Flickr founder Caterina Fake on ‘putting the heart and humanity’ back in the Internet

Her Filipino mother has roots in Manila and Pampanga. 'I have a lot of relatives.'

Her Filipino mother has roots in Manila and Pampanga. ‘I have a lot of relatives.’ Photo courtesy of Caterina Fake

By Cristina DC Pastor

On her blog, Caterina Fake, 49, co-founder of the Flickr photo hosting and sharing website, described herself using four disordered words: entrepreneur, mother, reader, optimist.

Let me add another: Filipino-American.

I came across Caterina Fake’s name while doing a web search of ‘Filipino Americans.’ Her name came up and under it her multiple affiliations: co-founder of Flickr; chairman and board member at Etsy; investor in Kickstarter; founder of; founder of Findery; and many more start-ups that have found modest to wild success in their unique, niche markets.

Her surname is truly Fake, the anglicized version of her grandfather’s German name, “Feick.”

She was born in Pittsburgh and grew up there. Hers is a small family, she said in an email interview with The FilAm: her parents, her sister and herself.

Her Filipino mother has roots in Manila and Pampanga.

“As a child I visited my relatives in Angeles City and Manila. We also went to Baguio to visit. I have a lot of relatives,” she said.

Her mother was a pharmacist and her father worked in insurance though, she said, he loves literature and went to graduate school to study English. So does Caterina, who graduated with honors in English Literature from Vassar College in 1991. “My mother was born in Manila, but moved to the U.S. as a child. She met my father when they were both living in Baltimore and they were on a date with other people.”

Growing up, she “would occasionally” encounter racism. “(It) was mostly ignorance. And while I’d like to say I’d patiently introduce bigots to a larger world view, I mostly just ignored them.”

She co-founded Flickr with then-husband Stewart Butterfield, a computer software programmer from Vancouver, and together they launched the website in 2004. Flickr was acquired by Yahoo for a reported $35 million the following year, with Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang calling Caterina and Stewart “very good at figuring out how to create communities.”

According to, Fake, who is four years older, met Butterfield in 2000 at a San Francisco party. They were married until 2007 and have a daughter named Sonnet. Both resigned from Yahoo in 2008.

Flickr currently has more than 51 million registered members and hosts more than six billion images, according to reports. To this day, Caterina refers to Flickr as “almost certainly the best photo management and sharing application in the world.”

Flickr was quickly followed by several more web-based ventures, making Caterina a prolific entrepreneur driven “mostly by enthusiasm, optimism and a sense of possibility.”

“If you have these tendencies,” she said in the interview, “they never really go away, and you just like to keep making things.”

Caterina’s name is associated — both as founder or investor — with Kickstarter, Typekit, Daily Booth, Etsy, Cloudera, Hunch, Findery, and many more. She lives in San Francisco, where she is known around Silicon Valley for her entrepreneurial and financial success.

Known for her campaign to “make technology more human,” Caterina recently received an honorary degree from The New School. I asked if Flickr and Etsy – since I have accounts in both – are part of that campaign.

“They are definitely part of my campaign to make technology more human,” she replied. “The humanity is always leaving the Internet and the machinery is always taking over so you have to put the heart and humanity back in, every day. Thinking, feeling, being — putting people back at the front are what needs to happen.”

She talked about her latest venture Findery, a location-based note sharing site introduced in 2012.

“Findery is a way of experiencing and learning about the world that is all around you, but you didn’t know,” she began. “It helps you tease out local knowledge, the stories and history and hidden secrets around you. People can annotate places in the real world, leave notes attached to addresses, places, restaurants, park benches — everywhere. And then people — friends or strangers — find these notes.”

She cited how she has discovered, through Findery, that Anne Rice had written her first book, “Interview with a Vampire,” somewhere in San Francisco just down the street from hers. And that Janis Joplin first heard Big Mama Thornton sing “Ball and Chain” a block away from that location.

“I’ve learned about good foraging near my house, and what’s going to be built on a corner that’s just a hole in the ground,” said Caterina. “Amazing things.”

Where technology would take us five, or 10 years down the road is all up to how we use it, she said.

“So long as we don’t forget our humanity, technology can serve us,” she said. “Does the technology bring us closer together, or drive us further apart? We are now mobile, which is good, it means we are no longer tied to our desks. But then does it mean we are absent while present? If not, we are the slaves and not the masters of the technology.”

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