Space Needle Envy: A Bostonian’s Ode to Seattle

“Only one is a wanderer. Two, together, are always going somewhere.” It’s one of my favorite lines from my favorite movie—Hitchcock’s Vertigo—and now it’s true of Xconomy. By introducing our Seattle site this week, we’ve become a real network. Adding Seattle to our original Boston presence gives us the chance to show that the original idea behind the company—to create a series of hyperlocal technology news sites, each committed to covering the innovation scene in its community, but together building a broader understanding of the way technology is shaping the modern economy—has the legs to go somewhere.

Seattle's Space NeedleWe could not be happier about our starting position in Seattle. To handle our coverage there, we were fortunate enough to be able to hire top-notch journalists Greg Huang, an old friend and Technology Review colleague with his very own PhD in electrical engineering and computer science, and Luke Timmerman, a veteran life sciences reporter who’s even more famous among the West Coast biotech set than we thought. But as we worked to help Greg and Luke get set up in their Pill Hill office and launch the Seattle pages, I couldn’t help feeling a tinge of envy over the adventure they’re beginning.

Seattle is not only a culturally sophisticated and visually stunning city, but a fantastic place to write about the business of science and technology. (Which is why we picked it, of course.) The city seethes with innovation; it seems powered equally by caffeine and new ideas. Speaking personally, I see it as one of about three places in North America with enough big technology companies, cool startups, great research hospitals, great academic institutions, and tech-focused venture investors to keep me happily busy as a technology journalist (the other two being Boston and the San Francisco Bay area).

The fact that the Seattle software economy has not one but at least three major “anchor” companies—Microsoft, Amazon, and RealNetworks—makes a huge difference. A tech writer could easily spend a year simply chronicling the array of Pacific Northwest startups led by executives who cut their teeth (or made their first fortunes) at one of those three outfits. Recent examples include Pelago, maker of a combination friend-finder and mobile travel application called Whrrl; RSS software company Attensa; health-oriented social networking site Trusera (which Greg has already profiled); mobile search and advertising company Medio Systems; mobile applications developer Webaroo; online real-estate value estimator Zillow; real-estate search site Redfin; Imperium Renewables, a biofuels developer; HDTV DVR maker Digeo; and video search provider Delve Networks (known until last week as Pluggd), to name just a few. In the gone-but-not-forgotten category, there’s the once-popular personalized newspaper service Findory and voice-over-Wi-Fi company TeleSym. There are also plenty of older, more established, but still interesting companies that basically orbit one of the three anchor companies, such as Bellevue, WA-based embedded Windows software maker BSQUARE.

There’s another related category of companies and organizations around Seattle—you might call it the Microsoft Aura. These aren’t Microsoft spinoffs exactly, but they are definitely part of the software giant’s legacy, and are an indispensable part of the Seattle area’s economy and culture. There’s the radical Bellevue-based software engineering venture Intentional Software, headed by Charles Simonyi, the former head of Microsoft’s applications software group; the “invention factory” Intellectual Ventures, also in Bellevue, and founded by former Microsoft CTO (and current Xconomist) Nathan Myhrvold; the Seattle-based image licensing company Corbis, owned by Bill Gates himself, which controls the digital rights to a good fraction of the world’s … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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