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Flickr co-founder once again bounces from games to business

Laura Blackwell | April 16, 2013
Both games and business loom large in Stewart Butterfield's creative cycle.

Both games and business loom large in Stewart Butterfield's creative cycle. His first project was an innovative MMO called Game Neverending, which never made it past the prototype stage, but nonetheless birthed the photo-sharing site Flickr in 2004. That humble little property blew up, of course, and Butterfield suddenly became a man to watch.

Flash forward to 2009. Butterfield launched a new MMO game called Glitch. It was a hit among fanatics, but there weren't enough of them, and Glitch shut down for good last December. But just like before, Butterfield is raising a potentially powerful phoenix from the ashes of an MMO. This time, he's focusing on collaboration and communication software for business environments. It's called Slack, and it's the very software Butterfield and his team developed to help them create and run Glitch.

Butterfield's company, Tiny Speck, is developing Slack to meet the needs of its own multiple-location business. Tiny Speck's principals work in three different cities, two different time zones, and two different countries. Off-the-shelf collaboration platforms just couldn't fulfill Tiny Speck's requirements for keeping everyone in touch.

A Tiny Speck employee who spoke with PCWorld says that group collaboration platforms already on the market can be frustrating.  "They try to enforce a worldview as to how things should be done," said the source, who requested anonymity. So rather than than use software that might not fit their needs, the Tiny Speck crew built their own.

Several external companies are already alpha-testing the tool. But in a way, the current alpha testers more like beta testers, as Tiny Speck used Slack for months before letting other companies try it out.

The Flickr effect

When Flickr launched in 2004, other photo-sharing sites like Shutterfly and now-defunct Kodak Gallery were focused on selling customers paper prints of digital images. But Flickr's freemium model and easy-to-use interface quickly won the favor of photo enthusiasts.

"There was a burgeoning prosumer photo community that wanted to share imagery in a way that wasn't cluttered by cat photos and general consumer content," says Chris Chute, IDC's Research Director for Worldwide Digital Imaging and SMB Transformative Technology Research Practices. "They weren't interested in printing," Chute says. "Smugmug and Flickr hit at the right time to focus on Web sharing, not print."

Of course, Flickr wasn't really Butterfield's first effort. His first company, the Vancouver, British Columbia-based Ludicorp, was primarily focused on Game Neverending. But when Ludicorp shuttered GNE while it was still in prototype stage, the company used some of GNE's features to build Flickr.

In 2005, Ludicorp was acquired by Yahoo--ironic considering Slack's tools for remote collaboration and Yahoo's new telecommuting policy. Butterfield left Yahoo in 2008, and in 2009 he founded Tiny Speck, along with Flickr's Principal Software Engineer Serguei Morouchov and former Ludicorp colleagues Eric Costello and Cal Henderson.


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