for an introductory session, before heading off to the new offices of Delphi, via the site where the Panix online service was founded. Next stop was Interactive Imaginations, home of the World Wide Web's "Riddler" site, and the tour finished up in one of New York City's many cybercafes.

"We approach businesses we have heard about that are recognised as being innovators," says Ms McDonnell. "We try to mix it up so that we take you to several different representative businesses in the Silicon Alley community." She evidently has no difficulty in getting the companies in question to open their doors. "Most are flattered that they've been asked," she says. Other companies that have been included on the tour are the multimedia publisher Voyager and the TV production house Curious Pictures.

The people on my tour were as much of a mixed bunch as the companies they were visiting. One young programmer had brought along his family to give them a better idea of the business he was working in. Another was looking for a job in the industry and wanted inside information on her potential employers. Others were just curious about "this Net thing" or were looking for an out-of-the-ordinary day trip.

"It's all kinds of people," says Ms McDonnell. "We get people who've never seen the Web before and know next to nothing - and we get the more technologically savvy people, too. And there are people on the tour, business founders and creators, who can answer their technical questions."

This is perhaps what was most striking about the tour - that despite the variety of the participants, there really was something in it for each of them. The introductory session at dx.com, which started with an explanation of a hypertext link, impressed even the most jaded technophiles by progressing from predictable party tricks - such as downloading samples of Socks the cat from the Whitehouse Web site - to state-of-the-art demonstrations of HotJava, CU-See-Me and QuickTime VR.

The walking element of the tour has gradually diminished as it has become clear where its true attraction lies. "It's become more of a talking thing than a walking thing," says Ms Cavanaugh, "so now there's more talk and less walk." Sometimes the weather is even so hot or cold that "we cheat and take a cab".

The name Silicon Alley was coined by Mark Stahlman of the New York New Media Association (NYNMA), which was founded in October 1994 as a support network for individuals working in new media. "The association is representative of the phenomenal growth of the Silicon Alley area," says Ms McDonnell. "Then it was just a bunch of people meeting in restaurants downtown." It now has more than 1,500 members.

So what, apart from the low rents, is bringing so many companies to Silicon Alley? "A lot of people believe New York is the place to be because of the presence of both the entertainment behemoths and the publishing companies," says Ms Cavanaugh. "Companies can tap the intellectual talent pool of writers, artists and programmers."

Lori Schwab, the NYNMA's executive director, goes even further: she believes the success of Silicon Alley represents a fundamental shift in the industry. "The focus has shifted from the technology to the content, and from the West Coast to the East Coast," she says.

Perhaps this shift will also reduce the West Coast's influence on Netspeak in favour of a more relaxed outlook. Walking is, after all, a much more familiar activity to most people than surfing, and could give rise to Netspeak that is more relevant to non-Californian users. Pottering on the net, anyone?

Silicon Alley Walking Tours: 00 1 212 726 2482.

Travel
travel
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
Sport
sportBesiktas 0 Arsenal 0: Champions League qualifying first-leg match ends in stalemate in Istanbul
News
Jamie and Emily Pharro discovering their friend's prank
video
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Sport
Manchester United are believed to have made a £15m bid for Marcos Rojo
sportWinger Nani returns to Lisbon for a season-long loan as part of deal
News
news
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
O'Toole as Cornelius Gallus in ‘Katherine of Alexandria’
filmSadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Life and Style
fashion
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Junior DBA (SQL Server, T-SQL, SSIS, SSAS) London - Finance

    £30000 - £33000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior DBA (SQ...

    Business Anaylst

    £60000 - £75000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: Business Anal...

    Senior Project Manager

    £60000 - £90000 per annum + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Global leading Energy Tra...

    Associate CXL Consultant

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: CXL, Triple Po...

    Day In a Page

    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
    Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

    But could his predictions of war do the same?
    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

    Young at hort

    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

    Beyond a joke

    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

    A wild night out

    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

    It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
    Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

    Besiktas vs Arsenal

    Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

    The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

    Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment