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"The moment you see something like a Photobomb happen, we want you to think of our site," he says. And people do: only a quarter of his users find their way to Huh's blogs through miscellaneous links or social-networking sites such as StumbleUpon and Facebook. The other 75% head directly to his sites, either typing in the URLs or searching for them via Google.
More than anything else, Huh seems to have a knack for nailing the zeitgeist. Any of his sites, after all, could easily have become yet another passing online craze. (Remember the Numa Numa Guy?) Pet Holdings' page views, however, are growing at an annual clip of 300%. Huh admits some sites fall flat: "There's stuff you will never even hear about because it sucks so bad." For example, My Wedding is a Big Deal!, an assortment of bridal fails, Photobombs and other snafus, didn't quite gel. Another contender, called That's So Racist for posting public examples of unintentional racism was deemed a nonstarter. "We decided to pass on it because the comments would probably just descend into trolling and negativity," Huh says.
But on the whole, Pet Holdings shows no sign of losing steam. Just the opposite, in fact: the sites are making inroads off-line. A Cheezburger-inspired book spent 13 weeks on the New York Times paperback best-seller list last winter, and three follow-up titles are on their way this fall. FAIL Blog ink stampers and Lolcats magnetic poetry sell like hotcakes. Contributors to the LOLCat Bible Translation Project, which launched in 2007, are almost through translating the entire Good Book into kitty pidgin. (It opens, "Oh hai. In teh beginnin Ceiling Cat maded teh skiez An da Urfs.") I Can Has Cheezburger: The MusicLOL! is scheduled to debut Aug. 14 at the New York International Fringe Festival. The show follows several cats and a "Lolrus" in search of a particular food. "It's a classic quest arc," says co-writer Kristyn Pomranz. "We really wanted to explore this holy grail that is a cheeseburger."
So what's the secret of Huh's success? Part of the charm of his sites is that they appear to be put together by rank amateurs. "It's on purpose," says Huh. Actually, they're carefully cultivated by 20 staffers, mostly Seattle-based, including a lapsed lawyer and a former investment banker. The company is hiring roughly one staffer a month and gets some 100 applications for every position. Applicants should not offend easily and must have held a job they hated, says Huh, to better appreciate the joys of spending their days perusing funny photos. Plus, he says, "we want them to have spent serious time goofing off on the Internet."
The staffers who sift through the 10,000 photos and videos that users submit each day never write their own jokes or even edit users' captions; they simply cull the best offerings. If something is funny but is a questionable fit for an existing site, they'll start a new one. FAIL Blog, for instance, spawned There, I Fixed It, a catalog of such misguided repair jobs as an airplane apparently patched together with duct tape. They're always searching for new memes jokes or fads that could slip into the virtual jet stream and spread.
Huh, who works in a windowless 8-by-8-ft. server closet, like a Web Wizard of Oz ("It gets really hot with the door shut, so meetings have to be short," he says), admits he knows what he's looking for only when he sees it. "You can't really explain why it's funny," he says. "That's part of the fun."