Endless scrolling is the opium of the people: This week Paul Ford and Rich Ziade discuss how platforms like Spotify, Netflix, and Youtube have turned into an inescapable hellscape of unfocused content. We talk about being disappointed with the infinite media libraries of our dreams, and the potential for platforms to redeem themselves, while looking at how smaller creators are already pushing back. Paul also reveals his utopian dream of a centralized platform of curated cake-making content.
Rich Ziade Yeah [stammers] I don’t — I’m trying to understand like Netflix doesn’t produce this stuff, right?
Paul Ford Yeah it does.
RZ No, no, you come over — don’t you come over and Netflix —
PF No, they commission stuff as well.
RZ No, that’s what I mean. My point is it’s — there’s no Netflix studios in LA.
PF There might be now. I couldn’t tell you but probably not. No, what they tend to do is — well, it’s like TV. They partner with production studios.
RZ I think there’s just an email address called [email protected]
PF Yeah! And you just send an email and it’s like —
RZ No, it’s an attachment [yeah what if] and then you just attach [laughing] a cartoon —
PF What if dinosaurs butt trucks? That’s true they took like a plastic ter — terrainasaurus and a plastic matchbox car glued ’em together, took a picture on a phone —
RZ Like on a kitchen table.
PF [Rich laughing] Yeah, sent a picture on their phone of like — of them smashing together going, “Raghhhhh!”
PF And Netflix is like, “Two billion dollars.”
RZ No! And then Netflix is like, “What — tell me your Venmo.”
PF Yeah! [Both laugh, music fades in, plays alone for 14 seconds, ramps down].
PF Yes, Richard.
RZ Let’s go back, think maybe 800 years.
RZ Actually, no, let’s go a little later than that. They used to write books. But the way they used to write books —
PF They still do.
RZ No, no, they used to write like write books.
RZ Like, “Get the pen out, and write The Bible. We need another copy.”
PF [Laughs] It’s very Bay Ridge, that assessment of how The Bible was written.
RZ Ok. So. Let’s fast forward a bit . . . to uh the printing press.
RZ Right? The use of — of printing words forked off.
PF Mm hmm.
RZ Historically the discrete units of media were very much driven by . . . what’s the word I’m looking for? Practicality . . . If you’re gonna make a movie [uh huh] and you’re gonna send people to theaters [uh huh uh huh] ok? Don’t make it 20 — you can’t make it 20 minutes.
PF No, no. Nobody —
RZ You really can’t.
PF That is right.
RZ So what you have — what materializes is sort of these de facto . . . there’s no rules.
RZ Forms. The album . . . There were singles initially.
RZ But then they said, “You know what? The creative process is kind of interesting, right? They wanna keep going. They don’t — they don’t wanna just pump out singles. They have a bigger vision. Also, we can sell ’em for more money. The album.”
PF No, thank you. Thank you for st — stumbling into something I’ve been obsessed with for 20 years: the relationship between physical media and the — the content therein. So keep summarizing. I’m lovin’ it!
RZ Books, albums, film, right?
PF [Laughs] Film —
RZ They backed into these constraints, right?
PF They do.
RZ And I think these constraints are driven by . . . some of it is practicality, some of it is economics, some of it is social dynamics [mm hmm]. I think all these things drive these constraints.
PF Well there’s a real thing — like — like let’s just talk about, this is worth breaking out cuz we got real abstract. Movies are a great example cuz first of all: I’ll give you one. The — you can talk about the constraints of movies. They’re rectangular . . .
PF Like IMAXs have — break that well.
PF But — but for the most part if you’re watching The Godfather you can’t be like, “Hey, I wonder what’s over there to the left.”
RZ No, the — the idea is I’m not gonna wrap this around you in a 3D exp — in an immersive experience. I’m gonna put it in front of you and — and this form factor, 16:9, feels compelling. I can do some dramatic things with it. It didn’t have to be. It could’ve been something else, right?
PF Right but then, you know, and it’s — there’s a lot of marketplace dynamics there like 16:9 projectors sold pretty well. Enough movies came out that were in 16:9. Like I mean that’s the kind of —
RZ Well, there’s the screen [yeah]. There’s the projector. There’s the throw of the — of the image. So, I’m gonna fast forward to a use case that applies to me. So, I uh I use Spotify, ok?
PF Me too.
RZ And Spotify has this wonderful feature called Discover Weekly. What it does is it kind of pays attention to what you’ve been recently I think recently, by the way. I think it sort of says, “Ok, what’s Rich into . . . [yeah well] these days?”
PF It’s gotta allow you to forget a little bit.
PF Cuz yeah.
RZ And it puts together I think about a 20 to 30 song playlist called Discover Weekly [mm hmm]. Every Monday it drops [mm hmm] and you go in there, and it tries to say, “Hey! Listen: based on what you’ve been listening to this stuff, you might like this stuff.” Pretty classic use case actually. Related stories [yeah], related music, whatever. And what I do is when I find — I rip through ’em. A lot of ’em I don’t like but when I find one that I like, I add it to a playlist I call Promising.
PF Yeah, sure.
RZ And then what I do is I don’t just listen to them again in Promising. I go and I go to the track and I go to “view album” because I’m wondering if I’ve stumbled on an artist that I wanna really dive into.
PF You’ve skipped over like seven incredibly difficult steps in Spotify to — to do that but yes!
RZ Right? [Paul laughing] Let’s not — we’ve beat the shit out of Spotify like 11 times —
PF I know but you’re just — every now and then it’s just like I’d like to get to that album.
RZ Yeah, yeah.
PF You know?
PF There are always — I just — remember links? Links were good. You could click on a link and go to a thing. And there weren’t any little sli —
RZ I mean they kinda are links.
PF They’re there but you gotta like swipe up, slide, do the thing, click the “go to album”, sometimes it’s there, sometimes it’s not.
RZ It’s good finger exercise.
PF It’s link shaming.
RZ [Scoffs] Then I got to the album.
RZ And I wanna like the album so I’ll give the album a full listen [mm hmm] and what happens is —
PF That’s a da — that used to be a way to find good music.
RZ There’s so much shit.
PF Ahhh you know —
RZ I get through the first three of four tracks of an album and then I’m — I’m just literally the flood, the waves break the glass in my house and flood and take the table and me and the chair and I just kee — and I go to the next thing.
PF You know what I’ve noticed is that the truly talented young artists just kinda produce EP after EP. For years. And then they’re like, “Oh ok, I’m gonna do this album now.” Like they don’t actually jump to the album.
RZ The album as a discrete unit —
PF It’s a high risk game.
RZ It’s a very strange thing today.
PF 80% of it’s gonna be trash unless you really know what you’re doing and why you’re making an album.
RZ It’s a very strange thing today, right? And what you have here is essentially the conventions that we used to have have kinda survived in a weird way in music, in film, in me — in uh multimedia like TV and — and [mm hmm] film. But it’s — it’s — it — it’s all busted.
PF Do you know why CDs were uh at the bit rate and the uh length that they are?
PF I believe it was Beethoven’s 9th Symphony fit. It was like whatever it took to make that fit —
RZ Was the standard.
PF Was the standard for a CD. Like that was like Sony —
RZ That makes sense.
PF Uh some exec at Sony — that’s why it’s 44.1 kilohertz instead of like 48.
RZ Right. So somehow Spotify still calls it an album. It could call it a collection.
RZ It could call it a series. Like it could call it whatever it wants, right? [Right] And so now let’s jump to Netflix, ok? I have a My List in Netflix I will never get to the bottom of, right? Growing up I used to watch Tom and Jerry which was essentially of a cat that wanted to eat a mouse [yeah] and it was incredibly violent.
PF Unbelievably violent.
PF And racist!
RZ And Saturday morning was a miracle because Saturday morning they would unload all these new cartoons that were only weekly.
PF Now that I’m a parent I understand that that was just like the parents desperately wanted to sleep in and the networks were capitalizing on that.
RZ I think so, right? Cuz it’s like let’s put ’em on the TV!
PF Cuz normally . . . the rest of the week of the week your parents would be like, “Don’t watch TV. Do your homework and go to bed.” But Saturday morning, they’re like, “Jesus, God, please, just — ok, fine. Speed Racer.”
RZ Exactly. Now, let’s con — contrast my childhood with my — I have a — a lovely five year old boy and a three year old girl.
PF She’s also lovely.
RZ Both lovely. And I sit them down and I’m gonna put them something to watch.
RZ And I put Netflix on and it is just an endless wall of shit.
PF It’s so bad.
RZ It doesn’t end.
PF No, Netflix —
RZ It doesn’t end and I look at my kids and they’re just — they’re kinda — as I’m scrolling they’re getting sleepy.
RZ Their eyes — like their eyelids are gettin’ heavy as I’m running through ten to 20 — ten to 15,000 boxes of cartoons [yeah]. And it is something. And if you — if you dive into each box there are 60 episodes [Paul exhales]. It is just [so and you know] massive, massive [some of them] amounts.
PF The pure algorithmically defined entertainment that Netflix specializes in there’s this called um Dinotrux.
RZ Yes, I’ve seen this.
PF Have you seen this? [Yeah] It’s dinosaurs that are trucks because what they know is that in particular little boys like [yeah] trucks and dinosaurs [right]. Little girls too but —
RZ And I think it’s terrible. I don’t think it’s options —
PF Have you seen Dinotrux? It’s atroc —
RZ I’ve seen Dinotrux. I’ve seen some really strange looking cartoons on —
PF [Laughing] It’s so bad! It’s just [yeah] dinosaurs as trucks.
PF I mean you just — you just like you get the idea and then you’re like, “Really? We’re gonna just do this to our children now?”
RZ So flash over to the adult side of Netflix and I have to tell you there are a lot of shitty stand up comedians in America.
PF God! [Laughing] There are so many!
RZ And around the world, actually. It is —
PF I don’t even — somebody on Twitter. It might’ve been uh oh god it might’ve been Andrew Smail said, “I would pay five dollars extra a month [Rich laughs] to get Netflix without stand up comedy.”
RZ [Laughs] So here’s how stand up comedy works for Netflix [oh] in terms of acquisition: “Oh I heard Denise is going to that stand up show tonight. Uh do me a favor, could you give her this Android phone? It’s got an SD card in it [Paul laughing] and just ask her to tape? [Yeah] cuz we’re — we can put it on. We just put it on.”
RZ And — the — so if you go over to I’m guessing to any aspiring stand up comedian and say, “Look, we’ll put you on Netflix — ”
PF Yeah —
RZ They’ll essentially give you 40 dollars [laughs].
PF Your show at the Chuckle Bungalow in Boise.
RZ [Laughs] They’ll give you the buddy to do it.
PF Oh yeah. No, this is —
RZ So, it is just —
PF It must’ve been very exciting though at first when it’s like, “Yeah, I’m doing a new thing. I’m doing a — a Netflix stand up special.”
PF And then like a month goes by and it’s — it’s just not as cool anymore for the comedians. Like now —
RZ It can’t be cool at this point.
PF No, no, you’re like, “I’m doing a Netflix special,” and then you’re, you know, like your housekeeper says, “So am I.”
RZ [Laughs] [Music fades in] It’s so bad, dude [music continues alone for five seconds].
PF Um —
RZ Paul, it’s ironic [music fades out].
PF What is ironic, Rich?
RZ We’re talking about media [mm hmm] and some of our clients are media and we think media is great in a different light.
PF We do — about a third of our clients are media. The [and] other third is NGO and the final third is finance.
RZ By “our” who do you mean?
RZ Postlight. What does Postlight do?
PF You know we build platforms and the products on top of them and we do it in New York City and we do it all around the world.
RZ It’s an incredibly talented group of designers, engineers, and Paul and I are the co-founders of Postlight.
PF You know it really is though. I mean sometimes I just have to take a minute [yeah] and just st — cuz there’s always some stuff to be worrying about —
RZ Well, I — I just look at them and —
PF — but the group here is very talented.
RZ It’s really talented.
PF [Laughing] They can build anything!
RZ They can do anything and they do it well.
PF And yeah.
RZ So hit us up: [email protected] [music fades in].
PF That’s right [music continues alone for five seconds].
RZ So I guess what I’m getting at here [music fades out] is I kind of miss the constraints.
PF Oh always! Well no, ok.
RZ I miss — I miss the just the feeling of like, “Oh my god, we got another one.” It’s just basic supplied [mm hmm] — I — I think it’s perceived limited supply and as a result higher demand. Or higher just urge to get the thing. It’s gone.
PF Well there’s a balance, right? Like it so great that we have access to everything at all times. That is kind of amazing. And if you’d asked me my fantasy of media when I was like 17 years old, I would’ve told you, “I want every album ever. I want every book ever. I want every everything ever.” Right?
PF Like to have access to the infinite library is pretty wonderful. I love Spotify. It’s bad for everybody except for me.
RZ I — I love it too. I wish Spot — can I — lemme ask for a feature. Can I ask for a feature?
PF The colour blue?
RZ No. You can only flag 200 songs as yours.
PF Oh that’s a nice idea. Yeah.
RZ That’s it.
PF I erase — I erase my playlist a lot.
RZ That’s it. 200. I don’t care it could be coming from albums, it could be coming from playlists.
PF No, I erase — I erase about every two weeks I blow up my regular playlist and start over cuz otherwise you just get in a rut.
PF Have you used um we have a — a developer slash designer here named Darrell and he made a playlist exploration tool, have you used it yet?
RZ I did not know this.
PF It — it’s called Dubolt. And we’ll put a link in.
RZ I do know this.
PF It’s quite good.
PF Yeah. No, I mean —
RZ It’s for Spotify?
PF I’ve used it a few times it’s good like you seed it with a few tracks and parameters [yeah] and you get um a very good playlist back.
PF We’ll put the link in: dubolt.com.
RZ This story plays over and over, right? There’s the “read later” pattern which is now in Chrome and in Safari but started with readable — it started with Instapaper then Readability. It’s a classic one. I have — I have probably 200 hundred articles. I’ll get to the — I keep taking the frosting off the top five [yeah], seven cuz they’re recent. So, also, by the way, there could be a feature on Netflix called Give This a Shot.
PF Mm hmm.
RZ Where you don’t get the Netflix wall of shit for 90 minutes if you hit the button “give — give me something”. Essentially it locks out and that’s it. For the night you’re not gonna get other stuff. It gives you four things.
PF Well this is — we’re hitting a point in the glutt where we’re realizing that emotionally and intellectually it’s not that satisfying to just keep waiting and searching. And, you know, you saw this when cable TV suddenly had 5,000 stations and no one could figure out what to watch.
RZ Yes. There’s — they call it “deep cable”, right? [Right] There’s always a guy — like after you get channel 100 there’s always a guy redoing his tiles.
PF On the flipside there’s always like the great simplifying agent here which, you know, in our industry is often Apple which is like: “You don’t want all those choices.”
PF Now, the problem that Apple has which is the problem everybody who creates a successful minimalist approach has which is everyone then starts adding stuff to it. So the iPhone starts with like five apps [right] and Apple’s like, “If you wanna — ” [balance] yeah now it’s like 5 billion apps [right] and it’s a whole mess.
RZ Well there wasn’t an App Store.
PF There wasn’t! That was the whole thing, they were like, “You’re gonna do web apps and we’ll do the real apps and that’ll be that,” and everyone lost their minds [yup] and Apple’s like, “Alright, we’ll let you have an App Store,” and now it’s like 32 trillion dollars a minute for them [right] but it’s a hellscape from which we don’t escape and so like — so that part’s tricky.
RZ So is this social — is this — is this the feed? Is this the like, you know, kinda dead eyed scrolling content?
PF Lemme — lemme tell you something. What works and what function —
RZ It’s not just social, right?
RZ This is — social media is ten second Instagram video, picture on Instagram, posting on Facebook, next posting on Facebook — you know the — it’s like you’ve been drugged. You’re just sittin’ there scrolling and —
PF No, look: we’re in the glutt —
RZ — it’s endless crap.
PF We’re in the glutt and there’s very little quality in a glutt. There’s no sense of quality [right]. You’re just literally — it’s just this tsunami of content um coming in and we’re all just kind of like, “Wow, that’s a lot of content.” And you thought it was what you wanted. You thought it was like, [that’s right], “Ah man, everything!” And it gives lie to a lot of stuff like you’re just sorta like, “Ah god, you know maybe — maybe I actually care more about quality than about everybody having their say.” [Yeah] Like and it — it gets — there’s a lot of tricky stuff to work out. What I would say is that human beings cannot be creative in any way. We measure creativity by how people respond to constraints. We always have. And digital things — so it’s like, “Hey, how’d you do with those oil paints on that rectangle?”
PF Right? “Did you make a face that looks like a face? Ooh that’s pretty good! Did you make it look like when I look into the distance that it really is distant? You know that perspective that’s some goooood stuff. Who’s better at that than that?” You know?
PF And then you end up in this place where you’re like, “Wow that Leonardo Da Vinci, that was a hell of an artist!” [Rich laughs] Right? And Michelangelo he made a like David’s wenis looks really good like and your just [Rich laughing] — it’s very life like! It’s about that constraint and that constraint system. That’s what we talk about when we talk about making things and — and art. And then consuming there’s a hierarchy that sort of naturally emerged like you’d read a review in the New Yorker or you’d go look at the New York Times and you’d see like, “Oh that’s a good movie. I better go see that.”
RZ Well, you know, the film festival to someone buying it for distribution to putting it in a theater and then eventually it makes it to HBO or — or Netflix.
PF This is the key thing — that’s the key thing it’s money. Everything — all these things required money and they required —
RZ No but it’s slow!
PF Yeah it’s slow.
RZ And you can only do so much, right? And what Netflix is doing is buying —
PF Well cuz it was expensive.
RZ When I see a Netflix original series, I just assume, I could be surprised, but I assume it’s bad [laughs].
PF Now compare Netflix and YouTube for a minute. What do both of them solve? They solve distribution. Suddenly they were like, “Oh my god [yeah] we can put moving pictures in a rectangle on a screen and we can get out to millions and millions of people.”
RZ And they thought they’d have to buy like the universal catalogue or the Warner Bros catalogue and that’s what they would do. They would go and say, “Can we buy this for six months?”
PF That’s what Netflix did. Yeah.
RZ Yeah! And then eventually they were like, “You know what?” There’s a phenomenal quote by the chief content officer of Netflix and he said — they said, “What’s your strategy?” Cuz at this point, this is a few years ago and they’re starting to create a lot of original content.
PF Well, the studios will pull the rug out from under — under them all the time.
RZ Exactly, so they said, “What’s your strategy?” And he said, “Um we have to become HBO before HBO becomes us.”
RZ And that collision essentially while the big studios wonder what the hell’s going on sums it up.
PF HBO is smart though.
RZ HBO, first off: there’s only so much. When HBO says there’s a new series that’s coming out, you stop for a second cuz there’s only 11!
PF No, you know what you’re looking at there is the difference between like Apple and Android. You know you’re looking at [yeah] — you’re looking at like, “Hey! Uh we’re gonna do two or three of these.
RZ That’s right!
PF And — and they’re gonna be absolutely amazing and everyone’s gonna talk about them for five years.
RZ That’s right.
PF Versus, “Oh my god! It has a lot of apps that are pretty good.”
RZ That’s exactly right. That’s exac — there’s just way more buttons and levers [yeah] and all that but they all kind of are mediocre.
PF Well Netflix has Stranger Things but then there’s Stranger —
RZ No, no, they hit — but every once in awhile —
PF But there is no Game of Thrones.
RZ There is no Game of Thrones but you know what? If you — if you —
PF The Crown was an attempt to get a Game of Thrones it’s not — it’s just — it’s not quite there.
RZ No, no, but I think it’s just that it’s a game — it’s numbers.
PF Oh yeah.
RZ They’re just, you’re right. Like let’s pause on HBO: they get it right but they freaked out about distribution so you can now get HBO on your phone.
RZ Because the cable companies well that’s a whole other thing.
PF Well then, yeah, HBO was like, “I cannot let you destroy me.” Clearly. Like that’s what that is. It’s like —
RZ Do you know what? They’re still not just pouring content over our heads —
PF Let’s not forget too though Netflix is it’s own thing. HBO is part of Time Warner which is one of the great, you know, mega thing — and there’s — it’s gonna merge with Comca — [yeah] I mean it’s just uh meh god. Ok but wait. Here’s a thing that I — I think a lot about: cakes [Rich groans then says, “Ooof”, Paul laughs] Have you ever seen? Ok there are —
RZ You’ve mentioned the cake videos, Paul. I know about the cake videos.
PF Ok. Cake making is a whole scene on YouTube.
RZ Fill in the blank is a whole scene on YouTube.
PF No, I know, but cake making is one of them like video games where there’s probably 30 million people who have cake related intent [ok] who watch and subscribe to cake content where people smear things with fondant and make, you know, “Oh it’s a cake that looks like a Kit Kat bar!” [Yeah, right] And a lot of very charming people and they have — they sell uh, you know, spatulas.
RZ It’s the Chrysler building!
PF Yeah. And then they’re like [Rich laughs], “Buy my spatula!” And that’s how they monetize. I sort of look at Netflix as a very — as being very, very well set up to to capitalize on these nascent expanding scenes in a way that YouTube can’t because you’ve got 30, 40, 50 cake making personalities and YouTube doesn’t really bring them together. They kind of cross reference, sometimes they appear on each other’s shows.
PF But YouTube doesn’t — there’s no cake making video app [right]. Like Google could — this is — Google in about two weeks could make app where it’s like the ultimate cake video app [oh definitely] and it has recipes and then they could sell — and I would, you know, I would get —
RZ I think they don’t wanna cross that line [that’s right] cuz then all hell will break loose, right?
PF It’s all hell. That’s right and because who’s in and who’s out? And so on and I think they would blow up their business model because suddenly people are gonna be aware of their value —
RZ Well there’s this false promise of democracy, right?
PF Well or just like it’s a promise that everyone’s kind of roughly equal on the platform.
PF Which of course is weird cuz you go — you walk down the street and there’s a giant picture of a YouTube celebrity painted on the side of a wall in Manhattan.
RZ And I feel so old when I see that.
PF [Laughs] “Who’s that?”
RZ That billboard. Yeah.
PF Look I mean I think the thing I’m getting at is actually pretty simple which is that the giant platforms because of their sheer scale have trouble capitalizing aside from just advertising and selling advertising on the communities that are emerging around different focuses. So like: here’s your cake makers, here’s your woodworkers, here’s your video gamers, right?
PF Twitch did a pretty good job of capturing video game energy and then Amazon bought it for a billion dollars. That was probably a very wise purchase. Right?
RZ But wait is this a good thing?
PF It’s neither good nor bad.
RZ Grouping them? Who care — I mean it’s still a bunch of garbage that I gotta wade through.
PF Nahhhhh! I don’t think that’s true. Some — a lot of the cake making stuff is incredibly well produced and thoughtful.
RZ No, no, no, my point is it’s still 11 million videos.
PF Well this is the thing I think that like Netflix is emerging, Hoolu too a little bit is like this middle tier and I’m gonna expect them to pull more stuff out that world. And create sort of more — Netflix is weird cuz it’s all about subjects and I almost think it should be more focused around verticles. Like if it was like, “It’s the baking channel!” Like channels or, or like pho — something in Netflix where you can go over and — and participate as opposed to just these like movies for people who like cats and have no — no hair.
RZ Yeah I think that’s another line that they won’t cross probably.
PF I think Netflix is totally primed to do that. Like Netflix Baking, Netflix Whatever.
RZ It makes sense. So you can go to — I mean there is — there is document — there are genres. There is drama, suspense, documentary [yeah]. There are a sign — you’re saying go another level deeper —
PF I guess what I’m saying and I don’t know — who the hell knows what Netflix’s strategy is. It’s — it’s really big. Same with, you know, Google and YouTube. What I’m saying is that there — there’s no middle tier right now where people who are really good at something who can get the distribution through YouTube it’s — there’s no way to kinda bring them together, bundle them, like make a channel out of them and make — I can’t —
RZ Are you saying that’ll make things better? If they did that?
PF I’m say — well, it might give them a little more power and authority cuz they would be up —
RZ Better for the consumer?
PF Yeah because then I can get all of my baking content in one place and they would have uh there’d be one unified experience and I’d be able to search across it. That’d be really useful.
RZ Ok. So —
PF Cakes —
RZ You’re looking for stuff!
PF Star Wars Cakes!
RZ Yeah, you’re looking for stuff.
PF And then there are — you know to me what I look at is here’s all the bakers online. The thing that they wanna give me is recipes because they’re free to them. They’ve already got the recipe — like watch — watching the video and getting the ad revenue and then they sell things like their books [mm hmm] or their spatulas on top of it, um that to me is like what they wanna do then if I could have a recipe app that also has the videos and let me see how to make it and I could look at that on my phone and bake a cake on the week — on the weekend with my kid.
RZ But you’re still searching through 11 million videos?
PF No, I’m searching through probably about 10,000 videos.
RZ You’re still searching through 10,000 videos.
PF Well cuz I’ve got recipes and I can — but I search Star Wars cakes and there’s ten — [ok] ten responses and I can sit there with my kids and say, “Hey, which one of these Star Wars cakes should we make?”
RZ Ok. So you want real utility.
PF The — the whole system is set up with that — where the, yeah, the platforms make it challenging to create real utility because the ways that you focus and help people by making products that allow them access to media and let them do new things and give them new powers and understanding? The platforms are not set up for that. They’re set up for continual delivery of a single experience which is usually like a rectangle of video. They’re focused around the media not the actual usage of the media to do things.
RZ Well volume. Sheer volume of media.
PF That’s right. Well but also like their focused on the thing. So you know Netflix all it’s videos roughly same aspect ratio, same, you know, same quality delivered through streaming servers in various —
RZ Yeah but they still want 10,000 things a month.
PF I get that right? I get that but I mean their focused, yeah, they’re dumping stuff into the hole as opposed to . . . it’s a better hole than YouTube. YouTube is just a big open hole that anybody can throw their trash into. And then sometimes people are like, “That’s not trash. That’s good.”
RZ I want two things.
RZ As a creator or someone that could produce media which is literally not much more than tapping your phone, right? I want the motivation to be gone to do it 12 times a week.
RZ I want it to — I want that to be demotivated and I want you to think about uh the fact that you’ve only got a couple of shots, whatever, a week, a month. And you have to think about ’em and make ’em decent. Rather than just taking a bucket of water and dumping it on my head. That’s —
PF So if I — what — what if I told you you only have two hours . . . you can use your phone for email [mm hmm] and you have — other than that you have two hours a week to use your phone?
RZ No, but [stammers] I’m — I’m worried about the consumer.
RZ Here’s the thing: for the consumer, um uh I’m worried about them, right? Because the motivation on the creator’s side is to just — just pour more and more and more on my head, right?
RZ And for the consumer that’s led to a terrible state. Everything garbage. Most things are lousy. Most movies that have been created are lousy. Most music is lousy. Most books are lousy.
PF Well even when you have a lot of money and do everything right the odds are it’s gonna be pretty bad.
RZ That’s right. That’s exactly right. Actually some of the most interesting, exciting stuff is — is the stuff that the person had no money and they pulled off something interesting. Right?
PF Alright. Let’s talk about the things we talked about and what they should do. So what do creators need to start doing?
RZ I don’t think they’re gonna do it.
PF Creators won’t do anything unless the platform companies tell them what to do.
RZ Or constrain them.
PF Or constrain them. So what — what constraints does Google need to put into YouTube?
RZ You can upload ten hours a month, five hours a month. I don’t know. That’s all you can do.
PF I mean that’s still entirely too much.
RZ Two hours a month.
RZ You can break that down into five 30 minute baking videos.
RZ Ok? Just less.
PF Ok. What should Facebook do?
RZ Facebook should shift from the endless scroll to the handful of things it thinks and it’s very smart, it does think, that are worth it to be put in front of you on a daily basis?
PF What should Netflix do?
RZ When you sign up to Netflix, you get the wall two days a week. You get the endless wall two days a week. You can pick the days when you want the endless wall. The rest of the time it has a much more limited and you can get into the interface and how limited uh experience. There’s just way, way, way less content. Way less. And it does get smart. You watch six documentaries in a row, “Here are two documentaries you get to pick from tonight.”
PF The entire incentive structure of platform economy [right] in our world completely discredits everything you’ve just said.
RZ No, I know.
PF So what — do we —
RZ I know that.
PF No, I know. I knew you do. So do we . . . this is status quo where we’re at right now. Like it’s nice for us to sit here and talk about how things should be.
RZ You know what the most popular piece of advice is now?
RZ They’re telling the person . . . “Leave your phone outside the bedroom!”
PF Yeah, yeah, that’s right.
RZ “Take a book with you!”
PF Mm hmm.
RZ “Pause and think. Think deeper.”
PF That’s — you know we just watched Google IO and a lot of the stuff for the Android phone is, “Yeah we’re gonna make it — it’s gonna go to bed.”
RZ “Yeah, we’re reflecting!”
PF That’s right.
RZ A lot of reflecting, by the way.
PF Yeah I know.
RZ Facebook’s reflecting [laughs].
PF Everybody’s thinking really hard about what it all means.
RZ [Laughs] Oh boy.
PF Here’s what I would say: I think that um first of all you know it’s always been crappy bestsellers and big, stupid movies with car chases. Like that’s — that’s kind of been the [yeah] baseline for a long time [yeah]. So uh it’s not surprising that in a — in a era of digital glutt we just end up with more. Like not better but more.
PF So, I — you know to me it’s like, “What do you try to do?” Do you try to build the new platforms where there are more constraints and more creative work? . . . I mean that’s — that’s — that is a — a way to address but it’s — you are climbing a very high mountain.
RZ What you’re talking about is you’re asking people to step away from the business uh dynamic that make it work.
PF [Sighs] I mean that’s the thing, right? Cuz we —
RZ And you know who can step away? I’ll give an example. He’s trying to. Ev Williams. He actually thinks it’s all garbage. And he has the means to do it. And he has the power to do it. That’s the only reason he’s doing it. Otherwise he’d get sucked in the machine like everyone else. He’s trying to do it. I don’t know if he’ll succeed. I don’t know if it’s the right way but at least he’s saying, “Everything is garbage. I’m calling it out. And I’m gonna try a thing. And I think this is actually where people wanna go.” It’s a little paternalistic.
PF See I don’t think everything is garbage. I think that we actually have more of the good stuff than we’ve ever had before it’s just that there’s so much bad stuff and it’s very overwhelming.
RZ When I say everything is garbage I mean 98% is garbage.
PF I mean you know maybe the — maybe the way to — to live in a modern platform based world is to acknowledge that there are a lot of problems in the world but it’s pretty great that you have access to good quality stuff and then reason with yourself about what’s gonna be good and healthy for you and also where you need some silly, guilty pleasures.
RZ Yeah. And watch your kids.
RZ Your kids are like literally forming how they think.
PF They’re sponging it up.
RZ So I wanna pitch two apps to close, Paul. Can I do that?
PF Yeah, absolutely.
RZ Longform.org. It’s been around forever.
PF We’ve had um one of the co-creators on the show —
RZ Aaron Lammer who’s a wonderful human being uh has just been doing its thing for such a long time. And not only — it’s not just saying, “Let’s put long articles in front of people.” It’s saying, “Let’s put good long articles.” So use longform.org. Another — there’s another app that’s called Rheo. R-H-E-O. And it has five categories. It’s like Chill, Learn, uh Move, uh I forget all the different topics but um it’s curated video and it’s higher quality, it’s — none of it’s stupid. Uh and it’s good. It’s actually — it’s actually good. It’s not a wall of content and somebody or a handful of people are doing the job of putting decent stuff in front of you [I’ll]. It’s available for Apple TV and iPhone.
PF I’ll add to that: longreads.com which is a website and also a client. So we — we — we could mention them as well [laughs].
RZ Yes. And longreads.com.
PF Who we’ve — we’ve worked with their principle and known their — their people for a long, long time.
RZ This was a long bitching podcast.
PF I know. I know. Well, we live in a platform world and I — you know, what we’re really —
RZ We gave tips [music fades in]. We didn’t just complain.
PF Here’s what we’re saying: we’re saying two things. Constraints matter. And they kinda do but then platform econ — economics take over [yeah] uh you kind of have to choose how you live in this world because it’s being done to you.
RZ That’s right.
PF I’m Paul Ford, co-founder of Postlight.
RZ I’m Rich Ziade, the other co-founder of Postlight.
PF We’ll talk to you again next week.
RZ Have a great week [music ramps up, plays for four seconds, fades out to end.]