Stewart Butterfield and Caterina Fake
Creators of Flickr
Born Stewart Butterfield in 1973 in Lund, British Columbia; married Caterina Fake. Born Caterina Fake, c. 1969, in Pittsburg, PA; married Stewart Butterfield. Education : Butterfield: Earned B.A. in philosophy from the University of Victoria, and M.Phil. from Cambridge University. Fake: Attended Smith College; earned degree from Vassar College, 1991.
Addresses: Office —Yahoo! Inc., 701 First Ave., Sunnyvale, CA 94089.
Butterfield worked as a programmer in Vancouver, BC, before co-founding Ludicorp with Fake, c. 2001; developer of Game Neverending, c. 2002, and Flickr, 2004; president of Ludicorp, c. 2001–; Ludicorp acquired by Yahoo, March, 2005. Fake worked for an investment bank, as a painter's assistant, on a crew shooting interstitials for Seinfeld and in a dive shop in Arkansas between 1991 and 1994; worked for various Web sites in the San Francisco, CA, area after 1994, including art director for Salon. com; co-founded Ludicorp with Butterfield, c. 2001, and served as its vice president for marketing and community, c. 2001–; Ludicorp acquired by Yahoo, March, 2005.
Husband-and-wife team Stewart Butterfield and Caterina Fake created the online photo-sharing service Flickr in 2004, and continued to run it when their company was acquired by Yahoo in 2005. Butterfield, a respected computer software programmer before Flickr's launch, credited the success of their Web site to a basic truth that similar ventures had failed to grasp: Personal photography, he explained, is "meant to be shared, talked about, pointed to, saved, archived, and available by as many means as possible," he explained to USA Today writer Jefferson Graham.
Butterfield, born in 1973, hails from a town in British Columbia called Lund. He earned his undergraduate degree in philosophy from the University of Victoria, and went on to graduate studies at Cambridge University in England, where he studied the philosophy of biology, cognitive science, and the philosophy of mind toward a master's degree in philosophy. Returning to British Columbia and settling in Vancouver, he found work as a computer programmer and Web-design consultant for several large companies.
In a 2000 side project, Butterfield launched a contest for the best Web site under 5 kilobytes in size—almost the bare minimum of space necessary to launch a Web page. "Constraints of some kind are present in just about every creative activity," he told Colby Cosh of Alberta Report about the 5 KB maximum size for the contest, citing other creative endeavors that were also restricted by certain parameters. "Typography is concerned with hundreds of tiny ratios that must be observed. Architects have to deal with constraints ranging from the strength of their materials to the height of the human body," he noted.
Fake, a Filipino-American from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is four years older than Butterfield and also gained renown in the West-Coast Internet-technology boom of the late 1990s. She attended a private prep school in Connecticut, Choate Rosemary Hall, and went on to Smith College in Massachusetts before earning a literature degree from Vas-sar College in 1991. Over the next three years, she worked in investment banking, as an assistant to a painter, and part of the crew that shot interstitials, or filler programming, for the hit television series Seinfeld . She moved to San Francisco in 1994, and found work for a series of Web-based ventures, eventually becoming the art director for the online magazine Salon.com. Her personal site, caterina.net, was one of the first Web logs, or "blogs," to gain a following on the Internet, and Butterfield was one of the many technophiles who read it regularly.
Butterfield and Fake met at a San Francisco party in 2000, where she turned down his request for a date because she was already romantically involved with someone else—Evan Williams, a co-creator of Blog-ger, one of the earliest first blog-publishing and hosting sites. When Fake and Williams parted ways, Butterfield learned of the news via caterina.net, and asked her out the next time he was visiting San Francisco. The date was an invite to come skiing with him in British Columbia, which she accepted, and during that trip he suggested that they create a Web site together.
Fake moved to Vancouver in 2001, and she and But-terfield set up Ludicorp, a small company whose original goal was to launch a massive multiplayer computer game they called Game Neverending. It was in the development stage from 2002 to 2004, and as a side project Ludicorp tried out a unique photo-sharing feature for the gamers who used their site; the tool proved so popular that within a few months Butterfield and Fake had shut down Game Neverending entirely in order to concentrate on what became Flickr. "Had we sat down and said, 'Let's start a photo application,' we would have failed," Fake told USA Today 's Graham. "We would have done all this research and done all the wrong things."
Flickr was officially launched in February of 2004 after a three-month tryout. The site began to gain large numbers of users each month, thanks in part to its fortuitous timing: There had been a recent explosion of lower-priced digital cameras on the consumer electronics market, along with a growing number of home broadband subscribers, which made uploading large image files to a distant Web site much quicker than using a dial-up connection. There were a few other online photo sites up and running at the time, but these depended on revenue from orders for prints; Flickr offered users 20 megabytes of space a month for free, which could host ten to 25 pictures, or users could sign up for a $24.95 a year fee, which granted them access to an advertising-free version of the site and the ability to upload two gigabytes' worth of images each month.
One of Flickr's most innovative features is the way in which users can tag their photos—giving them simple descriptors such as subject, locale, or even color. The tagging feature was not part of Flickr at the onset, but was an idea Butterfield and Fake borrowed from another Web site, del.icio.us, which allowed its users to store and share Web bookmarks online using similar self-created tags. One early feature of Flickr, however, did help it spread quickly in the online community, and that was its "Blog this" button, which allowed users to create a link between the Flickr page in question and their own personal blog. "We were very small and very poor," Fake explained to Newsweek writers Steven Levy and Brad Stone about this tool, "so we built a lot of features that were deliberately viral."
Just a year after its launch, Flickr could no longer be classified as a small, struggling start-up: In March of 2005, Ludicorp, its parent company, was acquired by Yahoo for a price tag estimated at $35 million. Butterfield and Fake moved to Sunnyvale, California, where Yahoo is headquartered, along with the rest of their Flickr team, and continue to run the company. Despite the fact that there were three million registered users, the site had become a bit easier to manage for the couple. As Butterfield told Graham in the USA Today interview, there was a period when he and Fake were preoccupied by "Flickr in the office and Flickr at home," but conceded that the pair were "getting slightly better at marking the boundary between work and play."
Alberta Report , May 8, 2000, p. 56.
Forbes , September 5, 2005, p. 112.
Newsweek , April 3, 2006.
New York Times , June 29, 2005.
Observer (London, England), November 27, 2005, p. 7.
Time , May 8, 2006, p. 129.
USA Today , February 28, 2006, p. 5B.