I love businesses that stumble into themselves. At first it’s easy to think, “Wow wish I could get lucky and just stumble into such an idea,” but you have to remember, they didn’t get lucky. Usually, they were working their hardest on other ventures. Caterina Fake is one such person.
Fake is a cofounder of a site we are all very familiar with at this point, Flikr. So how did Flickr come about? Well Fake had started a company called Ludicorp. This came from ludus, the latin word for “play”. The company’s first product was a massively multiplayer online game called “Game Neverending”. “Game Neverending” placed an emphasis on social interactions in the game. While “Game Neverending” was eventually shelved, in 2004 they added a chat environment with photo sharing, which quickly grew in popularity.
Out of that feature in the game Flickr was born. So why so popular? At the time, one of things that was new about Flickr was the idea of publicness that hadn’t been there when Ofoto and Shutterfly (competitor services) were built. In regards to how Flickr was successful Fake says, “Social networking pretty briskly showed itself to be a fairly pointless activity. People would go in and collect up all their friends and then there was nothing to do…But when you tied it to a very specific, very connective activity like photo sharing, it really flourished” (Founders at Work, 260).
There’s two features that were critical in revolutionizing Flickr and the way people shared pictures–tagging and groups. Tagging is adding a keyword to a photograph. This helps in organization, allows users to search for things of interest, and helps in seeing newsworthy events. An early example of this is when the Australian embassy in Jakarta was bombed. Within 24 hours three people, who had been their with cameras, had uploaded pictures of the bombing to Flickr with the tag “Jakarta”. And this was when Flickr had only 60,000 users. (It now has some 51 million registered users and hosts some 6 billion pictures).
The other thing that Flickr gave rise to, was people creating groups for collaborative creativity. These groups were changing the way photos were shared. One of these such groups was “The Squared Circle Group”. In this group people took pictures of something circular, cropped it into a square, and uploaded it. All kinds of groups have since been created and a huge part of Flickr is giving people a stage and an audience for their creativity.
In closing, I can’t resist drawing some parallels to Facebook and its recent purchase of Instagram. This idea of photo sharing as an integra part of social networking is interesting, and can be seen in Facebook–certainly an icon of social networking. Isn’t one of the biggest parts of Facebook the photo sharing aspect? Certainly they think so, which is why they bought Instagram for about $1 billion in cash and stock. This has been compared to the $35 million Yahoo paid for Flickr in 2005. So there’s something to be said for photo sharing being a core value social networking.