REBELLIOUS AND ICONOCLASTIC
Caterina Fake is the daughter of a Filipina mother and an American father from Pittsburgh, Pennsyl-vania but who grew up in New Jersey. Her parents thought she was going to be a failure because of her rebellious and iconoclastic tendencies. Yet lit-tle did they know what was in store.
When Caterina was in kindergarten, for example, she hated wearing shoes so her mother took her to school without them. Caterina then suggested to all the kids in her class to throw their shoes out the window. They did!
“I was a very studious kid. I would go after school to the library and stay there until late checking out dozens and dozens of books. I continue to be a voracious reader. I was always curious, self-directed, and motivated. In a lot of ways I didn’t get along well with institutions. I tended not to be a ‘good student’ because I liked to learn things not in the curriculum. I would go farther in the field and learn more. I really flourished in classes where you could invent your own program. You spend a lot of time when you are a child in education and education can be a disservice. School can suppress you if it forces you to sit still rather than getting out to the world and exploring,” she explains.
By the time she was in high (or intermediate) school, she skipped classes and when school officials told her she had to attend, she read all of her assignments and outsmarted her teachers by asking questions she knew could not be answer-ed. Little did anyone know then the impact this precocious young woman would have on the world.
Caterina founded the photo-sharing website called Flickr with help from her Vancouver-based Canadian husband Stewart Butterfield in 2004. Digital cam-eras had become popular and inexpensive by that time but there were hardly any websites that allowed users to share their photos online. Flickr filled that void.
What she managed to do was to allow users worldwide to upload their photos and share it with the community. The key to Flickr was making it user-friendly and simple. One of its most unique features was enabling users to ‘tag’ their photos or add descriptions such as subject, locale, or even color. To sum it up, Flickr quickly evolved into an image- and video-hosting website, web services suite, and online community.
“Community is essential. In the early days we didn’t have any money, so we had to be really clever about marketing, and what we considered to be a good direction was to make it really simple for people and bloggers to use, as they distribute all over the place and pick up stuff like this really quickly,” she explains.
But ever the entrepreneurs that they were, the Fake couple (no pun intended) sold their controlling stake held under their Canadian company Ludicorp to Yahoo a year later for a reported US$ 35-million. They stayed on for the next 3-years seeing Flickr host over 2-billion photos before moving on to other in-ternet-based ventures. By 2007, Caterina made Time Magazine’s ‘100 Most In-fluential People in the World’ List.
At 41, this no-nonsense Filipina-American describes herself as always “self-directed, self-motivated and self-employed”. She burns her time mostly in-vesting millions in other start-ups as a founding partner of Founder Collective, a seed-stage venture capital fund. If that’s the kind of failure her parents thought she’d end up being, maybe we should have more of her kind around.
TAKING THE WORLD BY STORM
Rewinding a bit, as the most popular photo-management and photo-sharing website in the world shortly after the time of its found-ing, Flickr can today be generally consider-ed as one of the precursors for later models of social networking platforms, with one that was soon about to take the world by storm not too long after Caterina made Time Magazine’s List.
By 2008, the global rise of social networks was already being driven by Facebook as it overtook MySpace to become the world’s most popular social networking site. Less than four years after Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg founded Face-book in February 2004, its rapidly soaring popularity saw it included in the 2008 edition of the Collins English Dictionary as a noun and a verb – which is why when Filipinos meet other Filipino acquaintances for the first time these days, they often ask each other, “Uy! may Pacebuk ka na? or translated, “Hey, are you on Facebook?”
Communications, it seems, is an ingrained (if one might call it) addiction of most Filipinos. Long before the advent of social networking websites, Filipinos were already making full use of the airwaves to stay in touch with each other.
In 1995, Short Message Service or SMS was introduced in the Philippines as a promotional gimmick. It soon became popular so much so that by 1998 mobile-service providers launched SMS as part of their services for free. What an early bonanza! In droves, Filipinos quickly exploited the feature to communicate for free instead of using voice calls, which they would be charged for but the Telcos eventually caught on to this and started charging for SMS. Though users were now charged, it still remained very much affordable (about 1/10th the price of a voice call. By 2001, 5-million Filipinos owned a mobile phone.
Because of the highly social nature of Philippine culture and the affordability of SMS compared to voice calls, SMS usage continued to shoot up, and texting quickly became a popular tool for Filipinos to keep in touch with their friends and loved ones. Filipinos used texting not only for social but also for political purposes, as it allowed the Filipinos to express their opinions on current events and political issues. As a result, it became a powerful tool for them in promoting or denouncing certain issues and was a key factor during the 2001 EDSA II people’ revolution, which overthrew the then sitting President, who was event-ually charged and found guilty of plunder.
According to 2009 stats, there are about 72-million mobile-service subscrip-tions (roughly 80% of the Filipino population), with around 1.39-billion SMS messages being sent in the Philippines daily. Because of the large amount of text messages being sent by Filipinos, the Philippines became known as the “text capital of the world” until the early 2000s. After that, they discovered Flickr, and then Facebook.