Rich Ziade and Paul Ford answer listener questions and respond to listener comments. Topics discussed include: The abysmal UX of Google’s ad products; Amazon’s strategies for world domination; the digital technologies in today’s elementary schools; and what exactly Spotify’s Discover Weekly thinks of Paul and Rich. (“Guys. Really? Come on. Get out of my house.”)
- “This Internet Millionaire Has a New Deal For You,” by Tim Rogers at D Magazine
- “The Secrets of Bezos: How Amazon Became the Everything Store” by Brad Stone at Bloomberg Businessweek
- “Has the imagination disappeared from Lego?” by Justin Parkinson at BBC News Magazine
- The Lego corporation are a cult
- Six-Word Reviews of 763 SXSW Mp3s by Paul Ford at The Morning News
Paul Ford: Hi, and welcome back to Track Changes, the official podcast of the Postlight web agency and product shop in New York City. I’m your co-host Paul Ford.
Rich Ziade: [drive-time radio announcer voice] And Rich Ziade.
Paul: OK, they asked us to bring the energy up a little bit.
Rich: I know, but I do this like [straining noise] strained thing where I sound like it’s going to explode!
Paul: [monster-truck announcer voice] Nitro burnin’ funny cars! [laughter] All right, look, let’s not be those people.
Rich: No. We’re understated and sophisticated.
Paul: Postlight is an agency and product shop in New York City. You come to us, we’ll build your app, we’ll make your web platform, we do all that stuff. But right now we’re going to do a podcast and we’re going to make it as good as possible, Rich.
Rich: We’re bringing it to the people this week.
Paul: Yeah, this is a Q&A podcast. We’re going to just answer questions from people who have written in to firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s email@example.com, the overall email. If you have any questions about anything —
Rich: Really anything.
Paul: Really anything.
Rich: We’ll talk to anyone, pretty much.
Paul: We get some great stuff. We don’t get any pictures, which is kind of a problem.
Rich: Email attachments welcome.
Paul: Yeah, we love it. We love it. Whatever you want to send us, you send us at that email. All right.
Paul: You want to read the first question or should I?
Rich: I’ll read it.
Rich: All right. Hi Postlight. Can you please tell me why the UI for Google products, especially Analytics and Adwords, is so terrible? It feels like every link and button was designed to be in the last place you would naturally look. Is this deliberate? A culture thing? Is it actually good and I just have bad instincts? — A
Paul: Oh, poor A. I know what A has to deal with in his or her daily life.
Rich: A’s struggling a little bit.
Paul: The ad platform. See, when you go in and you type in that search box, that’s pretty good.
Rich: It’s very good. I mean —
Paul: I mean, Google —
Rich: It had to be good.
Paul: Maps is good. Gmail, since it was launched in 2006 —
Paul: — and never changed.
Paul: Except they put some more tabs in.
Paul: That’s a strong product. But when you go under the hood and you’re actually using Google as it was meant to be, which is as an advertising platform, forget that it’s a search engine.
Rich: It’s a little bit of a rough scene.
Paul: It’s a giant flaming heap of pain.
Rich: Yeah. It’s a rough scene.
Paul: What’s the background there? What is that?
Rich: Well…you know, he goes through the possibilities and I think they’re worth going through. Is this deliberate? No. Let’s knock that out of the way. They’re not trying to make things bad for you, A. Let’s give A a name, I’m getting uncomfortable just calling him A. Allen.
Paul: Or Andrea.
Rich: [sighs] Here we go.
Paul: [sighs in return] Ugh, just stop.
Rich: All right. Andrea. So no, it’s not deliberate. Clearly. Is it a culture thing?
Paul: I mean everything’s a culture thing.
Rich: If humans are involved, that’s a culture thing. Google is an engineering company. But I think — this is a hypothesis, this is a theory I’m going to throw out there: Google thought long, hard, and deep, really long, hard, and deep, about the little kids and grandma and when they put stuff into the search box. I think they cared immensely about that experience. For years and years and years. And I think they continue to. Because it’s everything. It’s the oxygen that Google needs to live.
Rich: I think when you start to get into the pro side of it, the administrative side of it —
Paul: And so, for people who don’t know, like, what you might do is you have a banner ad and you want to run that banner ad throughout Google’s network.
Paul: And so you need to, like, get that banner ad in.
Paul: Name the campaign. Figure out how much you’re going to buy. What keywords you’re purchasing against and what demographic — so there’s a whole interface for this, that I think most, the absolute vast majority of humanity will never see.
Paul: But you should sign up and go in and take a look, because if you think Google is a perfect company that can do no wrong, you should probably go take a look at this thing.
Rich: It’s a bad part of town.
Paul: I just went back in after about…a couple years out? I needed to do something?
Rich: Mmmm hmmm.
Paul: And it gets worse every single year.
Rich: And you now, you’ve got to imagine, look, you know what? I need Sally, she is a world-class UX designer. And she’s right now worried about the 600 million people hitting Google maps, but I need her for six months to redo the 4 million people that are touching —
Paul: See I think that this is a —
Rich: I think it’s a prioritization of talent —
Paul: No, I think that would be a crisis. I think that they absolutely could do that. But they bought DoubleClick around the year 1855, it’s been a while.
Paul: And the ad industry has grown up around this tool. And when I look at the Analytics tool, what I see is essentially is, like, a green-screen application.
Paul: What that is is like the old apps that they used to do to manage your banking.
Rich: Mmmm hmmm.
Paul: And it would just be that green screen with like five lines, like “enter code 629.”
Paul: I feel that there’s this entrenched, like, those 4 million people, or maybe it’s more like 100,000, or maybe it’s 2,000 spending the big bucks. They know that garbage heap. And Google is willing to bring them into the offices and take them to the awesome Google cafeteria —
Rich: Yeah. It’s the money.
Paul: And show them how to use it.
Rich: It’s the money that’s coming in. Yeah, exactly.
Paul: They have dedicated concierge service. So it’s like, here is an extreme weather event of software, dumping down on your forehead, but it’s your entire career, so who cares if you can’t find the button?
Rich: That’s kind of your skill, that you know where the button is. That’s the other part of it — you get good and bad habits, and those people that are highly skilled at those weird consoles…almost start to feel good —
Paul: Oh, without a doubt.
Rich: — about how good they are at the horribleness.
Paul: Well that’s the thing. The ad industry overall, right, like it’s actually just more web servers, serving stuff.
Paul: “Hey, I got this little tiny box, I’m gonna jam it in a hole — ”
Paul: I’ve got some demographic information, and I’m going to make some callbacks — I’ve never seen groups of individuals mythologize crappy database calls like ad people. [laughter] It’s just like, “Oh well, you know, this is a way to automatically disambiguate the blah blah blah.”
Paul: And there are genuinely smart people in the space, and you actually have to, it takes a while to figure out who is just completely full of nonsense —
Paul: And there’s a billion little companies trying to get in between a person looking at a banner ad and a company that wants to pay for that, just taking pennies out of the process.
Paul: Billions, I mean, billions of dollars are flowing through this system, which is why publishing is screwed but advertising’s doing OK. And I think there’s a vested interest in, like, if you change that software a lot of people freak out. We’ve talked about it before.
Rich: Yeah, yeah.
Rich: It’s an industry and a profession all its own.
Paul: And why would Google kill a golden goose?
Rich: Even touch it.
Rich: Honestly. You don’t have to kill it. If you just mess around with it, you start to mess around with everything, right? So…
Paul: So my bet is that Allen or Andrea doesn’t do this every single day.
Rich: I think they were, they just decided to start a cookie mail-order business, and they were like, “Oh, I can use Google ads.”
Paul: That’s right, I better get in there and figure this out. It’s software. I’m good at using things. I have a mouse.
Paul: And instead they just enter, you know, just something that is burning.
Rich: Mmmm hmmm.
Paul: And that’s hard to use, and that really requires licensed software firemen to come in.
Rich: So Andrea, it’s not your fault.
Paul: You didn’t do anything wrong.
Rich: No. It’s just, that’s the world.
Paul: Yeah, and Google’s gonna keep making that money. Sorry.
Paul: Yeah, good luck! Here’s another question, Rich.
Paul: “Hey peeps.” This is from Aditya.
Paul: Mmm-k. “Why has Amazon been neglecting the design of some of its apps such as IMDb and Goodreads? Seeing that these apps are gigantic troves of social data pertaining to their business, surely it makes sense for Amazon to work on these apps more closely? Also, hi. Designer here. Fresh out of college from the midwest, where the youth is apparently ‘Yung and rastless.’” — Aditya Jain. S-I-G-R-I. sigri.com. Do you have an answer?
Rich: As with the previous question, the answer is, again, another theory. Because we don’t know exactly why things are the way they are. Amazon, I think, you know, when they buy these things, I got to give them credit for one thing: they don’t break them. IMDB is still IMDB, for the most part.
Paul: Woot is still Woot.
Rich: They own Woot?
Paul: You never heard this story?
Paul: Ah, so, Jeff Bezos took the owner of Woot out for breakfast, and they had octopus for breakfast, and the owner of Woot was like, “Why do you want to buy Woot?” And Jeff Bezos pointed to the octopus and went, “You see this breakfast octopus? I don’t really understand it. But I must understand — ” It was something like, “I must understand THE BREAKFAST OCTOPUS.” It was like that.
Paul: Yeah. That’s what Jeff Bezos said.
Rich: Oh good God.
Paul: Yeah. No, it was really good. If you look up “breakfast octopus” you’re going to get the whole story.
Rich: [at a loss for words]
Rich: Crazy story, crazy story. You sure you didn’t dream this?
Paul: I did not dream it. I’m telling you. Google — we don’t have access to the internet in an easy way here in the studio.
Rich: [laughing] OK.
Rich: All right, back to this question. I think, I think they’re wise enough not to break stuff. So IMDB’s still IMDB. Goodreads is still Goodreads. I think they suck any sort of data and behavioral data out of those systems as much as they want to. I think you see a box ad, I think if you just keep searching for “Fast and Furious” 1 and 2, that Amazon’s smart enough to show you “Fast and Furious” 3 and 4? I think there’s stuff like that, but I think they know not to break them, but they know how to tease value out of the data that’s inside of them.
Paul: I think those sites are basically like, nice APIs inside of the giant Amazon ecosystem, but why give them excess love when they don’t convert to billions of dollars a minute?
Rich: Exactly. And also, it’s weird love, right? If you sent, you know what, let’s send six designers from Amazon over to the IMDB offices. That’s just a bad kick-off meeting, let’s just face it. It’s going to be weird, it’s going to be uncomfortable.
Paul: Oh, just like, lizards talk to little tiny pieces of lizard food. I mean it’s —
Rich: It’s —
Paul: Although they bought IMDB four or five thousand years ago.
Rich: It’s been a long time.
Paul: It’s been a while.
Rich: I mean, most — I bet many don’t even know they own IMDB.
Paul: Yeah. So I think with that one, it’s just, Amazon, to their credit, does not actively completely destroy everything that they touch, but they don’t give it the same power and scale as other Amazon products.
Rich: They are focused on what they’ve decided to be focused on.
Paul: I think that’s very correct. So those are good sites. They’re going to always be up. They’re going to run.
Paul: They’re going to get pretty good — but they’re just not going have a lot of new products rolling out.
Rich: I don’t think — yeah, there’s the incentive and, there’s also a great conspiracy theory, by the way, around this stuff, which is Goodreads’s growth, for example, as the place where books get reviewed and whatnot, you could argue, again conspiracy theory, is that once it’s in Amazon’s hands, it’s growth is tempered. And controlled and monitored and it can never become the place, whereas Amazon is trying to be the place.
Paul: I mean, that’s, that’s…Amazon is known for that, right? It’s a real tough place. Like remember there was that story about the diapers-related business that…I’m going to go down on a wrong path, but like —
Rich: No no, but yeah, diapers.com.
Rich: They wanted to buy it, and they didn’t want to sell, and then Amazon essentially went on an undercutting cost campaign that was starting to suck the blood out of that company.
Paul: Amazon has the oxygen in terms of the global economy of boxes moving around.
Rich: And they started to cause real damage to them, until they came back — so sort of a good cop, bad cop, so there was one guy saying, “Hey, join the family!” and there was someone else that was literally, slowly killing them. Or at least starting to threaten to. And eventually I think they owned — I believe it —
Paul: I can’t remember how the story ended, but it wasn’t, it was sort of like, what had been glory became like, someone just limping across the finish line.
Paul: I would never particularly want to go do business with Amazon. They scare the crap out of me.
Rich: You mean as a business.
Paul: Oh, as a consumer you have no choice.
Rich: They’re pretty hardcore.
Rich: They’re pretty hardcore. I mean, you get that sense.
Paul: No, their stupid smiley boxes come in the door, you know, I don’t even know. I have subscriptions to products I don’t even understand.
Rich: I subscribe to anchovies.
Paul: Yeah! No, that makes sense. I subscribe to cat food and razors. I don’t know how it happened.
Rich: I think we’ve got a title for this podcast, by the way.
Paul: “Cat Food and Razors!”
Rich: I was going to say “Cat Food and Anchovies.”
Paul: That’s perfect. No, you’re right. It should be both of us together.
Rich: Co-founders, Paul.
Paul: [heavy sigh]
Rich: All right. Let’s keep going. You got the next one.
Paul: All right. “Rich and Paul. While discussing the impending death of the web” — which is something we often do discuss —
Rich: Mmmm hmmm.
Paul: “You mentioned an interest in querying the 10–12 year old demographic regarding browsers. Chromebooks have invaded the local school system.” Those are laptops that are by Google that have Google products on them. “They’re creating a generation of elementary school Google Slide creators. They love emoticon clipart as much as you can imagine, and the transition animations are perhaps a tad excessive.
“But they’re also learning presentation and composition skills, which make me a proud papa and simultaneously saddened that we don’t have these digital natives running the show already. When I was eleven, I’m positive my parents didn’t advise me on the 30–20–10 guidelines for effective presentations.” Rich, do you know what those are?
Rich: I do!
Paul: What are they?
Rich: 30-point font. 20 minutes. 10 slides.
Paul: OK. That’s 30–20–10.
Rich: There we go.
Paul: Never heard of that before. “Lydia doesn’t have to wait until her VC pitch meetings to start using that one.” OK so that’s from Rob.
Rich: Rob is saying that Chromebooks are in the schools, which, you know, I’d love to see stats on this. I don’t know what’s happening in elementary school when it comes to computers right now. I mean, Chromebooks are cheap, and they’re effective — I think the core of the Chromebook is the browser.
Paul: It is.
Rich: I think.
Paul: I think, there is Chrome OS. There’s a kind of operating system —
Paul: It’s a shim to get you into a web-browsing experience and it also manages some offline stuff.
Rich: Right. So if you’re going to write a document, you’re going to Google Docs.
Paul: That’s right.
Rich: You’re using Google’s stuff.
Paul: That’s your Office Suite. And like everything it’s kind of got Linux at the bottom.
Rich: And, you know, you’ve got probably a highly restricted browser that gives you a URL bar and you can go to, you know, sesamestreet.com or whatever it may be.
Paul: See it’s interesting —
Rich: That’s cool.
Paul: When these things launch, Chrome OS was going to take over the universe, and Google was going to compete with Apple and with Microsoft.
Rich: Mmmm hmmm.
Paul: And it’s a little different. It’s still out there. It’s still pretty big.
Paul: And it’s finding, obviously it’s finding a niche. I mean the fact that they’ve clearly sold hundreds of these into school systems is a pretty big deal.
Rich: Yeah, I —
Paul: Or it’s probably thousands, hundreds of thousands.
Rich: I mean, it’s probably a wealthy school system, they’ll probably have Macs and whatnot.
Paul: Yeah, you don’t hear about this too much in New York City.
Rich: No. No, exactly. The public schools in New York, I don’t think…I mean, there’s probably a computer lab, or a computer class, but not every kid’s getting a Chromebook in New York. I mean, I’d be interested in seeing the stats on how that stuff is working. The truth is they talk about how smartphones are taking over and everybody’s using their smartphones mostly, but people are going to go to work probably on a computer with a keyboard, so…
Paul: You know, I was at an internet-thinky conference a couple of years ago. People were talking about like, empowering kids to use phones.
Rich: Uh huh.
Paul: And I was like, ‘Look, we’re in New York City as we’re talking about this. The most empowering software is Microsoft Excel. And PowerPoint and Word. That’s what’s used to move billions and billions of dollars around the world economy.’
Rich: Probably trillions.
Paul: Trillions. More than — so it’s like, hey I can help teens chat and create community, that’s important. That’s good. I like that.
Paul: That’s important, and they should be able to create autonomous zones and have their own forms of expression. But the reality is that, unless something dramatically changes and suddenly Venmo can move trillions of dollars around?
Paul: Uhhhh….you’re talking about a situation in which Office documents and spreadsheets —
Rich: Without a doubt.
Paul: Those are the power tools for participating in the world economy, wherever you are.
Paul: If you’re in Lagos, if you’re here, those are the things that people use to say, “I want to move money from here to here and it means that.”
Rich: Without a doubt. And I think another power tool that’s worth mentioning is the web. The web is the research tool. And I don’t think that’s going to go away anytime soon.
Paul: No, you can’t actually — it’s interesting, right? Because Facebook is taking over everything. But you can’t use Facebook to, like, do basic due diligence and chose a bank.
Rich: Right. Work.
Paul: You can’t use Facebook. You can’t use Twitter to do work. And what’s amazing to me is actually that these are amazing service buses for communicating about ideas?
Rich: Mmmm hmmm.
Paul: But you can’t use them, like, they have made an objective decision that they’re not going to participate that way.
Rich: I mean, Rob’s actually making a great point about our point about the web being dead. We’ve really been talking about it as a consumer/entertainment platform. And when we talk about work, the tools that people are going to use, spreadsheets, word processors, and the web, frankly, I think you’re going to be there.
Paul: You know what I’d say is I feel that one of the first major off-web work experiences is Slack.
Paul: Slack is of the web, it was born on the web, it uses web protocols probably under the hood to communicate, but the experience of Slack —
Rich: It’s a chat app.
Paul: And it can happen in the browser, but the core experience of it seems to be in the desktop app, to the side of your browser.
Rich: Yeah. I think that’s right.
Paul: Even though that desktop app is currently just — it’s a web shim, like it is a web app —
Rich: In a box.
Paul: Wrapped around, yeah.
Paul: That’s what it is, and I’m assuming it’ll continue to be that, because it’s not like it needs to be a 3D environment.
Rich: Right. But great point, Rob. I have to say, ten-year-olds are not running around with smartphones, chatting and doing Snapchat and whatnot.
Paul: Here’s a question, though: should kids be doing presentations as little tiny children? Is that what they need to be learning?
Rich: I mean, you’re calling it a presentation like they’re pitching, you know, a clinical trial for a phrama company. That’s not what they’re doing, right?
Paul: But do we want their heads wrapped up in that structure of thinking? Do you want a kid learning 30–20–10?
Rich: No. But I think…I think…anything that is an opportunity to be creative, I think is cool. I’m for it. If there are a bunch of decals, stickers that they’re putting on a presentation that they get to animate from left to right as ten year olds? I think that’s cool.
Paul: I mean that’s true —
Rich: It’s expression.
Paul: Kids are going to be kids. If they’re allowed to do, kind of, what they want to do.
Paul: If it’s someone saying, like, “Ah, you went over two minutes talking about the unicorn sales tool.”
Rich: Yeah, if the project is, “Sally, make a presentation to help me sell this house.”
Rich: Not fun, right?
Paul: Although that said, when I was like, eight, I was told to define and create marketing materials for my dog-walking business. I loved that. That was fun.
Rich: By who? Who asked you to do that?
Paul: By the school. It was like a school project.
Rich: Wow, you were in a pretty fancy school.
Paul: Not really, actually. It was a pretty normal school. But they were like, “OK, you have a business.” And I like, you know, I wrote up an ad and it was just like —
Rich: At eight?
Paul: Eight or nine.
Rich: That’s like, third grade.
Paul: I wasn’t old. But it was literally like, “Paul Ford: Walk Your Dog” and then a picture of a dog —
Rich: You’re a bright guy. Were you in the gifted class?
Paul: No. I really wasn’t.
Paul: No. I never…no.
Paul: And…that’s a very different kind of conversation. [laughter] And then I wrote my phone number down — I found it years and years later, I wrote my phone number and I got my phone number wrong. I was a pretty bright kid, I did a pretty good job, but I wrote down the wrong phone number.
Rich: No, but I’m pro-creative tools for kids, yes.
Paul: All right, and we think that Google whatever its called, Presentations…God, they name those things boringly.
Rich: It’s called Google Slides.
Paul: Google Rectangle…is an OK thing for kids to use?
Rich: I think so. I think so. I think a spreadsheet that does magic number adding and subtracting and multiplying is a cool thing, too. I think that’s all good stuff.
Paul: That is true. I’d rather they learn that than some crappy calculator.
Rich: Yeah. Because it’s leveling up, right?
Rich: You’re just taking it to the sort of next abstract level of how you’re going to solve stuff.
Paul: I’m also sort of, ‘Can you add a thousand numbers together?’ I think kids find those sort of things interesting.
Rich: It’s fun.
Paul: My kids make me count to a hundred all the time.
Rich: I was reading recently about how Legos have taken a sad turn.
Paul: Oh, no, yeah.
Rich: Because —
Paul: Because, no.
Rich: They’re not creative building blocks anymore, they’re like, this very narrow thing you’re going to build once and then that’s it. So the pieces they give you are to just build the motorcycle, and once that’s done, put it on the shelf, and you’re never going to — you can’t take those same pieces and build something else with it.
Paul: Well plus all the Legos are now made from opium. Which is really sad.
Rich: Is that true?
Rich: Oh. [laughter]
Paul: All right. We have one more question. One more question.
Rich: One more. We can do it.
Paul: OK. The question comes from Tom. And Tom asked: “True or false.”
Rich: Oooh. These are easy.
Paul: “Discover Weekly rocks?”
Rich: Now, I think Tom is referring to the Discover Weekly feature in Spotify.
Paul: OK, yeah, sure.
Rich: Which is a playlist that lands in your app every Monday, every week, once a week, that is generated by Spotify, based on, and this is kind of unclear exactly what it’s based on, but it’s based on what you’re into.
Paul: I can add some color there. OK. Wait, true or false, does it rock?
Rich: I’m going to…you know, I’m going to say it rocks.
Paul: False. I’m going to say it doesn’t.
Paul: So Discover — Spotify has recommended artists, recommended playlists, stuff like that?
Paul: It’s all based on statistics. There so far has been what I would say very little Spotify spam.
Rich: Yeah. I think that’s right. I’m just glad they don’t put Bounty paper towel ads in between the songs.
Paul: You pay for it, right?
Rich: Thankful for that. I do pay for it, yeah.
Paul: I think you get those if you don’t.
Rich: [aghast] Is that true?
Paul: Yeah. That’s what people — that’s the experience of Spotify for the vast majority of humanity.
Rich: Oh, OK.
Paul: But we being people of relative privilege —
Paul: We pay for —
Paul: Anyhoo, Discover Weekly. So you have a good experience with it. Every week —
Rich: You know, he asked “rocks,” true or false, I’m going to say “good,” true or false. Rocks I would not give it.
Paul: Well that’s also very specif —
Rich: I would say “true” for “good,” is what I would say.
Rich: For a while I was getting a lot of female singer-songwriters that were alone with the guitar. And I wasn’t sure why. I didn’t know if Spotify was going through my email as well as my musical habits.
Paul: Rich, we know why.
Rich: [laughter] But it seems to have eased off that…I think what’s happened, and this is feedback to the Discover Weekly team, is I think it’s feeding on itself at this point.
Paul: It might be, yeah.
Rich: I don’t think, it’s sort of reaching out a little to the left or to the right and throwing some stuff in there. There’s zero serendipity to it.
Paul: I just find it very patronizing, like there was one week where I was like, “All right, cool, fine, OK. This is cool, I like this.”
Paul: And then it was —
Rich: There’s no surprises.
Paul: There’s a lot of, like, twee indie stuff, where there’s also like a good female vocalist, I’ve got a lot of that, and a little bit of electronica. Like, it’s like, “Oh, that is…that’s my pattern, I like that.”
Rich: It is your pattern, and they get it right.
Paul: But then you hit week two and you’re like, “Really? This is what you think of me?” And then week three you’re like, “You just think I’m a jackass.”
Rich: Yeah. I’m at a wedding.
Paul: Yeah. What is happening here?
Rich: There’s a bit of that.
Paul: And then week four you’re like, “Guys. Really? Come on. Get out of my house.”
Rich: You know what it is? I think I like an element of surprise that sort of throws me off with music.
Paul: That’s right.
Rich: And I think not everyone is like me, so not everyone wants that element of surprise. And I think that’s why I don’t give it a truly “rocks” rating, because I like to be surprised.
Paul: I mean, that’s the thing. I did a project years ago. So South by Southwest, the big music festival part of South by Southwest —
Rich: Mmmm hmmm.
Paul: Released all of the MP3 files of, or many of MP3 files of the bands that were performing.
Rich: I think they still do this every year. It’s like gigs of stuff.
Paul: Well they put them on the website and then somebody spiders them all into one big torrent file that you can then download.
Rich: And then it just spreads all over.
Paul: So I was like, “Why not?” I’ve got all 763, and I’m like, well, I’ll review them. So I reviewed every single —
Rich: All 763?
Paul: With six-word reviews, because I had to kind of lock it down somehow. You can’t leave that open-ended.
Paul: I did that for a website called themorningnews.org.
Rich: Mmm hmmm. I remember you doing this.
Paul: Yeah. It ended up being anthologized into the best music writing right around the same time I was anthologized in the best software writing, so it was a good year for me —
Rich: Yeah. Ego’s feeling real good.
Paul: To be the best writer about both music and software felt pretty good.
Paul: But regardless, this podcast isn’t about me, it’s about the people listening.
Paul: Anyway, my ears literally bled from the project, because I had the wrong headphones, and so blood — I listened to music so much and took so many notes, like on the train, blood started to pour out of my ears. So I was deep into it.
Paul: And I found that the form of the music was actually so much less important than just a sense of, kind of, quality and engagement.
Rich: Mmmm hmmm.
Paul: Especially over time. So I got 99, 95% of everything, was just like, OK, or pretty bad.
Rich: I’ve heard this before, it’s kinda blah.
Paul: Yeah. OK, I get what they’re doing. It’s young people. More power to them. God bless.
Paul: Although by the time, you start to hedge when you’re beginning a project like that, and by the end you’re just like, “I hope they die in a fire.” That becomes the review.
Rich: Yeah. Yeah.
Paul: And the quality, it kind of didn’t matter what the form was. It would be, I remember in one song, just called, “I am the Laser Viking,” and it was just somebody kind of screaming? But it had the right energy. And just a lot of bands like that, where you’re just like —
Rich: Did you rate, by the way? Or was it just words?
Paul: I did. I rated everything from one to five stars.
Rich: Got it.
Paul: Yeah. So it was very, very, sorry, it was a very straightforward linear distribution, like most things were bad —
Paul: And very few things were good.
Rich: Yeah. I think ‘energy’’s a great word here.
Rich: Energy and it’s a little bit of creativity that’s just…I don’t want to hear screaming, twenty minutes of shrill screaming?
Rich: That’s…I get what you’re doing there, and I don’t need that.
Rich: It’s got to go off the road just a little bit.
Paul: There was one song, I swear to God, it was ten minutes, and I could tell that they cut and pasted, and I made myself listen to every song all the way through. I felt like that was the only ethical way to approach this problem.
Rich: Oh boy.
Paul: Yeah, well…
Rich: And you got screaming for ten minutes.
Paul: It wasn’t even screaming. It was just this, like, electronica tune and it was like, kind of rough around the edges, and then I just heard the part where they kind of repeated the five minutes, and I was like, “God. Monsters.”
Rich: Yeah, that’s garbage.
Paul: But yeah, no, I mean, “I am the Laser Viking.” Or like, some weird funk track, or whatever, like, when you’re in the mix of it —
Paul: — the energy is what matters, and I don’t think Spotify captures that data.
Rich: Well it’s tough, right?
Paul: It gets it a little bit — it gets it from popularity, but then I think because its corpus is so huge, popularity is really tricky.
Rich: It’s very tricky.
Paul: Like, Katy Perry is very popular, and I’ll listen to a Katy Perry song, I’m fine with that.
Rich: That’s why — I wish they had a little bit of Pandora’s technology, which isn’t just collaborative filtering popularity stuff, it’s sort of traits within the tracks? So, you seem to like darker, slower tempo rock songs. You know, they do that whole thing, where like —
Paul: Whatever it is in Pandora —
Rich: That is kind of neat.
Paul: Its recommendations are far more effective to me. And I have no idea what — that’s a great puzzle, right? Like trying to work —
Rich: Yeah. I think they just go about it completely differently.
Rich: Can I plug an artist since we’re talking about music, or is that unethical?
Paul: Go for it.
Rich: OK. Always fun, slightly — just surprising enough, is a DJ-producer named Blockhead. And he’s on Spotify, and there’s no vocals, but it’s just good.
Paul: He’s great.
Rich: It’s good.
Paul: No, he’s great. He’s a very, sort of, trip-hoppy, like lots of samples.
Paul: It’s like a little silly, but also really, just good.
Rich: And well done.
Paul: Just well done. It’s our sweet spot. That would ?never? show up in my Discover Weekly.
Rich: That’s the thing, right? It would ?never? show up. And that’s unfortunate.
Paul: And it’s the stuff I love.
Rich: Yeah. Tom asked the basic question, and we ended up talking about ourselves.
Paul: Well, that’s what this is.
Rich: That’s what this podcast is, really.
Paul: I’m sorry. [laughter] Well look, those are all the questions that we’re going to have time to answer today.
Rich: Yes. But keep ’em coming!
Paul: Rich, we did it again. We recorded another podcast.
Rich: I think this went beautifully.
Paul: I’m going to ask people to go to iTunes and rate what their heart tells them to rate.
Rich: Yeah, be fair.
Paul: You know, whatever works for you.
Rich: Be fair, just keep in mind that we’re both very sensitive people.
Paul: Yeah, we are. We are, and we look at everything that happens.
Paul: Anyone needs anything, firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll say it no more times. We’re really glad to have you as a listener. Anyway we can be of service, postlight.com.
Paul: Check us out. We’re a company that does web things.
Rich: Great web things.
Paul: Rich, let’s get back to work. We’ve got a meeting in about ten minutes.
Rich: Let’s run.
Paul: OK. Run back to the office.
Rich: All right. Have a great week, everyone!
Paul: Yeah, we’ll see you soon.
Rich: Bye bye.