[email protected]
Episode 13 May 18, 2016 | 34min

Introducing Postlight Mercury—An Easy, Free AMP Converter

Our co-founders unveil the company's new Accelerated Mobile Pages conversion tool.

Show Notes

This week Rich and Paul unveil Mercury, Postlight’s new AMP-conversion tool. As they break down Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages format, they talk about why they built Mercury — and how web publishers can use it. They also discuss the broader (dire) state of publishing on the web, from the introduction of mobile devices to Facebook’s Instant Articles.

Mobile article pages are brutally clunky. They’re overloaded with extraneous information and make your phone catch fire. Google (well, along with an open-source consortium) decided to do something about it, and made a format called AMP, for Accelerated Mobile Pages. AMP is like HTML and based upon it, but a little more locked-down in what’s permitted. Plugins exist to make it easy to export to AMP, but not everyone can use them on their websites.

As Nieman Lab wrote about our new product, Postlight Mercury:

Still, the process of getting set up on AMP is fairly involved and time-consuming. But on Wednesday, the New York–based digital agency Postlight released a free tool, Mercury, that promises “instant AMP results with zero development.”

“It takes real energy, time, and money to get on AMP,” said Rich Ziade, cofounder (along with Paul Ford) of Postlight, which counts publishers like Time Inc. and Vice among its clients. “The bigger publishers are starting to earmark resources and putting them in motion, but smaller publishers, or publishers that don’t have the resources, are kind of hesitant, or taking a wait-and-see attitude.” It had been taking some of Postlight’s publisher clients two to four months to rewire their content systems to support AMP. (Richard Gingras, Google’s head of news, says small teams with homegrown CMSes can implement AMP “within a few days.”)

Which sums it up pretty well.

It’s great to have Mercury live and in the world, thanks in no small part to the work of many people on the Postlight team, but especially Philip Forget, Ari Shapell, and Matt Quintanilla, along with Gina Trapani, Jon Cuthbert, and Drew Bell. Thanks to them for their work over the last several months.

If you want to learn more about Mercury, well—you can come to the office tonight for the official launch event, which also includes a talk by the esteemed mobile content expert Karen McGrane.

If you can’t make it tonight, visit mercury.postlight.com and check out the service. If you have any questions (or find any bugs, or need any support) hit us at [email protected]postlight.com.

Paul Ford: Oh my God. Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, oh my God. Rich?

Rich Ziade: Paul.

Paul: Richard Ziade.

Rich: Paul Ford.

Paul: This is Track Changes, the official podcast of Postlight, an agency in New York City that builds great web things!

Rich: Yes.

Paul: Very, very special episode of our corporate podcast today, Rich.

Rich: Uh…sponsored content!

Paul: We’re gonna market like crazy. We’re gonna talk about brand experiences. We’re gonna talk about opportunities to…

Rich: Accelerate success!

Paul: We’re going to connect to networks on LinkedIn. It’s going to be a really big deal.

Rich: Dear God.

Paul: So.

Rich: Dear God.

Paul: Everyone, before we walked into this podcast, the people who help us make the podcast, Tom and Elizabeth, were like, “Let’s not be too markety.”

Rich: Right.

Paul: “Let’s not sell too hard here.”

Rich: Right.

Paul: But when you have a product THIS AMAZING, you can’t help but — no, OK —

Rich: Act now.

Paul: Hold on. Here’s what we did: our company, which is a six-month-old agency, that usually you call us and you say, “Can you build something for me along my, on my terms,” our company decided to build something on its own terms.

Rich: Yes.

Paul: And that thing is called:

Rich: Mercury.

Paul: [very deep voice] Mercury.

Rich: Yes.

Paul: What we’re going to do is talk about what Mercury is, and why it matters, at a kind of abstract level. We’re not going to sell it too hard, because honestly, if you’re kind of person who needs it, you can go look at it and it’s free and we’ll tell you what that is.

Rich: Yeah. I think that’s the difference here, is we’re not selling anything.

Paul: Yeah. You just go in —

Rich: I’m just telling you my kid is beautiful. My little boy is very beautiful.

Paul: We love this kid.

Rich: He’s a good kid.

Paul: We built a piece of infrastructure for the web, but we’ve got to back up and explain the context in which it exists.

Rich: Yes.

Paul: So people know what a web page is, right? I think that…if our audience, we can take that, that…

Rich: We can run with that.

Paul: OK. So a web page is written in HTML, which is a mark-up language, and you know, if you go to The New York Times and you read an article, that’s a web page.

Rich: Yes.

Paul: So. Google, which is a pretty big company.

Rich: Yes.

Paul: Came up with this idea, and they don’t own this idea, it’s an open-source consortium is now working on it, but this thing called AMP.

Rich: Which is an acronym.

Paul: For Accelerated Mobile Pages.

Rich: Correct.

Paul: So the problem that Google saw was that you go hit some web page, and it’s got a bunch of ads on it, and you’re, like, on your mobile phone, your Android mobile phone, probably, because guess who Google cares about, or your iOS mobile phone? It takes forever to download that article. Like a minute.

Rich: You also just narrowed it dramatically. It’s an article. You’re not on Airbnb, you’re not on some mobile app, you’re on a page that has a lot of, probably, text and pictures. You’re reading an article.

Paul: So you want to read something on your web browser on your phone.

Rich: That’s right. And over the years, the size of those pages has just continued to go up, and the dependencies of all sorts of external scripts and whatnot has continued to go up. So the experience, even for sites that, you know, have mobile views of their stuff, it’s pretty slow, it’s pretty sluggish, it’s kind of painful.

Paul: But you know, there’s also this, like, there’s a lot of dynamic stuff in ads. There’s JavaScript that runs —

Rich: There’s a lot happening.

Paul: So a typical article page, like a typical readable thing on the internet, is like, requires supercomputer-level technology to display.

Rich: It’s pretty taxing, and it affects the experience.

Paul: It hits a whole bunch of different ad servers. It just does all kinds of stuff.

Rich: There’s a lot happening.

Paul: So Google came up with a way, they’re like, all right, make your HTML work like this, make the page like —

Rich: Consistency, is another thing worth noting.

Paul: Yeah. Make a very consistent thing along these rules. These are the AMP rules.

Rich: Yes.

Paul: Add this to your markup. And if you do that, and you tell us in the web page itself, if you say, hey, at the top of the web page you put a little tag in that says, “Hey, this is where the AMP version of this web page is,” we’ll go get it, we’ll save it, and we’ll serve it at the top of the search results.

Rich: Right. There’s a strong bias that Google has put forward towards pages that have AMP versions.

Paul: Pretty crazy, like if you go in and you search —

Rich: Incredibly strong bias.

Paul: If you go in and open up, like, Safari on your iPhone and you search for “Trump,” there’s this bar of pictures and logos and words across the top of the screen —

Rich: Correct.

Paul: That are all AMP pages. And those pop up before other pages.

Rich: Yes.

Paul: That’s just Google saying, “We’re going to strongly go for AMP pages.”

Rich: Yes.

Paul: So we go out, and we talk to a lot of publishers as part of our day job, and they were trying to do AMP.

Rich: Well, they have to go do it. And there’s nice documentation out there that’s been put forward of how you can implement AMP and support it, so that you’re out —

Paul: And there’s nice stuff, too, there’s like, WordPress plug-ins, like, it’s pretty easy to get this going.

Rich: It…somewhat. Depending on — your state of affairs, that really is going to impact how much work. But in any case, it’s work. You have to —

Paul: Well, and the reality is that most people aren’t in a situation where they can just use the WordPress plug-in.

Rich: No. Many.

Paul: People have these —

Rich: Most, probably.

Paul: Most of the big publishers, most of — and when we say “publishers,” we don’t just mean, like, publishing companies that write and report the news, but kind of everybody.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Big pharmaceutical firms, or not-for-profits, or —

Rich: Anybody that’s pushing articles.

Paul: The Soros Foundation, is a good example.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Places like that are actually pretty large-scale publishers, and they might have their own content management systems, they might have —

Rich: Correct.

Paul: Some really badly hacked old version of WordPress that, if they upgraded, everything falls apart, and —

Rich: That’s right.

Paul: People get fired. So they’re in this situation, but suddenly, everybody else is getting their hot little AMP links up at the top of Google search results.

Rich: There’s a scramble, a little bit, to support AMP.

Paul: Right.

Rich: It’s important to be at the top of those results. So —

Paul: Like, if you have a big custom publishing, you know, three engineers for three months is a normal amount of time to get this done.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: It could be much less, it could be, if you’ve really tightly buttoned-up content management system, it might be, like, a week or two to get everything set up.

Rich: It’s work, in any case.

Paul: But a lot of people, it’s months.

Rich: Correct.

Paul: So…we want, we stumbled into this.

Rich: Yes.

Paul: And we decided we wanted to help.

Rich: Yes. And we are, we are here to help, at Postlight.

Paul: We are. We want to help everybody. [laughter] And we felt there was an opportunity to create a shortcut here, so that people could get their stuff onto AMP in, theoretically, minutes.

Rich: Correct.

Paul: Like, and when we say that, I mean, there’s all sorts of things to figure out about your content, and Google, and so on. But the reality is we built this product where the way that AMP works is you just point to the AMP version of the page on a given web page, and then Google comes and it saves it and it serves it up really, really fast.

Rich: And it puts it at the top of search results.

Paul: It puts it at — so what we did is we made, we made it so that instead of you having to figure out where and how to create the AMP page, you just point back to our service, which is called Mercury. It’s at mercury.postlight.com.

Rich: Correct.

Paul: So you sign up, takes like a minute, and then you put the links into the pages that you want to eventually see show up on Google.

Rich: Correct.

Paul: You cut and paste like a little bit of code into your template. That’s what you do. And then Google comes along and it spiders your content.

Rich: Yep.

Paul: And then your pages are in the search results.

Rich: Yes. What we’re doing is, we’re taking that article that looks the way it typically looks on a desktop web browser, right? And automatically, instantly creating the AMP version of that article. So rather than you having to do the surgery of building the bridges so that AMP is coming out of your publication, or your site, we take care of it. You don’t have to do anything. AMP is available to you now in a moment. You just have to drop a link in.

Paul: OK, so it streamlines it.

Rich: We’ve eliminated all the work necessary to get on AMP. And it’s a free service.

Paul: OK, so good for us, we’re pretty great, awesome.

Rich: This is our gift to the world.

Paul: Look at us. We’re saints.

Rich: Yes.

Paul: Why did we do this? Here’s where this really came out. We were having a bad couple of months.

Rich: Um….

Paul: We were worried about getting new business.

Rich: Well, we were talking about marketing.

Paul: And we were talking about marketing.

Rich: And I think we’re in agreement, and we can disagree on the podcast if you’d like, that we don’t want to market in the traditional way.

Paul: Well this is the thing, right, like I can go out and give conference talks. I get invited all the time.

Rich: We could sponsor conferences…

Paul: The things that I like doing are making our space open to people for interesting events where they can come together as a community. I love that. I love seeing our company contribute to open-source projects.

Rich: Yup.

Paul: We released a thing called Lux that’s like a JavaScript framework. It’s pretty nerdy.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: But it is, it’s great, it’s powerful, it works really well. So contributing, to me, like, people talk about “authentic marketing,” and we do the newsletter and there’s all these things that we do, we do this podcast. Authentic marketing isn’t, like, just crafting some freaking authentic voice?

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: It’s contributing into the community in a direct way.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: With the idea that that’s a good way to build friendships and relationships, and you can kind of take your time and let that come back to you.

Rich: It also tells the world what you’re about. I mean look, this is unusual. This cost money, to produce this.

Paul: Sure.

Rich: It’s worth sharing. And I mean, not to say it was millions of dollars, but that money could’ve gone into other ways to sell ourselves.

Paul: We were in a tight spot, and what we decided to do is build good software that we could share with the world.

Rich: Correct. As a way to sort of reach out.

Paul: The situation I keep finding is when I go out and talk to people about what Postlight is —

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: OK? So people are like, “Oh, you’re an agency.” And they assume that you’re…it’s one of two things. You either come out of the advertising agency and branding world, so Wrigley’s Gum needs an app, because that’s part of the marketing plan?

Rich: Right.

Paul: Well we’d better go and talk to those guys.

Rich: Right.

Paul: OK, so we’re not that.

Rich: Yep.

Paul: Like we’d love to hear from Wrigley’s Gum, but we’re more likely to be, like, “What about…” We just think in a different way. We think not in an advertising way necessarily.

Rich: Correct.

Paul: And then there’s another kind of company which is sort of like the strategic solutions firm. And they’re like, “All right. We have 50,000 customers around the world and we need to send them each an email every day.” And this is another thing that we can do, but that’s not really our DNA. Our DNA is product.

Rich: Look, we’re nerds. We’re designers. We’re engineers. We’re product people. And we like to ship stuff.

Paul: So we had to send a clear signal. That’s what we decided.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: We had to send a clear signal to the world that this is the kind of company we are.

Rich: Correct.

Paul: And the thing that we figured would be the easiest way to do that would be to solve a really ugly problem that people have and take it from something that costs thousands and thousands of dollars and takes months and months to solve.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: So that it takes like, a minute. Because that’s what software does.

Rich: Exactly. And the other thing worth noting is we constantly have the ‘wouldn’t it be cool’ conversation —

Paul: Right.

Rich: In our offices. Like, “Hey, you know, if you just took this blue block and glued it to the red block, wouldn’t it be cool to just make it do that?” So frankly, it’s an itch that has less to do with business goals and more to do with, just, enjoying building stuff and the satisfaction of solving a problem.

Paul: Well we have to manage it all the time.

Rich: Yeah. So back to your narrative here. I mean, you know, you said we were in a tough spot. This kicked off, what, a couple months ago?

Paul: It did. We were having a couple rough weeks.

Rich: Wanted to figure out, how do we get people to pick up the phone. So right now, we’re not in that same tough spot.

Paul: That’s the thing —

Rich: In fact, we’re almost terrified of the buzz that may come out of…[laughter] Mercury.

Paul: See, this is true —

Rich: But it’s all good.

Paul: Are you comfortable being vulnerable about the fact — like I can see, when I say “tough spot,” you go, like, “Ughhghgh.”

Rich: No. No, I’m fine with that. I think you just have to finish the story.

Paul: That is true.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: We’re going to have a happy ending.

Rich: No, I’m not going to turn this into…I mean, this podcast is not about company therapy.

Paul: No, it’s not. But there was a real situation. Like we didn’t just sit there and go, like, “Hey, everything’s going great. Let’s make this product.” We were having a hard time communicating what we were about at that moment, and we were like, “What are we really about?”

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: And what we decided, what we’re really about is shipping software that just, like, cuts something out that really sucks. If you are not somebody with this problem, this is a pretty boring piece of technology. This is not something someone’s going to download on their phone and be like, “Wow, those guys at Postlight.”

Rich: No. It’s solving a nasty, expensive problem.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: But the deal is, if this works for you, and we just actually freed up about $100,000 for you to go solve something else.

Rich: If not more.

Paul: Yeah, exactly.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Easily. So if you’re someone in this, if you test this thing out and it works for you, and I think it will for a lot of people, you can go build another app.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: You can fix the bugs that have been bugging you. Instead of having to deal with this new freaking thing.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: That’s just come in from Google.

Rich: Yeah. And I don’t think this is the last thing we’re gonna say, right? I think, what is your next marketing campaign, Postlight? And it’ll be some other tool, or some other experiment, or some other weird thing.

Paul: Well it’s the second product we’ve shipped. The first thing was a little…

Rich: Gif Battle.

Paul: Gif Battle, which was a way to trash talk people using only animated gifs.

Rich: Yes.

Paul: Gifbattle.zone. Still there, still running. It’s fun. It was a good experience for us. We learned how to work together, we learned how to, sort of…we just sort of, as a new company, we shipped a product. That felt really good.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: And so this is the second one.

Rich: This will be a part of our culture. I mean, it will be part of who we are. Here’s another thing, and I think I touched on last week, and we wanted to save it for this podcast, which was, every so often, publishers wake up and something changed.

Paul: Ah, it’s brutal. The web does not wait for —

Rich: Well it’s not just the web. It’s just Google changed something. The SEO got tweaked a little. Or Facebook decided to move this thing over here, and turn down the dial a little bit on these types of posts. And it’s very powerless. It’s incredibly powerless.

Paul: Facebook might pay attention to how this would impact, you know, Google might pay attention to how this would impact The New York Times. CBS.

Rich: Yes.

Paul: But if you are a fifty-person company and, like, ten million people a year look at your stuff, and you have a little sideline over here. They can’t think about you.

Rich: Right.

Paul: You are just a data point. And yet you are totally reliant on them in the same way that you’re reliant on, like, the electric company.

Rich: Pretty much.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: And so what’s nice about it —

Paul: But it’s like the electric company decides that one day, like, you don’t really need electric lights anymore!

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: But you can use your stereo. That’ll light up your house.

Rich: Right.

Paul: See ya later. Bye.

Rich: You’re beholden, yeah.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: Exactly. And I think what’s cool about a tool like this is it sort of, it’s very empowering, in fact. It’s, OK, cool, you did this thing, but here, I’m going to react to it in a very simple, easy way, rather than —

Paul: And it —

Rich: Worry about a three-month project.

Paul: That’s right. It’ll take a minute. I’m not —

Rich: It’ll take a minute.

Paul: — gonna panic over your thing.

Rich: Exactly.

Paul: And we’ve been having an internal conversation about…I don’t think Google thinks very much about us or anyone, you know, aside from giant competitors like Apple or maybe Facebook, but what would the Google reaction to this be, because they’ve created this very buttoned-up, structured thing called AMP, and —

Rich: They could shut us off, it’s worth noting.

Paul: They could. That’s true. They could decide that they don’t want —

Rich: It’s highly unlikely, but…

Paul: I don’t think that we’re gonna be a blip, but I think that it’s interesting that we’re in this world where we are these little organisms kind of thinking, how is Google gonna react? Did they build this thing because they want people to actually implement against it themselves, are they trying to use that as a filter, so that it’s only big publishers who can get involved? But then again, there’s like a WordPress plug-in. So it doesn’t matter. Like, hundreds and hundreds of thousands of blogs could easily get into AMP. So I think they actually —

Rich: And they will.

Paul: They want everyone into AMP because they believe that their algorithms can sort the content and provide good search results.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: And as a product, they’re pretty good at it.

Rich: And it’s worth noting, AMP has been conveyed as a standard.

Paul: That’s right.

Rich: Like, anybody’s welcome to implement it and build tools around it and build parsers around it and whatever.

Paul: Honestly, as far as these things go, it is pretty good.

Rich: Yeah. I mean, look, it is terrible. Opening an article on your phone…I don’t know what my phone’s doing half the time. It’s just…it’s just hot. Steam is coming out of the back of it.

Paul: Your phone shouldn’t be hot because you’re reading about —

Rich: Some words are —

Paul: The Knicks.

Rich: Exactly.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: Exactly. And you and I always often joke about how it’s considered innovative to sort of dial back to the older way stuff got delivered, which was just text and images.

Paul: I mean, this is the thing: we keep rolling back to this, like, the old world, and one of the reasons that I’m OK with talking about nostalgia on this podcast is that we keep going back to these old ways of doing things. Like, this is markup languages that are strictly validated. This was a hot topic in 1999.

Rich: Yeah. Exactly.

Paul: And we’ve gone back to it. This is not necessarily an API. This is not something fancy that sings and dances. Rather, it’s Google saying, we will get your stuff there faster if you button it up.

Rich: Yup. I mean, it’s way less data over the wire.

Paul: That’s right.

Rich: Way faster. If this was like a, you know, services in third-world countries, or whatever it may be, I mean, it’s a world of difference. For us, it’s not as noticeable, and, you know…

Paul: But how did publishers get themselves into this situation? Where they need this. Where they can’t implement it themselves? We’re saying we’re going to take these three months — why is it going to take somebody three months to do an AMP implementation?

Rich: That’s a…if we turn that corner, right, we’re getting into the world of the tools and the content systems that people live on.

Paul: That’s the thing….

Rich: That are…there are people who continue to this day to negotiate with those systems and don’t find them to be empowering at all.

Paul: Right. So they’re using old, busted software. I think we know that. I think we know —

Rich: Or band-aided…it’s just, it’s not…

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: Busted necessarily, it just continues to get, sort of, plugged up as needed…

Paul: But let’s go back to an earlier thing you said, right, which is that this new damn thing shows up and you have to react to it.

Rich: It’s another curveball.

Paul: It’s not just one. It’s like, OK, so I’m publishing to the web. I’m publishing my web pages. And then one day, Steve Jobs gets up onstage. And there had been mobile efforts before, like WAP. Remember WAP?

Rich: Yes.

Paul: Like, Web Accelerated Pages, which sounds a lot like Accelerated Mobile Pages.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: I think it was web — but anyway, it was WAP. I don’t know what it stood for, but I think it was that. And that would work on those little tiny Nokia screens, those —

Rich: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Really tiny ones, yep.

Paul: So on and so forth. But suddenly, Steve Jobs stands up, and the thing that I remember from that initial iPhone announcement was the web browser was a full-fledged web browser on the phone. Like, all the other stuff, he was like, ehhh, it’s a good phone.

Rich: Oh, totally.

Paul: Whatever. But the thing that you saw was, “Oh my God. That’s a computer!”

Rich: That was transformational, yeah.

Paul: Because no one had put a web browser onto a phone, like, a real one.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: There were all these things where it’ll like, take pictures of the pages and send them down to you, or…

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: This was the real deal. And the web was dominant at that moment. There were no apps.

Rich: That’s right.

Paul: So suddenly your phone was going to give you access to this unbelievable range of stuff, and it pretty much worked, but it actually didn’t really. It was actually kind of hard to read most web pages on a mobile device.

Rich: That’s right.

Paul: So that was like the first great wave of, “Oh God we’re going to have to deal with that.” We need new headlines, that will fit better on mobile.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: We need to think about the type. We can’t run ads. We can’t, so on and so forth. So people started to deal with that, and so now you had, like, mobile versions of websites and desktop, and then responsive design showed up.

Rich: Yep.

Paul: Actually responsive design becomes another platform. And then Android shows up, and it’s a little different. And then Facebook shows up, and Twitter shows up, and you have to publish — so, you know, as we’ve been figuring out how to communicate as a company, when I sit down and make a list of all the things that we use to send out, like, a newsletter to a couple thousand people.

Rich: Yep.

Paul: It’s unbelievable amounts of work, just to communicate across all these platforms, as a little company with a small audience.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: If you’re a big organization with an audience in the millions, it’s exponential.

Rich: It’s hard to move.

Paul: And it’s the most expensive thing. It costs as much as hiring a lawyer.

Rich: It’s…it’s costly.

Paul: So I know I spoke at length about that, but I think that’s where publishers are. I think it’s like, every damn thing that shows up…

Rich: There was a little hiatus where everybody went to the app for a little bit.

Paul: They did. And responsive —

Rich: They thought it was going to be the Esquire app, for $4.99. And that ended fast. And we’re back to where we were.

Paul: Apple was literally promising publishers at that point, they were like, we solved it. Just like we did with music.

Rich: They’re just going to be magazines.

Paul: And the iPad —

Rich: It was kind of related to the iPad.

Paul: Yeah, the iPad was going to be, like, the miracle device to save publishing.

Rich: Yeah. Turns out, the world went more social. The hyperlink became even more amplified in its importance, right?

Paul: But people also still were really trained not to buy content. Except for books, they’ll buy books online.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: But they won’t buy, like, recurring periodicals, or things like that, in the same way. And you actually had to send a really loud signal, like a paywall.

Rich: Yeah. So what you have with AMP is, all right, we’re here now. [laughter] How do we make it really good, and fast, and consistent? And I think that’s what AMP is. That’s the overture being made here. I think it’s good. I mean, I hope everybody else just sort of — I hate that there is a different standard now for, I think, LinkedIn is working on its own standard, I didn’t know anybody read anything on LinkedIn.

Paul: Yeah, LinkedIn’s huge. It’s a horrible huge thing.

Rich: I just didn’t know. All I get is connection requests.

Paul: No, you can really publish on LinkedIn. If you, especially if you publish a certain kind of thing, right? If you publish —

Rich: Business-centric…

Paul: Yeah. “The Ten Innovation Tips That You Need in Order to Marketize Your Whatever.”

Rich: Right. “Five Warning Signs That Someone’s About to Quit.”

Paul: That’s right. [laughter] That’s right.

Rich: Yeah. And then you have Facebook, with their Instant Articles. It’s too bad that it’s getting disjointed again. Like, we have an agreed-upon…

Paul: Yeah, we have AMP, but now we also have Instant Articles.

Rich: Well, we have HTML, which AMP actually, really behaved itself in terms of carving itself out of HTML.

Paul: It did. As we were building this tool, we kept bumping up against the fact that Google doesn’t let just anything through.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: The web has always been very, very tolerant of just garbage. “Hey, I got you an ad and like seven jpgs and some text. I didn’t close any of my tags, and whatever.” You just, you kind of stumble in drunk, as a web page, and you’re like, your clothes are in tatters, and the web browser gets that monstrosity.

Rich: It’s very forgiving.

Paul: It’s like, “All right, let’s just figure out what we can do here. Let’s clean you up and put you in — ”

Rich: And a browser is very forgiving.

Paul: Yeah. And it’s just like, take a hot shower, get yourself buttoned up.

Rich: Sit down.

Paul: Let’s put a clean shirt on you. And that’s what the browser does.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: You give it this mess, and it’s like, all right, well, we’ll make you ready for consumption.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: You show up at AMP and you’re not wearing a tie, as a web page, they’re like, “Get the hell out of here.”

Rich: Mmmm hmmm.

Paul: It’s jacket and tie only. And so that’s why it’s all these major media brands that are in there now, because they can afford to go out and get the nice, you know, the nice tags.

Rich: Put the work in, to make it work.

Paul: Yeah, exactly. They’ll go to the gym.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: So what we do is we make you look good.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: That’s what our service does, is it puts, like, a dickey on, so it looks like you’re wearing something under that shitty sweater.

Rich: I don’t know what that is. [laughter] Let’s keep going. So how do you set this up? You go to mercury.postlight.com. You sign up, very small sign-up form. And then you get some instructions, and you’re on your way.

Paul: I mean I think that, you know, we got the point across, right? We’ve advertised this pretty well.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: And if you’re a publisher and you want to deal with this problem, give it a whirl, it’s free.

Rich: Yeah, I mean, it’s a free tool.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: I mean, that’s why it feels less like advertising.

Paul: Why did we release a free tool?

Rich: Well I’ll tell you: you know, we’re bidding on stuff right now. Things are pretty busy, as far as the pipeline goes. We’re bidding on stuff, and we’re seeing, in some cases, who we’re up against. And it’s very flattering, after seven or eight months, to be in the running with shops that have been around for years.

Paul: This is real. We’re going up against companies that have hundreds of people that we respect. Like, not, this is not, we’re not the sort of people who sit around, “Awww, they suck, they’re big and lame.” They’re smart, talented people who can get stuff done.

Rich: So there’s one part of me that’s incredibly proud of that fact, and there’s another part of me that hates that we’re lumped in with them.

Paul: You know, we had Dean Hachamovitch in here, I was talking about this in the context of Microsoft. There’s always this fantasy that like, you’re sitting on the end of the dock and the helicopter lands —

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: — and the guy comes out and he’s like, “Hey! We need you back in.”

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: And you’re like, “Naaaaah, I got out. I got out. I don’t want to go back in.”

Rich: Yeah

Paul: Yeah. That’s you and me.

Rich: You want to be special.

Paul: Yeah. I want to sit in the room and have somebody show up and be like, “You’re the only one who can solve this.”

Rich: So that’s, honestly, that’s partly why we did this. I love the signal it sends out, and I think it’s gonna be part of who we are. They build cool stuff, and —

Paul: Well also, you can bring us your most shameful garbage heap, that there’s still value in it. Your archive of eight billion random data points and all your analytics. We like that.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Show up, stumble across the threshold, and go like, “I don’t know what I inherited, because…”

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: What people don’t know if they don’t work in this business, data gets messy. Stuff goes into databases that’s all supposed to be nice and clean, I put all my articles in, blah blah blah. It’s a pile of stuff.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: And the signal we want to send is that there’s kind of no problem to ugly. We’re ready.

Rich: Yeah. Exactly. And also, I mean, just, in terms of the types of itches we want to scratch internally, I mean, we’re gonna do stuff like this.

Paul: So yeah, we’re growing, and there’s gonna be more products like this. It’s weird, because it’s almost like we’re backing into it. I look around and I’m like, oh, there’s some actual open-source activity around our company.

Rich: Mmmm hmmm.

Paul: If you look on our GitHub. And we’re launching a tool, a piece of infrastructure. Some plumbing for the web to make it easier for people to do stuff.

Rich: That’s right.

Paul: All right, we have to talk about something that isn’t us marketing ourselves.

Rich: No.

Paul: I feel like we’ve gone way too far.

Rich: Yeah, exactly.

Paul: Let’s cut this —

Rich: mercury.postlight.com. Go —

Paul: Yeah, let’s cut this down.

Rich: It’ll solve your problems.

Paul: But you know, we have a podcast, so we have to talk about the product we’re launching in the podcast. So we’re learning this part of it.

Rich: Totally.

Paul: [very long sigh]

Rich: So Tom sent us a question.

Paul: Our good friend Tom.

Rich: About if AMP is relevant, or related to what Facebook’s doing, and it’s worth talking about, a little bit about what Facebook is doing. First off, AMP is not supported by Facebook, or isn’t meaningful in the Facebook ecosystem at this point in time.

Paul: That’s right. Facebook has a product called Instant Articles.

Rich: Yes. Which is sort of their flavor of AMP.

Paul: And what it does is it reads your articles and turns them into Facebook Instant Articles, and those flow through, and there’s all sorts of talk about, like, them giving you revenue from the advertising on those, and so on. But what it really is is like, an HTML article with a bunch of stuff in it, pictures of whatever, like a regular article that lives truly inside of Facebook.

Rich: Yeah, like, you tap on the article in your feed, and it comes up instantly. Essentially, it’s been practically pre-loaded for you to see it instantly. So it’s very attractive from a user-experience perspective. There isn’t that spinning browser waiting to bring the article in. It’s there already. What’s unfortunate is, we couldn’t have just nailed this in one fell swoop, so that this tool took care of Instant Articles, and took care of Google AMP, so that you just have to do this once. This is, again, more of the publisher pain, which is, oh, I have to deal with yet another master that is really, really important to me. First I have to solve this for Google. Now I have to go solve this for Facebook.

Paul: And it’s the same deal, too, like, they require, sort of, extreme validation.

Rich: Similar hoops you’re jumping through. It’s worth nothing that we’re really well positioned, because a lot of the technology under the hood in Mercury puts us just about there, pretty far along…

Paul: We talked about —

Rich: To support Instant Articles — we actually had a debate internally within Postlight about whether, let’s, you know, go whole hog here, and support Instant Articles and AMP out of the box. And we realized that it really blew out the project.

Paul: So the concept of the minimum viable product, right?

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Which gets trotted out a lot, but the reality is that you gotta ship, you gotta get something out, and see what people want.

Rich: Let’s get it out. See what people want.

Paul: It’s entirely possible, even despite this incredibly thoughtful, authentic marketing podcast that we’ve just done, that this thing will just go [noise to represent object falling through the air and exploding upon impact]. That’s completely within the realm of possibility.

Rich: Oh definitely.

Paul: And so there’s a point, I mean, the MVP is a way to cut your risk, like.

Rich: Also, I think time is of the essence right now.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: Everybody needs this thing.

Paul: Let’s get this —

Rich: We’re hearing it a lot as we meet people.

Paul: That is the reality. We’ve been telling people a little bit about this, and they’re like, “Oh, I’ll give it a try.”

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: But for us, it’s an interesting problem, like.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: You give me the article, and I could give you the AMP view? Get it in Instant Articles? Give you, like, a Markdown view, give it to you in Microsoft Word, who the hell knows? Like, whatever is the thing that publishers are finding it really challenging to distribute their content to…that was a brutal sentence. We would like to at least take a look at it, and see if we could help.

Rich: Right. Exactly.

Paul: And the other thing too, here, is publishers are big companies, little companies, little poetry magazines, the little, uh, small town newspapers and so on. There’s so many people who are participating in this —

Rich: It’s a very long tail. Yeah.

Paul: And they don’t get served very well at all. They get access to big packages like WordPress. They get access to various tools and suites online. But this sort of stuff, if they’ve done anything on their own, or taken any risk, they really get punished. This is, we’re trying to take away some of that punishment. Just because you built a custom CMS doesn’t mean you did anything wrong.

Rich: Right. Right.

Paul: Just ten years later you can’t actually update your homepage. But that…it really is just part of life. [laughter]

Rich: Tom, I hope we answered that question for you. Thanks for putting it out there.

Paul: God bless you, Tom.

Rich: All right, Paul.

Paul: [sigh] You know, I’m gonna be honest —

Rich: I think this didn’t feel like an ad.

Paul: Uhhhhhhh….

Rich: I’m just gonna say that right now.

Paul: It felt a little too much like an ad to me, and I’m sure, you know what we’re going to get comments about, this is a little too much of an ad.

Rich: Yeah. Uh…

Paul: That’s OK. You know what, people, I get it. I hear you. But we’re figuring it out over here as well.

Rich: Yes.

Paul: It could always be more authentic.

Rich: Always.

Paul: Always. Could always. Because I mean, who’s even authentic with themselves?

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: [longer sigh] You know what? Let’s bring it up a notch to say goodbye.

Rich: Let’s do that.

Paul: I’m proud to have launched a product, OK? So like, all the stuff about authenticity, like, we built a company, and now there’s a new thing in the world. Another frickin’ thing.

Rich: It takes a lot to go out there.

Paul: Oh my God, it is, like.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: You know what’s funny, though, I will say, getting older has made this easier: I know how the audience is going to react. I know that some people are going to say one thing, some people are going to say another. I used to panic. I’m going to launch this and people are going to say —

Rich: Did you really?

Paul: Yeah. You know, I’m going to put this out, especially —

Rich: As a writer, did you read the comment threads and all that?

Paul: It depends. I read a lot of them. I used to read more.

Rich: Hmmm.

Paul: But there’s certain — if Hacker News, which is news.ycombinator.com, if that thing picks up something I write, I don’t read those comments.

Rich: Well that’s very tribal.

Paul: Yeah. I read —

Rich: That’s tough for…

Paul: You know what I actually do that works really well. I often will read the comments three to six months after the piece comes out.

Rich: Got it.

Paul: Because then it’s no longer personal. And then it’s usually pretty funny, like, if somebody’s like, “This person is a garbage monster who needs to die,” you’re like, “Yeah, all right, fine.”

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: I happen to still be alive.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: When you’ve just published, you’re still close to the piece. And it feels like they’re attacking you.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: And it’s very counter-productive.

Rich: Right.

Paul: I’ve got pretty good thick skin by now. I’m pretty good, but it still gets thin in spots.

Rich: The beauty of being where I am is I don’t need any sort of skin.

Paul: No. No, you don’t have the need for constant validation from thousands of people out in the world that I do?

Rich: Well, I don’t have thousands of people doing anything.

Paul: Uh, we’re going to have thousands of people using Mercury.

Rich: Well that’ll be great.

Paul: That’ll be good. We’re gonna do that. So we’re out. We’re gonna see you again next week, and we’ll, we’ll probably talk a little bit less about Mercury and a little more about some other technology-related topic, but we’ll let you know how it’s going.

Rich: Track Changes.

Paul: Track Changes is the podcast of Postlight. If you ever need anything related to technology or you have any questions for us or you just need, I don’t know, just a good helping hand or a word of encouragement, you can send an email to [email protected].

Rich: Yes.

Paul: I’m Paul Ford.

Rich: Rich Ziade.

Paul: Thank you for listening. We appreciate it.

Rich: Thanks.

Paul: Bye.