Boston.com ran a story yesterday by the AP about New York’s surging tech sector, and it reminded me yet again of a fundamental confusion in how the startup world (and the press) talk tech. This isn’t anyone’s fault, but it’s worth pointing out. New York is indeed experiencing a tech boom, but not across all sectors.

The problem is that ‘tech’ can mean two different things (or really an infinite number of things) and people aren’t usually careful about explaining what they’re talking about. Lots of people use ‘tech’ to refer to software and internet related technologies, while others use ‘tech’ to refer to a much wider range of technology categories.

I’m in the latter group. But this becomes quite important if you want to talk about New York becoming the new hot ‘tech’ market on the East Coast. If you’re talking about software and internet, that’s totally true. If you’re talking about other sectors, it gets more complicated.

Here’s a quick snapshot of New York (state) vs. Massachusetts in Q3 2012 deal activity, via CB Insights:

This is just the most recent quarter, but I’ve been watching this basic effect all year. New York is seeing huge activity in Internet and Mobile by CB Insights’ categorization. In other words, in software + internet. Boston/Massachusetts has a much more balanced ecosystem, with huge strength in healthcare and, until recently, in energy. And of course we have a growing robotics cluster as well.

Neither of these is better or worse, but it’s important distinction to make. New York’s tech boom is real but narrow. Boston’s continued tech strength is real and broad.

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