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Flickr cofounder Caterina Fake finds her voice with a new podcast

The entrepreneur and investor is launching a new podcast that wants to force the tech community to answer hard questions.

Flickr cofounder Caterina Fake finds her voice with a new podcast
Caterina Fake [Photo: courtesy of J.R. Mankoff]

Caterina Fake, the serial entrepreneur (Flickr, Hunch), investor, and startup adviser, can add “podcast host” to her long list of professional accomplishments. Today, Fake launches Should This Exist, an original audio series that aims to explore technology’s impact on humanity. Fake is partnering with WaitWhat, the media company behind Reid Hoffman’s popular Masters of Scale podcast, and news platform Quartz. Fake recently spoke with Fast Company about her reasons for lobbing a new entry into a noisy field, the difference between online communities and social media, and holding tech companies to a higher standard. Edited excerpts follow:

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Fast Company: Given the number of terrific podcasts already out there, why should Should This Exist exist?

Caterina Fake: The conversation around technology has changed in the past two or three years. It was probably partially triggered by the [2016] election, which had unexpected results for many people and also [showed] the responsibility that a lot of the technology may have had in changing behavior, and changing the way that we interact with one another and do our work. And, all of a sudden, the conversation has gone from one of utopianism and tech optimism to one of great suspicion.

I come from the startup world, and I concern myself with putting tech on the right trajectory. It is much easier to start off and go in a direction when you can see a bit ahead. You can see the pitfalls that are coming up. You could see a potential dystopian outcome that you want to avoid. And if you start with that in mind, [perhaps] you can anticipate or avoid some of those pitfalls.

FC: It sounds like you think technology companies can and should be held to a higher standard than they’ve been held to in the recent past.

CF: I do. And I think without this kind of very early thinking, things can go terribly awry. Here’s the other thing: We’re seeing amazing new technologies that are emerging every day that we need to have a conversation about. We’re looking at things like AI, which is becoming ubiquitous. We’re looking at [gene-editing technology] CRISPR, which has a whole lot of ethical concerns. Crypto. Drones. Autonomous vehicles. All of these things are happening right now; they haven’t become established industries. And the opportunity to actually change their course rate now is great.

[Some] technologists worried that what we were talking about was shutting stuff down. “This should not exist.” This is not that show at all! This show is basically about introducing into the conversation something that has been absent from it. We’ve proven again and again out here in Silicon Valley that we can build just about anything. Imagination is the limit. But we’ve also shown that asking the question “Can we build it?” is insufficient.

FC: You’ve teamed up with the folks behind Masters of Scale, which is an extremely well-produced podcast with original music, multiple guests, and other segments. What was the appeal of working with this team versus a more ad hoc approach, which has also been successful for podcasters.

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CF: I really think that their production values were what made this entire thing possible. I wouldn’t have done it otherwise. I was a guest on Masters of Scale. Reid Hoffman and I go way back. He was an investor in Flickr, my first company. And I was so excited about the way that the podcast was produced. I mean, I had done what I thought was a fairly straightforward interview with him, but what was produced had drama, conflict, there was a story arc. I mean it was really well done. I was super excited to have the opportunity to work with them.

FC: What did you talk to Reid about?

CF: We spoke about how in the very early stages of building Flickr–and, in particular, building an online community that was later appropriated and put in service of quote, unquote, social media. And I was very much against it, and [I believe] that and a lot of the problems that arose from transforming what we had understood as “online community” into “social media” created a lot of the problems that we’re living with today, [such as] our data being harvested and sold, our attention being squandered and captured and exploited. All of these things are part of being part of a media platform and an audience, versus being in a community and in a relationship in which you have to participate.

FC: Is this podcast for the tech community, or are you trying to speak to a broader audience?

CF: A broader audience, no question. Technology affects all of us. It’s funny because I was talking to somebody recently about how often tech is built by somebody with good intentions, and someone else out there with evil intention comes along, appropriates the technology, like some sort of Bond villain in a mountain hideaway. He asked: How do you stop that person? I’m like, “That person probably cannot be stopped unless all of the villagers down in the valleys rise up with their pitchforks against him.” I think we’re realizing that individual consumers have a lot more power than we had thought. We actually do have some say in how that technology gets built. I’m both. I’m a builder of technology [and a user], and I realize that our voice was missing from the conversation.

FC: How will you measure the success of the podcast?

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CF: If we actually succeed in introducing this question “Should this exist?” into the development of new technologies, then we’ll have counted it a great success.

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