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New Tech Boom, It's Not a Bubble

Wired magazine reports Silicon Valley is roaring back to life, as startups mint millionaires and Web dreams take flight. But, no, this is not another bubble. Here's why -- In recent months, the breathtaking ascent of Google has lit a fire under its competitors, which include practically everyone in the online world. The result is all too familiar: seven-figure recruiting packages, snarled traffic on Highway 101, and a general sense that the boom is back.

A boom perhaps, but not a bubble. There's a difference. Bubbles are inflated with hot air and speculation. They end with a wet pop, leaving behind messy splatters. Booms, on the other hand, tend to have strong foundations and gentle conclusions. Bubbles can be good: They spark a huge amount of investment that can make things easier for the next generation, even as they bankrupt the current one. But booms - with their more rational allocation of capital - are better. The problem is that exuberance can make it hard to tell one from the other.

Six years ago, people were likewise making the case that the dotcom frenzy was more boom than bubble, built as it was on the legitimate ground of the Internet revolution. And until late 1999 or so, maybe that was true. Then the Wall Street speculators gained the upper hand, and growth became malignant.

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