Tag Archives: San Francisco

Virtual worlds are birthed by real cities

How Burrowing Owls Lead To Vomiting Anarchists (Or SF’s Housing Crisis Explained)

I just read this very long and absolutely brilliant article (from which the above photo is lifted) on the housing crisis in San Francisco, in TechCrunch of all places. It’s completely worth it from the housing policy, governance, or simply good journalism angles, but it also had this very interesting bit to say about the intersection of tech and cities:

But the big wave [of Silicon Valley activity] of the last decade has been social networking. And every notable consumer web or mobile product of this wave has been seeded through critical mass in the “analog” world. Facebook had university campuses. Snapchat had Southern California high schools. Foursquare had Lower Manhattan. Twitter had San Francisco. These products favor social density.

An even newer generation of startups addresses distinctly urban questions. Airbnb exists because in 2007, San Francisco didn’t have enough hotel capacity to house visitors in town for an industrial design conference. Uber exists because the city’s taxi market was under-supplied with drivers and smartphones offered a new way of summoning transportation on demand. Then there are very young startups like Campus, which is like a venture-backed communal living movementLeap Transit, which is trying to shake up scheduled transport, or any of the companies out of Tumml, an urban ventures incubator.

People have been trying to figure out the connection between the virtual and physical worlds since at least Bill Mitchell’s 1996 book City of Bits, and this link between particular social media and particular physical environments is one I haven’t seen before. We already know great cities can be tremendously different – Paris and Seattle? Tokyo and Edinburgh? – but it’s interesting to think about how different kinds of cities might birth different kinds of social media. Perhaps physical places leave shadows on the web, after all.