Life is serene on he "Silicon Canal," aka as the Lake Washington Ship Canal
Isn’t life just grand on the wonderful “Silicon Canal,” aka as the Lake Washington Ship Canal. Photo: Daniel Ramirez

We don’t live near Panama, nor do we commute by gondola.

That’s why I was left scratching my head after reading a report in StateTech magazine about emerging tech hubs that referred to Seattle as … “Silicon Canal.”

WTF. Silicon Canal?

I’ve covered the tech beat in Seattle for 15 years, and in that period you know how many times I’ve heard people utter the phrase Silicon Canal?

Zero. Zip. None.

Nonetheless, here I am reading a story about Seattle, aka Silicon Canal. The author writes:

Silicon Canal — Seattle

Seattle, which is situated on the Lake Washington Ship Canal and also referred to as the Silicon Sound, is well known for its technology companies. Amazon and Microsoft are both headquartered in Seattle, along with Starbucks, which caters to caffeinated techies with mobile payments and free Wi-Fi. The Fremont neighborhood is a niche of the Seattle tech scene and houses offices for Google, Adobe, GettyImages, Cray Supercomputers, Boeing, Nintendo and a number of smaller companies.

Wow. There are so many things off base in those three sentences, I am not even sure where to begin.

Fremont, the Center of the Universe.

First, while the Lake Washington Ship Canal certainly bisects a portion of the city, the man-made structure is by no means the defining geographic point of interest. The city is “situated” on Elliott Bay, which flows into the much larger Puget Sound, which dumps into the Pacific Ocean. (End of geography lesson).

Furthermore, in addition to no one referencing Seattle by the nickname of Silicon Canal, no one here calls it Silicon Sound, either. It’s technically a better name, but no one, thank God, uses it. Ever.

Referencing the city by either would cause Seattle geeks to laugh out loud so hard, they might spew a pint of Jolly Roger out their nose.

Now, I’ll let the reference to Microsoft being based in Seattle slide. (Technically, the company is headquartered in Redmond about 20 minutes east of downtown Seattle).

But I can’t let StateTech get away with their description of Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood — the true Center of the Universe and the new home to GeekWire. Yes, Google and Adobe have offices in Fremont, a stone’s throw from the ship canal. But Boeing’s operations are largely in Everett and Renton, nowhere near Fremont. Cray is based in downtown Seattle. Nintendo of America is located in Redmond (see earlier geography lesson) and Getty Images moved out of Fremont two years ago, leaving for the International District.

Fremont certainly is a thriving mini tech hub, but the anchor tenant is data visualization powerhouse Tableau Software.  No mention of that here.

Frankly, as I’ve noted in the past, I find the entire “Silicon _______ (insert quirky geographic feature of your city)” just plain stupid. I was always proud of the fact during the dot-com bubble days — the height of these idiotic nicknaming trends — Seattle, for the most part, stayed out of the fray.

We were (and are) Seattle. That’s good enough. Furthermore, there’s only one Silicon Valley. Period.

I am proud to be part of Seattle’s tech community, and excited about GeekWire’s new home in Fremont. I just didn’t know until today that we were lucky enough to pick a location along the Silicon Canal!

Thanks to Isaac Alexander for pointing out the StateTech piece.

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  • Thomas R.

    Silicon Sound.

  • RunTheNumbers

    It’s a devices and services world going forward, right? How about we drop the silicon reference entirely and substitute the term “digital”.

  • Blinknone

    Ok everyone, next time you’re next to John make sure to say “Silicon canal” in a loud voice.. It’s the new catch phrase.

  • Vroo (Bruce Leban)

    The idea of calling Seattle “Silicon Canal” is beyond crazy. The defining geographic characteristic of the region is Puget Sound and Lake Washington, not a canal. You can’t talk about the Seattle tech scene without including the Eastside (of Lake Washington, that is). Maybe he didn’t look at a map and thought Lake Washington was a canal?

    But you muddy the discussion with Seattle myopia:

    “Now, I’ll let the reference to Microsoft being based in Seattle slide. (Technically, the company is headquartered in Redmond about 20 minutes east of downtown Seattle).”

    Huh? There’s nothing to let slide here. The term “Seattle” means “Greater Seattle area” in this context and I know you know that. Imagine people thinking only Seattle-the-city is Seattle: they can’t visit because no major airlines fly into Seattle. (Only tiny Kenmore air services the Seattle airport.)

    “We were (and are) Seattle. That’s good enough.” Only if you include all of us.

    • johnhcook

      Bruce, I let it slide because I agree with you, and that’s why I wasn’t making a huge deal about the point that Microsoft is based in Redmond. We too see this area as the Seattle region — from Everett to Tacoma and Bainbridge Island to Redmond.

      We cover it that way, and for our many readers outside of the region, we often refer to companies that are based in Redmond or Bellevue or Kirkland as being from the Seattle area.

      As I said, I didn’t want to get too caught up on that point as the Eastside vs. Westside debate is unimportant. But there were so many inaccuracies of geography in the report, I at least wanted to mention it.

  • patroclus1

    Silicon Rain Forest

  • Guest

    John, is this 1998? We don’t need a “Silicon X” nickname for every city.

    You might also note that “Silicon Canal” is longer than “Seattle” is, making it a poor nickname.

    In conclusion, just say “Seattle.”

    • johnhcook

      Agreed! I’d love to see all Silicon-oriented nicknames eradicated….

  • Tom Leung

    Maybe we should refer to the Bay Area as Overpriced Seattle ;-)

  • FrankCatalano

    I recall that “Silicon Forest” has repeatedly been attempted both in Seattle and Portland. Though it’s still occasionally used, it never really stuck here (in part, perhaps, it sounds like a bad artificial Christmas tree farm). I’m with you: in my nearly three decades of writing/broadcasting about, and being a part of, Seattle’s tech community, I’ve never heard the term Silicon Canal (or Silicon Sound) used. It’s just Sillycon.

  • Mary Branscombe

    No love for Kirkland where Google & Adobe also have offices, to capture ex-softies who don’t want to leave the eastside?

  • Shelley

    John . . . I hope you’re going to send this article to the moron at Slate Tech who wrote all of that. Sorry, shouldn’t call people names, but really, Silicon Canal? What silliness.

  • Gaby Adam

    And Silicon Canal has been a nickname for the tech community in Amsterdam for some time.
    Yep, I know this stuff because I am a Dutch girl myself. My parents were born there. Be well, John.

  • Forrest Corbett

    John, face it, you’re just upset that you got beat on this one. No, not on what the region is called, but that coming up with bogus names for areas is apparently a way to bring attention to your blog.

    Quick, go write something about the “Silicon Isle”… I’ll let you pick where that actually is ;)

  • Brook Ellingwood

    I’m definitely not advocating anything Silicon, but about 10 years ago I used to hear people refer to the Microsoft campus as Silicon Forest. I guess the label fits — when I was parking out there regularly my car began to grow moss.

  • daveschappell

    damn, john — amsterdam beat you to it:

  • BoredReadingYourCrap

    WHO CARES? What a waste of time reading this article…

    • BoredReadingYourCrap lil BRO

      Poop on your face!!!!!!!

  • BoredReadingYourCraps lil BRO

    Shut Up BoredReadingYourCrap, no one likes you. Not even your mom. Well I did bang her. She was total poop!!!

  • Nelson Yong

    Silicon Summit.

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