In 2005, Fake and Stewart Butterfield, her husband and fellow Flickr co-founder, sold their Vancouver start-up to Yahoo and moved to Silicon Valley. As the continued popularity and influence of the photo-hosting site demonstrate, they fit right in.
In contrast to Flickr, however, Yahoo is no longer seen by many as an innovator. Rather than build its own hit technology, some say, Yahoo has been relying on its acquisitions of Flickr, events-listing site Upcoming.org, social-bookmarking service Delicious, and others.
Now, as leader of Yahoo's technology development group, Fake has been charged with lighting a fire under the tech giant's creative behind, and the company has launched a new internal incubator called Brickhouse.
On Tuesday, the second anniversary of the announcement of Yahoo's Flickr purchase, Fake visited CNET's Second Life bureau and discussed attention economies, Yahoo's goals, the lessons of 3D virtual worlds and more.
Q: How do you spend your workdays?
Fake: My nephew asked what I do for a living, and I told him I write e-mails.
That means connecting people, solving problems, trying to get everyone moving in one direction--also, making plans and proposals, trying to invent new things, finding good ideas.
E-mail and instant messenging and meetings are most of my day, and I miss making "real stuff." I used to be a pixel pusher, which had a slightly more tangible output, though still fairly ethereal.
You used to be part of a small organization, and now you're in a huge company. How much harder does that make it to achieve individual goals?
Fake: Fortunately, my job is largely about how to make what works in start-ups happen at a large company. Before Yahoo, I'd mostly worked at companies smaller than 150 people. I was really very start-uppy: small teams, rapid development, all those things you take for granted at start-ups.
At Yahoo, I joined the technology development group--new products, innovation, culture and rapid development. These were our mandate. And the guy who runs the division, Jeff Weiner, said, "How can we build the next Flickr at Yahoo?" I laughed and said, "No way, Jose, that will ever happen here."
But he tasked me with solving that problem. There are tons of amazing ideas in big companies, and no innovation deficit. But the obstacle to getting things built is mostly process. There is one kind of process developed for building and maintaining large-scale products, like Yahoo Mail. And the development processes for that are very different from what it takes to build a new product in a short amount of time.
Brickhouse, my latest project, was a process innovation, a way of getting products built fast, a way to encourage risk-taking.
What is Brickhouse, exactly?
Fake: A rapid development environment for new products. We just released our first product, Pipes (an interactive feed aggregator). It's really a means of getting all those ideas and prototypes and hacks built into products. Organizational and process innovation has been what I've been working on since coming to Yahoo.
But doesn't bureaucracy get in the way of nimbleness?
Fake: Exactly. If you have 200 million mail clients, you need structure, reliability, uptime and dependability. Those things are very different from launch fast, take risks and embrace failure. Bureaucracy has its purpose, which is to keep the trains running on time. But building in small teams and launching early and often, bugs and all, is a very different proposition.
So a big company like Yahoo needs to have both approaches? Steady, keep the trains running, and nimble, startup-like teams? Is that a model you think big technology companies should follow?
Fake: Exactly. You have to have the supertanker and the speedboats.
I was just at South by Southwest, and everyone was talking about "attention economies." What does that mean to you, and why is it important?
Fake: It's an interesting idea--that the scarcest, most valuable resource in an industrialized country is your time and attention.
There have been efforts to make "attention" more, shall we say, numerical, or recordable--things like Attention Trust, and Attention.xml, where people can "own" their attention. So if I've ordered a bunch of books on Amazon, or browsed these books, or made reviews of these products, Amazon is able to produce all these recommendations and I'll have helped other people figure out what, say, toaster to buy. Now imagine if you could take your attention elsewhere, so take your Amazon attention data and bring it over to eBay. You could use it for your own purposes, to find what you want, and help others there.
People love attention. People share things for many different reasons: connection with other people, communications, altruism, and promoting their own ideas, beliefs, aesthetics, and so on. But a lot of participatory media is about gaining attention from other people, from seeing and being seen.
2 commentsJoin the conversation! Add your comment