Ben Huh is CEO and founder of the Cheezburger Network, which oversees dozens of addictive sites including FAILBlog, ICanHasCheezburger.com, The Daily What, and Engrish Funny among many others. Featured on these sites are photos, findings, and remixed content, culled from around the web, that are funny, bizarre, adorable, and, as the writer's own college experience can attest, ideal for hours of procrastination.
Huffington Post Technology editor Bianca Bosker interviewed Huh--also known as the "meme maestro," "Lolcat mastermind," and "chief cheezburger"--during his visit to New York to promote a new book from ICanHasCheezburger, Teh Itteh Bitteh Book of Kittehs.
Huh shared his thoughts on Facebook, Twitter, and the birth of memes, as well as what drives him, the idea he wishes he'd thought of, citizen journalism, and more. Huh, a good sport, also helped HuffPostTech turn him into a "lolcat" of sorts using a screenshot from a video of a photoshoot he'd done in the past (scroll down for the picture).
On what motivates him:
Ben Huh: "It's not necessarily being competitive, it's more like being a craftsman, being master of a certain art. I want to know everything there is to know about a specific area. And it's winning at that mastery that really drives me. I want to be best at something. I don't even know what "this" is, but there's this inner drive to be the best."
On what he wanted to be when he grew up, when he was little:
BH: "I wanted to be journalist."
On what he now wants to be when he grows up:
BH: "I want to be happy. I realized that being happy isn't necessarily about getting there, it's how you get there. It almost sounds like a cliché, but every entrepreneur I've talked to--every good entrepreneur--really enjoys the 'how you get here.'"
On the birth of a meme:
BH: "Usually, the birth of a meme is unknown, it's like an immaculate conception, it just happens. No one knows how it happens, but it happens somehow.
If you're by yourself, you can't make a meme. The definition of a meme requires that third parties get involved--people are either transmitting the video, or editing it and remixing it themselves. Someone gets involved in it. Until other people get involved, it's technically not a meme, it's a viral video."
On how he comes up with ideas:
BH: "I try to consume as much stuff as possible. [...] I read a lot. I read The HuffPost in general. I'm a news junkie. [...] I read the New York Times and there are a bunch of Tumblr sites that I read. Before The Daily What, it was a lot harder, but now I read The Daily What and I get 90% of what I need to know."
On Twitter, apps, and the open web:
BH: "I'm a Twitter guy, not so much Facebook. I like the open web much more than the closed web. I'm not a big 'apps guy.' I know a lot of people love applications on their phone, but I'm like, yeah, I understand the nice experience, but there's something about it that doesn't flow well. Opening an app, closing it, moving to something else. There's something about the open web that's very free flowing. If an app has link, where do you go? You can't go from app to app."
On his concerns for the future of the Internet:
BH: "I think the confusion of Facebook being the Internet really concerns me. There are too many layers of abstraction of the Internet, meaning applications, and that concerns me. [...] The web is not even close to being dead. In fact, the web is the most ignored and undervalued component of the Internet. While we see growth in applications and growth in closed networks and in mobile, the web is the thing that's in the background powering everything. And that's where it all starts."
On the idea he wishes he'd thought of:
BH: "Have you heard of Hipmunk? It's not what you think it is. It's a travel site started by one of the co-founders of Reddit. And I love it because--get this--it's a travel aggregator, like Kayak, but instead of showing you that a flight leaves at 6:21 a.m. and lands at 8:21 p.m, it's a calendar. [...] It's visual. And I remember I saw it and it was one of those [head slap] moments: Why hasn't every travel site done this?"
On the state of citizen journalism:
BH: "As a student of journalism, the thing that I see companies making mistakes in is that they assume that citizen journalism will take form of journalism. They think of citizens as unpaid reporters, and I want to smack them upside the head. Journalism is a craft that takes years to learn. It's like golf. You never get it right all the time. It's a game of fewer errors, better facts, and better reporting. It's a craft. And then they expect people to not have any journalism experience or training to walk out into street with a video camera and become a journalist. And it's a huge mistake. I think a lot of people are finally figuring it out, but citizen journalism will look nothing like journalism we know, and they have to be open to that idea. [...] If you'll bristle at idea of random people sending you stuff that doesn't conform to your standards, you need to get over that. [Citizen journalists] are going to give you a perspective, they're going to give you opinions, they're going to give you the wrong answers. But that's what citizen journalism is about--diverse opinions that conflict and clash with each other, rather than finding the truth."
On how he wastes time:
BH: "I try to go sailing. [...] I travel. [...] I buy gadgets. I bought a little watch. It's called the iPod Nano. It's working great."
On what he'd look like as a Lolcat (Bosker provided the photo and Huh provided the caption:
Free response! [Huh was asked to respond with the first term that came to mind for the following names, products, and brands:]
Eric Schmidt: Brilliant. He's been saying more and more random stuff recently. I think they should pull him back from the press a little bit.
Steve Jobs: Perfectionist. Have you seen his house plans? The guy has discipline like you wouldn't believe. If I had Steve Jobs' money, I'd have tree in the back of yard with goats in it.
PCs: Mac. [...] I used to be a big Mac fanboy, less so now. The closed ecosystem is getting to me more and more. If there's anything in technology I love the most, it's the openness of it. And when I see a threat, I immediately start to pull back and say, "Am I supporting something that's a threat to internet?"
Kittens: Aww (He notes it's an "aww" with "multiple W's")
Net Neutrality: Must
Twitter: I want to say the word "brilliant," but that's not the feeling... What word do I want to use here? I just ran out of characters. Actually, I think the word for me is...potential.
CNN: It is very difficult for me to criticize media since I'm on media tour, but they really need to take a stand.