Rich Ziade And, of course, if I was, you know, a thoughtful—
Paul Ford Yeah cuz people need—you’re not just a businessman. You’re a business, man.
RZ I’m a business, man!
PF I mean you are like [chuckles] I mean you are like—
RZ I’m a business, man!
PF Ah! This is the worst moment in the podcast [music fades in, plays alone for 18 seconds, ramps down].
RZ So, Paul.
PF Rich, what’s up?
RZ Here’s what I do, every day.
PF Every day.
RZ Every day. Every day. Multiple times a day.
PF Remember we keep this safe for work. We literally are at work.
RZ . . . You ever look for . . . someone says, “Hey [music fades out], can you get me that receipt from January?”
PF Oh ye—oh yeah. That’s—that’s—that’s a common refrain.
RZ There’s two or three places in the house, right? There’s like maybe a shoebox; maybe you got—maybe you’re neat and you bought some of those Staples folders—those manila like they’re kinda beige colored—
PF We did a really deep basket.
RZ You did?
RZ A deep basket.
PF Cuz the mail comes and you just—you split the mail; you throw it away, 90 percent of the mail, [correct] and then you put that ten percent in the deep basket where it emerges again around tax time.
RZ Tax time or somebody calls you and says, “You never made your payment,” you swore you did, so you gotta go dig it up, right? So you’re digging. And, you know, we’re technologists, you and me. And guess what I do every day, Paul?
PF Every day, what do you do?
RZ I have probably 28,000 folders on my MacBook [yeah], right? You know what I do every single day?
RZ I rummage through my emails [Paul sighs deeply] to get to an attached file.
PF I have a lot—I have a lot [ok] on this matter.
PF Ok? Keep going. You—you tell me your use case here. We—
RZ My use case is: “Can you get me the signed agreement, I just need to file it away.” Or, “I need to see [mm] what the payment schedule is.”
PF No, but—this is real! Like, as an—as an adult entrepreneur, the [yeah] amount of things that you have to process. It—it—it just—if you went back 20 years ago and were like, “Paul, you won’t believe the statements of work that you are gonna be dealing with in your life. You aren’t gonna believe the number of contracts you have to produce. The incorporation agreements.” [Correct] Like getting everything—your taxes aren’t just your taxes, they become a record of who you are in the world of a—the economy.
RZ Many, many, many years ago, probably before some of the people listening to this podcast, some really powerful metaphors were—were leaned on. The notion of a file. Literally, a per—a physical document [mm hmm], a piece of paper, which became the file. Right? And that comes in many forms. It could be a picture; it could be a document; it could be an essay; it could be anything. And the notion of a folder, right? And this metaphor: files and folders, became what people talk about now as a file system, right? Which is great. But it turns out that what’s happened is as things got really fast, we actually bailed on it. We bailed on it and what has become the file system is my inbox. My Gmail inbox. And what you do now in a very abstract way is rummage through it to get the receipt from January. And it’s insane. And if you think about it we’ve hung onto those metaphors but they’ve actually broken down, but we still say, “Go get me the file. Do you have that file?” And then you go through Gmail and you kinda—you eyeball it. You’re like, you know—you got subject lines that try to give you hints like, “Hey, checking in,” and the attachment is in there for some reason, seven levels down, and it’s a sloppy mess. And ‘the file’ which is now thought about as sort of this discreet, binary object, isn’t even a file anymore. It’s a link! It’s a Dropbox link; it’s a Google Docs link. So that even broke down. So, now what we’re chasing, really, is become [sic] eight levels of abstraction out the window but we still go and rummage around for the file. And that file may be on Google Docs but I just need the fi—need the link, to get to the thing.
PF Alright, so here’s the thing that’s coo coo bananas.
PF Ok, so first of all, yeah, the—nobody knew what computers were or how they were supposed to work. They thought they were for processing insurance transactions, and then Xerox Parc comes along, along with a few other folks, but mostly Xerox Parc was like, “Hmm, what if the screen updated really fast, how would you get people to use a computer?” And they went, “Well, how about a metaphor? How about we make it look like a desktop that people work on: filing cabinets; papers—” And the first screens were like the big Xerox devices—were all paper sized. They weren’t these little, tiny horizontal screens. They didn’t look like TVs [no, they were—], they looked like a piece of paper.
RZ Longer than wider.
PF That’s right! That’s right.
RZ Yeah, yeah.
PF Portrait, not landscape.
RZ [Crosstalks] Eight and a half by eleven, correct. Yeah.
PF And then the Mac came along and kinda—
RZ So, wait! Let’s pause and just acknowledge . . . it’s a stroke of brilliance. The metaphor is used here, leapfrogged . . . the amount of explanation and processing of what exactly what was going on—[oh but see, here’s—] it was spectacular. I mean let’s just call it for what it is—
PF It was! But, see, the way they were thinking was a little deeper, too. They were like, “Oh cool, it’ll be all these object-oriented systems underneath and everything will interact with everything else.”
PF “And, you know, we’re gonna make—but, you know, how are people gonna get access to this very rich world?”
RZ Humans. Like [hum—] people who aren’t technical [that’s right], people who don’t understand how computers work.
PF “Well, let’s start them with the desktop metaphor and then they’ll be able to make their own objects and learn to program along the way.” That’s not what happened, what happened is the big tech companies shift more and more powerful paper simulators.
RZ . . . Correct.
PF That metaphor like, “What do I do to get something onto a piece of paper and then maybe even print it out or turn it into a PDF and email it?”
RZ Mm hmm.
PF Like, Google Docs is a web—an editor in the web. It lets you manipulate how web pages work but it has this gap between the pages. You can turn it off.
RZ What gap?
PF Between page one and page two!
RZ Oh! Yeah, yeah, yeah!
PF That is a meaningless, arbitrary gap.
RZ It’s bananas, isn’t it?
PF It—it has nothing to do with the reality of what’s inside the computer.
RZ It’s paper. It’s continuing to chase paper.
PF And that’s because Google feels that, you know, in order to get market share away from Microsoft, they can’t throw people off, people are still thinking in terms of paper.
RZ Well, I mean [stammers], the paralegal. Again, not to put anyone down but these are people who aren’t technical. And it’s like, “I gotta print this when I’m done. And if I’m gonna rely on this thing, I gotta print it!” I mean, [well maybe—] when does it end?!
PF—[stammers] turn it to PDF and then they [stammers], you know, then they can fill in a form [mm hmm]. What we’re doing is we’re doing all these like very complicated, artificially intelligent machine-learning tools to process forms automatically [!!!], right? That—or a digital obj—like born digital. And then you have to use all this energy to turn them—
RZ Give them physical characteristics.
PF And then you have to turn them back into digital cuz nobody wants to print out a PDF and scan it. They wanna fill it out their uh—
PF—on their—on their device. And I just got—we should talk about it, related to this, I just got an iPad and now I’m signing all of my PDFs which, God knows there’s a lot of them.
RZ You outgr—but we—we—we can’t let go.
PF No! Well [chuckles]—
RZ I mean—
PF Also, first of all, Apple can’t make a good search . . . for desktop. It can’t do it. It gave up. And it won’t—it keeps pretending.
RZ Is the desktop around?
PF Have you even—have you ever tried—I can’t search for anything. I have a file called ‘signature.png’ that I use to sign things.
RZ Me too.
PF Yeah, I—I can’t find it. I keep—I have to keep it on my desktop because if I search [yeah] for ‘signature’ 44,000 things come up.
RZ Well, ‘signature’ it means all kinds of things.
PF But then I named it like ‘paulfordsignature’ and that still doesn’t.
RZ I have ‘richsig’.
PF Yeah, because then you—then you type it in and for some reason that’s like a 40 minute process for my Mac.
RZ Let’s talk about signing. Let’s talk about the ex—I’m—I’m a former attorney—
PF I just wanna say tho—
RZ Speaking of signatures.
PF Mac OS—but before we get—Mac OS 8.4 . . . in, you know, the year 1450 when they [yeah]—when they—everybody had digital gallions going on, I mean, like ancient. You can hit command, ‘f’, do you what happened?
PF Search for your file.
RZ Yeah. I mean you could do that today.
PF No, not really. Not really. They took it away.
RZ They got too fancy—
PF Oh my God!
RZ—is what happened.
PF They wanted—
RZ Like why are you also searching Google Maps is what you’re saying—or Apple Maps like just give me the file.
PF [Crosstalks] It’s just like Apple’s just like, “The last thing anybody’s ever gonna wanna do is search [for a file] for a file name.” [Yeah] Like so all those little ca—So, the other thing, too is—
RZ Just, warning. Back-in-the-day warning.
PF [Chuckles] Yeah. It’s true.
RZ We’re sounding for back in the day right now.
PF [Crosstalks] No, no, no, no!
RZ Just to be very clear to everyone: we build modern, responsive [but wait a minute—] experiences on—
PF We don’t even have to tell the people about that [Rich laughs] because everybody is still living in this world from 45 years ago.
RZ That’s true.
PF And everything points to a link and a rich experience and so on and so forth but then Google was like, “Nah! They want paper. Give ‘em paper.”
PF And like I don’t actually, I mean, I live in a world and I used to do a lot of work that was very paper bound. I don’t think that way anymore. I think about code and—you know what’s not paper? Is like version control systems get—where you have like 28 million versions—
RZ Truly not paper.
PF Yeah different branches.
RZ Nor—nor—like sort of the, you know, the Markdown inspired note taking apps [that’s right]. You know, they care a lot less about paper [that’s right]. They’re more just like, “You’re getting information down. Let’s not bullshit each other with paper.”
PF Now, what—what they hold onto is typography, you know, different levels of priority, sections, bulleted lists, man. Bulleted lists are good.
RZ I live on bulleted lists. I run my marriage—
PF Of course!
RZ I get along with my wife . . . through bulleted lists.
PF You know what else is not like paper? Spreadsheets. Spreadsheets are great.
RZ Well . . . spreadsheets used to be legers and paper but—
PF I know but it doesn’t matter like they’re—
RZ Oh they’re a work—I mean they’re a stroke of genius.
PF Yeah, you split a spreadsheet into different pages and—that’s Excel or Google Sheets is just like, “Yeah, what are you doin’? It doesn’t look good. Don’t do it. [Yeah] Don’t do it.” Like, it’s all—they’re not tryin’. [Oh no] They know you’re gonna just like email this bad boy and somebody’s gonna pop it open.
RZ Yeah, printing a spreadsheet, by the way, thousands of thousands of engineers have worked on—
RZ—how to fit a print out of a spreadsheet [laughs].
PF Not even like old—not even old, cantankerous people who make people print their email. Like, you know, the exec, who’s like [like a rickety old man], “Print my email, Johnny!” You know?
RZ They’re like, “Just send me the spreadsheet.”
PF Just, “Let’s look at the spreadsheet. [Rich chuckles] Bring it up—bring it up on the big screen,” right?
PF So there are certain things that people are like, “That’s digital—it’s—” I mean a spreadsheet is a programming language embodied as a set of cells that link together [yeah] and does operations on those cells. We’re good with that.
RZ I think—I mean what this comes down to is the metaphors were never really forced on us to begin—once metaphors take hold . . .
RZ It’s very hard to dislodge them, right?
PF I’ve never used a paper spreadsheet. I learned how to write in school.
RZ Well, I think, its origins are not paper.
PF No, not really.
RZ No, it’s a spreadsheet. It’s a true invention of something that’s, by definition, down to the pixel, dynamic, right?
PF That’s right. It’s inspired by legers cuz that’s—cuz obviously we like to think in rows and columns.
RZ Right. But it’s a truly an invention of a computer, right?
PF And then, you know, and Powerpoint—I mean we’re going through the Office Suite. You know but like Powerpoint is—is inspired by viewgraphs and—and used to be able—
RZ What was that thing where you like—
PF The overhead projector.
RZ The overhead projector.
PF Yeah, yeah, no, and you would go—you could—you would buy clear plastic paper and photocopy things onto the clear plastic paper.
RZ Back-in-day warning.
PF Yeah, no, this is the thing, right? [Rich laughs] But no, it’s not about back in the day, it’s about being caught in those metaphors and then, at the same time, you see how hard it is to break out of them because what do people come up with for—for presentations? Prezi? Because really what was hurting, what everybody missed about presentations was 3D zooming text that was like [Rich laughs] infinitely—like what the hell were we doing?!
RZ Prezi is around? Still?
PF Oh, you know, nothing [probably] really dies . . . unless Google kills it.
RZ Yeah, let’s—let’s cap it off with—with executing a binding agreement through the internet nowadays.
PF Oh! [Laughs]
RZ I just wanna talk about the shit signature [Paul continues laughing] that Docusign has given me. It’s this weird—
PF Oh it’s that little rectangle with the—with the little handle on the bottom and it doesn’t fit anywhere!!!
RZ No, yeah, but then when you type your name it’s that shit handwriting.
PF It’s seriously like they hired—
RZ [Laughing] You call that handwriting?
PF No, I know, oh the handwriting font—but then there’s also the one where you can sign.
PF But it’s literally like they had four golden retrievers do that design problem [Rich laughs]. Like I mean it’s just—
RZ It’s unbelievable.
PF It’s—what is the most unnatural form of signature [yeah] that will work with the least number of documents?
PF And Docusign, I mean, whatever constraint optimization program they used to solve that problem, they did a flawless job cuz it is the worst signature experience imaginable.
RZ It’s—it’s really bad. It’s really bad. And I think they’re trying to make a little bit of work because eventually that thing could come up in court one day. It’s like, “Did they sign it?” And—you know I don’t know what Docusign—it probably does something like at 4:18 pm . . . Paul Ford at this location, out at this [it does] IP address, [it does] actually touched this and went ahead and signed it.
PF Yeah, it does some shenanigans.
RZ It has to, right?
PF It’s owned by Adobe now too.
RZ It is.
RZ And the logging of that, I mean, essentially it’s being—it’s behaving as sort of this [music fades in] digital notary, in a way.
PF Notary, that’s right [music plays alone for five seconds, ramps down]. Hey, Rich, let’s interrupt this marketing podcast to do a little marketing.
RZ Do you wanna talk to a piece of paper, Paul?
PF I kinda do sometimes.
RZ Well, I know the shop to build something amazing for you.
PF Ok. What’s it called? Where? Where? Is it [chuckles]—
RZ It’s called Postlight.
PF It’s right in the building!!!
RZ It’s in the building.
PF Oh my God.
RZ And we’re in New York City and we design, develop, and ship really great platforms and experiences on top of those platforms. Web applications; mobile apps; all kinds of stuff. And we do—we do—it’s just craft. We do a great job. We’ve got an amazing group.
PF People should not take our jocular attitude on the podcast as anything other than an affection for our discipline because we’re actually kind of fierce and badass about building things that are [wooooo!] just great.
PF Yeah, sometimes I feel that like we joke it away . . . but I like—I go home at night and I’m like, “It’s got—”
RZ It’s good stuff.
PF [In deep, demonicly] “—quality!” That’s what I say.
PF Let’s get back to the podcast.
RZ Well, reach out to us: [email protected] po—
PF Oh! Yeah! God!
RZ [email protected] [music fades in]
PF We do wanna talk to you, [email protected] [music plays alone for six seconds, ramps down].
RZ Recently, you said to me [music fades out], “You know, I think I’m gonna go the iPad,” and just to be clear, all you do is talk about your Google Pixel phone and how awesome it is, and how good the camera is, and I—I hear you out, and the love is there, and I think you love the fact that you’re able to kind of hop out of the—the shiny, glistening Apple box.
PF Well, let’s be clear, our company has given Apple probably half a million [Rich laughs wheezily] dollars in just like—
RZ It’s not good.
PF In four years. I mean just—
RZ Actually, we’re—we’re based out of an Apple Store.
PF We are.
RZ [Laughing] In Manhattan.
PF This is, like every company up and down fifth avenue, this is an Apple Store.
RZ It is essentially an Apple Store.
PF I work in an Apple Store.
RZ Yeah. So, but then you said, “I need an iPad.” And I said, “What’s going on here?” Maybe cuz it’s the new ones came out or whatever—
PF No. Here’s—my wife got one for work.
RZ Ok. So . . . to just—this is—I’m gonna hand this off to you, just one last statement you said to me, which was, “I’m—I scribble while I’m in that meeting.” So I said, “Ok. Alright. It has a pencil. Alright, go, Paul.”
PF Listeners wouldn’t know this about me but the way that I take notes during a sales meeting is I get a big—I get a graph paper book . . . and I get a pen and I scribble around the graph paper. And I’m always working on like what I’m trying to get to is just I’m drawing, I’m writing things down, what I’m trying to get to is what needs to happen next.
RZ Yeah, just to—a—a—a warning for anyone that actually has a meeting with Paul Ford. If you lose him, he will draw a collection of horses, and a landscape behind them, [Paul chuckling] and just continue to refine that piece of art.
PF I’ve never been lost during a meeting.
PF The—so my wife came home—she works in construction, and they use iPads heavily cuz they walk around and do things.
PF And—and so I got the pen, and I saw some like graph paper I liked. There’s an app called Notability, and I went, “Oh. Ok. Well, this would be nice because it’s digital.” And—
RZ Yes. By ‘digital’ you mean ‘with a pen’, you’re not typing.
PF No. I have—
RZ You’re taking a pencil.
PF It’s a pencil sim—it is a paper simulator of the highest order!
RZ It’s really great. I mean they’ve done a great job with it.
PF And you can put pressure on it. So like . . . now we’re back, kinda, to—to the old metaphor.
RZ It’s a digital piece of paper.
PF It’s a digital piece of paper. What that shows you is that . . . it took that long. Everybody was like, “Computers, computers, computers.” It finally does kind of feel like a piece of paper to me. Paper is a hell of a technology. People don’t give it [oh yeah. Sure] enough credit. Like it is—you literally can go to a store and for less than a penny . . . sort of amortized over the cost of the entire ream, you can get this incredibly thin, fluid, foldable—
RZ High resolution.
PF—substrate, that is designed to hold any variety of ink and color you throw at it. Which you can also go to like the Muji store and get all these fancy pens—
RZ For four times as much.
PF [Laughing] Exactly. Or a Ticonderoga Number Two pencil. Or jam it in a laser printer and it just sort of is like . . . it just sort of falls apart in your hand if you want it to, or it stays together and you can put it in a folder. Paper is good and it has—
RZ Also it has this technology that if you’re really upset, it will actually—
RZ—crumple [yeah] when you squeeze it and it’s actually somewhat satisfying which actually computers don’t do.
PF You can reject your idea by throwing them in an actual waste can and, even better, if you’re just losing it, you can eat it.
RZ That’s fair.
RZ I mean these are things that a computer just—just can’t do.
PF Not even my iPad. Frankly, it hasn’t hit analogue to paper, yet but—
RZ Ok so now you’ve got this, you’re walking around with this. I’m seeing this. You take it to meetings.
PF Let me tell you my life. My life is, “Let’s do a conference call,” and then I take notes on the conference call.
RZ With the pen.
PF Or I’m in a room and someone’s talking to me, and I take notes. So, the iPad is unholy. It doesn’t quite believe it’s a computer but it knows it’s not a mobile device.
RZ . . . Right.
PF And so it has all these things like, “Oh! Your note taking app, and your conference call app, well you can have them both up on the same,” or your, you know, like but there’s a lot of stuff like it’s hard to take notes during a video call on the iPad [oh]. A lot of things like that. So what I noticed is like I’m on the video call, I bring up my note taping app [sic]—taking app, [yup] I split the screen, I’m very clever, I’m a power user, it freezes my face. Like mid-jowly-open-mouth, freezes my face in the video [Rich laughs]. It takes me like three minutes to notice. I’m very sad for my client [yeah]. You know it’s like—it’s like a 450 person conference call that like one of the ones that we need in order to just—
RZ And you lost this business.
PF No, no—
RZ Just mouth open.
PF No, we’re already in there. This is a check-in but like, yeah, no my tongue is hanging out like I’m one of those—an internet dog [Rich laughs under his breath]. And so we’re not there yet. They’re still workin’ out the metaphor. That’s the thing. We’re still—we’re 40 zillion years in, we still—we still don’t really have an answer. Like, the iPad finally went, “Alright, you can have files. You can have ‘em.”
RZ It took years. That’s right.
PF They were like, “No, you don’t want this.”
RZ It took a really long time.
PF “You don’t wanna be able to put documents and take them from one application to another. You want this sharing interface.”
PF And finally they made files, and so it’s like a few of those things are happening and I’m like, “Ok.”
RZ It was a product manager to just—[whispers] “Ah, here he comes again.”
PF Yeah, they finally fired Mike. You know? [Laughs]
RZ No, no, it was Mike—it was like, “We really need to—we probably should—” And then [no! I bet—] like before he comes to the room—
PF Uh uh! It’s the guy who said, “No files,” for ten years. Right?
RZ You think it’s that guy?
PF Yeah, it’s that guy. No files. No files.
RZ Not having it!
PF Finally somebody said—somebody like brought up a forum post and was like . . .
RZ You think it was a forum post? That’s all it takes?
PF No, cuz I think it’s just like they’re buying Asus’s. [Laughing] They’re buying [Rich laughing] Chromebooks.
RZ Chromebooks. That’s right. Well, I mean, look: they—they also see the MacBook collapsing back towards the iOS platform.
PF No, that’s right, it’s all—So it’s—we’re in this world, it’s a very transitional world. Like I just—look and there are certain things, too, like I bought my dad a Chromebook. He just went into an assisted living facility, right?
RZ Mm hmm.
PF And his computer—his laptop was getting old. My dad’s, actually, he’s older guy who is very savvy. And so I got him a nice—a nice Chromebook, it got down there by Amazon, he logged in, and everything was exactly where he’d put it. That is, [ok] for an older like computer user, that’s a miracle.
RZ It is a miracle.
PF Right? And I mean Google has nailed that like nobody else has.
RZ Oh yeah. Oh yeah.
PF So there’s all these different experiences—the experience that I wanted, the thing that I love about the iPad is it’s a very good set of sensors. It’s like it can recor—I have a—we use this thing called Uberconference for phone calls.
RZ Mm hmm.
PF And you can tap and record the phone calls.
RZ Right. As you’re going.
PF As you’re going.
RZ You should probably tell the other person you’re doing that.
PF No, it says, “Recording this call.”
RZ Oh, ok! There you go.
PF It’s—it’s—you follow the rules.
RZ It’s covered. Yeah.
PF And then I can take notes while the call is recorded. Like this is so good for me [sure] that it listens, hears, and sees. That’s more important to me than the fact that it’s like paper. Like, it—it—it’s sensitive to touch. I actually—it’s on graph paper which is nice cuz that lets me stay in the lines, like virtual graph paper.
RZ Mm hmm.
PF But I don’t care that much. You know if the compu—you know [stammers] like I don’t care that it’s—I’m never gonna pr—
RZ You’re—you’re jotting stuff down. This isn’t an official doc.
PF I’m never gonna print anything from this thing.
RZ You’re not gonna print—you might go and translate that into something more formal when you have to write a document back to the client—
PF No, you know, this is the real world. I have—I’m working on a docu—I’m working on an article for a national magazine right now. Just a little side, fun project—the kind of thing we like to do at Postlight.
RZ A little name dropping, go ahead.
PF [Laughs] And uh, it’s all in Google Docs with no page breaks . . . and it’ll all be annotated and then eventually they’ll pull it into their system.
PF Yeah, nobody—yeah, InDesign. Nobody cares. Nobody’s actually hung up on these metaphors anymore.
RZ I think you’re right. I mean I think you’re right. I mean I think . . . you know I deal with the legal stuff at Postlight [music fades in].
PF Mm hmm.
RZ And it comes bearing down as we get closer.
PF Well, it’s comical—
PF Like I mean, NDAs—the fact that NDAs come in a variety of flavors is—
RZ The NDA is—is—is something, right? I mean the NDA—somebody just needs to go buy like NDA Buddy dot com and just make it a check box for two people and it’s fine.
PF [Crosstalks] Like we have a link, we both hit the button—
RZ Oh, it’s—
PF Where is that from Docusign? Like that would be product innovation for me.
RZ You know what it is? You don’t wanna be exposed as . . . a council that wrote a thing that potentially harmed one party or the other.
PF Hey, Rich, guess what? We have to do a conference call right now.
RZ I think you should bring your electronic paper with you.
PF [Laughs] I’ll do it. We gotta end this podcast so we can get [alright, great] on the phone and I can take notes. Let’s —let’s just—let’s talk again soon. We didn’t even talk about PDFs. Now, that’s a—that is a subject.
RZ Back in the day! [Whoooo] It’s no back in the day. It still runs the world.
PF Alright, friends [alright], if you need anything, [email protected] That’s how you get us.
RZ Have a great week.
PF We’ll help you get away from your metaphors and into the [deeper] digital future.
RZ [Deeper] Or create new ones.
PF That’s right! It’s time for new metaphors, [email protected] [music ramps up, plays alone for six seconds, fades out to end].