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12 tech leaders’ resolutions for 2012

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Make technology more human

By Caterina Fake, Entrepreneur (As told to Colleen Taylor)

Caterina Fake is a serial web entrepreneur who is co-founder of Flickr and Hunch and an investor in companies like Etsy. Fake is working on a new web startup that will be consumer-facing and social and will launch in 2012. We asked Fake about what she learned in 2011 and what she hopes to accomplish in 2012.

The whole idea of New Year’s resolutions is an interesting one: You wipe the slate clean, have a new year and a new beginning. It’s a very important ritual. This year I’m in a lucky position, because I have a brand new business I just started this past summer. It’s almost six months old, and we’ll be launching the company to the public in the new year. So I’m already in a position where it’s a new, fresh start, and I’m enthusiastic and optimistic about 2012 because of that.

Part of my resolve this year is to make this new company flourish. I want to build a community that’s as thriving as the one in Flickr. And next year will be about a change of focus, as we go from building stuff and being inward-facing to launching it and becoming outward-facing. 2011 has been about being heads down and working with the team; 2012 will be much more about going out and interacting with users. It’s going to be a gradual process — we’ll probably start off in a closed beta for a while — but it’s going to be a big change overall.

I’ve always had a very positive view of what the possibilities of technology are. I think my job in this business is to continue to cultivate the spirit of invention, and the spirit of building things, of making things, and of connecting people. Focusing on all the positive things that the net does and continuing to make sure that those things flourish. I see my life’s work as making technology more human. So in the face of all these crazy things that are happening — SOPA, social media being used to promote terrorism, addictive software — it’s important that was understand any tool can be used in different ways: You can use a hammer to build a cabinet, or a house, or you can use a hammer to break things, or hurt people. You need to use tools for positive ends.

It is an idiosyncrasy in our biology that we have brain triggers that are easily manipulated by technology. We are sensitive to certain stimuli, so that when we were Neanderthals dragging our knuckles on the ground we’d say, “Ooh! A berry!” and pluck it. That feeling is reproduced in our brains with Twitter, Facebook updates, and especially games. We get a dopamine rush whenever we see the tech equivalent of a berry and it’s one of the of the hazards of using technology. A friend of mine just told me how he sat down to play ten minutes of Minecraft and the next thing he knew, it was five hours later and it was 4 o’clock in the morning. That’s incredibly common.

How can you prevent this? First of all, you have to recognize that this is happening. Checking your smartphone for new Twitter updates or emails or Facebook messages can become an unconscious habit. Then you can step back from it and be aware, and use technology in a more thoughtful and human way. I love technology. I’m a techno-utopian. But you can also tip into compulsive and addictive behaviors with it. So you have to be super-conscious about it.

One of the things I try to do when I build software is to find a balance between making products that will naturally appeal to people, but without being exploitative of human nature. It is a challenge but
I think it’s doable. I’m interested in user-generated content, community, collaboration and people’s creativity and self-expression. When you work with these kinds of things, technology can make you more human, rather than less; it can be humanizing rather than de-humanizing. How to build something like this is an art, not a science. There’s no formula. You have to feel your way there.

As for more traditional resolutions, I know a lot of people probably make resolutions to wake up earlier, and get more done, but if anything, I’d say my goal is to sleep later! I have a young daughter,
and I often get up a lot earlier than I want to. And like a lot of people in this industry, I don’t get quite enough sleep. But I’m a big believer in its benefits. A lot of people out there go into heroics about how little they sleep they get, but the thing I’d prefer to brag about is how *much* sleep I get. There’s been a lot of brain research to show how, if you’re a creative person and you’re thinking and
learning and reading a lot, you need to get more sleep for your brain to absorb everything. The more you sleep, the smarter and more creative you are.

42 Responses to “12 tech leaders’ resolutions for 2012”

  1. Daniel Mbure

    I like the human face to technology bit and the acceptance that technology can become overwhelming. I think more tech entrepreneurs should help users deal with the deluge of information rather than adding even more information to an already overflowing knowledge stream. As someone once said, and the big data debate supports this, the future belongs to the information curators, not the information creators.

    • alex vernon

      I actually like that as an entrepreneur, he brought up physical activity. I find that its critical to get a good oxygen rush in at least a couple times a week as well.

  2. This gave me some ideas. Now, I’m having trouble with my resolution: Be a better manager or be a better leader? I think there’s a difference between the two. I would love to see technology humanized this year and we have a lot to clean up amidst all that clutter. More success to all this 2012!

  3. panjwani_ajay

    dans story reminds me of the problem of electricity grids where half the power gets wasted in transmission. in telecom too, there is no need for owners of networks to provide services too. have number portability and have a separation between network ownership and service providers

  4. panjwani_ajay

    pixel qi is following apple model – designed in us made in china. that indicates the onset of higher optimizations for higher margins. and that is where the conspiracy lies. those mit stanford phds were always at hand watching china under optimize all over the place. only when the margins got wafer thin did these phds decide to add intellectual property margins

  5. Carol Wyatt

    GREAT!!! I agree with you about women being more hesitant. I also want women to push for society to accept us as Mom’s and Dad’s with lives. The American workplace is not child friendly and we shouldn’t have to sacrifice our family’s quality of life for careers, or vice versa. At least this is the case in the entertainment industry. I hope we can stop working crazy hours and spend some time with our families and friends.

  6. Peter Mullen

    Nice post Mr. Hesse and I’ve been a loyal Sprint customer since the year 2000 but you guys still screw your existing customers under contract and always favor new customers when new handsets come out (which is pretty rare). But, you guys still are the best of the big 3 in the US.

  7. If you look at the world through a pair of eyes then naturally we surmise that there might be more considering the lack of use of the most part of our brain…then stating that we might neurologically partake of data and images in the future is plainly stating the bleedin obvious.

    I see that we strive forward as a collective group of engineers trying to convince the world that 3D is the next step…when it may damage eyes to the point that we had better, and pretty soon find the answer to the absorbtion of images neurologically because we may be on route blinding a generation….The folly of the human being and the “no sir nicotine is not harmful” attitude of businessmen is a frightening legacy!

  8. panjwani_ajay

    we are facing tech evolution so fast that we are increasingly lagging behind. in such a situation, the best thing we can do and should do is work from first principles. in an ideal business setup, there is no profit or loss. also we need to separate the goals from the paths. these three form the basis of all my thinking about how technology can improve our lives FP / IB / GP

  9. panjwani_ajay

    it does not matter if the net is open or closed, what matters is the extent of run time criteria vs compile time criteria. we live in a world of power gradients, which are maintained indicating the absense of a countervailing force. this is possible if resistance buildup is nipped in the bud, which requires run time criteria.

  10. “A few years ago, Google started favoring some of their own websites over others. They left a path of scorched earth through many prominent businesses and publishers.”

    It’s fairly irresponsible to say this without justifying it. Which Google services are you referring to, and which businesses were hurt by it? There are many individual cases you could be referring to, with varying degrees of debatability.

  11. Wilson Zorn

    GREAT article. But linking from the “12 tech leaders’ resolutions” was both inaccurate (given there are no “resolutions” here) and unnecessary (as I was enticed to come to the article via an NRF newsletter linking this and that newsletter gave a quote from this particular article – I have no interest in reading tech leaders’ resolutions).

    Further it was difficult to get to this page from the page introducing the 12 leaders’ resolutions, as the text on the photos was in many cases unreadable, especially for this Mullenweg article. I got to this as I could make out the “Open” word and guessed this was Mullenweg’s likeness.

    Second attempt at commenting – seriously, my comment doesn’t appear and no notification like “pending approval of the comment” because I chose “guest” instead of one of the commercial services? Fine, I logged in via Twitter this time. But this really needs to fix its messaging and/or technical issues (I’m not sure which it is). Apologies if this resulted in a double post.

  12. A GREAT article but please note that grouping it under “leaders’ New Year’s resolutions” was wholly unnecessary and misleading (given there were no resolutions, and anyway I did not go to this article because of “resolutions” but rather because I saw a quote from the article in an NRF newsletter regarding the increasingly closed nature of the web). And it wasn’t easy to get here from the page that showed the photos because the text was poorly printed in contrast so that many of the names I couldn’t read, I happened to guess correctly at Matt Mullenweg’s likeness.

  13. Philip has a lot to say , but there is a silicon valley assumption hidden here that no company is valid unless it has VC investment and makes a quick exit. Anything else is derided as a “lifestyle business.” When you take VC or angel money you instantly change who your customer is. No longer are you solving a problem for a million people, you are now solving an investment criteria for a very few investors. Don’t do it. Find a small enough piece of the market/problem and using you own funding go to market and grow organically. Keep focused on your real customer. They have far more money that any VC. Only take money from friends and family who are giving you money because they love you. Think Bill Gates, not Google. The math is rather simple. A typical VC funds less than 1 in 100 business plans that they see and 90% of their funded businesses are failures (by VC standards). Why would you want to twisted your life’s work for such slim odds.

  14. Good Article….But I think that looking for funding may not be synonymous with technology that brings about “real” and “Lasting” change.
    Real and Lasting change could involve putting the “Community” that adds value to your service first in a way that may eventually break the cycle of inequitable distribution of monetary value to the “Corp”

  15. I have always enjoyed McNealy. Cool dude. But come on! You left SUNW because the stock was crashing and you wanted out of a dying business…Not because you wanted to spend time with your kids,

  16. Why shouldn’t they? ABC advertises ABC shows and not NBC or CBS’s. This is one reason why some people and companies create large networks (whether they are broadcast or information networks); to help promote each other.

  17. “A few years ago, Google started favoring some of their own websites over others” I am happy for google to provide me an option “do you want our services to be displayed first or not” and I’d check that blindly because so far, google’s services have been much better at providing me with what I need.

  18. Boz Bundalo

    Putting Steve Jobs and open web and open source in the same article is blasphemy. I don’t know how you can connect the two and be serious. He was the embodiment of everything you are afraid of. Proprietary platforms driven by locking users in so they cannot leave and have to keep buying things for him under the excuse of “experience”.

    And the reason why others will try to think about what would Steve do is because everyone saw that locked down, proprietary approach is making A TON of money. He single-handedly contributed and instigated what you are afraid of.

    • Steve Jobs was successful in many ways. There are lessons that can be learnt from what he did, and those lessons can be applied to any technology, be it open source.

      And user experience is not an excuse. Its the reason people buy things. Try making stuff without it, and see if you are able to sell a single piece of it.

    • panjwani_ajay

      apple being closed does not mean that one cannot browse certain sites. think of apple as a company that charges double ( consumers hate that) but delivers half tco (businesses love that). and it is able to pull that off only by keeping certain things closed.

      • Vincent Amari

        May be so, but 2 weeks into my new Android phone and I’m still struggling to export MY sms text messages from MY iPhone. Even Apple support doesn’t respond to my requests for help with this. I think they forget I was a customer for many years, and if this was easily resolved I could become a customer again!