Proximity Will Always Matter

promimityMathew Ingram has a post today about the role of proximity in the Web 2.0/internet arena.  He laments that fact that the west coast, and particularly Silicon Valley, seems to be the hub for everything Web 2.0 related.

Mathew’s post was inspired by an article in the New York Times about the need for proximity in business and financial relationships.  The article talked about the many benefits to startups of being near Silicon Valley.

Fred Wilson jumps in to defend the other coast.  Fred lives in NYC, which also has a lot of proximity advantages.  Silicon Valley and the Big Apple arguing about who has more proximity to money is like Halle Berry and Scarlett Johansson arguing about who’s prettier- it’s largely an academic exercise and the loser is still mighty pretty.

To those of us who live in the hinterlands between the coasts, the proximity issue is the 900 lb gorilla in the room.  We can try to ignore it, but it’s always sitting over there waiting for us to capitulate and say the words it wants to hear.

“You know you’re wasting your time,” whispers the gorilla.  “They are never going to let you in the club, because they don’t know you.”

The indisputable fact is that proximity has always mattered, and it always will.  Why?  Because every meaningful business deal depends, at least in part, on relationships.  Granted, technology has significantly reduced the need to travel, but it has not reduced to need to look someone in the eyes.  Technology and cost notwithstanding, I find that most senior executives want to discuss major points of a large deal across the table- not across the country.

And it’s not just business deals.

The music industry is another example.  Technology being what it is, it shouldn’t matter where a new artist lives.  If he is good enough, he should get discovered and become a star.  Nope.  Where you live has a ton to do with your chances of getting the star maker machinery behind you.  No honest person who knows anything about the music business would deny this.

Blogging is another example.  I’ve talked a lot about how hard it is to build a blog if you don’t live in an area where there is an active blogging community.  It’s a lot harder to develop a relationship with someone via cross-blog conversation than it is by showing up at some dinner or event.  And once you know someone in the real world, it’s a lot easier to get included in the conversation.

It’s also harder to ignore someone who you see every week or two than someone in some place you’ve never been who keeps trying to discuss issues with you while you’re busy trading links and inside jokes with the guy a few notches up from you in the Technorati 100.

“Did you say something,” whispers the Gorilla as he mutes the latest last edition of the Gillmor Gang?  “I was listening to Steve Gillmor talk about stupid people and trolls.”

In fact, proximity is probably the most important factor in the creation and maintenance of the caste system that makes the blogosphere so frustrating.  Many of the so-called gatekeepers know each other in the real world.  Some of them have business relationships.  Money or the prospect of money is a recipe for exclusion.  Ironically, so is the human need to belong.

If the rest of us had any sense, we would have long ago banded together and created a rival kingdom.

But it doesn’t happen.  Because of proximity.  We are scattered all over the world.  That, and the false hope of future inclusion, keeps us at the bottom of the hill and the so-called blogging elite at the top.

“Those bloggers you try to talk to are highly incentivized to maintain the state of attention asymmetry,” the gorilla sighs, as he flips through a worn copy of Freakonomics.

Proximity matters.  No matter how much those of us who call out from the wilderness wish it didn’t.

That sound you hear is the rock tumbling back down blogger’s hill.

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