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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 March 2007, 10:31 GMT 11:31 UK
Web 2.0 wonders: Zooomr's Kris Tate
By Darren Waters
Technology editor, BBC News website

Kris Tate
Kris Tate was inspired by photography. Photo credit: Thomas Hawk
The web has evolved into an indispensable tool for our daily lives. But who are the people driving this growth? All this week the BBC News website is speaking to young, talented web pioneers working in Silicon Valley and beyond.

What do you do if you are a 17-year-old programming genius living in Seattle, in the US? Do you work for Microsoft, the largest software company in the world with billions of dollars in resources and a clear career path?

Or do you move away from your family, 800 miles south to San Francisco and single-handedly build a photo-sharing website that will eventually have 100,000 users around the world?

Kris Tate, a softly-spoken and impossibly polite teenager, did the latter.

Now 18 years old, Tate is the coding expert responsible for Zooomr, one of the most popular photo websites on the net.

He has been using computers since he was four years old - and not just bashing his fingers on a keyboard as though it were a toy.

"At four I was working with my dad's Apple Mac. He brought home Code Warrior programming software and compilers and I started coding. I liked seeing how things ticked.

"I was able to build things and share it with other people."

Nascent internet

After experimenting with connecting computers together physically, he took full advantage of the nascent internet.

"I really like language and communication. Two years ago I had been doing interesting stuff with linguistics and talking with people around the world on the net.

"My photography was also really important to me as a way to round myself out and express myself."

Tate moved to San Francisco because he felt the city was at the heart of web development.

"Even though Seattle is very tech-centric there was a lot more web stuff going on here. A lot more opportunity.

"Through my childhood San Francisco was always a really interesting place. We travelled through it a few times, over the Golden Gate bridge, and it always seemed like a mystical place in California."

A lot of lines (of code) are created in cafes. It happens anywhere - just as long as I have my Macintosh with me I can just do it
Kris Tate

He was talking to Yahoo in Silicon Valley about a job when a personal dilemma took him in a new direction.

"On my journey to the Bay Area I took a lot of photos but it was hard to share these universal pieces of work with my friends and family around the world.

"I would go to English-centric photo-sharing sites and friends would be able to see these sites but were not able to interact with them, to join in with the experience.

"That's how Zooomr started - an accumulation of my prior knowledge of computing and web applications, with knowledge of HTML and how databases work.

'Past experiences'

"Zooomr is a combination of all my past experiences, bringing them all together into one solution."

Tate built Zooomr initially for friends but launched it to the world soon after. The site was mentioned on prominent technology blog TechCrunch and within hours picked up buzz on the blogosphere.

Kris Tate
Tate works wherever there is wi-fi Photo credit: Thomas Hawk

"It was interesting to see different time zones light up and start using Zooomr.

"Within a matter of five hours or so we were swamped. The site went down because the response was quite significant."

That response attracted the attention of prominent angel investor Ron Conway, who put in $50,000 (25, 400) after meeting Tate.

Within a few months he had gone from an unemployed coder living in a strange city to the founder and sole engineer behind a start-up with investment and a growing user base.

One-man coding

Little about Tate is typical. Zooomr is still a one-man coding operation but well-known blogger and photographer Thomas Hawk has gone from evangelist for the site to chief executive, helping with the business administration side of the enterprise.

Rather than rent a space in the SOMA district of San Francisco - where many other start-ups are located - Tate continues to develop Zooomr from his home or wherever he can find wi-fi access.

"A lot of lines (of code) are created in cafes. It happens anywhere - just as long as I have my Macintosh with me I can just do it."

Tate is about to release a new version of Zooomr, built from the ground up with new features to help differentiate it from the rest of the market.

One of the key features will be the ability for users to monetise their photos as stock photography.

"We feel our users are creating some great photos and not just for sake of consuming this media but also showing what is going on all round the world.

Upload photos

"We want to allow our users to make money and revenue off their work and only share 10% of the sales ourselves."

Tate and Hawk believe the stock photography business is a $2bn (1.01bn) market. They also see it as a way for Zooomr to break even; the site does not charge users to upload photos and there are no limits on how many pictures can be hosted.

Tate says: "We want to take just enough to break even. We want to grow the site rather than become a huge profit machine.

"We really want to help people all round the world in all walks of life share their photography."

But what about the competition? Zooomr may have 100,000 users but it is dwarfed by the scale of Flickr, which is owned by Yahoo, and the 800lb gorilla in the marketplace.

"Flickr is a different service; we are on our own path," says Tate.

"We are truly world wide and more internationalised and there are localised versions of Zooomr in 18 different languages.

"Flickr is very anglocentric - there is a lot of inside English and blurb dialogue that is very colloquial.

"It was hard for people who didn't speak fluent English to know what has been going on."

His family have supported his career and lifestyle path and Tate's ambitions are in line with the morals and guidelines built around notions of community and selflessness they instilled in him.

He says: "We are two guys trying to help the community and provide a solution that communicates to the world."

It certainly chimes with the mystical sense of San Francisco that Tate had when crossing the Golden Gate bridge some years before as a child.




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