A WALK THROUGH the meatpacking district in New York City is a lively affair. In the early 1900s, this part of town was known for precisely what its name implies: slaughterhouses and packing plants. At its peak, there were nearly 300 such establishments, located somewhat central to the city and not far from shipping ports. Through the years, this area of town has declined at times, but in the early 1990s, a resurgence began that shows no signs of ending.

Located in some proximity to the fashion district of Manhattan, the Meatpacking district stands for what is modern, hip, and trendy; a bastion of culture in the work-like city. Numerous fashionable retailers have popped up, along with trendy restaurants. And, on the fringes, there is evidence of the New York startup culture flowing from the Flatiron District, sometimes known as Silicon Alley. A visit to one of the companies in this area opened my eyes to some of the innovation that is occurring where data is the business, instead of being an enabler or addition to the business.

As I entered the office of this relatively newborn company, I was confident that I understood their business. It was pretty simple: They were a social sharing application on the web that enabled users to easily share links, share content, and direct their networks of friends to any items of interest. The term social bookmarking was one description I had heard. The business seemed straightforward: ...

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