Category Archives: Business

I'm posting more ideas at Svbtle.

I’m keeping track of my ideas at: benhuh.org

Dear Hollywood, Please Take My Money

I’ve been inspired by the Anti-SOPA protests and Clay Johnson’s book The Information Diet to see how my media consumption has changed in the last 5 years. I’m pretty close to a typical consumer, and I do play absolutely by the rules — No ripped DVDs, no pirated content, etc.

The Breakdown
Music: $30 (2006) => $150 (2011)
Film: $147 (2006) => $271 (2011)
Games: $294 (2006) => $236 (2011)
Cable: $1,308 (2006) => $828 (2011)
Total: $1,779 (2006) => $1,485 (2011)

Music: Spending went up 400% due to my Spotify subscription. I still buy the same amount of music, but I’ve added a whole new service on top.

Movies and film: 84% increase. Mostly due to streaming. I tend to watch more independent films as they have become far more accessible via streaming options. I rarely go to the theatre now as I find that experience pretty horrifying, overpriced and insulting. But it seems that I’m buying about the same amount of discs, they just cost more today. The few times I’ve been to theaters in the last 5 years have been for 3D films, but even that’s not worth the hassle.

Games: 20% decrease in video game purchases. (This is not counting consoles themselves.) I am happy to report to my investors that I play fewer games now.

Cable: Cutting the cord on Cable TV has allowed me to save almost $300 a year, while increasing my content consumption. I’m lumping TV, Internet and Cable TV together. I cut Cable TV and kept only the Internet portion a few years back and that accounts for the 37% decrease. I mostly use over-the-air antennae, Hulu, and other streaming services for my TV content. Given how much less I pay now to the cable companies, I can see why they are fighting so hard against net neutrality.

The bottom line: I have at least $300 a year in disposable entertainment spending available, but Hollywood is not working hard to take my money. They are too focused on making the new radio illegal. For example, I would pay far more per person than a movie ticket to have access to just-released movies via a HD stream at home. It’s technically easy to do, but that’s just not available.

So, Hollywood, will you please give me something to spend my money on?

Now, We Need to Build the Internet Defense System

We did well. It was almost too late, but the rallying cry was loud and clear — we would not let a back room, lobbyist-driven bill that will restrict free speech, hamper innovation, and jobs.

But it was too close for comfort. I’d like to sit back and savor this moment, but I feel like a man who almost got shiv’d in the back in broad daylight. I don’t feel at ease with the current state of the world.

Piracy still exists, and as long as big media believes it hurts their bottom line, their hundred-million-dollar lobbying machine will continue to peddle their Dark Arts — campaign dollars, ex-senators, and lobbyists — to pass more bills like this. Maybe next time, we won’t notice. Maybe next time, they’ll add it to another bill as an amendment. Maybe next time, they’ll have a sympathetic White House. There are too many ways for the anti-Internet Freedom lobby to win.

There’s the short-term task of actually passing an anti-piracy bill that doesn’t restrict free speech and encourages innovation. Without a viable way to shut down truly illegal actors with due process, the anti-piracy lobby will continue to assault Internet freedom — and we’ll be back here again. The Internet groups (not just companies, but users) need to sit down and talk to them. The OPEN Act is much better, but I stil have some major reservations.

Long-term, there is much work to do.

First, we need an early warning system against those who seek to cripple Internet freedoms.
We need to know when the slippery slope begins before we’re rushing down it. We need a good lead time in order to create effective defenses. Think of this also as a diplomatic mission: With the ability to bring the other side to the table, we can stop the war before it begins.

Second, we need to educate Congress and we need Congress to educate us.
This means understanding how the legislative and lobbying ecosystems work. We need to show Congress that trying to pass the bill restricting the Internet yet professing “I’m no nerd” makes them ignorant buffoons worth voting out. And that requires people in the hallways of Congress shaking hands, making friends, and talking about our needs.

Third, but not least, we need to build and coordinate engines of mobilization.
The fact that we caught this bill days from a vote caused many of us to bring out the big guns — the blackout. Without the last-minute support of Wikipedia and Google, I don’t know what the outcome would have been. Even so, many sites continued to focus on SOPA when PIPA was the urgent need, this was a fight where every call mattered, yet we didn’t get the message out right — and that was just one of many coordination errors. We need an easier way to deploy calls, emails and votes to candidates that support Internet Freedom and even rally mainstream celebrities to our cause. We need to start building lists for mobilization and coordinate the efforts.

If you get robbed, you install locks, and learn how to protect yourself. We almost got robbed, even though we had some of the elements I listed above. But clearly, it’s not a strong enough system. The next step is to start generating ideas and building an Internet Defense System.

(This post is copyright free and now in the public domain. Copy and paste the crap out of it.)

Why Did the Anti-SOPA/PIPA Movement Go Viral So Quickly?

To understand any viral movement requires an understanding of the zeitgeist of their anger. Right now, thousands of sites big and tiny, have gone dark or shut down in protest of SOPA and PIPA. What’s more remarkable is that for most of us, we are engaging in a new form of protest — the Social Disobedience.

Unlike the Civil Disobedience of half a century ago, the Internet Generation (my 34-year-old self included) is using a more accessible and web-centric form of protest. The Internet Generation has virtually no money to speak of and doesn’t consider themselves influential in any way, but the groundswell of anger and frustration against censorship has encouraged a generation raised on apathy and recessions to take up arms against the powers that be. And the only arms they know of is their voices.

It would be foolish and irresponsible for politicians to ignore this form of protest. While it’s harder to ignore the protester on your doorstep, ignoring Social Disobedience will erode the social capital of any campaign — just ask any company who dealt with a user-revolt on Facebook or Twitter.

While the blackouts of Google and Wikipedia are notable and far-reaching, the insecure, unemployed graduate student expending their social capital to call attention to a political issue is the heart and soul of Social Disobedience. By leveraging their blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and their iPhones, the accidental protester is finding out just how power feels — and it feels right.

When the “young people” showed up to vote for Obama and when the “youth vote” put Ron Paul in the race — turning out and defying stereotypes — they are succeeding in their form of Social Disobedience. This is a generation that is highly educated, highly expressive and restless.

The rallying cry of the 1960′s was Love and Peace. The 2010′s brought us Openness and Free Expression. The groundswell against SOPA and PIPA isn’t just a reaction to the censorship, it’s the reaction to a real threat to these values we hold closest to our hearts. This is a generation who has seen the erosion of influence from voters to corporate interests with money. The only power that remains in the hands of this generation is their self expression, and SOPA/PIPA sought to restrict this last bastion. This is the zeitgeist of their anger.

During all my debates and interviews, it’s hard not to notice the growing chasm between those born of the Web and those born before. For men like Rupert Murdoch, the Internet is something to be controlled, feared and regulated. For the Internet Generation, it’s a rare freedom to be protected, celebrated and shared. It’s difficult to feel any sympathy for the Rupert Murdochs of the world (and their businesses) who complain that the politicians he paid changed positions in the face of voter protest. And it’s painful to watch former Senator Chris Dodd take the top job with the MPAA and call our Social Disobedience “an abuse of power“.

We can criticize the Internet Generation for being superficial, shallow and self-interested, but so is every generation in their youth. And now, we watch in awe as they flex their voices in unison in Social Disobedience.

We’re all proud of you, Internets. And don’t let anyone silence you.

When Death Feels Like A Good Option

It wasn’t until after I seriously contemplated suicide that I was ready to handle a $30 million check.

I closed the doors of my first start-up in the summer of 2001. I was throughly broke, depressed, and feeling the burden of losing hundreds of thousands of dollars of other people’s money. Loneliness, darkness, hopelessness… those words don’t capture the feeling of the profound self-doubt that sets in after a failure. Loneliness. Darkness. Hopelessness. Those words describe the environment of depression. Self-doubt? That shakes you to the core and starts a fracture in your identity that makes you question if you should even exist anymore.

Then, a few short months after closing up my dreams, the planes hit the Twin Towers. I was 23-years-old, just a year older than the late Ilya Zhitomirskiy of Diaspora. It started a descent down to a depth I never knew could exist. Whatever it was, it was over. I knew things would get better. It probably would get better, but I just lost the energy and will to try. Until that point, my life had been a series of struggles and successes. Life was hard, but if you worked hard, if you suffered, if you lived for your dreams, it wasn’t supposed to end this way. There were plenty of examples of winners. People were getting funding, going public, creating change. Was I not meant to be an entrepreneur? Will I never get to pursue my dreams again?

I spent a week in my room with the lights off and cut off from the world, thinking of the best way to exit this failure. Death was a good option — and it got better by the day.

I don’t remember why I left my room. The most meaningful act I performed on my long climb out was to leave that room. It was the best decision I made in my life. I left that room and I got back to my job managing a very dysfunctional Internet radio startup where I was the cause of the dysfunction. It was a actually a positive thing that I left that room to leave a really bad situation to go to a bad situation.

It wasn’t for several months that death no longer became an option, but leaving that room and dealing with reality was the best antidote to a make-belief world where life just wasn’t worth it. When I was fantasizing about death as the panacea, the harshness of reality actually helped — it presented me with problems that I could actually solve.

9 years after I left that room, I would call Brad Feld to invest $30 million in my odd-ball company. Before I picked up the phone, I thought long and hard about losing that money — every single penny of it. And I was OK with it. Failure is an option, and a real risk. Failure and risk something entrepreneurs understand well, and learn to manage. However, death isn’t an option, it’s an inevitability. And before I die, I want to take as many swings at the fence as I can.

For those of you who struggle with this, I’d encourage you to keep walking out that door everyday.

Ilya, I’m so sorry that we didn’t know. From a long line of entrepreneurs who suffered alone and quietly under our own self-doubt, I wish I could talk to you and tell you to bash the shit out of your own self-doubt, or just even slink away with your tail tucked between your legs — either way, the world would have let you take more swings at the fences.

This is Steve Jobs' Lasting Legacy

"Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking that you have something to lose."

Why Are We Still Consuming News Like It's 1899?

We’ve witness a torrent of nature- and man-made news in 2011. And if I were a betting man, the range and impact of the events to come will make news even more essential to all of us. But reading all this news started to bother me, not only because of what was happening in the world, but because the experience of consuming news sucks. For the past new months, I’ve been thinking about this problem (unconnected to Cheezburger).

As my friend Dan Sinker said: “We’re still delivering the news in the same way since the Civil War.” He’s right. The pace of news may have gotten almost real-time (radio, TV, social media), but we still consume the same basic product.

News Sites Are Limiting Themselves
Currently, news sites have many problems. The limited amount of space on news homepages and their outmoded method of presentation poses big problems for the distribution of news as well as consumption by the public. Even though it’s been more than 15 years since the Internet became a news destination, journalists and editors are still trapped in the print and TV world of message delivery.

The traditional methods of news-writing, such as the reverse pyramid, the various “editions” of news pose big limitation on how news is reported and consumed. Unfortunately, internet-based changes such as reverse-chronological blogging of news, inability to archive yesterday’s news, poor commenting quality, live-blogging, and others have made news consumption an even more frustrating experience.

The Problem With News

I’ll take on just three of the major issues I see with the way news is presented today:

1) Editors Don’t Know What We Already Know
Having read the last 10 updates on the efforts to cool Japanese spent fuel storage pools, I’ve noticed a very annoying problem. After the initial 3 paragraphs that contain the latest update, the rest of the article is just a regurgitation of the previous 24-hours worth of stories that I’ve ready 9 times before. Why can’t the reporters just write a short update on the latest news? If you don’t understand what’s happening, the update makes no sense. But if you’re like me and are following the news closely, I feel like I wasted my time. This update-the-last-story practice is a leftover from the days of printed newspapers and wire updates. There’s no need for this today.

2) News, Not Front Pages
The front-page of a newspaper is an iconic symbol. One that sums up a generation’s influences and chronicle life-defining events. But more than ever, those front pages, ported to the web, don’t fit the way we use the web.

Walking through the hallowed halls of the New York Times, the front pages of the Gray Lady on historic days call out like a collective social memory. Unfortunately, news site front pages have lost the cultural benefit of archiving our collective memories — I have no easy way of knowing what the homepage of CNN.com looked like on September 11, 2001. And at the same time have become less influential due to the rise of social media — we’re much more likely to dive directly into the story from a friend’s Tweet as I rely more and more on social filters to tell me what’s worth reading.

3) One Front Page For All The News That Fit’s to Print
6 billion people can’t agree on a single perspective — let alone fit an entire world of news on one homepage. Talking to news editors, it’s clear that their job performance is more and more tied to generating traffic and news front pages are their drug of choice. The more traffic you can draw off a homepage, the better you are at your job. That’s a very poor way to use very talented editors.

The web can do much than this. Techmeme is a great example of a front page for mainstream tech news. Hacker News is a great example for a developer community front page. The list of examples can go on and on. By curating the news that appears on the front page, editors and curators set a powerful tone and setting for future coverage.

Not Your Mother’s Google News

The solution isn’t Google News — even though it’s an excellent service, it’s still a thin layer of aggregation technology atop a traditional model of news and sections. When I compare Google News against the amazingly fast-shifting landscape of the news world, Google News’ strength are aggregation and distribution, not presentation.

The Thrill of the Hunt

What I’m proposing to build isn’t going to solve all presentation problems for all types of news. I am interested in tackling the most exciting part of journalism: the Big Breaking News. If you’ve ever been a journalist, you know the exact feeling of a big news hunt. This is the Moby Dick of news, the big game that turns you into Ahab.

The Moby Dick Project*

I am trying to create a dialog to raise awareness to solve this problem. This project’s goal is to create discussions around how and what we can do to solve the problems we face with news presentation today. I’m no more qualified to lead this discussion than an average news junkie. It’s been too long since journalism school and I don’t work in the news, but I would like to bring together great minds and passionate people around this problem.

Unsure But Curious?

I can’t fully explain the solution in this brief post — and I don’t have all the answers. But I hope that I have outlined the serious problems that are currently being ignored by the news sites of today.

If you’re curious to see how you can play a part in solving this problem, I can be reached at benhuh+mobydick@gmail.com.


P.S.: A reporter asked a Cheezburger employee if I was leaving the company to work on this project. The answer is a clear, resounding “No.” I love my Cheezburger and we’re just getting started. Journalism is a personal passion of mine and I would love to see others spread the message of this problem.

* Project Moby Dick was originally a US program designed to gather news and intelligence on the Soviet Union using high-altitude photography. I think it’s pretty fitting.

How I Got Screwed at Bellevue Chrysler Jeep Dodge

Everyone has their tale of horrible customer service. As the Cheezburger Network grows our Lolmart.com store, I have learned to appreciate how challenging it is to build a culture of good customer service.

This is a true story about how often the littlest things can cost businesses thousands of dollars in future business. In this case, over a 50-cent screw.

Last Saturday morning, I drove up to the service bay at Bellevue Chrysler Jeep Dodge for a recall-related repair. In addition, I asked the service person to replace a rusty screw on my still-under-warranty Jeep. The screw had been rusting for about a year now, but since I had no other reason to visit the Jeep dealer, I decided to wait until now.

“I can’t replace that,” the service rep said. “It’s attached to an aftermarket part. You could have damaged the paint when you added the aftermarket part.”

Often, a surprise attack is the best defense. In this case, I never expected the dealer to argue over a 50-cent screw. It was as if a kitten clawed me in the face. And poured Tabasco in the wounds. Then lit my face on fire. I fumbled my words. I could feel my face turning red, and I struggled to keep my composure. I told him repeatedly that the screw had been rusting since I purchased the vehicle. Not only that, it was attached to a consumer-removable part. In other words, Jeep created the screw so that the consumer could screw and unscrew it.

Still, the dealer insisted that I was responsible for the rusting.

I had one last argument left. “Listen, this is my first time here at Bellevue Jeep. At some point, you’re going to have to trust your customers and I am telling you that this screw has been rusting since before the aftermarket part was installed.” As I said these words, I started to wonder why I was even arguing. It was a 50-cent screw. I was just ready to drop the issue.

“I’m going to have to call my warranty manager and have them approve this warranty service,” the dealer added. “We don’t stock fasteners and you’ll have to come back if the warranty repair is approved. I’ll call you.”

The words “I’m going to have to call my warranty manager” hung in the air like a brick balloon. Impossible, I thought. This guy really thinks he’s going to have to call a manager to get approval to replace a 50-cent screw. WHOA. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO WAYYYYYYYYY.

Yes way. He had to create even more work and waste more people’s time to get authorization for a 50-cent screw and he expected me to drive back to the dealership to get it. It blew my mind. I was at a loss for words. I didn’t know what was worse: That he didn’t think twice about wasting his company’s time and money, or that he though his customers had nothing better to do than come back to the dealership to have a screw replaced.

All this time, I was holding a list of $800 worth of accessories I was going to order from the dealer. I put it away in my pocket. The total loss of business to Bellevue Chrysler Jeep Dodge over this incident? Accessories plus future repairs and maintenance, and me spreading the word of my horrible experience to all my friends. All that over a 50-cent screw.

After some thought, I had two theories over the seemingly irrational behavior of the service rep.

  • First theory: He was an idiot with the IQ of a door stop. I would love to believe that, but it was unlikely. It takes an intelligent man to argue in the face of common sense.
  • Second theory: The dealership had put in place hard and dumb policies that made their employees behave like automatons and robbed them of empowerment. This is probably more likely.

I took this experience to heart and wanted to make sure Lolmart would never make the same mistake. The same day, I emailed our customer service manager to make sure that we would never make a penny-wise pound-foolish mistake like that. She said those mistakes happen because bad policies rob front-line employees the power to make customers happy. Over lunch, we made policy changes so that any Lolmart.com customer service rep can fix small problems on the spot without ever asking the manager.

When a business screws you over a screw, empower your employees.

P.S. He never called.

P.P.S. This was originally titled “How Lack of Common Sense Costs Businesses Thousands”, but I think a good SEO is needed on this post.

Good News Everyone!

you are now reading this in my voice

Cheezburger has raised $30 million in a venture funding round to bring more lolz to the world.

Thanks for all your congratulatory Tweets, comments, emails and good thoughts. I look forward to using this money to create the best tasting Cheezburger.

Camera Phones Killed the Polaroid

Photo of Ben Huh, by Randy Stewart

Thanks for all the Cheezburger fans for coming out for our new ICHC book party!

(Photo by one of the Cheezburger Product Managers, Randy Stewart)

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