By Andrew Blum, contributor
FORTUNE -- When, in 1924, the Western Union Telegraph Co. went looking for land for a new headquarters in lower Manhattan, it had strict requirements: The building had to be close not only to the New York Stock Exchange and the commodities exchanges but also to the company's existing operations center, with its fixed cable links to the hinterlands. By the end of 1930, messenger boys were keeping the revolving doors of 60 Hudson Street spinning all day, shuttling messages to the trading firms piled up downtown.
Today's financial services companies -- especially those in the business of high-speed algorithmic trading -- are faced with exactly the same requirements. They, too, have clustered around 60 Hudson Street, where the majority of transatlantic undersea cables land, in a similar effort: to hear the news of faraway markets first, if only by a matter of milliseconds. The result has been the creation of a parallel Wall Street geography, based not on the location of bustling trading floors but on proximity to the darkened buildings that house today's automated trading platforms. The surrounding space is at a premium, as companies strive to literally shorten the wire that connects them to the hubs.
--Andrew Blum is the author of Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet (Ecco, 2012, from which this is adapted).
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