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Episode 19 June 28, 2016 | 38min

The Silence of the Cams

Our co-founders look into why most videos on Facebook are viewed in silent mode.

Show Notes

Your silent Facebook feed: this week Paul Ford and Rich Ziade talk about how video has taken over Facebook — and about how, according to Digiday, 85% of those videos are viewed silently. They debate form and content, consider user experience, and fixate on a fictional video in which an man drives a Vespa into a hole. They also discuss Rich’s mother’s cooking.

Paul Ford: Hey. I’m Paul Ford, and you are listening to Track Changes. I’m joined by my co-founder —

Rich Ziade: [long, dramatic pause] Rich Ziade. Long, dramatic pause.

Paul: We are co-founders of a company called Postlight, which is a product shop in New York City. Come to us with your big technology thing, and we’ll build it for you. Whether it’s a website or an app. That’s who we are, Rich.

Rich: It is who we are.

Paul: What are we going to talk about today?

Rich: Various things, actually. A lot of interesting stuff to cover. Stuff that I’ve just been exposed to recently, actually.

Paul: One of the things you wrote about not too long ago on our…newsletter. Sorry, I’m having trouble keeping our synergistic media platform components straight, so…

Rich: Mmmm hmmm.

Paul: It’s tricky.

Rich: Yep.

Paul: It’s tricky.

Rich: Wait, Paul, can I subscribe to the newsletter?

Paul: You can! You can go to trackchanges.postlight.com and see it on Medium, or you can go to our homepage, postlight.com, and sign up for the MailChimp version. So there’s two whole versions of the newsletter, because we live in the future.

Rich: We live complicated lives.

Paul: [sigh] I’m so tired…of media things.

Rich: I know.

Paul: Anyway. One thing you wrote about at one point that I was like, “Yeah, whatever, Rich.”

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: There’s a lot of things where I’m just like, “…What?? What are you talking about this for?” You were really into the fact that Facebook video is often silent film.

Rich: Well it is mostly viewed silently.

Paul: So what, I go to Facebook, right? And I’m scrolling.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: And there, like, the Financial Times has a video that someone shared.

Rich: Well, it just starts playing.

Paul: OK, so it’s auto-play.

Rich: Yeah. So here’s the backstory. A couple of years ago, I think more than a couple of years ago, actually, Facebook started auto-playing the videos.

Paul: OK.

Rich: Now that’s a big deal. It felt like, hmmm, OK, that’s interesting. I’m not hitting play anymore. As I’m zipping through my feed, so in between, you know, my mom showing me pictures of the thing she just baked, is —

Paul: We should point out to the audience that your mother’s an exception chef. Really good cook.

Rich: My mom is an incredible cook.

Paul: Yeah, it’s really…

Rich: No other way to put it.

Paul: It’s actually just…

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: It’s one of the perks of working with us, is every now and then you get, like…

Rich: She will bake something or cook something.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: Or whatever. True. So —

Paul: Baklava. What’s her thing?

Rich: She makes great Middle Eastern desserts. Really beautiful Middle Eastern desserts.

Paul: And she likes those little pie, like, stuffed spinach pie type of things.

Rich: Her meat pies, and spinach pies.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: It’s really traditional — we are Middle Eastern, and she’s a champ. She just kills it. She doesn’t measure, she’s one of those that doesn’t measure anything.

Paul: If you asked her for a recipe, would she provide it, or would she be like, “Get out of here.”

Rich: She might provide you with a recipe, but then sabotage it in some way. Just by planting bad information into the instructions. Something like that.

Paul: She’d be the best podcast guest imaginable.

Rich: She’d be an incredible podcast guest.

Paul: All right, Rich’s mom —

Rich: But we diverge.

Paul: She’s the best.

Rich: Yes.

Paul: So.

Rich: So you’re scrolling through Facebook, and videos start playing. So if you are following The New York Post, or the Financial Times, or BuzzFeed, or Tasty. As you’re scrolling, and you’ve got the video from the bottom of your phone to the top of your phone, that content unit that’s coming through your feed, the work’s been done here. People have thought through that you’ve got about five seconds to get that person to stop. Just stop.

Paul: And pay attention.

Rich: Just stop the thumb. How do you stop the thumb from continuing to just blindly scroll through your life? Right —

Paul: Right, so you’re sitting there and you’re just like appreciate all the blessings —

Rich: Exactly.

Paul: Come to my event.

Rich: Exactly.

Paul: And then BAM, there’s a rectangle.

Rich: Happy Father’s Day. Yeah, all — and then something starts, animates quickly. So here’s another important fact: Facebook counts a video as viewed if it’s viewed for three seconds. That’s it.

Paul: OK.

Rich: So the metering system of Facebook, you’ve got three seconds to get that person to stop and just…pause.

Paul: Mmmm hmmm.

Rich: They just need you to pause. They’ve even given up on the idea of you tapping in and letting the video come to the forefront and letting audio kick in.

Paul: OK, so it’s silent —

Rich: They passed on that.

Paul: Three seconds of silent playing.

Rich: That’s right.

Paul: So it could be an animated gif, for all we — I mean, it’s video, but.

Rich: It could be an animated gif, but it is a video. So what you get is, within the first couple of seconds, this really impactful titling kicks in. Red bars come across the video, the video footage, and you get the headline, or you get —

Paul: OK.

Rich: Something really powerful that’s gonna — “Whoa! What just happened?”

Paul: What?

Rich: Exactly. Or “Tylenol known to make you less empathetic.”

Paul: OK.

Rich: I said it in a long-winded way. It could be “Tylenol makes you care less about others.” Or something —

Paul: We should point out, too, we’re citing an article from Digiday here.

Rich: We are citing an article from Digiday.

Paul: About —

Rich: But this is real.

Paul: Facebook video.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: So the stat that is really the headline of this article is that 85% of the videos viewed are viewed silently.

Paul: OK, so that’s insane.

Rich: That’s insane.

Paul: That’s actually insane. Because you’ve got to imagine, like, we don’t have real, I don’t think we have the real numbers as to like, the total number of views on Facebook.

Rich: It’s billions.

Paul: But billions of views.

Rich: Billions, I think, a day.

Paul: 85% of those —

Rich: Are —

Paul: Of that massive number, what it is —

Rich: Silently!

Paul: Are silent films, essentially.

Rich: Are silent films.

Paul: Are people looking at text superimposed over moving images.

Rich: That’s right. In the beginning they were just doing sort of plain, vanilla subtitling, the way you’d see in foreign films and whatnot.

Paul: Right.

Rich: But what they’ve, they’ve wizened up and now the actual text, it’s sort of video headlining, almost. They’re short and sweet. They’re very impactful. It’s not quotes of, like, narration or anything like that. It’s just sort of — imagine The New York Post coming to life.

Paul: OK.

Rich: So it’s like big —

Paul: Headline-style graphics —

Rich: Headline-style graphics, one after the other. So you’re just, you’re getting these little punches in the face, and they average about 20 to 40 seconds, I mean, The New York Post ones do. They don’t go too long. You don’t have to sit there for three minutes of this. And it’s just left, right, uppercut. And you sit through it.

Paul: OK, so you know what, let’s do our job for a second, which is, we work with a lot of, not just media companies, but all sorts of companies. And everybody’s coming to us recently and they’re going, “What do we do about video?” Like even startups or —

Rich: Video…

Paul: Big dot-coms were like, “Hey, we need a video platform just to tell people about, like, how to use our product, or…”

Rich: “We think this is a great way…” Yes.

Paul: OK, so I come to you and I’m like, “I have all these videos. I have like 1,000 hours of video of people talking. And Facebook, 85% of videos that have no sound on them, and I need to do these big titles. What do I do?”

Rich: I think you probably have to toss a lot of it away. I think it’s just not going to work in this new experience.

Paul: I think this is a really important point. I’ve been involved in a lot of archival projects, and there’s a lot of value to, like, an entire archive of something, like, here’s every speech that Winston Churchill made.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: You know? But there’s a fantasy about reuse that is the hardest thing. Like if you can get 30% of a given archive of, like, video — oh, we have all these cooking videos, they’re going to be great! And it’s like, most of them are just the same buttercream recipe.

Rich: It’s all throwaway.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: It’s all throwaway stuff.

Paul: It’s hard to tell people —

Rich: Disposable.

Paul: Yeah because they think they’re like, “Well, we have 150,000 hours of video in our corporate archive.” And we’re like, you actually have about 150 hours of video.

Rich: Yeah. Well it’s just going to take a lot of new production work, post-production work, to pare it down into something that is going to be — you know what’s a good way to look at it? News that, usual news segment, if you look historically, right, you’ve got the sort of nightly news that kicks in, you’ve got the reporters that are out in the field. The report’s usually about two to three minutes.

Paul: Right.

Rich: “OK, now we’re gonna go report on tornadoes in the South.” And then they go to a report, and this guy spends the whole day taking footage, cutting it, putting words over it, and then reporting it, right?

Paul: Right.

Rich: So what’s happened is we’ve moved on to trailers. Imagine it’s like, you tell that reporter, “Listen man, you don’t have three minutes. You’ve got about 25 seconds, and you need to find the juiciest stuff here — ” Because the viewing experience is, it’s the equivalent of sitting on your remote, at home, and your thumb can’t help but push channel up every three to five seconds.

Paul: Sure.

Rich: And you need that person to stop hitting channel up. That’s literally what’s happening.

Paul: And the way the trailers do it is they have somebody with a low voice go —

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: [somehow even lower than the guys who do trailers] IN A WORLD —

Rich: Exactly.

Paul: Except now they have to actually just do that typographically.

Rich: They have to do that typographically. So what they look for is, like, footage of, uh, an Italian man on a Vespa falling into a hole.

Paul: …OK.

Rich: That needs to —

Paul: They could speed that up like 20%, too.

Rich: Well within the first five seconds, that person’s gonna fall in that hole.

Paul: You’ve got to.

Rich: What they do, I’ve seen it, is like, they’ll show, say like, “Miracle Recovery From This Accident.” And in the first two seconds, he falls in the hole. So they gotcha, right? And then what happens is they replay it again —

Paul: So you’re watching it and you’re like, “HO!”

Rich: “OH, he fell in the hole!”

Paul: Wow.

Rich: I was just looking at, like, beautiful waffles that somebody just cooked.

Paul: That’s right.

Rich: The next thing I see is this guy fall in a hole, OK? It’s what happens is, you stop, right, and say OK, what the hell happened, is he OK? It’s a basic human instinct, the guy fell in a hole, right? So you pause, and what they do is they zoom in, they take the same footage again, they play it slower, they sort of zoom into it, it gets grainy, and they make you watch him fall in the hole a lot slower. And then as he’s falling in the hole, again, they start telling you about the people that came and saved him and pulled him out and whatever it may be. I was just looking recently: a very large alligator walked across a golf course.

Paul: Sure. Of course.

Rich: OK? That’s big.

Paul: Right.

Rich: That’s good. I mean, that is, that editor, that new breed of editors, that is thinking about your thumb —

Paul: Sure.

Rich: Is thinking, OK, I could work with this.

Paul: It is a person with a $160,000 liberal-arts degree.

Rich: With $160,000 [laughter], he’s trying to get you to — he is looking for people to fall. He is looking for strange reactions in the, like, do you remember when Trump was giving a speech and Chris Christie’s wife was standing next to him?

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: And she looked like a hostage.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: Do you remember that?

Paul: Well and Christie looked like a hostage, too.

Rich: And Christie looked like a hostage. She gave an eye roll, that’s right. Christie hostage, she gave an eye roll while Trump was talking. The Post editor who saw that said, “OK. Perfect.”

Paul: Yeah. We’re good.

Rich: What they do is they take the first few seconds of that, they show the regular footage, then they zoom in on her and it’s grainy and weird but it looks like found footage, it looks like surveillance footage.

Paul: Right. They’re really good at blurring now, because everyone’s got this kind of low quality original signal?

Rich: That’s right.

Paul: I love when they, when the thing they do when they show the vertically-shot video, and then they blur the edges to the left or the right. [laughter]

Rich: It looks like you’re looking through a bottle.

Paul: Yeah, you can’t figure out what the hell’s going on, but they’re just so desperate to up the resolution cognitively.

Rich: Think about, this is five seconds of news footage that they stretch into 35 seconds with a little story on it. Essentially twelve headlines, overlaid.

Paul: Because I guess you get to run an ad, right? You get to, like, do something in there. Or is it just the share?

Rich: I don’t know what’s happening —

Paul: No, you want more shares so that people come back to your site.

Rich: You want more shares, you want to be followed, you want to be liked, and life goes on from there, I guess.

Paul: I guess Facebook helps you monetize somewhere along the way. That’s something we should know about.

Rich: What you’re seeing, by the way, more of now are ads that are of this format.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: So you’re seeing iPhone cases, like “The Future of iPhone Cases,” in 20 seconds, spinning around in an ad. So it’s no longer, like, sponsored content, just a picture of an iPhone case. It’s the ad, the person’s life has been saved because this iPhone case will stop your phone from shattering, or whatever it may be. They’re telling little stories like this —

Paul: It’s the infomercial, but in five seconds. It’s that slowed-down, like, that person who’s, like, trying to flip a pancake but they accidentally knock over the refrigerator, right?

Rich: That’s right.

Paul: So here’s a question: people come to us and, like, I come to you and I’m like, “Hey Rich, I have 1,000 hours of video of…different ways to make cake frosting. And I think this is gonna do really well on Facebook. And it’s got voiceover and it’s professionally produced and so on.” And now I walk up to you, and you’ve just read this article and you’ve been thinking about this for a while and you’re like, “Well, 85% of it is, like, gonna be really short, and it has only typographical treatment and the audio doesn’t matter.” So what do we do for people in that situation?

Rich: Well, I gotta say, I’m hoping this is a flavor of content. I really am. I mean, look, I’m gonna just talk about my experience with this. Sometimes I don’t have, I need my brain to just be stupid for about a minute or two.

Paul: Mmmm hmmm.

Rich: Right? So I can go on Twitter and everybody starts complaining at me, so I leave Twitter. OK. Then I open Facebook and I start to go through this experience, and I just, I can feel my brain starting to melt as I sort of almost subconscious — my thumb is just, it’s sort of this automated process and it’s really bad. It’s just a horrible, horrible way to skim across content, I think. I have trouble diving into a long article, these days. I find myself really having to work to focus on it. And I see a video, it’s two and a half minutes long on YouTube, and I find myself jumping, because I don’t want to wait a minute.

Paul: Well most things are boring and bad, though. I mean, c’mon, two and a half minutes, most videos could be, especially on YouTube, most of them could be about twelve seconds long and you’d get all the information necessary.

Rich: True, but there’s something, I don’t know, there’s something jarring about it.

Paul: Here’s —

Rich: So I’m complaining, you asked me a question, I just ended up complaining to you.

Paul: Well here, I have two thoughts here. One is that over 20 years, what you keep seeing is media types get more and more…rigidly defined, in this business. So the homepage.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: The homepage shows up in the nineties, and everyone’s like, Oh my God, it can be video, text, audio, midi files. I can play, like, Jethro Tull’s “Aqualung” when you hit a page —

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: About, I don’t know, about, like, juggling. Like it can be, it was just, like, rich, multimedia experience. That’s where we thought we were going. And then blogs show up, and everyone’s like, oh, blog. It’s like 1,000 words long, 500–1,000 words long…

Rich: Yeah. We think we’re defining the boundaries around that type.

Paul: And then Tumblr was like, OK, let’s have five — which was Tumbl-blogs, you know, Tumblogs…blahblahblogs, I don’t remember what they hell they —

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: But it was like, five different content types. Like the little photo, a quote, things like that. It was like, oh, OK, we don’t even have to blog anymore. We can do these content types.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Then the natural progression of that is Instagram, which is one rectangle, with some comments and a title.

Rich: Right.

Paul: And now you’re seeing, like on Facebook, right, like the, all the stuff about video, which is a very rich format, and all this sort of, like, it’ll be embedded and so on and so forth, it’s getting locked down into ‘here’s what actually works.’

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Here’s what the people want. They don’t actually want to play. If we just leave it mute, and just show it to you, it’s just as a static picture. We gotta move it, or otherwise we don’t start to return the value on the video.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: But we can’t have audio, because literally that would be a cacophonous nightmare.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: So everyone is like, OK, this is the form, let’s back into the way to get the most traction possible.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Now see, what I think is tricky is then, do you and I, as people who run an agency, and somebody comes to us with this problem, what do we build for them to deal with this? Do we go, like, all right, we’re going to create —

Rich: Wait wait wait, pause, what’s the problem?

Paul: The problem is I have all this video and I want to get it into Facebook video —

Rich: OK, so it’s this old archival…content…

Paul: Or even fairly new. But I don’t have a content management system that does nice, easy subtitling. Do I just put a lot of people in a room with Adobe products and say, “Get me 30-second videos until your eyes bleed?” Or do I build them a system for managing that, making the text searchable? Like, we’re in this point that all the things we talk about and advocate for about, like, good humane content experiences, things that editors can use to do good work? But these are weird products. Like, are we, would we ever build the framework to let people make videos like this, or would we just say, “God, just use Premiere. Just use the Adobe products and good luck.”

Rich: Yeah. I bet the tools are out there. I bet somebody’s built something. Somebody’s built something for everything, and I think when you see something like this take hold, where you’re talking about billions of silent videos getting viewed, somebody’s built something, is my guess.

Paul: Some, like, news production…video…

Rich: Something…

Paul: Frame…

Rich: Yeah, and you know, the overlaying of captions, I mean, there are apps that are $3 on your phone —

Paul: That will caption —

Rich: That will take your video…like, will take a six-minute video, and what it will do is it will sort of create these edited segments down to 40 seconds, and let you put some words on it, and that’s your video. It’s $5, now, to do this. I think you have to walk them back, just real quick, I mean, so what are your — is this what you are? Are these your goals?

Paul: That’s the thing, there’s this downward sort of tooling pressure where it’s like, here’s a bunch of cheap stuff to get you to participate in Facebook. Whenever that happens, and this has happened, you know, like a little bit with Flash, or with all kinds of video stuff, or just when animated gifs got big, all the other data that makes something participate in the web, that makes it, sort of, be part of all the other media and connect, that all gets thrown away. Like —

Rich: I think you need to forget — I mean, look, the reality?

Paul: These are disposable —

Rich: The web, it’s sort of, forget the web.

Paul: OK, so what you’re saying is that it’s a sensible target at this point. The advice we would give to somebody who came to us with a bunch of videos, like, OK, you need to just make these atomic units, put them on Facebook, realize that maybe they’ll drive traffic back to your larger world, and then just move on.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: OK.

Rich: I think that’s it.

Paul: So these go, like, right into Facebook, right? Facebook is hosting —

Rich: These go right into Facebook, yeah.

Paul: OK, so —

Rich: I mean, The Post may be putting them on YouTube, but everybody, the crowd is on Facebook.

Paul: OK, so —

Rich: The crowd is not going to youtube.com/nypost to go look at the latest uploads.

Paul: Well YouTube doesn’t have a good feed.

Rich: It doesn’t have a good feed. It’s not, that’s not its thing, right?

Paul: Yeah. I mean it could be —

Rich: I think they are all there, by the way. I think The Post, when they put something on Facebook, I think they push it to like, Instagram —

Paul: Sure.

Rich: And YouTube or whatever. But everybody’s on Facebook. That’s where everybody’s doing their thing here.

Paul: See, what breaks my heart is that there’s no canonical representation that’s, like, searchable, accessible, reusable —

Rich: Nah, it’s over. It’s…that world of, well, where is everything stored, and where is the search box —

Paul: Yeah, but we’re gonna regret it. We always regret it. Four years from now, we’re gonna be like, “Boy, we shouldn’t thrown all that money down the Facebook garbage video hole.”

Rich: But it’s garbage! What do you want to search it for. You really need to see the guy fall back in the hole?

Paul: …

Rich: Two years from now?

Paul: But it’s like anything —

Rich: Remember that guy?

Paul: After a couple of years there’s gonna — there will be things…all of that stuff is representative of our culture as it is now. Now granted, right now it looks like an enormous flaming, like, armpit of culture. Just a nightmare hell pit, right? But what I’m thinking is like, five years from now, ten years from now, that’s who we were. We’re gonna want to know. And instead you’re just gonna…

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Yeah. Mmmm.

Rich: I mean, that’s a good point. I don’t know what Facebook’s doing about archiving and, you know, taking and putting aside. I mean, history is happening on Facebook. Time is passing, and people are living their lives on the damn thing. So I don’t know if there is, they’ve got a lot of money these days. There’s probably some fellow that has been assigned the task of thinking about archives on Facebook —

Paul: Those are dangerous probablies our world, though. There’s a lot of times where I’m just like, no we have it all, it’s all addressable, you know, and they’re like, OK.

Rich: But —

Paul: I mean, there’s another thing, too, is they’re constantly reminding you of where you were five, six years ago.

Rich: Yeah, and then I’ll be like, “Oh man, look at my…legs.”

Paul: Oh, it’s so bad. [laughter] It’s either like, for me, it’s either like, “Wow, that was a thin year,” “Oh, God, oh — ”

Rich: They’re archiving everything, it’s no doubt. I mean, it’s a little scary that it is inside of one corporation, that is a a little — I mean, the world is living on Facebook now, and it is —

Paul: Jon Lax was here, and seemed to think we could trust them.

Rich: I trust Jon Lax.

Paul: I do too! I like him.

Rich: So I like him.

Paul: He’s director of product over at Facebook, and…

Rich: I look into his eyes and I’m like, you know what, you want to hold on to my kids’ pictures? Fine.

Paul: Take ‘em.

Rich: Take ‘em.

Paul: Although I don’t know if you saw on Facebook, he went to some hotel, I think in Australia, and they had a picture of his dog on the bedside table?

Rich: What is that about?

Paul: They’d gone onto, like, Facebook, and gotten a picture of his dog and thought he might want to see his buddy.

Rich: See that’s creepy as all hell.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: Yeah. I don’t know. I think a lot of it’s disposable. But I think a lot of it is salvageable. I think, you know, they do all start from somehwere. So The Post probably has its own archive — I keep going back to The New York Post, but, you know, you’ve got, you’ve got —

Paul: You do. I could care less about The Post.

Rich: I just, it’s entertainment.

Paul: You like the sports section, you like the headlines.

Rich: Yeah, I mean, yeah, I grew up with the damn thing.

Paul: Yeah. Yeah.

Rich: So. Worth touching on is this 30-second cooking phenomena. Do you know about this?

Paul: No.

Rich: All right. BuzzFeed started it. They were sort of the pioneers with Tasty. Do you know what Tasty channel is?

Paul: Oh I’ve seen these. I know exactly what you’re talking about.

Rich: OK.

Paul: Yeah yeah yeah.

Rich: They’re like, “Oh! Potato poppers.” And what they do is they, they sort of take this top-down camera and they cook up something, usually it’s gross, usually it’s like, I’m gonna melt cheese inside a bacon that’s inside of a potato, or something like that.

Paul: OK.

Rich: But what they do is they edit it up, and they play it at a fast speed, and I’m never gonna cook any one of these things, right? But for 30 seconds, watching this thing get prepared at high speed, it is the equivalent of just a sort of a quick whiff of cocaine.

Paul: Yeah, sure. BuzzFeed is so good at the, like, “Hey there’s a new form of communication, what are we gonna do with it?”

Rich: But you don’t understand. This thing is monster. Hundreds of millions of views.

Paul: But that’s what I mean. You remember, Facebook, whatever their new video live-streaming, Facebook Live or whatever it is, shows up. And everyone’s like, “Oh, interesting.” And then BuzzFeed does, “let’s put rubber bands around a watermelon and see when it explodes.”

Rich: Yeah. Exactly. And the thing is, like, there are so many copy — my mom posted a Lebanese high-speed cooking channel thing.

Paul: Sure.

Rich: It’s where they’re just cooking Middle Eastern stuff at high speeds. So there’s every genre, every food style, every food type is being presented in this format. And it’s not a recipe, I can’t follow this thing. I can’t say —

Paul: You can’t sit by your —

Rich: I’m not gonna go and buy the ingredients and follow this 20-second video, it’s just insane.

Paul: But see, this is my problem, right? Because the compositional tools for working with this kind of data, like making the video or whatever, are so one way, like you’re just jamming stuff into the hole, making the form work. And then all the things that you might want to do with it, like, maybe I want to actually cook this recipe? Are no longer on the table, because you’re just —

Rich: No, but that’s not the point of it.

Paul: [sigh]

Rich: That’s not the point of it. The point of it —

Paul: I know, but the opportunity just goes away, out of the platform.

Rich: I think you’re paying too much respect to this content. I don’t think you realize how disposable this shit is. Children in China are making this content for you. You need to keep that in mind.

Paul: Yeah, I guess we’re basically — it’s the equivalent of that, it’s 20-year-olds with liberal arts degrees.

Rich: Yeah. I mean, this content is…what’s the equivalent of this content? It’s like, you ever see those weird imitation shirts that are obviously imitation, they’re kind of proud that they’re imitation? It’s like a polo shirt, but the guy, instead of holding the stick, is holding, like, a big…sandwich?

Paul: Yeah, sure.

Rich: But they’re OK with that, and they’re selling it for $7? That’s sort of what, this is just junk content. That’s what it is. And the truth is, we want junk. Like we just want to eat Cheetos, a lot of the time. If I want to go read the 8,000-word New Yorker piece, I’ll go do that. But for now, I want to watch somebody bake a fudge brownie inside of a croissant, which is inside of a pound cake.

Paul: All right, let me ask you a question, then. What, what if you want a more profound aesthetic experience on your computer, which is all we ever look at anymore? Is that even worth it? Do you just go watch a movie? What do you do?

Rich: I read. I read.

Paul: I mean, there are things, right? There’s like…

Rich: There are beautiful — like, I mean, the fact that, you mentioned the Financial Times real quick, they do, they do these 10-minute, 15-minute, I mean, they’re essentially these full-blown, mini documentaries. They put some real energy and thought into them. And they’re really quality. So if you want that stuff, it’s out there. I just don’t have, I don’t have them queued up anywhere. What am I gonna do? Say, “Oh you know what, tonight, honey, we’re gonna watch mini documentaries about Malaysia for an hour.” That’s just a strange thing.

Paul: You don’t say that to your wife?

Rich: I haven’t said that to my wife.

Paul: No.

Rich: Maybe I should say that to my wife. I have not said that to my wife.

Paul: You really like “CBS Sunday Morning.”

Rich: I’m a huge fan of “CBS Sunday Morning.”

Paul: I’m still trying to work this out.

Rich: I find it incredibly relaxing.

Paul: What was on this last week?

Rich: They covered…uh…matchsticks.

Paul: Really?

Rich: Yeah. And the speed it’s at is frankly refreshing.

Paul: You just, you’re like, I’m gonna have 20 minutes on matchsticks?

Rich: It’s just they found a guy who’s collected every every matchbox?

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: And every, I don’t know what you call it, the flip case thing?

Paul: And they slowly move the camera over the…

Rich: And his whole basement, the guy, see, his wife’s left him. She’s gone.

Paul: Well that’s fair.

Rich: The kids don’t want anything to do with him. And he’s got the whole basement filled with matchsticks. And that’s…it’s just sort this —

Paul: Are they still alive?

Rich: Bit of Americana —

Paul: Is he, like, one open flame away from…

Rich: No, he’s alive. They had this reunion of the Pan Am…stewardesses and stewards. They got back together.

Paul: Ahhh, that’s nice.

Rich: Because that was a day — you know, at that time, way back when, flying…

Paul: It was a scene.

Rich: It was a scene, and you know, it was just pleasant, and nice, and you know what? It wasn’t flying by in 25 seconds. I just find it very relaxing.

Paul: OK, so that’s like the opposite —

Rich: It’s for the older crowd, don’t get me wrong. The advertising on it is, it’s all meds. [laughter]

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: It’s like five minutes of prescription —

Paul: Gastric things.

Rich: Gastric things, and the warnings take twice as long as the actual thing. It’s like —

Paul: Like Dick Van Dyke about insurance. You know, fun fact about Dick Van Dyke —

Rich: I love Alan Alda, too. You made me think about Alan —

Paul: I like Alan Alda.

Rich: He’s a wonderful actor.

Paul: Dick Van Dyke, big Omega guy.

Rich: Is he really?

Paul: He’s really into, like, rendering things in 3D.

Rich: See, this is what happens, by the way. This whole conversation is us trying to yank what’s happening today back into…sort of this, our own view of what’s more dignified and respectful and of quality. I’ve put up this warning every time. I don’t want us to seem like the old men who are just, like, “Ah, this is garbage. We should be sitting and reading books.”

Paul: It’s tricky. No, we’re not that. I mean, we’re not.

Rich: That’s why we have to continue to check ourselves.

Paul: I mean, but…at the other level, there’s a kind of native aesthetic scene with computers that, like, we’re talking about this Facebook stuff, and that’s like, kind of, media devolving, like in War of the — not War of the Worlds, like, The Time Machine. Like, it’s just, that’s kind of Morlock media.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Right, like just, it’s like, people grunting by the end. Like, ‘Grrrrrr, look,” you know. “Look, my tit.” Like it’s —

Rich: But you know what’s crazy, I have a 19-year-old cousin who puts up these food videos.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: The truth is, the guy doesn’t know any other form. He doesn’t, he’s not thinking, “Wow, this is lame and pretty vapid and shallow.”

Paul: No, this is just how we communicate.

Rich: He’s like, “Check this out!”

Paul: It’s meaningful.

Rich: And I don’t think the guy cooks! I think he just thought it was cool to put it on his Facebook feed.

Paul: I mean, what were you doing when you 19? I was sending email, and a lot of letters. There were a lot of mixtapes. There were a lot of, like, going and buying CDs and getting really too into a band. That was a big thing.

Rich: Yeah. The internet hadn’t taken hold. The physical thing that content was associated with was a big deal for me.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: I was into the hardware, I was into swapping out graphics cards. It was just a different…

Paul: You were a nerd, you were like, a PC nerd.

Rich: I was a PC nerd, and I was into music, and then somebody showed me what an MP3 was, and my world changed at that point.

Paul: Right. Right.

Rich: And I bought a modem.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: So this is just, we could go back and be nostalgic about this, but you know what we need to do? Can I make a suggestion here?

Paul: Please.

Rich: Bring two or three 16-year-olds and just talk to them.

Paul: Oh, you know who’d be perfect, is those young women who run that newsletter.

Rich: They’d be perfect.

Paul: We just, I just got an idea.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: OK, we’ll leave that and see if we can make it happen.

Rich: OK.

Paul: So look.

Rich: Silent videos! I don’t know what we’re getting at. It’s a phenomena. I think we just talk through a phenomena. I want us to reserve judgement and just say, “Hey, that’s interesting.” And it’s something worth talking about, because it is massive.

Paul: You know, can I talk about one of the para —

Rich: It’s strange that more hasn’t been written about this, by the way.

Paul: I’ll talk to you about one of the paradoxes of my career, which is that, it’s like, early on I was building my own what we’d now call blogging software, but just like web publishing software, because it was really hard to get a web page up on a regular basis.

Rich: Yeah. Right.

Paul: And then blogging tools came along, and at that point in my career, I was like, I was like 23. I was like, “Ah, well, I’m screwed. Like, the next generation’s gonna come along and just kick my ass.”

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: But the reality is that my set of skills remains really valuable, because the next generation, the next micro-generation, like three years later, came along, and they didn’t have to build their own stuff to communicate? They just went ahead and used —

Rich: Communicated.

Paul: LiveJournal, right? And I was the person who kind of knew how LiveJournal worked, and how you’d go make another one.

Rich: But who cares?

Paul: But fair enough, except I built my whole life on that knowledge, on being the person who knows how it works.

Rich: Yeah, well we happen to be in professions that are inside this world.

Paul: Right.

Rich: So we’re gonna pay attention to the trends, and the things…but I think we, we jump back and forth from making cultural observations to making industry observations. I think that’s something we do a lot, and we, we do it subconsciously.

Paul: See, what’s interesting to me is seeing that the forms that thrive, I thought, in the same way that I thought that everybody would kind of figure out how to make their own software, that people would learn — and that’s always been a theme, if you go back, like in the sixties and the seventies, people were like, oh we have to empower kids, like, object-oriented programming, that was always a big idea, like, you’ll, people will just combine objects and make their own word processor that meets their needs, or whatever.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: And that’s not how it worked. People like things that come in packages that they can learn as quickly as possible to do the other thing that they’re supposed to be doing.

Rich: To create. That’s, I think, the difference.

Paul: There’s a part of me that gets a little bummed out when I see, like, I called them Morlock media, like this kind of devolved version of video. What we’re looking right now on Facebook is like, the opposite of the slow place, thoughtful “CBS Sunday Morning.”

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: And —

Rich: Wait, is that bad? Are you saying that’s bad?

Paul: I’m not…it’s not bad or good, it is just what it is. I’m always like, so, we’re talking about checking ourselves, I’m always looking, I always thought that something like the native formats of the computer, like, demos or like, so software demos which allow, which tax the processor to make beautiful images and add audio and are really small and you can look at the source code, or things like, you know, there’s a big point in the nineties where they were going to release albums that you could mix yourself.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Right? Or interactive fiction that you could edit and manipulate yourself.

Rich: Mmmm hmmm.

Paul: Like there were all these things that you could do with the computer that would empower you to understand and control —

Rich: Mmmm hmmm.

Paul: The media that you were making. Like, you’d make your own media and experience —

Rich: You’re making, I mean, you’re going back to the sort of blindly scrolling with your thumb, right? It’s an incredibly passive, little bit of drool hanging off the corner of my mouth-type experience. You’re not creating, right? You’re not remixing. You’re not taking that stuff and doing something with it. Now, look —

Paul: Nor are you, like —

Rich: We could spend another 20 minutes on YouTube culture, right? Where there’s a ton of creating going on.

Paul: There is.

Rich: And that’s worth talking about. But yes, the Facebook experience is about, sort of, just mouth hanging open, just sort of snacking.

Paul: And when it gets parodied, and when there’s satire, it’s not actually like ‘here’s a funny scenario,’ it’s just parodies of how stupid the audience is. Like, Clickhole is a great example.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: They create this viral content, and it’s a parody of the dumbness rather than of any specific thing.

Rich: Yeah. And I don’t know if it’s dumb. I think it’s just —

Paul: Passive.

Rich: This is all you want. Yeah. It’s passive. It’s like, don’t make me work hard. I’m here now to just hang out and watch people — it’s people watching.

Paul: But let me ask —

Rich: You’re like, sitting at the cafe and just watching shit go by.

Paul: You and I are business partners. We work in this industry. Are we gonna be spending time working on ways to make it easier and more efficient for people to have their voice heard in the new Facebook ecosystem of video, or are we gonna be working on interesting new ways to communicate where people can make their own media? Both of those are actually positive. Like, hey let’s get more people in?

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: And the other one is let’s teach more people how to create.

Rich: We’re a business. And some very big, meaningful brands come to us and ask for help. The mandate is pretty clear, which is modernize, help us modernize, or help us compete.

Paul: When the brands come to us, they say, “Can you help us react?”

Rich: Help us react, right. So I don’t know if we get…we can try, we can pitch to—“Hey listen, man, how about we create a really fun remix platform where people can take this and play with that.”

Paul: That’s hubris, though, because I can point you to, like, a dozen of them, and none of them are hits.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: In the same way that like, Facebook video —

Rich: But also that’s terrifying. Like, you’ve gotta —

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: You know, you’re a head of product just showing up in our office wanting to talk about…you know, modernizing, or just getting competitive, and we’re like, “Hey, we’ve got an idea!” It’s like, what?

Paul: I think the only way you get people to pay attention to that is you build it and you show how it can be successful.

Rich: You just show it.

Paul: What they want is, like, I need to get 20 million impressions every week out of my video platform.

Rich: Mmmm hmmm.

Paul: And if you come back to them and you’re like, “Well actually, you can give — ”

Rich: We’re doing some of that work.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: Like, that’s, it’s under wraps right now, but that’s happening right now, because they see the broader trends, and they want to make sure they’re in the game.

Paul: So I’m sitting there going, like, well you know, video, you know, is…30 frames a second that you could break up and manipulate, the text channel is interesting, the audio channel is interesting…you could do novel things, either as a viewer or also as…as a sort of producer.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: You know, and…

Rich: I mean, killer app is creating cool silent video experiences. I mean, clearly the case has been made. The numbers show it now.

Paul: See that’s interesting. I kind of want to build that because then I think you would be able to do other stuff with that content.

Rich: I think that’s right.

Paul: But then…ugh, that’s hard and expensive.

Rich: Yep.

Paul: Well another uplifting episode of Track Changes —

Rich: Well, it’s just, I mean, we talked about, we are, we’re anthropologists.

Paul: This is the real world that we’re in. We have a way that we’d like to build things in order to affect change, but that involves an enormous amount of risk and it’s very expensive.

Rich: Yeah. Let’s…let’s take it to its end.

Paul: OK.

Rich: So if you look at the shape and breadth of content, it’s gotten narrower and narrower and narrower, lighter and lighter and lighter.

Paul: More and more limited —

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: In form and duration.

Rich: I wonder if, like, it’s going to be too burdensome to look at a photo. And it’ll just be a shape.

Paul: Just a triangle.

Rich: Yeah. Like a triangle, flat, like whizzes by, and then a square whizzes by. Like, where does it get reduced down to?

Paul: I think it gets reduced down to, kind of this mirror principle. People like to look at themselves, or look at…fantasy versions of life, right?

Rich: Mmmm.

Paul: So I think that, a half-naked attractive woman is more fundamental than a triangle, which is actually an abstract shape.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: That requires a sort of Platonic sensibility to understand?

Rich: True.

Paul: Whereas really what, like, the simplest thing is like, like those ones where there’s a woman, like, you see her from the back, and her hand is reaching back. There’s like this meme where, it’s like follow me there, or something. And it’s just a lot of butts and bare backs —

Rich: Mmmm. OK.

Paul: And they’re all in beautiful Venice —

Rich: So the evolution of media in your mind is towards butts and bare backs. Cool. Let’s close on that note. I think that’s an interesting takeaway. [laughter]

Paul: I mean, honestly, I’m trying to, trying to bring it up a notch. But nah, that’s about right.

Rich: [laughter] OK.

Paul: Let’s send it it. Hey.

Rich: Let’s do it.

Paul: So Rich, you know.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: I would love to hear what people have to say about this situation.

Rich: I agree.

Paul: This is us kind of…we’re trying to figure this out. We’ve been at this for a while. And this is a puzzler.

Rich: This is an interesting one, and it’s a massive one. It’s billions, I think about eight billion videos a day on Facebook.

Paul: That’s right.

Rich: So what we’re saying is six-plus billion don’t ever have any sound. That’s incredible.

Paul: So what do we do? What does that do to our culture? Could it be a good thing. Could it be a good thing. What kind of thing —

Rich: Or nothing.

Paul: Or nothing. Or another, like, six-month phase.

Rich: Mmmm. I don’t know. By the way, we talk about user experience and interfaces and, you know, of products. This is a product of a particular interface decision that’s been made that had such a massive effect.

Paul: And people are just working backwards from it.

Rich: Yep.

Paul: Yeah. So if anyone wants to talk to us about that, they can send an email to [email protected].

Rich: That’s right. We’d love to hear from you.

Paul: We enjoy all the emails. We save them up. We reply to many of them, and we save them up for Q&A episodes. But we really, really do like hearing…and anybody needs anything at all, they can just send an email to that.

Rich: Right. Always a pleasure, Paul.

Paul: Yeah. Let’s do this again soon.

Rich: Absolutely.

Paul: This has been Track Changes. If you want to review us on the iTunes podcast whatever.

Rich: Store.

Paul: Yeah, just do it, if you could.

Rich: We’re free.

Paul: We’d appreciate it, but, you know…

Rich: Five stars are always…

Paul: Naw, it’s a good number of stars, but you’re the master of your own destiny. You do what you think you need to do. Thank you for listening.

Rich: Thank you!