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East Coast vs. West Coast

Two ways of looking of adaptation


From “The Difference Between Living in New York and San Francisco” by Sarah Cooper.

As a New York City-based tech shop, we’re invariably East Coast, but we carry a lot of West Coast thinking. We mingle with a lot of businesses that can be categorized as part of the Old Guard, especially in the media and publishing world. These businesses are continuing to evolve and adapt business models to the new ways of the world: the web, mobile phones, social media, Google and so on.

It’s a strange thing to witness. Over time, the distribution channels that were once owned by these companies have slowly given way to new means of distribution. And with that comes an incredible loss of control. If Google even subtly tweaks its search algorithm 5 degrees to the left, an entire delicately constructed SEO strategy can crumble like a house of cards.

As a result, these companies, some worth billions, carefully watch and react to what happens out of the West Coast. Facebook and Google’s impact on their priorities and agenda can change on a dime.

When Google announced Google AMP, as technologists we nodded with approval. It’s clean, fairly elegant and open source. It also didn’t seem like this massive maze of standards and requirements to get on board. Yet as an agency in New York City, we started to get the calls and hear the whispers:

  • Should we do this?
  • How much will it cost?
  • What should we push down in priority to get this done?
  • What do you think is Google’s long-term plan?

By building a tool like Mercury, we’re able to deliver something that reduces the strategic cost and empowers them to more easily adapt to new technologies. Rather than pausing and wondering if they should re-prioritize around a new thing from Google, they’re given the option to try and onboard without weighing the costs and risks. Mind you, it isn’t a perfect solution but it is an empowering one.

We only have to go back a few years to see another overreaction: the iPad magazine fad. Apple shipped the iPad and told the world that this is how magazines will be delivered in the future…and everyone lost their minds. For $4.99 you get to download a digital magazine that you could “flip” through.

Apple’s Newsstand promised to save the magazine business by letting consumers buy magazines on their iPad. It failed.

It was a disaster. Untold amounts of money were spent on new tools, platforms and training up new skills to ship digital magazines for the iPad, only to see abysmal levels of interest and adoption. Within 18 months, publishers were ducking out and moving on.

The West Coast and more specifically Silicon Valley prides itself in its hunger to disrupt. Implicit in that is a desire to find weaknesses and opportunities in existing businesses that inherit the inevitable baggage of just being around for a long while and working within a status quo.

The East Coast continues to adapt. Some are adapting more effectively than others. Tools like Mercury can ease the pain a little but that just scratches the surface. The true barrier to adoption is breaking institutional muscle memory — habits, customs, mindsets and biases.

It’s probably a bit extreme to consider it a battle between East and West coasts. It’s more like an odd meeting — and mating — of worlds. There may be tension here and there, but ultimately they’ll have to play along.