Life after Mashable, one sci-fi novel & a mysterious startup: Q&A with Ben Parr

Famed for his prolific commentary on social media and tech, Ben Parr was a key member of the Mashable team, an award-winning social media and technology news site, for three years before his axing in 2011. The former editor-at-large, who refuses to go into details about why he was asked to leave the company, now pens a weekly column for CNET, another technology news site.

He was recently named the coolest social media geek in Silicon Valley by SF Weekly, a San Francisco-based weekly newspaper.

The 27-year-old American technology journalist and entrepreneur has been busy since leaving Mashable. He completed his first sci-fi thriller novel, Desel. He’s also been busy preparing for the launch of his new venture, The Peep Project, a mysterious startup.

Parr has been rather cagey about the project, saying little except that he and his founding partner, Hilary Karls, “are building an intelligent information assistant powered by time technology.”

Parr wants to solve the problem many companies, including Google, are struggling with: “There is a massive information overload problem and we are going to fix that,” he says.

“The Peep Project is your intelligent information assistant. We’re focused on one thing: helping you manage your information universe. We are not building a Siri. We think the way we interact with content is broken; we know there’s a better way,” say Parr and his partner on their Angel List page.

Memeburn managed to get Parr to sit still for a few minutes to chat about life after Mashable, the über mysterious Peep Project and the future of social.

Parr believes that social will soon be our primary means of communication and the trends we’ve seen with tech blog acquisitions will continue. He reckons this will provide more “mainstream coverage” of tech and social media news.

Answering Memeburn’s favourite question of whether or not the web is dead, Parr says that “anyone who believes the web is dead is a fool”.

Memeburn: You were with Mashable for three years — how do you think the tech news blogging space has changed since you started there?

Ben Parr: It’s far more mainstream. There are far more people interested in tech and social media than even a few years ago. The result is that there’s room for even more tech news websites globally.

MB: Why did you feel like it was the right time to leave Mashable?

BP: I’m an entrepreneur — it’s in my blood. I always wanted to go back to my entrepreneurial roots. It was just a matter of timing.

MB: What was it like to make the transition from working at Mashable to writing for CNET?

BP: CNET has been a fantastic home for my columns. Jim Lanzone and the team have some amazing things up their sleeves, and I am thrilled to be working with them.

MB: There is a lot of talk that the web dead and a more ‘appified’ version will take its place, what are your thoughts on this?

BP: Apps are part of the web — they’re just a different view into it. Anyone who says the web is dead is a fool.

MB: What do you think will be the major trends in social media in the future?

BP: Social will become the primary way we communicate, especially through mobile devices.

MB: Do you think more and more tech blogs will be bought out by big media?

BP: Of course — tech is a valuable audience and acquisitions are nothing new for the media business.

MB: What do you think this will mean for the industry?

BP: More mainstream coverage of technology and social media. More interest worldwide in entrepreneurship.

MB: What trends and companies excite you as a tech journalist?

BP: As a former tech journalist, I’m excited by how social media is changing how we consume content — I think we’re just at the tip of the iceberg. I’m excited by any technology that makes my life more automatic, though.

MB: You wrote recently that you think Google has lost its magic. What do you think it can do to make sure it doesn’t lose its innovative approach and or focus too much on advertising?

BP: They need to keep incubating forward-thinking projects and not chase Facebook’s shadow.

MB: We know it’s a big secret, but can you tell us any more about The Peep Project?

BP: Just watch The Peep Project or our Twitter account for more info.

MB: How will The Peep Project “change the way people interact with information and the web”?

BP: Can’t spill the beans yet!

MB: What are the most important things you look for in a startup?

BP: A passionate team that values company culture, simplicity and defensible technology.

MB: Many startups get a lot of buzz and media attention when they’re new, but don’t last or become the type of game-changers you’d expect. How can newcomers like Highlight make sure they progress from a startup to successful company?

BP: Build a business that changes people’s lives. Twitter hit its turning point for me when journalist James Buck used it to tell the world he had been arrested by Egyptian authorities in 2008. The best startups have “that moment.”



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