Profiles in Geekdom: Ben Huh, Cheezburger Network

If you browse the Web frequently and still haven't chuckled at a lolcat, the "O RLY?" owl, or an epic fail photo, where have you been? The popularity of cute, funny, or weird photos with bold white captions has exploded. While these sorts of memes can be found on various websites, the biggest group of meme sites is the Cheezburger Network.

Headed by CEO Ben Huh, the Cheezburger Network is responsible for keeping various online funnies alive. More siginifcantly, the power of what makes a good meme is in the community's hands, who can create and share videos and photos uploaded to the network's various blogs.

GeekTech caught up with Ben to discuss kittehs, how the network came to be, what he thinks makes a good meme, and that interesting GQ fashion feud.

GeekTech: You have a degree in Journalism. What made you decide to not pursue a career in the media?

Ben Huh: I love journalism and the news, still to this day. But when I was about to graduate, I noticed myself spending more time reading news on the Web, rather than in print. I could already feel the excitement and momentum building for online journalism rather than print.

GT: You once had a blog about living with a dog in Seattle--what did you post to it, and how successful was that blog?

BH: My wife and I ran the blog together. We had a Google map mash-up of dog parks in Seattle and we talked about the various stores and activities. Pretty simple, really. It wasn't supposed to be commercial; it was just a reflection of our life and learning to blog.

GT: You aren't the original founder of the I Can Has Cheezburger; how did you manage to become the CEO?

BH: I’m the CEO of Cheezburger, the company that was formed in September 2007 to buy and run humor sites. The first site that we purchased was I Can Has Cheezburger?, which was originally created by Eric Nakagawa and Kari Unebasami.

GT: What was it that made you guys think pictures of cats would be the hit it is today? How did you sell that to investors?

BH: Cats have very expressive facial and body expressions, so they are a perfect canvas for the human emotion, which makes them awesome for captioning and anthropomorphization.

In addition, unlike dog lovers who have dog parks as a place to socialize, cat people socialize on the Internet which is like a giant litterbox of cat lovers. As a result, I Can Has Cheezburger is very interesting because the community has developed their own language and subculture. It wasn’t another oddity on the Web--it was a big booming phenomenon.

GT: When did you decide that I Can Has Cheezburger should move on from just cats and become a network?

BH: In early 2008, we launched 2 new sites, Graphjam.com and PunditKitchen.com. A couple of months later, we purchased FAIL Blog and it was another hit out of the box. The traffic continued to increase. We had a theory that people wanted a mental vacation and wanted to find a playground online for their sense of humor and imagination. That's why we branched out to FAIL Blog.

GT: The Cheezburger Network seems to be one huge meme database. To you, what makes a good Internet meme? Other than lolcats, what meme is your current favorite?

BH: A good meme is something that is unexpected, inspired creativity, and encourages broad participation. So it can’t be too niche. For example, our original site I Can Has Cheezburger is relatively old in the world of internet memes but it has an amazingly vibrant community. If the content is good, the site will survive and grow.

Other than lolcats, my favorite meme is Brushie.

GT: Why do you think giving the power of content provision essentially to users is a good idea?

BH: I would like to see consumers of pop culture be more involved in the creations of their culture. Pop culture today is mostly a spectator sport. We want a world where the lines between creators and consumers are blurred and weirdness abounds. I believe that the world is a better place when we take control of what we consume.

GT: Although the lolcats archive is pretty huge now, is there one particular favourite image you have?

BH: My favorite lolcat is the photo of the kitteh sitting in a brandy glass with the caption, "Send me to da laydee wif mai complementz". He’s a cool cat.

GT: If you could have any other entertainment blog out there now, which would it be?

BH: I'm a big fan of Urban Dictionary. It's a great simple idea that's become invaluable.

GT: What happened to the GQ Fashion duel!?

BH: They originally accepted the duel but then they went dark and never followed up with us.

GT: What advice would you give others looking to make an Internet meme, or a blog network as big as yours?

BH: I would find a passion and make sure that passion comes across in the community. Without passionate leadership, it's hard to create a community.

GT: Of all the Cheezburger Network sites, which is your favorite? Why?

BH: I Can Has Cheezburger will always be my favorite blog within the Cheezburger Network. It's the one I save until the end of the day and it always brings a smile to my face.

GT: Do you own--or have you ever owned--any cats? Or are you strictly more of a dog person?

BH: I’d love to but ironically, I’m allergic to cats.

[All images used with the permission of Cheezburger Network]

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