Trojan Horse: Ever wonder why some web pages take forever to load? On today’s episode of Track Changes, Paul and Rich explore the mess that is the internet. We take a look at three different websites to see what’s hiding behind them, and what we find is not pretty. From ad-tech to unknown JSON files, the results are surprising and confusing.
Paul Ford Well, I can hear in the back of my head the ad tech people in my life going like [nasal and annoyed], “What the hell are you—you don’t know a damn thing—”
Rich Ziade [Crosstalk, also nasal] “Yeah, well, we’re never calling them.”
PF And then The New York Times people going like [raspy, weathered], “You have no idea how hard we work [Rich laughs] every day to make you happy!” And like literally everyone in the world is going, “You—” But all I wanna do is just load my page and—
PF—trundle along [music fades in, plays alone for 19 seconds, ramps down].
RZ Paul, I’m a huge fan of The New York Post . . . Don’t read into that [Paul sighs] in terms of my political leanings or anything like that.
PF No, no, you grew up in New York City. It’s part of the city.
RZ I grew up in New York . . . City.
PF You also care about sports in New York City.
RZ I care about sports in New York City.
PF The Post is just—
RZ They know media really—[music fades out] They got some moles all over media.
PF They do. They do. You’d never lie to The Post, just hang up the phone.
RZ So, I see an article today!
PF Well, and the classic headline was “Headless Body and Topless Bar”. Like that was the—[Rich laughs] before Murdoch bought it.
RZ I mean you kinda can’t beat it.
PF No, I mean it’s part of the lore of—that angle where New York City, it’s just kind of a rough, unfeeling, but hilarious place.
RZ They don’t know what a font at The New York Post.
PF [Crosstalk] No and—
RZ And God bless ‘em, if they ever refine those fonts, it’s the end of The Post. It needs to be big and ridiculous.
PF So, look, we’ve been talking about doing a show where we just look at what happens when you load a webpage.
RZ Yeah, and I saw a headline today, “Shrill de Blasio”.
PF “Audio SNAFU Turns New York City Mayor Into Laughing Stock at Campaign Event.” Alright, so you were thinking of The Post, you walked by—
RZ No, I saw the headline, I clicked on it. And then 20 minutes later I got 80 words.
PF It’s not that bad!
RZ It’s pretty bad.
PF Ok, but let’s be clear: I just loaded the homepage of The New York Post.
RZ It took—it took a long—we got high speed internet here.
PF And actually let’s be clear: The Post is pretty optimum. It’s not as bad as many sites.
PF But lemme tell you what happened when I loaded the post cuz I did a thing called Inspect Element. I don’t know if those of you—everyone should inspect the element from time to time. That’s where you sort of option click or control click and suddenly in your browser all these menu options pop up, and it lets you know what is happening when the webpage loads. You can look at the source code. You can still see the source of the web.
RZ And it’s worth noting: you’re hitting thenewyorkpost.com domain.
PF nypost.com. Nice site. Actually it looks pretty good, classic New York [yeah] site. A bunch of ads on it which you’d expect. Let’s take a guess: how many requests? How many items have to get loaded? It’s one page, one webpage. How many items?
PF Well just things, how many things? How many files?
RZ Ok, that’s incredible.
PF 586 and it takes about . . . it’s about four or five megs. And it took seven seconds to load. So not bad.
RZ Ok, but to be clear—
PF Well, actually, to be clear when you load, it’s very quick for the content to come in and then all of this other stuff starts happening.
RZ Starts rolling in behind the content.
PF This is the drama of the modern webpage. I mean, we’re picking on The Post. Let’s go look at—think of any other site.
RZ I mean let’s go a little more highbrow: The Atlantic.
PF Ah, theatlantic.com, it’s a classic . . . I’m gonna inspect the element, let’s see what we got. I hit my network tab and . . . no, ok. We just broke a hundred requests. Stops at a hun—No, we’re not done yet. Still going.
RZ No way we’re done.
PF 116 requests. So they’ve buttoned it up, about one fifth as many as The Post.
RZ [Laughing] 500 is a hell of a number!
PF I mean that’s a New York Post number right there, right? What 500 tells me as a professional in the industry is like, “We’ve had to make a lot of compromises.”
PF The thing is, it’s probably not The Post loading all 500. The Post is loading things that are then loading other things.
RZ Ok, so this is—you’re raising a point—an important point. The images, maybe there’s some video—
PF Well, first of all—
RZ Is it all coming from The Post?
PF The web—Noooo. So what’s happening is the webpage shows up and that’s powered by the Content Management System, right?
PF And it’s probably saved somewhere, that’s called caching, and suddenly . . . boom!! Here’s your webpage. That’s HTML. And then it says, “Hey . . . I know you like words, I can put that in HTML, but I bet you also like pictures. So why don’t I go back to the server and get you some pictures?”
RZ You ever go—Your friend’s like, “Hey, why don’t you come over? Have a beer?” And you’re like, “Ok, I’ll come over.” And then you go and you’re thinking you’re gonna get to hang with your friend.
RZ And then they open the door and there are seven other people there.
PF Ah! That’s such a letdown isn’t it?
RZ It’s such a le—you’re not in the mood. You just were gonna go hang out with your friend.
PF You know what it is though? What is dinner when you’re like 22? It’s like 14 people.
PF When you’re in your forties dinner is like one and a half people. Like [yeah, yeah] you just don’t have it in you! Anyway—
RZ Ok, so, who are all these other people in the mix here? Why can’t I just have the article and the pictures?
PF Let’s stick with The Atlantic. You know?
PF Now I’m looking, I just organized things by filename, right? So I’ve got my homepage, and my pictures, and my, you know, like that’s all good, I’m used to that. Now here, over here, I have a link to something called Chartbeat.
RZ Ok, so let’s establish a legit category here: publishers, media companies, anybody with commercial interests in a domain is probably putting analytics tools in the pages. They wanna know what’s doing well.
PF And here’s what’s tricky, right? You put that in the frontend . . . of the web—You put a little pixel or—
PF You drop some code on the frontend, and then instead of talking back to your server, it talks to somebody else’s server.
PF And this is how analytics work; it’s how Google Analytics works; this is how Google works, right? Like you’re just—you’re reporting back to their server, and then you can go and look at the analytics that they produce.
RZ Who’s visiting; where are they visiting from; are they on their phone or are they on a computer. All sorts of important information so you can make good decisions about your content.
PF So here’s a company called Chartbeat, we’ve hosted people from Chartbeat on this podcast before, and you are . . . learning when you go to Chartbeat, you’re seeing who’s on the site right now; where are they coming from; what they’re reading; how many people are looking at a given article; what’s trending; what’s not. It’s almost like Twitter trending but just for one or two articles.
RZ So there’s Chartbeat, there’s—
PF And you know what? Charbeat’s great if I’m building theatlantic.com cuz I’m like, “Oh my God! That article just had like a hundred thousand people show up, I better tweet it out . . . again [mm hmm] cuz I can, you know—[in real time]. Clearly this is hot! Lemme keep it going.”
PF And your job is to like keep the fire lit.
RZ Yeah. Yeah, yeah.
PF Right? So Chartbeat is a great tool for keeping the fire lit.
RZ Ok so that’s—I’m ok with that. That’s fine. So, Chartbeat is in there, and there are others. Google Analytics does this, not as real time.
PF No, that’s—Well, actually, it’s more and more real time.
PF And what’s interesting there, right, is like you put that Chartbeat on theatlantic.com and it is calling back to Chartbeat—you don’t know about that until you go to Chartbeat.
PF So, it’s interesting, right? You made a system to publish The Atlantic, Chartbeat’s got a big chunk of your analytics. It used to be, way, way back in the day, you would like—every time you’d hit a web server, it would log it, and you’d go like, “Oh! Here’s who’s been.” But actually what’s happened is everything got datamized.
RZ Yeah, switchboards, yeah. You could see it all.
PF Everything datamized. This is a huge part of our work. People are like, “Come set up a website for us, Postlight. Come build our content platform or, you know, our this or our that.” A lot of that work—a third of what we do when we build that is third party integrations.
PF Setting up your Google Analytics correctly. And then you wanna instrument it cuz maybe you can find out that somebody hits the homepage, and then they’re way more likely to buy something if they look at the like “Pursuits” page or whatever.
RZ And there are all kinds of tools out there.
PF That’s right.
RZ There’s Mixpanel; there’s New Relic, there’s all kinds of tools.
PF Now I’m on The Atlantic, I have like ten requests for things from Facebook.
RZ What’s going on here? I’m not on Facebook, I didn’t come in through Facebook. I mean, I get it.
PF Facebook knows you’re looking at The Atlantic though!
RZ Boy, does it.
PF Facebook knows that you’re checking this thing out. You know—the funny thing there is it’s almost like it happened suddenly. You know you wanted people to like an article, let’s say, right? “Like this on—share this on Facebook.” Well, how do you do that? You take Facebook’s code for the share button—
RZ Snip it.
PF Yeah! And it’ll tell you how many people looked at the article. It’s nice, it adds value to your site.
RZ Well, you’re getting analytics from Facebook and in return you’re giving analytics to Facebook.
PF And you’re giving them knowledge about how many people are looking at your thing.
RZ Let’s say this one explicitly and a lot of people forget. They jump over this stuff cuz, “Facebook’s watching everything.” Right? If you’re logged into Facebook and then not through Facebook, you open your browser and you hit theatlantic.com, is it correlating that it is you, Paul Ford?
PF I mean, frankly, how could it not?
RZ It is. And it’s a beautiful way to triangulate on you and your interests and what you’re doing.
PF But also this is how the web works, right? You’re not supposed to be able to know anything about anyone, unless . . . they visit your website. Like, The Atlantic might give me a cookie and it has my password and my information in it. Facebook doesn’t get that cookie.
PF And nor when Atlantic drops Facebook pixels and stuff into its site does Facebook—Like nobody really is supposed to know like your password and all this other secret stuff.
RZ Yeah, but we’re learning a lot. We’re still learning a lot about you.
PF We’re learning a lot.
RZ Paul is really into world politics is not hard to pull off. Facebook will add that to your profile, to their understanding of you. That is real. If you hit The Economist and then hit a couple of articles on The Mets, Facebook is gonna set—they’re gonna triangulate on exactly—after a while, except for the darker things you do in incognito mode, Facebook is—I mean is going to know who you are and what you’re interested in. There’s no doubt about it.
PF Yeah, I mean, that’s—that is real and then, you know—
RZ There are ways to—
PF To block it. But they’re deal is fundamentally, “Hey, if you—you know, we’re gonna deliver some value to The Atlantic in the form of traffic and likes and driving people back to The Atlantic, and you want your Atlantic articles to display well on Facebook when people paste them in, so give us some information there, and then on the way back out—”
RZ It’s a handshake deal!
PF “Make it easy to sell to people who like both world politics and The Mets because you went to theatlantic.com and you [that’s right] went to mets.com and there were social share buttons.” And look, I mean, that’s worth like hundreds of billions of dollars if you do it right, it turns out.
RZ Yeah, I think where it’s been kind of—and this is where GDPR is stepping in, right? They’re essentially saying, “Be transparent about—” I am part of a transaction that you’ve made but nobody told me about the deal.
RZ Like I am the currency. I’m inside that currency. Like I’m part of the deal but nobody told me about the deal.
PF And what that means is that—
RZ And GDPR is essentially like—everybody’s just clicking “Accept” now—
PF [Whispers] Oh God.
RZ They don’t even know what that is anymore.
PF That’s the thing, everything it’s just sort of like—
PF Yeah, “I’ll accept your cookies.”
RZ Yeah, of course. They’re cookies.
PF I know!
RZ Who doesn’t like cookies?
PF That’s the thing—
RZ They’re delicious.
PF I feel like a child, “Mmm, more cookies.”
RZ That’s getting weird.
PF We don’t have to dwell on Facebook, right?
RZ No, no, no, but take to me i dot clean dot gg [i.clean.gg]. Now I do this sometimes, I take the URL and I hit the website.
PF Now, let’s go and see what i.clean.gg is. I dot clean dot gg. This is something The Atlantic loads. “Page Not Found” except it’s a page Page Not Found—it’s definitely a live web server. Let’s go take a look and just see what i.clean.gg—
RZ Take out the “i” do you get anything?
PF Mm, no. You know, oh! It’s Google!
RZ Oh no.
PF i.clean.gg let’s say—
RZ Why Google? Why can’t they just be straight about it?
PF It appears on 22words.com, Zerohedge, Snopes, How Stuff Works—
RZ Does anyone know what this is?
PF No, I don’t know what this is but—
RZ No, like see purpose here. Why can’t I just get the purpose of this?
PF What is the dot gg domain? No, you know, for people who don’t always listen—Like if you’re listening to this podcast, this is literally what Rich and I are like when we’re [chuckles] just trying to figure out the world.
RZ By the way, if you were waiting for that proposal and wondering why it’s taking a day too long, it’s cuz we’re doing this.
PF Oh it’s from the Bailiwick of Guernsey. That’s the gg domain. Obviously, The Atlantic needs to load in the Bailiwick of Guernsey [laughs].
RZ But it’s being appropriated by Google.
PF Listen, well, sure, I mean I would love to have a dot Bailiwick of Guernsey, it’s from the channelisles.net. It’s 22 years of Guernsey related IP addresses.
RZ My goodness gracious.
PF We’re [laughing] do—so this is the thing—
RZ So we don’t know what it’s for! We actually don’t know. It’s doing something for Google.
PF It’s binary data that appears to be coming from Mountainview, California, and it seems to be owned by Google, according to urlscan.io but one never knows what the hell’s really going on. It does point to googleusercontent.com. This is related to Google Ads, right? But we are, like I said, wayyy down the rabbit hole. Let’s see what else we got.
RZ What else we got?
PF There’s a CDN, a Content Delivery Network, that’s a good thing.
PF That is, “Hey, The Atlantic, when you publish articles, put the picture all around the world on different servers so that it gets downloaded a lot faster.”
PF Great. And now I got stuff from The Atlantic, I got lots of CDN stuff, doin’ good.
RZ Expand out the domain thing. So we can see—
PF Yeah, hold on, you’re right. Oh! Ok! You know what I just found, Rich?
RZ Who’s that?
PF Ok, that’s our friend Tony Haile. And Scroll is a . . .
RZ It’s trying to—
RZ Scrape up some pennies across content on the web and give it back to the writers.
PF Yeah, “Drop this is and we’ll get people to give some money, we’ll give some money back to you and then we’re gonna like if somebody is logged in and has a Scroll account, we’re gonna give them this experience over here.”
RZ Got it. Ok. That’s not crazy. I’m ok with that.
PF So that’s really kind of interesting when you think about it cuz what it means is The Atlantic is allowing people to—there’s a service on top of The Atlantic and when you go to their website—
PF And it’s literally good for Scroll, it’s called Check. Is the name of the file. So, I connect dot scroll dot come and Check is the file. That is a good—Like I know what that’s doing, it’s checking to see if I have Scroll.
RZ Yeah, I mean, no one will ever decipher this but go ahead.
PF No, but still ok so we got some more—we got a thing from The Atlantic called API slash user country. That’s letting me know that The Atlantic would probably like to know where I’m living.
PF You can intuit a lot of this! And then, oooh! Prebid.js, that’s some ad tech!
RZ Oh yeah.
PF That’s about bidding for oh God, I can’t even explain it, I don’t even wanna try—
RZ Don’t do it.
PF Just go look for a big chart somewhere of just about anything, it could be like the water cycle, and say, “I think that’s internet advertising.”
PF And it works fine. And now we’re gettin’ somewhere. We got Amazon ads; Secure Pub ads.
RZ But, to be clear: they’re not ads.
RZ I think, yes. And here’s, I think, what we’ve learned is that people jumping around on the web, the value of sort of getting even a glimpse of what you’re into . . . is incredibly high.
RZ It’s incredibly high.
PF Well, you’re not incredibly valuable. But millions of people are incredibly valuable.
PF You’re worth a couple pennies. But if I add up those pennies, and I have a hundred or 200 or 300 million people and they’re each worth a couple pennies to you cuz I can say to an advertiser, “I know you wanna sell Tide Xtreme.”
RZ I do want you to look up two more. Can you scroll up a bit?
PF Yeah, let’s go.
RZ Well let’s go to kiwi.co cuz it’s just too much.
PF Ok, there’s one here called pixel.kiwi.co, Rich. And this is—it’s a very short file. And it’s a picture. So let’s click on it and see what happens. It’s one by one, it is one pixel on the whole screen.
RZ A call back.
PF And so whatever that’s doing on The Atlantic, this is important for people to know: a lot of things that get passed around the web are exactly one by one pixel, they’re the tiniest possible image.
RZ They are, they’re to track what you’re doin’ and you know what it is? You gotta keep in mind: when you’re a publisher, you get sold a lot of stuff.
PF Well, you’re trying to make that money.
RZ Yeah, you’re like, “Look, I can give you—”
PF You’re in trouble all this time.
RZ “Check out this dashboard, it’s in 3D.”
PF And you’re like—I remember there was a point where I worked at a publication and somebody was like, “Yeah, it’s payday loans but c’mon!”
PF Yeah, and we had just published a long article about how payday loans are very bad.
RZ [Chuckles] You know what the other thing is? Is that you know that there’s a lead engineer on the thing where business comes over and says, “ Can you just drop this one in too?”
PF Yeah, I know—
RZ And they’re on like the fiftieth one but they’re like [scoffs], “Ok.”
PF You know what I would really like though? If you see one of these things and you go to the website that points to it . . . for it to say: “ This is a website for advertising that is brought to you by blah blah blah.”
RZ That’s right. That’s right. Transparency.
PF Everything is sneaky and blank and that is just grizzly and that’s bad. That’s a bad use of the web and I think that that’s the tackiest damn thing advertising does is it doesn’t give you any information about where this came from, what is about—
RZ Transparency is what you’re talking about.
PF Literally, and not just a one pixel transparent gift, but actual transparency.
PF What other site should we look at? Like a real commercial—like a gossipy one, like Wetpaint.
RZ Wetpaint. Is Wetpaint still around?
PF Yeah. Let’s see if it’s still around.
RZ I bet it is.
PF Ooh! Here we go! “Trending: Kylie Jenner Baby, Cardi B Death Threats, Videos.” Ok. Let’s reload—
RZ I’m actually intrigued by these headlines.
PF I know, look: there’s a reason these sites are very, very popular. Oh oh oh! Oh wow. This is—Ok. Not 500 like The New York—oh still coming though. You know what’s funny is it feels like everybody’s landing it at around seven seconds.
RZ We have, I mean, it’s worth noting, we have like business-level extremely fast internet right now where we are.
PF It’s true. We are killing it in terms of internet. That was my goal when we came in here cuz we’d been in a different office where the internet wasn’t as good, I said, “I need to feel it on my skin.”
RZ That’s gross.
PF You know what though, Rich? More of the same.
PF There’s no surprises here, you’re gonna talk to CDNs and—
RZ Well there’s a couple of things worth pointing out, first of all, the speed of the experience is material. I think I give a site, if I’m seeing it’s blank for about four seconds, I might leave.
PF Well everybody’s optimized on mobile or they’ve switched to Google AMP for mobile.
RZ Even with that, dude. If there’s delay—and there can be delays for a lot of different reasons.
PF There’s always delay too.
RZ There’s always delay.
PF I’ve got this thing going on now, whenever I try to move over from Twitter it takes like five seconds, and I gotta go back and then hit it again. Like something’s weird.
RZ Something’s weird.
PF It’s broken.
RZ That is bad usability. I mean that is—I mean that is bad. Right?
PF Ad networks in general because literally when there was no product to show, like there was no content.
PF They’ve had to adapt and get faster themselves. You no longer can just like say, “Screw it, your page doesn’t matter.”
PF Cuz otherwise you can’t deliver your ad.
RZ It’s too bad it works this way. I think it’s gross. I think if there was a way—I think, look, the browser’s also I think are putting their arms out a little bit and there’s—And Google has this tortured, tortured conflict of interest here.
PF Oh yeah, Google is just—cannot—it’s all these people.
RZ Yeah, Firefox is leading the way. Safari is close behind.
PF Mm hmm.
RZ Because their interests—their commercial interests are less aligned, right?
PF And then Google’s got Chrome which is a killer browser and it just kills them.
PF Because for Google to make the web better, they have to murder Google.
RZ But I think it’s just gone too far and it does eventually start to backfire because I’m using Firefox now and boy, is it fast because it’s not letting a lot of this garbage in, right from the get go. And the truth is, “Well, that’s not fair, you’re blocking ads.” I’m like, “No, this are not ads we’ve been walking through on this podcast, dude.” This is not ads.
RZ This isn’t like a handbag photo that I can click on. This is stuff to amass and to essentially compile a better picture of who I am.
PF For ad networks and for Google and for social.
RZ Exactly. Exactly.
PF Yeah, so it really is sort of like what you’re denying is always the ad impression, you’re denying them the ability to figure out what you’re interested in.
PF And, frankly, we understand the ad transaction. That transaction doesn’t have the cultural currency or—We don’t even talk about that. Everyone’s like, “Well, if you don’t click on the ads, how are we gonna make a living?” But it’s like, “No, that’s not it.”
RZ We’re way past that.
PF Yeah, it’s like if I don’t give up a portion of my privacy [exactly], how are you going to resell my attention to giant platforms?
PF Like you can’t—When you’re talking about privacy and you go there, people can’t hack that. That’s too complicated. I don’t even understand it half the time.
RZ Can I plug something? It’s sort of this wonderful example of transparency.
RZ Wirecutter. Do you know how Wirecutter works? Wirecutter is owned by The New York Times, by the way.
PF That’s right. It didn’t used to be but it’s affiliate revenue.
RZ They say it. They’re like, “You click on it through here, [yeah] I’m gonna make a little money if you buy this razor from Amazon.”
PF You know what—Ok, can I go meta for a sec?
PF The web started out as a way to deliver documents, really. It was like, “Let’s get some—” And like to make the local rolodex available. And so, it’s still—those are the roots. Like, “Oh, we’ve gotta get our newspaper. We gotta get our blog up. And we gotta up our stuff up.” Over time the web has evolved into an application delivery platform. It’s for software. A browser is software for delivering software. It is not software for delivering documents. Documents have become like second-class citizens.
PF And so what’s happened is you get—
RZ Almost a trojan horse, I mean.
PF Exactly. And one page is worth a couple pennies. You know?
PF And that’s the problem and so people are publishing and publishing and publishing. The nice thing about publishing online is that it really doesn’t take a lot of knowledge,
PF You need to be able to write—I mean you have to have knowledge about what you’re writing about but like you put the words in the box and you hit “Publish” and it goes live and [yeah] we’ve been there for like 15 years now.
RZ You can do that anytime, right? You don’t even need to stand up a server. There’s plenty of servers.
PF Anybody can do that and it costs dollars. But all the money and all the energy has gone towards these platforms that do things like put ads on the system or make search possible like Google or Facebook which is like, “We’re gonna keep an eye on everybody and then we’re gonna sell access [yeah] to their interests,” and we’re kind of the in the middle and in some ways it feels like the tailend of that transition.
RZ You think we’re gonna step back and just behave ourselves a little bit? I mean Europe’s trying to it with GDPR and—
PF Well, first of all, I think you’re just seeing media companies die. So that’s bad. I think you’re seeing—The ad networks are kind of like—They have to comply. Everybody has to comply with GDPR. Things have to get faster. You’re seeing Google do stuff like AMP which gets a lot of like very serious web people—
RZ Tell everybody what AMP is.
PF AMP is a like . . . kind of a subset and a superset of HTML that is optimized for mobile, right? So instead of—
RZ The big loaded up [mmm] desktop size page—
PF You get an AMP page. And it also like it makes sure that the ads load real fast.
RZ It’s lean.
PF The pictures load fast. And the way that it does a lot of this, too, like on the HTML side is it saves it on Google servers. So when you search and it shows up on the carrousel on the top of the page and all these other things are now starting to get in the desktop and the—This is all great from a user point of view in some scenarios, but it certainly isn’t like the truly open unbalanced web, or balanced web—
RZ No. No, no, no.
PF—that Google—It is Google favoring its own format.
RZ It’s Google insinuating itself into sort of the fundamentals of the piping.
PF And Google’s like, “Well, we tried to make an open standard here. You know, we really did and you guys didn’t step up and make your own caches.”
PF It’s like literally just a planet sized entity talking to lots of, you know, trees. And the trees are like [strained], “Please don’t crash into me!”
RZ I mean we’re kind of gravitating towards a theme here which is a lot of this is powered by the sort of macro interests of Google, Amazon, and Facebook.
PF Absolutely, without a doubt, which is kind of—You know, you and I come back to regulation is probably the only way out for a lot of things.
PF Like because it’s at such a scale that, you know, someone raising their hand and saying [high-pitched, feeble], “Please, Mr. Google,” you’ll find 5,000 people who will agree with you at Google.
PF It’s just so damned big. And so what I think when you’re looking at this stuff, you’re seeing it go from, you know, “We’re gonna publish pages on the internet,” to, “We deliver software to users through the internet,” and the pages are almost getting—they’re just getting subsumed by that.
PF The reason for this stuff to exist is so it can deliver ad technology. And that is riding along with content. My dream which I don’t think will ever come true but I still hold out hope. Content can get a hundred million people to pay attention. Like it’s just there’s nothing like it. People want news and they love information and pictures—
RZ Of course! They always will.
PF If the media could ever understand itself as a software delivery platform and truly claim that then, my God! If you could say, “Hey, instead of running your ad, I’m gonna run this little app that I think people will wanna use.”
RZ Mm hmm.
PF I could deliver you software while you’re reading an article.
PF Right? And where that ends up is you see things like interactive data visualization. And look, you know, here we go, right? Because I don’t—like do I want my to-do list to be embedded in The New York Times? Probably not. [Rich scoffs] Do I wanna read my email through The Post? You know, it’s like we dabbled with that years ago, everybody did, and I don’t think that that’s the plan either but nevertheless . . . media is the most efficient software delivery mechanism for getting software into billions of hands.
RZ I don’t think people are thinking of it that way just yet.
PF No, that’s used for ads.
PF The ads are the software.
RZ Yeah, that’s right.
PF And so to me that’s always—My head just goes back to that. But you know what we should do before we end this?
PF Let’s go look at The New York Times.
RZ Ah, you think it’s gonna be classy? It’s not gonna be that classy. I think you’re gonna crack 150.
PF So here we go, we started with The Post: 500 different ads. Ok, here we go . . . Mmm ok we’re up to 80 requests, 104, 109, a hundred and—it stopped at about 112. No, still going. Same damn thing! [Chuckling] Nothing’s different on this old internet. It is The New York Times and image caches and lots of links to Amazon and . . . BlueKai—
RZ This is an underground economy.
RZ This data and the information that’s flowing underneath these articles is an underground economy.
PF This is what’s tricky, it’s really not. There are huge, huge companies invested—like billions and billions of dollars. Media Map and Google and BlueKai and all—like are focused on this world but what’s funny is that the world—it’s almost like there’s that arbitrary split between the business side and the editorial side and media. Like there is that—no one on the hitting “Submit” in the CMS side is really supposed to know too much about all those ads.
RZ No, it’s the business.
PF [Sucks teeth] It’s the business and so there is that whole world is huge and vast and has unbelievable amounts of money and when you hit “Publish” who knows. Who knows.
RZ Do you have the right to install these tools that block all this nonsense out?
PF Frankly, yeah. I just think deep down, at a certain level, I have a right to control the experience that a network is sending to me. Now if the network says, “Unless you look at these—” Like I don’t think I’ve ever opted into a Terms of Service for The New York Times.
RZ No, if you’re a subscriber, you probably did.
PF That’s not a media relationship, right? I don’t have to look at every ad. That’s Clockwork Orange shit. So I’m not gonna do that.
RZ [Laughs] But even beyond that, I think all bets are off. I think if you’re gonna pump 110 requests into an article.
PF Or 500.
RZ Or 500. I think all bets are off, to be frank.
PF I just, you know, also just like, yeah—
RZ Use Firefox.
PF Did you ever use anything to like specifically block stuff? Or—
RZ I used uBlock for a long time.
PF There was uBlock. There was Privacy Badger.
RZ Privacy Badger. There was Ghostery.
PF Yeah, so these are tools you can download and you can see what’s happening. I’m looking at the actual logs here like a big nerd but there are ways like—These things will be like, “Hey! It looks like your privacy is being invaded these ways.” It’s very helpful.
RZ I wanna do this. I wanna hit a New York Times article with Firefox.
PF Alright, do it.
RZ You ready?
PF I’m ready.
RZ I have 53 requests.
PF So, wait, I used Firefox but I don’t have content blocking on.
PF Cuz I like to give The New York Times all my money for the subscription; I write for The New York Times; and this way I get to see all the ads about like Cisco. [Rich scoffs] . . . That I might ever need to see.
RZ Or HBO.
RZ I have content blocking on set to “Strict” by default across the internet.
PF Strict by default is probably your—that’ll be on your gravestone.
RZ “Much less requests,” is on my gravestone.
PF [Laughing] Yeah, no, mine is like, “Go ahead just shove it all in there.”
RZ [Laughs] I don’t know [music fades in]. I say I’m for these tools. I think all bets are off. Transparency’s a positive thing.
PF It is so hard to remain . . . fully conscious of the technology and software you are consuming in 2019.
RZ Just, yeah, just open wide.
PF Yeah. Unfortunately—
RZ Is the title of this podcast.
PF Here you go, open wide and eat—eat your cookies.
RZ What’s the country? What’s the gg?
PF GG, it’s the Bailiwick of Guernsey. Good job, Google. [Rich laughs] They probably bought the country.
PF Or the Bailiwick. Google probably owns multiple Bailiwicks.
RZ As you can see, Paul. We think a lot about these kinds of things. We think about the user; we think about the business; we do think you can ship great software. If you need us, and you want software built, we’re a kickass digital products studio based here in New York City.
PF We’ve done many a good ad ops integration, in fact.
RZ Let’s call it for what it is, man!
PF Yeah, let’s be clear. That’s the job. Ooh! While we were talking The Times just loaded another thing called tags.bkrtx.com.
RZ Don’t go there.
PF I’m gonna go check it out but if you need us: firstname.lastname@example.org.
RZ Have a wonderful week.
PF Bye! [Music ramps up, plays alone for four seconds, fades out to end.]