Category Archives: Media

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

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.)

The PandoDaily Problem: Why the AllThingsD Team Needs to Avoid Tech Investors

kara-swisher-walt-mossberg-meredith-perry-1
By early next year, two high-quality technology news publications are going to make their debut. And if the owners of these publications are smart, they will turn their backs on the tech investors that are likely lining up outside their doors. As some of you may have heard, Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher, two of the most powerful and credible titans in tech journalism, are parting ways with News Corp. and The Wall Street Journal. Starting in January, they will be running a new online publication for technology news, complete with Ina Fried, Mike Isaac, Liz Gannes, Peter Kafka and the entire AllThingsD team. Swisher and Mossberg won’t be keeping the AllThingsD brand, unfortunately — that is still the property of News Corp. But given their massive reach and stellar reputations, they don’t need it. Right now they’re shopping for investors. Reportedly they’re in talks with NBC Universal and several others at a (reported valuation of $40 million). Meanwhile, somewhere in a quiet corner of the universe, former Wall Street Journal reporter Jessica Lessin is building a yet-to-be-named technology news publication. She’s been collecting star reporters from Fortune, WSJ and The New York Times. We actually discussed her new publication a little on Jason Calacanis’s This Week in Startups, though she’s keeping all the juicy details close to the vest.
Both are going to need cash to run their operations from outside investors. Lucky for Lessin, Swisher and Mossberg, there won’t be a lack of potential suitors ready to fund them from the media, finance and tech worlds. They have amazing pedigrees and influence. It’s just a matter of who. AllThingsD’s team is looking at media companies as investors, but others have suggested that Swisher and Mossberg should be looking at the cash-rich world of venture capitalists and technology investors for funding. I disagree. It would be a terrible idea that would cripple the credibility of AllThingsD. I also think Jessica Lessin should be careful when it comes time to select investors. If there’s anything that can damage the credibility of a publication, it’s conflicts of interest. I only recently came to this conclusion after watching the beating that Sarah Lacy and PandoDaily has received from other members of the press. PandoDaily, started by Lacy in 2012 after she left TechCrunch, counts an enormous slew of technology luminaries as investors. Marc Andreessen, Peter Thiel, Chris Dixon, Ron Conway, Menlo Ventures, CrunchFund and many others hold some form of equity in the company. At the time, I thought it was a good thing — she needed cash to start PandoDaily, and she was deepening her relationships with some of the biggest movers and shakers in Silicon Valley. It has turned out to be a bigger liability than I expected, however. I call this the PandoDaily Problem. Lacy’s publication has been a punching bag due to the inherent conflicts of interest that arise when you raise money from the people you cover. Valleywag has been especially brutal, but they’re not the only ones to voice concern about conflicts of interest. While you can argue all day about whether PandoDaily’s coverage is influenced by its investors or not, the mere fact that its credibility is debated due to those investors is a problem that PandoDaily can never shed. It makes PandoDaily a target. To be clear, PandoDaily isn’t the only one with lots of conflicts of interest. It’s well known that Swisher’s wife Megan Smith is a senior level Google executive. That’s why you almost never see her write about Google, and she always discloses her relationship when she does. TechCrunch’s founder, Michael Arrington, invests in startups now via CrunchFund, but I don’t believe his investments influence the editorial decisions of editors Eric Eldon, Alexia Tsotsis or their team. (seriously, Arrington hasn’t called the shots at TechCrunch for a very long time). My point is that conflicts of interest are everywhere in journalism, and the best practices are to 1) be upfront about them and even better 2) to avoid them completely. Publications and reporters can’t avoid conflicts of interests — the people you report on are your friends, enemies and significant others. But I do believe that it’s in the best interest of any publication to minimize its potential conflicts of interest. That means, when possible, avoiding investors that a publication might be covering fairly often. In my opinion, PandoDaily would’ve been better served raising money from other sources OR raising it from just 1-2 tech investors instead of 10-20 to minimize its conflicts. So my advice to Swisher, Mossberg and Lessin would be this: avoid tech investors if you can. And if you do raise money from tech investors, raise that money from as few firms as possible to minimize your conflicts of interest. ~ Ben P.S. I want to be clear that, if I had been in Sarah Lacy’s position, I might have done the same thing and raised from the investors who knew me best. Dealing with tech investors and venture capitalists is far, far, far easier than dealing with giant media conglomerates or private equity firms. Lacy knew that PandoDaily would be attacked for conflicts of interest, and she made the judgment that taking money from tech was a better option than taking months or years to wrangle one of the media giants into investing. Top image: Kara Swisher (middle) and Walt Mossberg (right) with Meredith Perry of uBeam, a DominateFund portfolio company.

What Will It Take For Us to Get Angry?

Occupy Wall Street 2011
Edward Snowden, The Guardian and The Washington Post know how to keep a story in the news. Instead of dumping all of their leaked documents to the public, they are slowly releasing information on PRISM, the NSA and more to the press in waves. Drip. Drip. Drip.
Europe is pissed with us. Russia’s Vladimir Putin basically gave America the middle finger. Hong Kong (and China) did the same thing. Edward who? Oh, he left hours ago because you messed up his middle name. Also, what’s this about you spying on us? The only ones who don’t seem pissed are Americans themselves. Sure, you can’t read Reddit without coming across at least one “Fuck the NSA” or “Fuck Obama” post. But have you seen what’s going on in Egypt? How about the protests in Turkey? The U.S. government has been invading the privacy of hundreds of thousands of people, including Americans, at a scale that has never before seen in the history of mankind. And how do we react? We whine about Paula Deen. Okay, perhaps I’m oversimplifying the situation. But I haven’t seen anybody in the streets taking our government to task. This includes me. I’m upset, don’t get me wrong. But for some reason, I’m not angry. There’s a very big difference between upset and angry. When you’re upset, you get a few articles. When you’re angry, you get worldwide protests that scare the shit out of politicians. Just look at the Occupy Movement for a small demonstration of the power of the American people when they’re angry. Drip. Drip. Drip. Are the NSA, FBI and U.S. government’s assaults on personal liberties not egregious enough for us to finally become angry? Are we too comfortable with our lives on the top of the global food chain to take our government to task? Or is the ignition that will light up the American people still waiting to be leaked by Glenn Greenwald? I don’t know the answer. What I do know is this: we should be angry. We should be very angry. But we are not, and until something — or someone — acts as the catalyst to unite the American people, we will continue to lack the will to take action. And that is far more dangerous than any secrets the NSA is collecting about you. Drip. Drip. Drip. Image (The Occupy Wall Street General Assembly in Washington Square Park) courtesy of David Shankbone, Wikipedia

NSA’s PRISM: This Isn’t Over, So Can We Please Breathe Before We Jump to Conclusions?

dark-prism
The dropped a bombshell last night — the government is spying on you! And it’s in cahoots with the world’s most popular Internet companies to do it! If that isn’t a recipe for a shitstorm, I don’t know what is. But are Google, Yahoo, AOL, Facebook and the other tech giants willingly sending the NSA user data, or are they not? If you ask the companies named in the PowerPoint presentation, they don’t know what the hell you’re talking about:
  • Google: “We have not joined any program that would give the U.S. government—or any other government—direct access to our servers.”
  • Facebook: “Facebook is not and has never been part of any program to give the US or any other government direct access to our servers.”
  • AOL: “We do not have any knowledge of the Prism program.”
  • Microsoft: “If the government has a broader voluntary national security program to gather customer data we don’t participate in it.”
Okay, those are pretty blanket denials, but their statements could be carefully crafted to not be lying, but not be telling the whole truth. At least, that’s what Arrington believes. Or maybe Palantir is behind the whole thing? (nope.) Or maybe these companies aren’t actively involved in the program? Well, The Washington Post just stepped back from the accusation that these tech companies were directly involved. So basically, we have a scandal with no actual answers and lots of accusations flying around. It’s a field day for the press, but users should wait before they start boycotting companies, and the press should do its job — investigate into PRISM until it finds the truth. Until then, I’m going to sit out the blame game. Photo Credit: wonker via Compfight cc

Reading: “Boston Combs Mile-Square Crime Scene After Blasts”

Boston Combs Mile-Square Crime Scene After Blasts – NYTimes.com.

These monsters will be brought to justice, but it’s going to take a lot of time and patience.

The Right Direction for CNN

New CNN boss Jeff Zucker has been making some sweeping changes over at the troubled network, and thank goodness he is. It’s been long overdue. What has the former ABC executive done in the last few weeks? Well, he completely blew up Starting Points, CNN’s old morning show, and hired Chris Cuomo to co-lead a new morning show. CNN’s morning show was terrible, especially when you put it up against Fox & Friends, no matter what you think of the network’s politics. Zucker ended the contracts of longtime CNN contributors James Carville and Mary Matalin. And Managing Editor Mark Whitaker stepped down in a statement that makes your ears perk up:
We have a new leader with his own forceful ideas about where to take CNN’s reporting, programming and brand. For him to succeed, I believe he deserves his own team and management structure and the freedom to communicate one clear vision to the staff.”
Zucker has hired Rachel Nichols, the longtime ESPN reporter, to host a weekend sports show and contribute throughout the week. CNN barely covered sports before. John Berman and Jake Tapper are also joining the CNN roster. And all of these changes have happened in less than a week. It signals a shift towards bigger personalities that can build fanbases for their timeslots and an emphasis on other areas of interest beyond politics, such as pop culture and sports. In other words, are more entertaining and engaging CNN. That’s exactly what it needs to stop its ratings disaster. Anderson Cooper, the network’s biggest star, still lags behind all of Fox News and much of MSNBC and its standard bearer, Rachel Maddow. Some of you may worry that CNN’s commitment to breaking news and independent, nonpartisan reporting is about to go out the window. But I think that’s shortsighted thinking that would doom CNN to self-destruction. You can be entertaining AND not have your network take one side or the other in the endless political chatter. And bringing in topics like sports will broaden its appeal. Good luck, Zucker. It’s going to be a painful transition, and a lot of people are not going to be happy by the time you’re done, but this is the way to save CNN from a slow and painful death. Image courtesy of CNN

Announcing “Startup Attention & PR 101″, Now on Udemy

I’m thrilled to announce the launch of “Startup Attention & PR 101: From Launch to Damage Control and Beyond“, my 19-lecture online Udemy course. I’m also thrilled to announce that half of the course’s proceeds will be donated to THRIVE-GULU, a not-for-profit dedicated to building rehabilitation and community centers across Africa, starting with Gulu, Uganda. “Startup Attention & PR 101″ is a deeper look at how to better work with the press. This is not a course about traditional PR. Instead, it’s a deeper dive into what makes a journalist tick and how you can can take advantage of that for your company or cause. The course covers four broad themes:
  • How Journalists Think
  • How to Launch a Product
  • How to Keep Users Interested
  • How to Deal With a Press Crisis
This course won’t make you a journalist’s best friend, but I hope it will give you more clarity to how journalists make decisions and how that affects you and your company. As I noted above, I am donating half the proceeds from this course to THRIVE-GULU. Thrive was founded in 2010 by Professor Judy Dushku to assist the communities of Northern Uganda to heal from the traumatic events of war, sexual enslavement, extreme poverty and lost opportunities. It’s a charity I’m honored to have supported in the past, and one I’m thrilled I can support now with this course. So take the course, tell your friends and send me some feedback, because I will be adding more material based on your feedback. ~ Ben