In the late 90s, Neopets was just one of many online games that took computer users by storm. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s essentially a make-believe world where you can care for virtual pets. Not just any pets, but ethereal creatures cuter than those in your wildest dreams and, better yet, ones that won’t die if you neglect them.
In its heyday, Neopets inspired a wide variety of things, one of which would eventually become Flickr.
At the time, Flickr founders Stewart Butterfield and Caterina Fake were gamers like any others. They’d become addicted to Neopets and had every intention of making their own game, to be aptly titled Game Neverending. The premise was similar to that of Neopia and was intended to serve primarily as a place for social interactions, where users could create, trade, buy and sell.
They were so determined, the pair invested enough money to get the front end developed before Butterfield had what could be considered a stroke of genius. In the midst of an illness, he changed his tune and proclaimed to Fake, “I’ve got a great idea. Let’s make a photo-sharing site.” All they had to do then was replace the gaming developments with photos.
Why is it called Flickr?
Still, Game Neverending was a far cry from Flickr until the rest of the team could be convinced. The founders told INC Magazine, “Our friend Ben came up with the name Flickr. [He] was saying, ‘Oh, but it’s like…if you see the flickering of the metaverse…’ And we’re like, ‘flicker!’ We tried to get ‘flicker’ with an e, but the guy who had the Web domain wasn’t willing to give it up.”
Ultimately it was Fake who suggested the startup drop the ‘e’. She wrote on Flickr Discussions, “I’m glad we weren’t able to get flicker.com. We thought it might be a problem at first, being hard to spell, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. Also, I’m glad we didn’t use the word ‘photo’ or ‘foto’ in the name. There are at least a hundred companies that have that in their name, and I can’t keep track of them anymore.”
In the long run, the creative shorthand turned out instead to be a gift for them, encouraging greater brand distinction and recognition. Eventually even Google got on board. “For a long time when I searched Google for ‘flickr”’I got a ‘Did you mean flicker?’ ’suggestion,” Butterfield wrote on Quora. “I knew we’d have ‘made it’ when that stopped. Eventually that message did stop showing up … and by 2005 or 2006 the search results page even asked ‘Did you mean flickr?’ when searching for ‘flicker’. That’s when I knew it was big!”
In 2010, they even got the name they’d always wanted. According to Tech Crunch, Yahoo!, who acquired Flickr in 2005, finally purchased www.flicker.com in 2010 after a $600,000 offer was rejected three years earlier. Unfortunately both Butterfield and Fake were already long gone by then.
The two left Flickr in 2008, but they’ve never stopped playing the game. On selling the site, the founders had this to say: “We shouldn’t have sold when we did, but you don’t know that until after the fact. And it’s not like we have some tragic life story. We’re on the cover of Time Magazine and the cover of Newsweek. Reid Hoffman [an early investor in Flickr] said, ‘You can always do it again. And the amount of money that you’ll make on this will change your life in a way that you’ll be able to be entrepreneurs the rest of your lives.’”
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Annelise Schoups is a contributor at Rewind & Capture. With a degree in journalism, experience in public relations, and an education in travel, she is passionate about cultivating knowledge and storytelling.