Author Archives: Ben Parr

My thoughts on TMZ’s iPhone “Scoop” on CNBC [VIDEO]

Yesterday, I hopped on CNBC to talk about TMZ’s new iPhone on Closing Bell. Suffice it to say, I wasn’t buying it. Check out the video:

Why Are Google Glass Users Such Assholes?

Childish. Petty. Disrespectful. These were the only words I could muster after reading about how a group of Glass users destroyed the Yelp rating of a local NYC restaurant, all because they asked one person to take off her Google Glass in their restaurant. I’ve been asked to take off Glass before, and I’ve obliged without issue. After all, it’s their restaurant and their rules. If a restaurant asks me to put my cell phone away, I will. If somebody asks me to take off my shoes in their home, I respect their wishes. But Katy Kasmai didn’t take being asked to remove Glass so well. She refused to eat there because she couldn’t put the computer off her face. Instead she posted to Google+ and, for some reason, her Google+ followers and other Glass users decided to vote down the restaurant on Yelp, OpenTable and Google/Zagat. (Correction: From what I could find, Katy never rallied or asked her followers to downvote the restaurant. Google Glass users did that all on her own.) For those who don’t know, a single star in a Yelp rating can make or break a local restaurant. In fact, just an increase by a half-star increases the chance a restaurant can sell out its seats by 49%. A full-star drop is a big deal to a locally-owned restaurant like Feast, which was only started a year or two ago by two friends. Since then, Kasmai has defended the response, calling it “tech discrimination”:
I think I just vomited a little in my mouth. You can’t control being black, gay or a woman; you can control whether you wear a $1500 piece of hardware. To me, this kind of behavior reeks of entitlement. Just because I own a piece of technology instantly means that I should get my way. This kind of behavior is the reason why I rarely put on Glass anymore — I don’t want to be associated with Glassholes. Unfortunately for Google, this isn’t an isolated case. Search the term “Glasshole” and you’ll get plenty of news stories about Sarah Slocum. (who shouldn’t have brought Glass into a bar like Molotov in the first place, but reacted badly by escalating the situation.) One Glass user in Shanghai was taking creepy photos of women in the subway. It’s gotten so bad that Google even had to release a guide on how not to be an asshole. Seriously, why does Google Glass seem to attract so many assholes? Yes, there are plenty of great people using it for interesting and legitimate reasons — this story of a double amputee in Vegas is one the most compelling. But these legitimate uses are being drowned out by asinine behavior.
I have a simple theory as to why Glass seems to attract more assholes: unlike other technologies, Glass is also a status symbol. Smartphones aren’t great status symbols — they stay in your pocket most of the time. Neither are smart watches, which aren’t always visible, either. But Glass? It’s the only piece of technology I can think of that’s impossible to miss. It’s in your face. If you walk in somewhere, everyone will know you have Glass. And in the early days, when only a few people could obtain Google Glass, it meant that you had been “chosen” in some way by Google. Some people can handle that, but others aren’t so adept at handling the idea that they were chosen. To some, being chosen means that they were, in some way, better than those who weren’t chosen. And that goes straight to the ego. It leads to entitlement, which leads to glasshole-ish behavior. You see this kind of behavior with middle class who buy Porsches, Mustangs and Jaguars. It’s a flashy symbol of wealth and power that can make people act entitled assholes. I doubt this mindset will go away anytime soon, despite the fact anyone can buy Glass now. “We were the original Glass explorers,” is a phrase that we will unfortunately hear over and over again. By inadvertently making Google Glass a status symbol, Google attracted not just developers and tech enthusiasts, but a-holes into its Glass Explorers program. This has led to months of headache-inducing headlines that aren’t because Google built a bad product or had a bad idea. It just inadvertently found the wrong people to become its evangelists. So I implore the Glass enthusiasts out there — please stop acting like the victim. Stop acting like you’re entitled to wear Glass around. And most of all, stop acting like Glassholes. If you truly love the product, you’ll respect the wishes of others and focus on sharing the use cases of Glass that make it stand out as a quality product with a positive impact.

On Twitter and Short-Term Stock Fluctuations

Twitter has had a rough few weeks, but does that mean it’s destined to spiral downward? Hell no. 18% stock price drops are great for headlines, but they certainly don’t tell the story of a company’s long-term trajectory. So let’s get the obvious out of the way: Twitter’s getting punched in the gut at the moment:
After a steady rise to over $45, shares in Twitter have plummeted to just a hair under $32. Ouch. It stings just a bit more when you read the news stories about today’s 18% drop particularly, thanks to the end of the IPO lockout for insiders at the company. Here’s one quote from USA Today:
“Even without a secondary offering, millions more Twitter shares will be coming onto the market now that lock-up expirations have begun. That additional dilution may mean even more pain for Twitter shareholders in the weeks or months ahead.”
That’s fair. That’s potentially accurate. But the key phrase here is “weeks or months” — not “months or years”. Everyone seems to forget a couple of key facts about tech companies just after their IPOs:
  1. Stocks go through massive fluctuations during their first year on the public market as employees, management and investors adjust.
  2. It takes time — a lot of time — for a company to start realizing returns from the money it raises during its IPO, whether that’s in the form of revenue, users or stock price.
  3. One day and one week drops are horrendous predictors of a company’s success.
I remember the headlines about Facebook after it started tumbling after its IPO. Today, everyone’s raving about how it’ll be on the most valuable companies around by 2020. Do you remember how long it took Facebook to really hit its stride in the stock market? The answer is over a year:
Facebook needed time to adjust to the market, and the market needed time to adjust to Facebook. And since then, Facebook has blossomed (as has LinkedIn and many other large social networking offerings). With that IPO money, Facebook was able to pull the trigger on Instagram, which has turned out to be one of the best acquisitions of the last decade. Twitter just made a big acquisition itself, MoPub, which needs time to develop before we can render a verdict. So while we breathlessly panic about Twitter’s stock drop, don’t forget about the big picture. Twitter’s fundamental revenue numbers are growing and the company has plenty of time to make its core product appeal to a wider audience and monetize that audiences (or monetize audiences everywhere with MoPub). So while the next few weeks and months may continue to be choppy, I’m long on Twitter, because I believe in its leadership (particularly Dick Costolo) and I believe that it has the fundamentals to succeed. All it takes is one positive quarterly report to turn a downslide into an upswing. Image of a Mountain Bluebird courtesy of Wikipedia.

When Two Apps Are Simpler Than One

If there’s one entrepreneurial mantra that Steve Jobs taught us, it’s this: Simplify! Complex products fail. The complex MySpace lost to the simple Facebook. The simplicity of Snapchat, Instagram and Dropbox transformed them into world-class products. Tumblr famously cut a feature when it added a new one, always keeping the interface clean as hell. Foursquare, in its current iteration, isn’t simple. It has multiple functions. Is it a social check-in app? Is it a restaurant search app? Is it a location discovery app? Frankly, I didn’t know, and it turned me off from using it as much as I could have. I haven’t used its discovery features as much as I should have. I keep being told its discovery mechanisms are amazing. That’s why I love the move Dennis Crowley and the Foursquare team made yesterday. They split Foursquare into two apps: Foursquare and Swarm. Foursquare is the discovery portion, while Swarm focuses entirely on the social check-in aspect. It even has a feature I’ve wanted for a while, which is the ability to check into a general location, like a neighborhood. More importantly though, Foursquare’s core app is now all about local discovery and search. It won’t be hindered by the complexities of having users go through two, three or even four different flows. It makes Foursquare more directly competitive with Yelp. And while I have lots of great friends at Yelp, and I quite love the product and how useful it’s been in my life, competition is always a good thing for sparking new innovation. Splitting the apps into two makes the user experience far simpler for both sets of users. I suspect Silicon Valley will quickly be swarming, while Foursquare will make faster inroads in cities and with local businesses. If Swarm succeeds, Foursquare can spin it off or set up two teams. If it fails, it won’t kill Foursquare. Sometimes simplifying means taking out lots of features. And sometimes two apps are simpler than one.
P.S. — While we are at it, can I just say I love how The Verge tells stories? It’s absolutely one of my favorite news sites. Screenshot via The Verge.

Oculus Rift: Facebook’s $2 Billion Attempt to Seize Its Destiny From Apple and Google

Can’t say I saw this one coming. Facebook, on the heels of its $19 billion blockbuster acquisition of WhatsApp, has dropped another $2 billion (plus a potential $300 million in earn-outs) for Oculus VR, the company that makes Rift. If you haven’t tried the Rift, it’s extraordinary. The first time I played with it, I was awestruck by the immersive experience. It brings not just gaming, but any type of virtual interaction to a whole new dimension that no other product has ever even come close to accomplishing. And now it all belongs to Facebook. Why? Here’s what Zuckerberg said in the press release:
“Mobile is the platform of today, and now we’re also getting ready for the platforms of tomorrow. Oculus has the chance to create the most social platform ever, and change the way we work, play and communicate.”
Translated: Facebook sees Oculus as one of the next great platforms for the future. Right now, it doesn’t control a platform. Its content has to go through Google (Android, Chromebook), Apple (iOS, Mac) and Microsoft (PC). It’s friendly with the latter and not-so-friendly with the former. If Facebook can turn Oculus’s technology into a true platform — not just for gaming, but for everyday interaction — then it’ll be the best $2 billion it has ever spent. Facebook doesn’t want to be held down by Google or Apple. Acquiring the platforms of the future is the best way for Facebook to control its own destiny.

Minecraft the Movie: Suggestions for Casting

So Warner Brothers, thrilled with the performance of The Lego Movie, is turning another blocky adventure into a movie — Minecraft! Yes, the popular indie building game is coming to the big screen with the help of Vertigo Entertainment and Lego Movie producer Roy Lee. I’m not sure what kind of script you can make out of Minecraft, but I immediately knew who I wanted to play some of my favorite characters from the game. These are simply suggestions, nothing more. But if I were casting for this movie….
Human (main character): Denzel Washington Villager: Ken Watanabe Creeper: Dennis Rodman Lava: Bradley Cooper Water: Jennifer Lawrence Bedrock: Sandra Bullock Wrecking ball: Miley Cyrus Stone block: Arnold Schwarzenegger Wool: Chewbacca Ice block: Ice T Diamond block: Kanye West Sponge: Spongebob Squarepants Iron Golem: Vin Diesel Obsidian: Zoe Saldana
I’m also okay with Dennis Rodman being Enderman, but only if there’s a cameo from Kim Jong Un. In all seriousness, The Lego Movie was a great success and a great movie, so if Vertigo brings the same approach to Minecraft, it could work. Weirder things have become movies, after all. Image courtesy of FunnyJunk

The Floodgates Have Opened

temp..yaidgitb The floodgates have just burst open, not just in the world of technology, but in the entire free market. In the very way we view capitalism. I am, of course, talking about Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp for $16 billion ($19 billion when you count the restricted stock units). It is the largest acquisition of a private, venture-backed company in history. This deal is worth more than the GDP of nearly half of the countries on earth. Let that sink in for a moment. We haven’t had an event this high on the Richter scale since AOL-Time Warner and the 2000 bubble. Of course, the market then isn’t the market now. As my old colleague Chris Taylor intelligently points out, the Facebooks, Googles, Apples and Amazons of the world have grown up. They have billions in cash. They are profitable. They aren’t going anywhere, even if it means acquiring their future threats for $19 billion. Or acquiring one of the world’s most advanced robotics companies. Anything it takes. Zuckerberg is a rare breed. He’s willing to do anything to make sure Facebook is at the forefront of its mission of connecting people, even if it means giving up 9.5% of his company to do it. He doesn’t care — he thinks about the next 30 years, not the next three. And he has the complete control to make deals like this one. But so does Larry Page. And the same will be true of more and more founders who reach the IPO pinnacle. As Zuckerberg has shown, control is good. Two years ago, everybody stood shell-shocked when Instagram sold to Facebook for $1 billion. Now we don’t even bat an eye to that number. And with the WhatsApp acquisition, that number is going to continue to look smaller and smaller. Facebook has opened the floodgates. Nobody knows what’s going to happen next. Don’t believe anybody that tells you otherwise. ~ Ben

Announcing “Captivology”, My Book on the Science of Attention (HarperCollins/2015)

Dear friends, family, colleagues, and supporters, I’m thrilled to announce my first non-fiction book, working title “Captivology: The Science of Capturing People’s Attention“, due in early 2015 from HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins. I hope you will sign up for updates on Captivology through my book’s website. You can follow @Captivology on Twitter or like Captivology on Facebook. You can also follow @BenParr for regular updates. And finally, here’s a link for sharing this announcement. Or you can just click this lovely button for updates:
Captivology is about the science and psychology of attention; why we pay attention to certain people, products, companies and ideas; and how to capture, maintain and grow attention. My book pairs the research of the world’s greatest scientists and psychologists in attention theory with the stories from the world’s Masters of Attention. The book dives into topics such as:
  • The role scarcity and working memory play on our attention.
  • How Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto created one of the world’s most iconic characters.
  • The power that framing and salience have in directing our attention.
  • The secret sauce of disruptive campaigns and viral products.
  • Sheryl Sandberg on the power of motivation when it comes to capturing attention.
During the course of my research, I have had the opportunity to interview more than 50 scientists, researchers, experts and Masters of Attention. I’m grateful to thought leaders such as Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook), Dr. Alan Baddeley (leading researcher in working memory), Steven Soderbergh (famed director), Alexis Ohanian (founder of Reddit), Dr. Michael Posner (leading cognitive psychologist), Jeff Weiner (CEO, LinkedIn), Adrian Grenier (actor, producer and director), Dr. Eli Finkel (expert on attraction), Grant Imahara (Discovery’s Mythbusters), Susan Cain (NYT bestselling author, Quiet), Jon Armstrong (Magician, Chairman of the Academy of Magical Arts), Dr. John Sweller (leading expert on cognitive load), Alexia Tsostis (Co-Editor, TechCrunch), Shigeru Miyamoto (Nintendo), Josh Elman (Partner, Greylock), Dr. Dietram Scheufele (Expert on Communications, Framing), Michael Stevens (creator, Vsauce), and many more who have taken time our of their days to chat with me for this book.
Above: A screenshot from my interview with Adrian Grenier and Dr. Thomas De Zengotita. A special thanks to NASDAQ for letting me use their studios for the interview.
If you have suggestions for my book, please email me at ben@captivology.com with your ideas! I’m especially looking for interesting people to interview and unique stories about how you or somebody you know captured the attention of an individual, an audience or the entire world. A major reason we’re announcing the book now is to gather great stories for the book that I might have otherwise missed. I hope to complete this research-heavy book in the next few months, so please forgive me if I’m much slower than usual responding to your emails, texts and tweets until then.

A Few Other Announcements

I’m working on Captivology on top of my day job as Co-founder and Managing Partner of DominateFund, the early-stage venture capital firm I started last year with Matt Schlicht and Mazy Kazerooni. We’ve expanded the fund from its original focus on connecting Hollywood with tech, though that is still a component of what we do. Our focus now is on helping startups capture attention for their products and accelerate their growth through our expertise in five key areas: Strategic Celebrity Partnerships, Press, Marketing, Customer and User Acquisition, and Building Viral Products. The fund is the reason I decided to write this book. We will be making more announcements about DominateFund in the near future, including several new additions to our team and updates on our amazing portfolio companies. Because I had all of this on my plate, CNET and I decided to retire The Social Analyst, my column at CNET, last year. I want to thank CNET, and especially Jim Lanzone, Mark Larkin and Jim Kerstetter, for being so supportive of me and my column, for being amazing bosses, and for putting up with me and my hectic schedule. I won’t be bringing The Social Analyst back. At least, not in its current form. The column, which I started at Mashable in 2009, has been my place to opine on the most pertinent issues in tech. CNET was kind enough to let me continue my column. I will eventually be back writing columns and thought pieces on a regular basis, but ones that are about more than just technology. There is a mountain of research from my book I want to discuss and advice I want to dispense for every entrepreneur who struggles to get the attention of users or artist who wants to be heard. I also have a lot of other insights in media, entrepreneurship, investing and science I hope to eventually share. One final announcement — I’m proud to announce that I have signed with the Worldwide Speakers Group, which now represents me for all my speaking engagements. You can check out my speaking topics or book me by sending a message to Keith Lambert at KLambert@wwsg.com or calling WWSG at 703-373-9806. I primarily speak about attention, attention for brands, innovation, technology and entrepreneurship. I want to thank a few people right now for all of their help the last few months. Thank you to everybody I’ve interviewed for the book so far. A special thanks to the best agent in all of publishing, David Vigliano, for always having my back. The same is true of Will LoTurco, who works with Vig. Thank you Marcy Simon and Melinda Mullin, for going above and beyond the call of duty for me. Thank you to my editor, Genoveva Llosa, for being just sensational. Thank you to my partners Matt Schlicht and Mazy Kazerooni for being my unofficial brothers (Nat, you too). A thank you to Hallie, my badass EA. Thank you to my family (love you mom & dad!), and finally a special thank you to my girlfriend Julie, for being my rock. Onward and upward! Thank you for kindness, ~ Ben

Please follow me and Captivology on social media!

(p.s. — Happy birthday, sis!)

Tom Perkins on Bloomberg West [VIDEO]

Good job Emily Chang for a difficult interview. As for Tom Perkins… well, just remember that you can say crazy things on air too when your watch is worth a six pack of Rolexes.

CNN Turns a Terrible Tragedy Into an Upworthy Headline

We’re all doomed. (Seriously, CNN — you’re better than this.)