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Episode 55 March 7, 2017 | 37min

The Hidden Giants of the Internet

Our co-founders explores the strange depths and hidden communities of the web.

Show Notes

From Amazon Web Services to YouTube cake videos: this week Paul Ford and Rich Ziade go on a journey into the depths of the web, from its infrastructure to its myriad communities. They start with the recent AWS outage that left sites large and small scrambling and somehow find their way to the well-compensated YouTubers, train enthusiasts, “gastro-pornography,” and relatability — including the aesthetics of “Track Changes” itself.

[Intro music] Paul Ford Hello! You’re listening to Track Changes, the podcast of Postlight, a digital products studio in New York City. My name is Paul Ford, I’m the co-founder of Postlight.

Rich Ziade And I’m Rich Ziade [music fades out], the other co-founder of Postlight.

PF And if you don’t know about Postlight, you should. We are a digital products studio, as I just said, and we make web apps, we make mobile apps, and we build great big web platforms, and we make them look beautiful. Great design, great interaction design, and we would love to talk to you. You can just send us an email at [email protected] if you have any questions, any feedback, any comments, and we love to talk to folks. The first ten calls are usually free . . . and then we take it from there. So, Rich, something big happened last week.

RZ Ok. What happened?

PF AWS had an outage.

RZ That’s a big deal.

PF Ok so we should explain to people. AWS stands for Amazon Web Services, it’s been around more than ten years, and what it is is Amazon sells you the things that you need to do, they license you access to web servers and technologies that let you host your big web platform.

RZ Yeah, I mean web servers is a corner of what they — they sell a lot of different things, but yes, you can lease out CPUs, computers, so that you can do anything.

PF It’s very abstract.

RZ Very abstract.

PF And they have this service called S3, ok?

RZ Yes.

PF What S3 is let you store files . . . on the internet. You can say, “Hey,” and it has this concept of kinda like buckets. You put a picture in a bucket. So if you look around the internet, many of the pictures on the internet are actually in S3 buckets and instead of being hosted directly by the media company that you think you’re visiting, they’re hosted by . . .

RZ AWS.

PF AWS. They come out of Amazon servers.

RZ And I just found a list of some of the big names that — if AWS goes down, they’re going down.

2:08 PF Alright so who’s on AWS?

RZ Airbnb.

PF That’s a little company.

RZ Yeah. Capital One. Now, mind you, we don’t wanna mislead here: there are probably many aspects to Capital One, but Capital One —

PF Uses AWS.

RZ Correct.

PF So this is a critical piece of infrastructure for the entire internet. There’s parts of Netflix were on it, there’s a huge government version of AWS, and what happened is that the AWS in the eastern zone of the United States, which I believe is in Virginia. The S3 services crapped out.

RZ Right, and the S3 is storage.

PF That’s right. And so that was bad. That was a total meltdown for much of the internet.

RZ Yeah, the ripple effect was felt everywhere pretty much.

PF My wife texted me. She was like, “You work on the internet, why the hell can’t I access any of the things I use?” She works in construction.

RZ Right.

PF Right so all the things that they do to manage construction projects are hosted on AWS, they’re all cloud services [exactly], and everyone has decided to be dependent upon Amazon. Even better: Amazon couldn’t update its advisory webpage because it was dependent [RZ starts to laugh] on S3.

RZ AWS is on AWS!

PF Exactly and so that was a mistake, right? Like they should host that — you know you should have a Twitter account or something.

RZ Right, go to a competitor.

PF Yeah, go to a competitor.

RZ No, don’t use Twitter. Twitter uses AWS.

3:30 PF Probably does.

RZ Probably does.

PF I mean this is the thing, right? It’s a really tricky bind but they needed someplace to tell people, they didn’t even have that.

RZ You know how I think about AWS? It’s sort of like is our electrical grid protected [yeah], you know, against attack? Uh and really it is very much the electrical grid of information —

PF Of the modern . . . it’s become the default way to build and launch web properties.

RZ Without a doubt it should be considered a viable target and one that should be protected, no doubt about it.

PF Amazon protects it because they need to for commercial security.

RZ And I have no doubt that they could easily pick up the phone and call the government and say, “You should probably do your own protection here.”

PF Well it’s not just that, no there is actually a secured Amazon version of AWS for the federal government.

RZ Right.

PF Right. So this went down and the internet went down and it just was a huge reminder of how much infrastructure is hidden from people who use internet services and how big everything’s gotten. Like I remember when AWS was like a weird experimental thing that you might, you know [yup], you might try to use it, and you have to convince people. Now it’s the engine of the global information economy.

RZ It is an exception to go and buy hardware.

PF Yeah.

RZ Server hardware . . . for you startup or for your initiative. It’s just not what’s done anymore. The AWS, by the way, worth noting, has competitors, big competitors, Microsoft’s a big competitor.

PF With their Azure Cloud and there’s others one too like ah Digital Ocean, which is a little more old school. Like you buy servers and set them up in Digital Ocean. It’s not — AWS isn’t just like pretend you’re using somebody else’s computer, it’s all these services. There’s dozens and dozens of them.

5:15 RZ Yeah, they’ve abstracted away the actual physical box.

PF So it’s actually more like a cloud operating system at this point [exactly] than it is just you can do things without ever knowing about the computers underneath.

RZ That’s right. That’s right.

PF So . . . it was just a good reminder of how big this world is and how much we don’t see. And it was also just interesting to watch all the companies have to let people know on Twitter that they’re stuff is down, and to just see the ripple effect. There was for a day —

RZ Very dramatic.

PF Basically I had people uh someone got in touch from a giant media company and they were just complaining cuz they were on a four hour phone call, trying to switch all of their assets from AWS in Virginia to AWS on the west coast. And all of these sort of very physical thoughts were — like people had to figure out where things were.

RZ Absolutely.

PF So you know and I always like to think about that, like what are the big, scary things that we don’t even know about? What are the things that are surprisingly large?

RZ That’s a hell of question to throw out. Do you mean in technology?

PF Just in general. You ever have the experience where you like are stumbling around on YouTube and you find a video that has 30 million views?

RZ Yes.

PF And you never expected it [yes]. Like it’ll be like an unboxing of a tennis shoe.

RZ Yes. I was looking for a gardening video. Let’s not get into why I was looking for a gardening —

PF You have a little garden!

RZ I have a little garden and I love it and I like to grow hot peppers and that’s a thing.

PF What kind of hot peppers?

6:42 RZ Various kinds: jalapenos, shashetos, but delicious, delicious hot peppers and I love to dry them and make olive oil — spicy olive oil.

PF Ok so that’s a thing you like —

RZ It’s a little gift I  give to people. But that’s not what this podcast is about, Paul.

PF Maybe it should but let’s not solve that right now [no]. Ok so you were looking for a gardening video.

RZ I was looking for a gardening video and I find one — and I wanted, oh I remember! More precisely: I wanted to show one to my kids.

PF Oh ok, kids love YouTube

RZ Kids love YouTube because there’s more so much stuff getting made on YouTube.

PF It’s kind of anti-content. I wanna talk about this, right, because my kids are obsessed with cake making videos, but tell your story first.

RZ So I’m looking for kids — I think I searched ‘kids gardening’ cuz the spring is coming and we were gonna do some work there and I said, “Look at how kids help with the garden.” I find this video and I let it play through and then I’m drinking my coffee and you know how YouTube just stays and keeps rolling to the next video.

PF Yeah, it’ll keep going forever.

RZ Right. So the next video comes up and it’s the same family on their way to Five Guys burgers.

PF Ok.

RZ I’m like, “Ok this is an oversharing mom. Just likes to document her family.” And they’re in a minivan, and they’re strapping the kids in, and one kept sleeping, so they had to wait for him before they took him out to the restaurant and it’s a whole thing.

PF Ha ha ha ha ha.

RZ Right, so I’m like, “Wow, people are ridiculous. Why would anyone?” 85 views right? I look down. It’s got two and a half million views. Ok. The most inane, just slice of life video you’ve ever seen.

8:17 PF Getting the kids in the minivan.

RZ And going back and then meeting her husband at the house cuz they just moved and there’s still a lot of boxes they need to open. I kid you not, this was the plotline.

PF Right.

RZ And I dig a little further and it’s this channel called Family Fun Pack.

PF Ok, I’ve never heard of it.

RZ I’ve never heard of it and I look down and it has nearly five million subscribers.

PF Ok so that alone is — that’s a big number of subscribers for anything. I wonder how many the White House has. Can you look and tell me?

RZ Yes, I will look that up . . . Ok, so the White House has 960 thousand subscribers.

PF Ok, how many does Family Fun Pack have?

RZ Four point eight million.

PF Ok, so this family in the minivan [yes] is roughly five times as popular on the internet as the United States government.

RZ That’s right. And [chuckles]  I’m digging in a little bit cuz thinking, “Ok, maybe she saves lives or she leaves her family for six months a year to go do work in third world countries or something.”

PF Or goes to Antarctica, visits penguins.

RZ Or something. Something special about this family. And it’s not. She’s putting up a video I think pretty much everyday like clockwork and it’s just life. It’s just them living their lives. And they have, without fail, they get at least a few hundred thousand views on any video because now it’s gotten to the point where I know the family next door, right? They are the family next door.

PF So that’s your thesis is people watch this and they’re like, “Oh I know people just like them.” And it just becomes this kinda familiar —

RZ Yes. Like how you know, “I wonder if Jamie’s cold is better.” I literally think that’s the sort of —

10:07 PF Because it’s so familiar.

RZ The serial drama effect has kicked in such that, you know, I watched it three days in a row and that cold has been nagging him the whole time, I wonder if it’s turned a corner —

PF Just to see what happens.

RZ — or if she’s gonna take him to the doctor. Yeah, I think that’s all it is, and this woman, I mean I’m gonna get a little, you know, slightly rude here. She’s incredibly boring. She’s actually kind of annoying and —

PF Is it just her? It’s her and the kids?

RZ No, her husband is — her husband, from what I can gather, has sort of given in.

PF Who’s filming?

RZ I think she is.

PF Ok.

RZ I think she is most of the time. Her husband’s given in and you could see him kind of playing along sort of because I think there’s real income coming in now.

PF Well if you have five million subscribers, you can live on that.

RZ Well a think a marketing company has taken them under their wing.

PF Sure, you can get sponsors, you can promote products.

RZ They’re part of a — yeah. We’re gonna drop a Forbes article. Forbes has written up this family.

PF Oh cuz you went and researched a little more and got some background?

RZ Yeah and I don’t know how to think about it. I don’t know how to think about it. The numbers are incredible. I don’t know whether to be angry at the family.

PF You can’t be angry at the family. All they did was put some stuff on YouTube.

RZ I don’t know whether to be angry at the viewers of the family.

11:19 PF No! They just — this is a kind of content that they — I mean I’m sure it sounds, from what you’re describing, it’s totally family friendly, it’s very polite, it’s very innocent, it’s just people just being themselves, and it turns out that millions of people are happy to watch them being themselves.

RZ Yeah like I’m scrolling through this and they’re doing things like, “We gotta get to the dentist.”

PF Just everyday drives.

RZ Just stuff. So who can I be angry — there’s anger.

PF You know what’s interesting here is that this was — reality TV was supposed to kind of show this but it all got turned up into as much drama as possible.

RZ Right.

PF Like there’s never been —

RZ You have to fight. You have to have —

PF Yeah, otherwise the show just doesn’t work.

RZ It fails, right? You can’t just live life.

PF But these are TV numbers. I mean there’s no television program in America that wouldn’t be happy with five million YouTube subscribers for its clips.

RZ She’s getting — Like I’m scrolling through her videos. The stills that sort of tease the video are getting more impressive and more production quality.

PF You see this with YouTube stars. Right? They start in front of a blank wall and then later they start to add a little bit of furniture, and things get messed up.

RZ I think the marketing firm that’s taken them under their wing I think is giving her some help or maybe she’s doing it.

PF Obviously they’re good at this, right?

RZ The husband is furious, by the way. He’s an electrical engineer and she makes double his salary at this point.

PF Well, who knows, he might be very happy he doesn’t have to work so hard and —

12:44 RZ I wanna read into this, Paul. Lemme just draw this picture, so I can feel good, ok? I can’t imagine — you know you went to grad school, and you got that job after 12 interviews, and your wife [laughing] just videotaped the kids for a bit and it just took off.

PF Oh my god I would be overjoyed.

RZ Yeah.

PF It’d be fantastic.

RZ You’d be all in?

PF Ah if my twins had good like viral properties and we were exploiting the hell out of that —

RZ They probably do. I know your twins. They probably do have that.

PF They’re adorable and charming, at least in my estimation, but I don’t — we haven’t — I’ve put pictures and videos of them up online. They don’t get the kind of viral engagement that you’d expect.

RZ Ok. I don’t know.

PF Even they have a funny with Santa — mm.

RZ The mom on this thing is grading is the only word I can think of.

PF Ok so you have a rough time with the mom.

RZ You know what? I think I’m seeing her through the lens of this success . . . that she’s found [laughs].

PF This isn’t revealing you to be a great person, here. This is very [RZ laughing] —

RZ I want —

PF We just lost a client.

RZ I don’t know. I’m flipping between this and the situation in Syria [yeah ok] and it’s pissing me off. I’m sorry.

PF From what, you know, I’m looking over your shoulder here: it’s middle America in the most middle of middle of middle of middle of America, right? [Yeah] It’s minivans, it’s kids being a little tired and cranky, the mom trying to keep it all together. It speaks to people.

14:04 RZ Yeah, I guess.

PF They want it. They don’t want MTV, they don’t want loud smashes and bangs. You know who I bet watches this?

RZ Who?

PF Families, together.

RZ Oh without a doubt.

PF It’s moms and kids. I bet there’s five-year-old kids who are fascinated.

RZ Absol— I can imagine if they miss a single episode they’d probably lose their shit.

PF And they probably watch it a couple of times in a row.

RZ There’s no doubt about it. If every morning at breakfast we watched the three minutes that she puts up. My kids would be all over it.

PF Right, right. So this is the thing: you have to be aware — like that world exists, though. Family Fun Pack exists. And um there’s one for me, my kids, again I think kids and like young people drive this cuz you hear about YouTube stars. There’s this guy, it’s spelled P-E-W-D-I-E-P-I-E.

RZ Like cutie pie.

PF I think so. Or PEW-DIE-PIE.

RZ No,  you don’t say CUE-TIE-PIE.

PF Anyway, this is how old we are cuz we don’t really know much about him.

RZ It’s Pewdiepie. I’m gonna bet on that.

PF Yeah so this person plays video games, and talks about video games, and does stuff on YouTube, and it’s just kind of a YouTube personality [ok]. I want you to take a guess as to how many subscribers you can get.

RZ It’s gonna be big. Uh eight million?

PF K. Go a little bit up.

15:18 RZ Ten million?

PF 53 million, almost 54 million.

RZ Holy moly.

PF Ok so that is a — most nations are not that large.

RZ Now explain — is he like a video game champ?

PF You know he’s good at video games and I think he just he plays them and he has funny things to say about them and that does it. That’s what the audience is looking for. Now what happened is —

RZ So he does commentary while he’s playing the game?

PF Yeah he’s like a funny gamer culture guy [ok]. Ok so, and again, we’re talking about this — I don’t have a lot of direct experience of this person. It just went into the news, and again, the numbers blow your mind. And [right] this always happens with YouTube. YouTube has been getting to be this larger and larger cultural force but no one knows any of the celebrities who’s over like 27 years old.

RZ Yeah they did a campaign once where they were just plucking YouTube stars and putting them on billboards.

PF Right, in New York City you’d see these things and it’d be like —

RZ What is this? Who are you?

PF — 25 million followers and you have no idea who they are [yeah]. So this guy apparently did some sort of like joking, ironic, but just straight up anti-semitic stuff [ok] and uh got called out on it. And what happened was they didn’t take away his YouTube account, they took away his YouTube promotional deal. Like YouTube had pulled him into YouTube Red and he was getting sort of premium [ah ok] advertising and making just ridiculous amounts of money. So they cut him.

RZ YouTube, the entity, Google —

Pf Google —

RZ — effectively.

PF said, “You’re no longer on the inside. You’re just a regular. You’re a regular YouTuber now.”

17:00 RZ Now what did he do, like as he was doing commentary he was making anti-semitic jokes?

PF What he did is he used this service Fiverr where you give people five bucks to do stuff [yup] and he used Fiverr to get people in, I think, India to hold up signs, anti-semitic signs. And they didn’t know what they were doing.

RZ And they did it.

PF And they did a video of it and he included that and everyone was, “Ha ha ha ha.”

RZ Ah I see. Got it.

PF So I think the combination of labor and wage exploitation and horrible anti-semitism really just turned a lot of people off.

RZ It’s a bad recipe.

PF It’s a rough mix. So he got you know he’s gonna go away I guess and lick his wounds, he apologized, and et cetera, et cetera. Like this whole drama [ok]. The thing is 53 million [right] right. And these videos just have unbelievable numbers of watches on them. And there’s other stars along these lines inside of YouTube. So YouTube has just hundreds of millions of people paying attention to the celebrities and it’s a world you just know nothing about [right]. So one of the things that happened, cuz again kids love YouTube. I can show my son, there is a video of steam trains. It’s an hour long. There’s like six of these. And he will occasionally come up to me, especially on a Saturday morning, and say, “I wanna watch steam trains.” And I’ll bring up the steam trains and he’s not even watching, he’s just kinda laying back, kinda waking up in the morning, and it’s like the steam trains running and he — it’s like the steam trains —

RZ It’s just steam trains moving by?

PF Steam trains. Just, “Whoo whoo. Chugachugachugachuga.” [Yeah, oh yeah] No people talking. Nothing [oh yeah yeah yeah]. And then you kinda see them. And the big thing is for the steam train to come from a good distance so the steam train’s like half a mile away and you hear [whispers train sounds].

RZ And this goes on for like an hour?

PF And a minute or two later you hear, “Tuckatucka.”

18:42 RZ And how many views does that video have?

PF Boy, hold on, we’re gonna find out . . . in real time. Right here. I’m hitting the internet and making the news happen. “Steam Trains Galore” November 27, 2013 has 17,425,868 views.

RZ That’s incredible.

PF Now lemme tell you this is a 28-minute video of steam trains.

RZ That’s incredible. That’s incred— I mean I have to imagine that’s put on in like the background at a restaurant?

PF No, I think it’s kids.

RZ This is kids.

PF Yeah, I don’t think you have 17 million adult human beings who are watching 21 minutes of steam trains. That number is probably more in the hundreds of thousands.

RZ I don’t know. Do you know about the whole foamer phenomena? [Video plays in background]

PF Ok what the hell is this?

RZ This is a foamer.

PF Ok stop it. Stop it [video stops]. What is that?

RZ It’s a train fan, a train fanatic.

PF He’s called a foamer?

RZ Yes. The origins of the name I can’t help you with but he’s called a foamer. Let’s given him a second [On video: “Yeah listen to that bell. Ah! Take a look at that! [horn sounds] Oh my god! Woo! Listen to that horn! [Horn sounds] oh my god! She is beautiful! She is beautiful, yeah!”]

PF Ok. Ok. I’ve had enough [video stops].

RZ [Laughs] these are people who are really into trains.

PF That doesn’t have 17 million watches though does it?

RZ Oh this particular video — I think this is non-foamers just gawking at a foamer [yeah]. It has 3.8 million views.

PF But still, Jesus, my god, that’s a lot of people.

20:36 RZ Oh yeah, well, this is a crazy — this is a person yelling at a train but how did we get here?

PF We got here through steam trains and very, very large communities.

RZ You know this is I think maybe the beauty of YouTube is that if I wanna really, really dive into birdhouses and how to make them. There’s a whole world waiting for me.

PF So one of the things, it turns out my kids like to talk about cake.

RZ Birthday cake?

PF Just cakes. Yeah, well they go to a lot of birthdays. They’re twins, they’re five, they go to lots of birthdays. And so cake is something that comes up a lot, and candy comes up a lot [ok] and to get them to go to bed one night, I pulled up YouTube and I just searched ‘cake’ and it turns out that there’s a massive and dynamic cake decorating ecosystem that thrives inside of YouTube.

RZ I do not doubt that!

PF So there’s a few things I learned. The first thing we found was this woman. I think her name is Rosanna Pansino and she does her work under the name Nerdy Nummies and so her thing is really specific. She will make a poop emoji out of meringue, right? So she’s very dynamic, she’s very loud, and she’s like, “I’m gonna make a poop emoji out of meringue!!” And she’s super excited it, and really into it, and she brings other YouTube stars in, and she —

RZ Wait a second. Hold on. I just looked her up while you were talking.

PF Uh huh, how big is her audience?

RZ Eight million subscribers.

PF Uh huh! See? That’s where we’re at. That’s for cakes, ok? And it’s for candy and cookies and treats. It’s making emoji cookies and Star Wars cakes and stuff like that.

RZ So she’s a chef?

PF She’s a chef. I think she had been on TV or somewhere in entertainment but this is somebody who decided to make a go out of being a professional YouTube celebrity focused on making cakes.

22:26 RZ Ok.

PF And so we started there and it was a little bit — it was a lot. Like just she comes at you like, sorry, giving reference to something that we were earlier talking about but she does, she kinda comes on like a steam train. You’re just like, “Woah! That’s a lot of information in a very sort of dynamic, vibrant, slightly cutesy way.” And so I started to poke around and it turns out that there are an enormous number of cake making videos online. I’ll tell you about some of the varieties that I discovered: there are some very serious chefs, there’s a lot of people from eastern Europe who only show their hands and make really amazing things like Sleeping Beauty’s pillow. Making a Sleeping Beauty Pillow cake. There are just really ridiculous over the top cakes. Uh there’s a lot going on with fondant. The really complicated ones don’t get that many views. Like this one woman made a dog, like she made somebody’s dog out of cake and fondant [right] and it was so ridiculous. Like it was like a two day project. But the ones that do well and perform really well are like, “Make a rainbow cake, it’s a rainbow inside but it’s shaped like a lunch box.” You know? It’s the “Back to School Cake”! [Right right] things like that. There’s also some hooks — I’ve seen people put um — I’ve watched probably three or four hundred cake making videos at this point —

RZ I was about to say I’m convinced nobody’s making this stuff, nobody is saying, “Get the video up. I got everything. Let’s go make the cake.”

PF No, it’s pretty much the same story too. It’s always like you make a nice cake and then you just use an unbelievable amount of fondant, which is just basically Satan’s icing [yeah], it’s just garbage [yeah], and you make whatever the hell you think will make people watch the video. So Darth Vader’s head, fireworks, a pirate ship —

RZ Well this is the theory, the theory is that a very, very small percentage of cooking videos actually are instructional for people to make stuff.

PF Or cooking shows, too, like The Food Network.

RZ Cooking shows, yeah. I mean there’s a word for it I heard before: gastropornography.

PF Right. So that’s a little bit of this except the kids love it. They love watching — because it’s almost like — they’ll watch frozen and it’ll be they’re making an Elsa cake [yeah], they’re making, you know, an Olaf cake —

RZ Also it’s just — it could not be in English and it’s just relatable instantly.

24:41 PF That’s true.

RZ It’s just hands building a thing.

PF I have seen some goofball stuff. Somebody uh created an augmented reality technology where you printed out the cake topper and you put it on and then you could point your phone at the cake with an app open and it would show you like a 3D pirate ship as you walked around the cake [RZ laughs]. So we’re never out of the woods with technology.

RZ By the way, advice to Vimeo: this is what Vimeo didn’t get: Vimeo wants you to watch the video of the balloon floating across the town square [laughing] where it’s like ten minutes. They never got — they sought the artistic integrity around this stuff.

PF They created an experience. And it’s even the aspect ratio, right? YouTube was 4:3, it just looked like an old TV.

RZ Yeah, exactly right.

PF And Vimeo was always cinematic. They set the stakes too high.

RZ It just YouTube decided, “You know what? You figure it out.” And here we are.

PF And it turns out that like “how to” service, really, is what you call it: service oriented stuff. “Here’s how you make a cake,” “Here’s how you fix your toilet,” all of that. Don’t put those two together. It’s a rough combo.

RZ You know in terms of culture and subculture and as a sort of canvas for cultures and subcultures to take hold, I don’t think anything comes near YouTube.

PF No, I think they really, really, really won. They just won.

RZ Yeah. In a very, very unique way, right? As this sort of new mode of broadcasting. Facebook is not that, Twitter is not that, none of them are that. YouTube is its own case where if you took an aerial shot of YouTube it is just cities.

PF I tell you they got me with one. There’s this series called “How to Cake It” with this woman, Yolanda Gampp, about two point seven million subscribers. And the kids call her my girlfriend cuz I will always go watch a Yolanda Gampp cake making video. Kinda gravitate back towards them. Very professional chef, very, very smart, very funny person on camera. And so I was like, “Well this is interesting. How does this person make it work?” And what they do is they go, you know, “Check out the spatula in my profile.” Or, “Below this video,” “Check out my website.” And so what happens is that you are able to build your brand by saying, “Hey, look right below the video and you’ll find the various things that, you know, the icing bag that you should buy [yeah yeah], et cetera, et cetera.” Then they do events. There’s like a cake making retreat.

27:05 RZ Can I say something a little creepy?

PF Go?

RZ Uh the two people you’ve brought up and I’m guessing many of the other successful YouTube stars are probably attractive.

PF They are attractive, no.

RZ But they’re attractive in a —

PF They’re not supermodels.

RZ They’re not supermodels.

PF They’re not any —

RZ And there’s a little bit of — they’re a little off, they’re not completely polished, trained —

PF They’re a little nerdy.

RZ — celebrity. They’re a little nerdy. There is an — I’m not gonna use but there’s an amateur video equivalent here that I think drives some of this appeal.

PF Here’s the thing —

RZ This is someone that’s attractive — first off: we like attractive. Everyone likes attractive people.

PF Yeah no I mean that works. It’s something that we know generates audience.

RZ Right. But accessible and just accessible enough such that um —

PF If you ran into them at a party, you’d go, “Oh my god, this’ll sound ridiculous but I’ve seen like half of your cake making videos.”

RZ That’s right.

PF Whereas if I ran into like, I dunno, who’s a famous woman star? Like Angelina Jolie. Like where did you start?

28:12 RZ No, exactly.

PF I can’t talk about —

RZ “How could you do that to your husband?”

PF I can’t talk about cakes with her.

RZ No, right.

PF You can talk about fashion, I guess. I mean like I’m so —

RZ Also what you’re gonna get from an Angelina Jolie is someone that has become conditioned to being chased with cameras and this and that. And instead what you’ve got here is someone that’s, “Wow, she’s great. And I see her at the gym,” right? [Yeah] so there’s that accessibility I think is how YouTube in a very covert way penetrated, I wanna say America, but really the whole world.

PF And, just to be clear to everyone, when we’re talking about this we’re not saying this is as it should be. This is just how the world is, right? [Yeah] like this is what generates attention. There’s a key here too which is that you can’t actually try too hard because you can’t afford to. And I’ll use our own podcast as an example. We’ve had discussions as to how to structure Track Changes [yeah] and we decided to keep it to a couple of people talking to each other, simple interviews [yeah], no big segments, don’t NPR it up too much because then we would sound like we were trying too hard. We didn’t have the money or time to do it in this like huge expansive way [right]. I know people from that community, we could’ve tried it [yeah]. We could’ve said, “We’re gonna make a podcast that’s like —” a good example would be Reply All on the Gimlet Network, right? Like I know those guys well, I could try to compete in that world, but it would’ve been a disaster.

RZ It’s a different league.

PF Exactly.

RZ It’s a different game, yeah.

PF And yet at the same time here we are, we’re very accessible, it was a good decision. You and I are — we’re not extremely attractive. But that’s why it’s a podcast.

RZ Well I think that’s a little harsh [PF laughs] but keep going [laughs].

PF Um so uh yeah you know if we were really young and good looking we should be on YouTube [right] cuz then we would have two million followers.

30:00 RZ Yeah in some of this, I mean look, let’s face it: some of it you’ve got good looking people that kinda flirt with you [yeah] and the content is garbage but they get a couple million subscribers cuz they’re attractive people that now sorta feel like my friend.

PF The dudes are very similar too. Like they’re never perfectly gorgeous dudes. There’s one guy I watch, he’s a competitive eater, I watched him eat like I think a gallon and a half of ice cream [right] and he’s just like a very good looking guy but doesn’t look Hollywood [right]. And so it’s this accessibility plus the ability — some kind of talent or . . . it’s the ability to package yourself too. Like the eater is able to show you him — you get to watch him put all the food in the bowl from above [right]. They cut that, they montage it, then they fast forward through him eating the whole thing.

RZ Yeah let’s not sell them short, by the way, the editing here is consistently strong. Like this is almost TV quality editing.

PF This is a new form but if it tries to look like TV it’ll get in trouble. It’s gotta be its own thing.

RZ Yes, agreed.

PF Cuz otherwise it would look amateurish in a bad way, whereas it looks — there’s a huge difference between amateurist and accessible. And what these people are doing it’s, “Contact me, get in touch with me, look at my website.” They are selling a sense of access that you don’t have with Game of Thrones, right? [Right] I watch Game of Thrones I don’t feel that I should —

RZ It’s an escape, right?

PF Yeah, I don’t talk to the dragons. Yeah, I live in that world. I pretend.

RZ Sometimes you talk to dragons.

PF Sometimes I talk to dragons. [Chuckles] we all talk to dragons. That is, I think, the fundamental difference between network television and user-generated television, essentially, is that accessibility is what matters with the user-generated stuff [yeah] and the ability to escape [yup] or to feel that you’re not in control is key to the other stuff.

RZ Yup.

PF So that’s YouTube.

31:58 RZ That is YouTube and that’s a little bit of humanity, honestly. That’s a glimpse into how it all works.

PF You know, that’s what I wonder: I wonder what our kids are gonna make, right? They’re gonna have access to amazing video camera in their cheap phones [yup], they’re gonna be able to edit and deal with digital video —

RZ By the way a lot of that’s here. There are apps out there where you pick a song and you dance around and the app takes care of the rest. It puts special effects on you, it kinda edits you a little bit, it just does it all. It just does the whole thing through algorithms and stuff. And then what gets pushed out the other side are these really, really funny videos of my little kids dancing [right] to a song. That I can send to family and whatnot.

PF Well one of your most cherished videos, in fact, is of your uncle Frank.

RZ Alright we’re gonna have to debate whether we include this in the links below.

PF No, I think we probably can’t.

RZ It’s my lovely uncle Frank and I think, you know, some of my cousins who are Frank’s kids listen to this podcast.

PF But Frank is — I mean this is no —

RZ Frank is great.

PF But Frank is an uncle.

RZ Frank is an uncle.

PF He is an older guy, he runs the Brooklyn Heights Deli.

RZ He runs the Brooklyn Heights Deli and —

PF Lives in Staten Island.

RZ He lives in Staten Island, that’s right. And a friend of his —

PF But if you were to look in the dictionary under uncle . . .

RZ You’d see Frank.

PF Yeah he looks, yeah.

33:23 RZ Yeah, yeah. So a friend of his, you know, there are these Facebook apps that you can pick a friend and what it’ll do is it’ll dig into photos that that friend has put up, grab them, and then you pick a song, and it’ll create a music video [laughing]. I’m laughing just thinking about it. A music video essentially of a montage of those images with the song playing on top.

PF So their Facebook photo album . . . becomes a music video.

RZ Exactly, exactly.

PF And this was a service created somewhere, by some Arab country . . .

RZ Maybe! I don’t know.

PF No I think so from the caption.

RZ Is that true?

PF We looked it up one time.

RZ Ok, ok. So Evanescence kicks in . . . which is a pretty heavy sound [yeah] and it’s my uncle Frank in his pajamas, eating pie is how it more or more less goes.

PF There’s one where he holds a dog —

RZ There’s one with a dog [laughing], it’s really, it’s pretty incredible.

PF But so the cognitive dissonance is mind boggling.

RZ It’s really [laughing], it’s one of my favorite things on the internet, I have to say.

PF You know and it’s I watched it before I even knew who he was and after a minute I just started to laugh hysterically because [RZ laughs] it’s only a computer could come up with something like this.

RZ [Laughing] exactly, exactly.

PF Like there’s no way a human being would never have put Rich’s uncle Frank together with that Evanescence song.

RZ A terrible Evanescence song, exactly. I think we’re gonna share it! I think we have to share that link.

34:53 PF Maybe we’ll put it out in the world.

RZ I’ve been trying to extract it out of Facebook video and I don’t know how to do it yet [ok] but there are ways, I’m sure.

PF Pirating video from social media sites is an important —

RZ This is for family. This is for a good reason. Cool. Well this has been a fun discussion, Paul. I’m gonna start a video series which is just you and me talking about what to get for lunch.

PF It’s probably going to get about two or three hundred subscribers.

RZ We won’t show the lunch, we’ll just talk about lunch [PF sighs heavily] and then decide, “You know what? Let’s just bring something back.” We’ll call it [laughing] Let’s Bring Something Back.

PF You know what’s tricky with all this stuff, we should talk about this. What’s tricky with all this stuff is that you kinda feel like you should know about but cuz I don’t know about you but I always felt that I kind of knew everything big on the internet.

RZ Yeah.

PF And you can’t anymore.

RZ No, there are too many big things.

PF You come across something that has 50 million followers and you thought you were up to speed.

RZ So many big things. That is the title of this particular podcast.

PF That’s right.

RZ So Many Big Things.

PF And so you have to give up at a certain point.

RZ Without a doubt.

PF You just won’t know that big stuff happening, even in your own language, even in your own country, even on sites you frequent.

RZ Absolutely.

PF You know there’s some Twitter person out there who has 20 million followers, there’s someone who has hundreds of millions of views on Instagram, and we just have no clue who they are.

36:15 RZ Without a doubt.

PF And so —

RZ We need to let that go.

PF We do. We do. We just assume that when the time is right, we’ll learn about it.

RZ Absolutely [music fades in]. By the way, if anyone needs a platform that can —

PF Scale!

RZ — hold all those big things.

PF That’s right: we could scale you 50 million users looking at video views.

RZ Without flinching.

PF Not a problem, and we could make it look really good too cuz we’re Postlight, a digital products studio —

RZ [Chuckles] that was so smooth.

PF — at 101 5th Avenue in New York City. If you need us for any reason at all, you just send an email to [email protected] I’m Paul Ford, your friendly co-founder.

RZ And I’m Rich Ziade, other co-founder.

PF Go ahead and write us on iTunes if you’re in the mood. And, you know, look, we’re here for ya.

RZ Have a great week.

PF Bye [music ramps up to end].