The SF Chronicle article about “neo-nomads” was very entertaining and insightful. I don’t know that you need to delve into the levels of social theory that the article covers, but it certainly raises some interesting points.
Aside from costs, working alone (or in pair or trio) in an anonymous office building in he Bay Area can be a really isolating experience. The idea of working in a coffee shop or some other public place that provides power and Internet access is just a more pleasant way to work until you have enough people in your own group/company/office to have a real community of its own. It’s always nice to have a home and a coffee shop is not a bad home for a 1-3 person company.
Putting yourself in places where other like-minded people isn’t anything new – it’s just a new take on an old theme. Part of what makes Silicon Valley so great is that there is a tight collection of all of the resources that a start-up needs (lawyers, accountants, engineers, and even BD people!) in close proximity. Despite the proximity, finding the resources is not always an easy thing to do. In the same way that you get clusters of web 2.0 companies in certain towns and parts of San Francisco, it only seems natural for like-minded entrepreneurs to increase the odds that a serendipitous event will happen by colocating themselves in coffee shops.
Coffeeshopping doesn’t scale beyond a few people. One thing that the article didn’t really touch upon was the idea that this kind of model doesn’t really scale beyond a few people. Once you have a few people (more than you can fit around one small table at Starbucks), the advantages of having your own space probably start to outweigh coffeeshopping.
The other thing to keep in mind is that there is a natural limit to how much coffeeshopping these cafe owners will tolerate. For my tastes, Coupa Cafe in Palo Alto has already been overrun by laptop-toting students and web professionals (including yours truly from time to time). I am not sure that it’s good for business to become too much of a “working” cafe, but that’s just one person’s point of view.
A second aside is that it would be cool if someone could build a more mixed-use space that combined a cafe-style work space with some semi-private group work spaces or meeting rooms. It could be a really nice compromise position and a cool way to help people who are ready to grow beyond coffeshopping but aren’t ready for the next step of a large stand-alone office space.