Once you've built an empire of funny cat pictures and other user-generated comedy ephemera, what do you do next? Ben Huh, CEO of the sprawling Cheezburger network of comedy websites, has begun discussing a side-project he's working on called The Moby Dick Project. The Project's aim is to rebuild online media in a format that's suited for a changed media world.

"Why are we still consuming news like it's 1899?" Huh asks in a blog post this morning. "I want to rethink how we read breaking news," he told me by phone today. He's talking with a small group of well-known media innovators and sent us a first wireframe he's playing with. He's got some very interesting ideas.

Huh cites problems like seeing the same information in story after story, a news experience poorly suited to make use of the newly available media diversity and a failure by the news industry to make the best use of its editorial talent because of the structure of the news consumption experience.

As the leader of a network of sites that serve up nearly 400 million pageviews each month, Huh's got a uniquely well-informed perspective on the changing world of media consumption. The thought of him building a content management system that's like one part Huffington Post, one part I Can Haz Cheezburger and one part WordPress is a pretty awesome thing to imagine.
The ideal system would help media outlets present news to readers that is genuinely new to them, from diverse perspectives, with time, veracity and a living editorial process all emphasizing maximum value from the reader's time. I do wonder if that's really what people want, but Ceiling Cat may know best, after all.

"I'm trying to blow away our common conceptions about what the news experience is," Huh says. The initial conception seems like an open source curation/aggregation Content Management System, but Huh says that fails to capture many of the subtle features he thinks such a service would need. You can see in the wireframe below that he's thinking about far more than just aggregation.

Why the name? "Project Moby Dick was originally a US program designed to gather news and intelligence on the Soviet Union using high-altitude photography," writes Huh. "I think it's pretty fitting."

Below: one of Huh's first wireframes, outlining imagined features like "I've seen this already" content truncation buttons, a left-to-right array of information from different sources on a news story, a historical view of coverage at times of peak traffic and user voting over the verification status of details to a story. Huh emphasizes that he doesn't want this initial vision to limit the directions the project can go. Click to view full-size.

Huh emphasizes that he doesn't know the solution to these problems; he wants to convene a conversation to discuss a wide array of ideas. Some of the people he's put his head together with so far include people like Stanford educator Elizabeth Stark, Dan Sinker (author of @MayorEmanuel), John Bracken of the Knight Foundation, the prolific Cory Bergman of MSNBC's Breakingnews.com and other projects and the chronically cool engineer/superhero Harper Reed.

Huh would like you to participate in the conversation, too. Especially if you're a journalist or UX person. He's listed his email adress on his blog and The Moby Dick Project has a Twitter account for updates. Huh is working on the project as a hobby, separate from his day job wrangling LOLCats.

"We're still in the identifying problems stage," Huh says. "It might be a little ambitious to solve all those problems in one software project but that's what people get excited about. We'll get started by poking a few holes in news aggregation and editing and see what happens."

"Ideally I would like something built [out of all these discussions]," Huh said. Would that software be deployed like WordPress? "We admire Automatic and WordPress a lot," he said. "That would be an amazing model to follow."

As the leader of a network of sites that serve up nearly 400 million pageviews each month, Huh's got a uniquely well-informed perspective on the changing world of media consumption. The thought of him building a content management system that's like one part Huffington Post, one part I Can Haz Cheezburger and one part WordPress is a pretty awesome thing to imagine.

Photo: Ben Huh at SXSW 2009. Photo generously published under a Creative Commons license by Robert Scoble.