Ben Huh, the CEO of Seattle-based Cheezburger Network, stood in the lobby of the Le Parker Meridien hotel on W. 56th St. peering into his phone as he uploaded a photo of a soggy Central Park snapped from the view outside the elevator. “All my friends have switched to Path,” he told Betabeat, pulling to refresh. “Twitter just has too much noise.”
Mr. Huh was in New York for a charity gala and a few business meetings on his way to the third bi-annual ROFLCon. ROFLCon is a Boston conference for “people at the center of memes and people who make their living from Internet culture, and people who are just fans,” as Mr. Huh described it. The conference consists of two days of talks and panels about subjects like GIFs, webcomics, supercuts and “lulz.”
“It’s actually really academic,” he said. “It’s incredibly high-brow and incredibly low-brow at the same time.” Attendees may show up in say, a Pedobear costume, but the “the panels tend to be rather academic. We talk about really serious topics.”
He expects the biggest topic of discussion at ROFLCon this year will be the now-dead Stop Online Piracy Act, which would have posed a significant threat to meme-friendly sites like Reddit, Tumblr and BuzzFeed. The collaborative “remixing” that creates memes often starts from an image or video that may have be copyrighted.
He likened copyright protection to tariffs on free trade. “Copyright is protectionism for content,” he said.
All this will only become more relevant for society at large, he said. ROFLCon is the “leading edge of this cultural change because of the Internet,” he said. “It’s the future of entertainment, the future of culture and how we communicate.”
LOLcats are probably the most mainstream meme, he said, but “new memes will crop up that speak to larger audiences” as the percentage of the population that grew up with the Internet increases. “Nothing we do seems to be really accepted by the mainstream yet,” he said. “It’s more like, ‘oh these weird freaks on the Internet.'”
For his part, Mr. Huh is working on the beta sites.cheezburger.com, a basic website builder where anyone can make a simple showcase for the things that make them LOL. One could, say, arrange a spread of ten photos or curate a collection of favorite memes. Cheezburger is now hosting about 25,000 such sites, he said. “As LinkedIn is to resumes, we want Cheezburger to be for people’s sense of humor,” he said.
Betabeat attempted to steer the conversation toward Circa, the freshly-funded news consumption startup of which Mr. Huh is a cofounder, but no dice. “Matt, my CEO, told me not to talk about that,” he said.