PSFK Interview: Hugh Dornbush of omgicu

PSFK Interview: Hugh Dornbush of omgicu
Allison Mooney
  • 21 may 2009

At the NY Tech Meetup in February, we got a peek at a new mobile service called omgicu. After its launch a few weeks back, there has been a lot of buzz–and debate–about it. omgicu can be described as a real-time version of Gawker Stawker, enabling anyone to “spot” celebs and blast it out Gossip Girl-style to anyone who has opted in for area alerts. We recently sat down with Hugh Dornbush, the company’s founder, to talk about the evolution of celebrity media, our genetic drive to gossip, and birdwatching.

What inspired you to create the service?

I was in mobile for a while, then went to business school but dropped out when I saw an opportunity to overhaul celebrity media. It’s a huge media category, and it’s still about consuming, not creating. That’s inconsistent with so many categories of media that have become more interesting because of the participatory nature of the Internet. Celebrity media is going to change too. Plus, the web is increasingly becoming a real-time platform. People now, unlike before, are demanding to know not what has happened, but what is happening.

And Americans want to know about celebrities. Each year, half of Yahoo!’s ten most popular searches are celebrities’ names.

Mobile phones are ideal tools to facilitate this real-time insight because New Yorkers see celebrities frequently. They get excited by their ability to recognize famous figures and they tell their friends. omgicu is just giving them a better outlet for this natural human behavior.

Why do you think people care so much about spotting celebrities?

It’s in our DNA. There’s evidence to suggest that humans are genetically inclined to pay close attention to the important members of their society, and the media has ensured that celebrities fill that role. Paying attention to the dominant members of a group was once crucial to survival in the ancestral environment, but cultural change happens much faster than biological change, so this tendency continues. Add to this the elements of surprise and serendipity and knowing about something before anyone else and there you have it. Plus, celebrities, they’re just like us!

What sort of behavior does the service encourage?

Some people think omgicu might be stalkerware, but our technology could just as easily be applied to birdwatching. Birders might want to share rare bird sightings with others in real-time, and no one would infer that this would encourage flash-hunting, would they? We are changing the availability of real-time celebrity information, not peoples’ motives.

omgicu amplifies behavior that’s already taking place without incident — people see something exciting in real-life and in real-time and they want to share that experience with others as soon as it happens. Instead of getting a text from your friend about a celebrity they just saw, you learn from someone you don’t know. This crowdsourcing leads to greater collective knowledge about things happening around you right now.

What’s the value in this if I don’t live in New York or LA?

People who live in cities without many celebrities are still fans. We tend to develop parasocial relationships with famous people; of course someone in Des Moines is going to want to know that somewhere, ScarJo is getting her hair blown out. And once we introduce photo and video functionality, they’ll have live windows into what’s going on in New York or LA anytime.

What do you see as the future of omgicu?

I think we see a shift in attention toward niche celebrities at the expense of lowest common denominator celebrities. Those one-size-fits-all public figures will always exist, but they won’t be quite so dominant. As the community and content develop, I think we see a lot of people who never cared much for traditional gossip getting interested in peeking into the lives of the particular public figures who they admire.

That and


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