Category Archives: Projects

Updates on projects I’m working on

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!)

My Column Is Heading to CNET!

Dear friends, colleagues and supporters, I’m thrilled to announce that I’m joining CNET and CBS Interactive as a contributing columnist and commentator! Ever since my departure from Mashable, I’ve posted my personal take on the big technology news of the day on BenParr.com. The response to my work has been overwhelming, and traffic to this blog has skyrocketed. Thank you all for reading, commenting and sharing. But now I have a chance to make a much bigger impact with my writing. Starting this week, my commentary on technology, social media and startups will appear on CNET several times per week. I will not be doing any straight reporting — CNET has a talented team that already does an amazing job at that. Instead, I will be doing what I’ve been doing here on BenParr.com: breaking down the big issues and players in tech and explaining what it actually means for both the tech industry and society as a whole. To do that, I will be writing a combination of thought pieces, analysis stories, response pieces and the occasional long-form column. My CNET column is called The Social Analyst, just like my column on Mashable. It’s going to have more bite than my old column, though. I intend to keep tech’s biggest names honest. I decided to join forces with CNET/CBSi because CBS Interactive CEO Jim Lanzone and CNET General Manager Mark Larkin have an ambitious vision for the future. CNET is huge: it is one of the 100 most visited websites in the world, but Mark and Jim are not content with resting on their laurels. I believe in their vision and their leadership, and I am thrilled to be working with them. CNET isn’t my only gig, though. For the last few months, I’ve also been working behind-the-scenes on a startup, which we can’t wait to talk more about! My co-founder and I have a clear vision, as well as a duty to our investors, and we will move heaven and earth (and forgo sleep) to make sure our company succeeds. My new role at CNET and CBSi is the best of both worlds. I get to reach millions of people with my thoughts on technology, but still retain the flexibility to be an entrepreneur, build amazing products and change the world. Don’t take your eyes off of CNET. Big things are happening over there, and you won’t want to miss all the action. 2012 is going to be an amazing year. Cheers, ~ Ben

The Rise of the Smart Assistant

Almost everybody wants to have an assistant, even if people won’t freely admit it. Who doesn’t want an extra set of hands to help out with chores, scheduling, reminders, meetings, reservations, and the myriad of other tasks that we need to complete every single day? Just a few years ago, the only way you could get yourself an assistant was to pay one a full-time salary. Very few people can afford the luxury having somebody help them with all of the tasks and information in their lives. But that has rapidly changed with new technology that makes it easier to outsource our lives. This is what I call “Smart Assistant” technology, and I group it into three distinct buckets:
  1. Technological Assistants: The best known of these is Apple’s Siri, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Evi, for example, is far better at searching for relevant information on-the-fly.
  2. Virtual Assistants: Virtual assistants have been around for a while, but now they’re far more affordable thanks to services like Zirtual (which I use and love) and FancyHands. Rather than paying somebody $50K a year, you can pay $50 to $200 a month and get almost all the same benefits.
  3. Task Outsourcing: I’m a huge fan of services like Taskrabbit and Zaarly, which lets you outsource chores like food delivery, IKEA furniture assembly, laundry and grocery shopping. The convenience is worth the price.
While each bucket is vastly different, they help accomplish the same things — they help people save time, and they help put people’s minds at ease. We’re only at the beginning of this phenomenon though. I believe it’s especially true for technological assistants, which are in the best position to deal with (but have yet to solve) one of the biggest problems of the Internet age: cognitive and information overload. Smart assistants are huge businesses. Five years from now, you’re going to wonder how you lived without them. Siri image courtesy of Flickr, Kaptain Kobold

Matt Schlicht Explains Tracks.By

In this video, Matt Schlicht, aka one of the best product managers I have ever met, pitches his newest startup, Tracks.by, which he describes as “the most viral way for artists to promote their music and videos.” Matt was the first product manager at Ustream, where he built a lot of the company’s viral products, including its Social Stream product. This speech took place at the most recent San Francisco MusicTech Summit. Disclosure: I sit on Tracks.by’s board of advisers.

Jumping Out of a Plane for Charity

I’m late adding this to my blog, but I still want to note it. Two weeks ago, I agreed to help out the Leap for Life campaign to raise money and awareness for cancer research. To do this though, I did something I have never done before; I jumped out of a plane. You can read all about the project here, but suffice it to say, the result was this:
I’m thrilled to have been a part of this experience and this worthy cause. Thanks especially to JoJo Wright and his team for letting me join on this crazy adventure. I have more planned on the charity front. Stay tuned.

BenParr.com – The Redesign!

Moving across the country and Mashable have killed my blogging on BenParr.com, but still thousands of people are reading my posts. So, with my change of location, I thought I’d throw in a change of design. So welcome to the new BenParr.com, the beginnings of a more social, more interactive BenParr.com. The old design has been thrown out the window for this one. Some of the new updates:
  • A completely new design: Thanks to a combination of my work and One Theme, I have a a new design. I have a new logo, new color scheme and a lot more space for widgets.
  • Faster website: This should deal with any load speed bugs of the past.
  • Navigation changes: You’ll notice that there is a new menu line – this is a quick nav to the topics I cover the most. On top of this, the menu is now on the right hand side, so that content is king. I also have two sidebars for more useful content.

Some of the things you can expect on this new website:
  • Integration with my Mashable Articles: There will be a cool widget with my most recent articles so that you can always see what I’m writing.
  • Integration with Tech&Beer and Engage Analytics: My two new projects are my tech show, Tech&Beer (more announcements soon, and my consulting firm Engage Analytics – updates from each will be pushed to BenParr.com
  • Social media streams: Since I can’t write as much (I will still write), I will help compensate by connecting to my social stream – my Google Reader shared items, my Twitter, my Facebook stream, and more will appear on the blog so you’re in the know about the best social media and entrepreneurship information.

What still has to be done:
  • Fixing bugs: The comments don’t appear in titles and there may be some IE6 issues.
  • Design tweaks: A slightly bigger font here, a slight color change there – nothing too revolutionary.
  • Old article formats: Some of the older articles didn’t take perfectly to the new design. I will deal with them as necessary.

Watch out for more changes and updates. In the meantime, please give me some feedback on what I should do next. - Ben

Moving to San Fran: Tweeting the Cross-Country Photostream

Hey everyone, it’s been a busy couple of weeks, thus my updates have been even less frequent than usual. Normally I like to make my blog more about how to make you more productive as an entrepreneur and as a person. I promise I will get back to writing great posts on entrepreneurship soon. In the meantime, I want to tell you about upcoming changes and the Twitter photostream experiment I will be conducting while I travel from Chicago to San Francisco, starting next Monday (April 13th). First, on the changes – I intend to completely redesign BenParr.com with a new interface. It will be a completely new scheme that switches the location of the menu and adds some integrated functionality, such as a widget that streams the articles I write for Mashable and integration with my new tech show Tech & Beer, which should be launching in May. There will also be some integration with my new consulting firm, Engage Analytics, which is nearly done as a website and as a company. The second piece of interesting news is the cross country move. It’s going to be a grueling, wonderful 4 day journey spanning over 2,000 miles. I will be driving in my truck with a uHaul trailer hitched to the back. But if pictures interest you, I will be taking pictures across the country, in every state and cool place I visit. I will chronicle packing things up, visiting my hometown, my dogs, and the major sightseeing points – the Rocky Mountains, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, and yes, even Nebraska’s corn. The picture above is the boxes being packed. I will be posting all of my photos via Twitter, but I will be re-linking my Facebook status to my Twitter account, so all of those pictures will be posted on my Facebook as well. Be sure to follow my Twitter if you want to see half the country in the span of 3 days. Those are my announcements. Oh yeah, I’m going to embed a widget tomorrow to stream all of the photos from my TwitPic account so you can see the moving images. Hopefully this will be a good experiment in social media’s ability to share photos and experiences.

Announcements: Mashable, Tech&Beer, and Moving to the San Francisco Bay

I have several major announcements to make, many of which you have seen if you’ve been following my Facebook or my Twitter stream.
1. I have left Spine-health: If you did not know, I was the Interactive Content Manager for Spine-health, the web’s leading patient resource on back pain and chronic pain. I did everything from SEO (search engine optimization) to usability to adding new doctor-written content to the website. I have nothing but the most profound respect for Stephanie Burke, Sylvia Marten, and the Spine-health team. However, I decided it was time for some changes in my life. It has been a great learning experience, and I am glad to have left on great terms.
2. I am now Associate Editor at Mashable: I have been an occasional writer for Mashable since August 2008. But perhaps you’ve noticed a recent influx of articles from me in March, especially on weekends. Well that’s because I was training for a new role, as associate editor at Mashable. Mashable, for those who do not know, is a leading news and resource blog on social media and web technology. Now I get to talk about, debate, and discuss social media like Twitter, Facebook, iPhone applications, and more. I can’t wait to discuss social media with the world! Interested in my writing? You can always find my work at my Mashable Author Page.
3. I have started an analytics and consulting firm: Mashable won’t be my only job. I have opened up a consulting firm, Engage Analytics, which will provide strategic and consulting services in three specific areas:
  • Website Optimization and Usability
  • Web Analytics
  • Web and Social Media Marketing
For more details (and a rough look at the still-being-built website, visit here.
4. I am co-hosting Tech&Beer, a live tech entertainment show: In the next month, Matt Schlicht and I will be launching Tech&Beer, a twice-weekly live tech entertainment show. On the show, Matt and I will bring aboard tech personalities, entrepreneurs, and celebrities as co-hosts. We will interview them and discuss the week’s major technology-related events with them. We will use audience questions and topics to fuel the show. And as the title may indicate, we will drink beer and have a little fun as well! Each episode will air live on Ustream.tv as well as be recorded via Vimeo. If you’re interested in the show (either as a co-host, sponsor, or interested fan), be sure to email Mazy Kazerooni, our producer, at mazy[at]techandbeer.com. Also, follow the Techandbeer Twitter account.
5. I am moving to Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay: The final announcement, and perhaps the most significant, is that I am relocating from Chicagoland to the heart of Silicon Valley. I’ve lived in Illinois my entire life, with brief stints in Santa Barbara, Croatia, D.C., and Thailand. Chicago has been great, but I need a chance of scenery. The Tech&Beer show will be broadcast from Mountain View, CA, and I will be covering stories for Mashable from the silicon technology hub. I leave for San Fran/the valley on April 13th.
I will have more to announce and discuss in the next few weeks, but wanted to let you all know now. . Thanks for your support. I’ll try to post more about all of this soon.

It's Official: My Novel's Done

I’ll have more to report as I try to take this moment in, but I completed my first novel, a science-fiction thriller, at about 11:00. Although the story’s done, I still have a lot of work to do. I’m going to take a break from it, read some fiction for fun, and then get this thing printed and do my edits. After that, I’ll be asking some close friends to read it as well and we’ll find out if it’s up to par. In the meantime, here’s some statistics (as of 1/24/2009):
  • 44 Chapters, 3 Parts
  • 132,109 words
  • 528 Pages in Microsoft Word (double spaced)
  • 4 Years, 3 months to completion (though I don’t think any future novel will take this long again. After all, this is the first of a five-book arc)
I’m finally done. Wow.

New Section of BenParr.com – Introducing the Internet Tools Wiki


For the last few days, I’ve been working on some design and functionality features of BenParr.com. I’m nowhere near done, but I’m ready to release a new section of BenParr.com: The Internet Tools Wiki The Internet Tools Wiki is a project designed to aggregate the most useful information on the internet regarding internet tools and social media. What does that mean? It means that, unlike Crunchbase or Wikipedia, which are focused on general, non-biased information about companies and products, the Internet Tools Wiki is chiefly concerned with effective utilization of these products and aggregates the most impressive articles and community knowledge to that end. In the next few weeks and months, you can expect blog articles to coincide with wiki articles, for articles across the net to be added to the Internet Tools Wiki Database, and for more and more tools to be added over time. The information you will find on most of the wiki pages:
  • A Brief Description of the internet tool, no more than two sentences
  • A Value Proposition explaining why you should use the tool, no more than two sentences
  • BenParr.com Articles, an aggregate of all relevant articles on improving your use of an Internet tool from the BenParr.com blog
  • Other Featured Articles, a collection of articles from myself and the community on how to best utilize each Internet tool.
  • Community Advice, the section where users can place their tips, tricks, and information on how to best utilize Internet tools.
The wiki is currently bare bones and does not have proper information for most internet tools – That will come with time. Instead, functionality and information will be gradually added as articles are written and found. Everyone is welcome to contribute to the wiki and to add their tips and information . You are also welcome to add new tools and new articles. Expect more integration between the blog and the wiki as time goes on and my coding skills improve. In the meantime, I hope you get some utility and usefulness out of the Internet Tools Wiki! - Ben