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New Internet life in New York

New York City is second fiddle to Silicon Valley when it comes to tech start-ups. But one intriguing new Internet company is about to launch here in Manhattan in two weeks.

Have you heard about Hunch? This morning at a Women in Media breakfast, I ran into Caterina Fake, the  entrepreneur best known for co-founding Flickr and selling it to Yahoo . Last time I saw her was at the home of Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO, in Silicon Valley. As I’ve written, Sandberg frequently hosts tech’s rising-star women for soirees with guest speakers.

Hunch was just a glimmer of an idea back then. It was going to be site for consumers to use to help them make decisions. But, Fake (left) told me today, she hadn’t a clue about what it would look like or how it would be used.

Now she knows. She describes Hunch as a mix of a “decision tree” and a “Magic 8 Ball.” (Remember the toy black ball that told you your fate and fortune when you were a kid?) On Hunch, you type in a question like…

What car should I buy?…

What’s wrong with my pet?…

Should I write a novel?

And Hunch responds by asking you questions. You click Yes or No in response to each one, and eventually you arrive at an answer. Fake says that she and her colleagues worked to make Hunch fun, like a game, so people stay on the site for a while.

What will visitors use Hunch for most often — career advice? Food tips? Shopping savvy? Fake doesn’t know. That’s part of the excitement of launching a new venture, she says.

This breakfast, part of Internet Week in New York, included lots of high achievers, who have jumped from traditional companies to the digital space. There was Betsy Morgan, who left CBS to be CEO of the Huffington Post. And Susan Lyne, ex-Disney and Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia , who is now CEO of Gilt Groupe. You wouldn’t think that this online fashion-brand merchant would have a Gooogle-like growth trajectory, but it does in its first two years. Watch for Lyne to broaden the platform  beyond high-end clothes and accessories.

It was a kick to see Eileen Naughton, who was, in the mid-’90s, general manager of Fortune and later president of Time magazine. She spent 16 years at Time Inc. , got squeezed out in 2005, and landed on her feet. Actually, she landed at Google , where she’s now director of digital platforms. Her purview includes YouTube and DoubleClick.

Naughton echoed the other women at the breakfast, who said that New York City needs more engineering and tech talent to compete with Silicon Valley. “The best place to get engineering talent right now is investment banking,” Naughton said.

That’s a silver lining of the recession: tremendous talent, looking for new employment. Another silver lining is attractive real estate prices. Another tech entrepreneur, SheFinds Media CEO Michelle Madhok, told the group that she just rented 1,000 square feet for new offices and scored a deal: $22 per square foot. That’s about 40% lower than a year ago.