Podcast Episode 9: Web Sins #2

By Aya Taher

Rich Ziade: [00:00:00] I am in technology, you are in technology. We help people with their laptops. Welcome to the Aboard podcast.

Paul Ford: Merry Christmas. Hi everybody, Paul’s home, yeah no, I could look at it, hold on, let me just, do you have the password?

Rich Ziade: The internet is so slow.

Paul Ford: Oh my God, the holidays are just people handing me devices and saying, do you know what to do about this?

Rich Ziade: I’m Rich Ziade.

Paul Ford: I’m Paul Ford.

Rich Ziade: Welcome to the Aboard podcast, we’re gonna cover the second sin of the internet today.

Paul Ford: Yes, we were gonna do three in a row and, and we kind of skipped one.

Rich Ziade: We forgot.

Paul Ford: Because we’re a little distracted, our startup is very busy right now.

Rich Ziade: It’s very busy.

Paul Ford: Um, but okay, what is sin number two?

Rich Ziade: [00:01:00] Let me set you up.

Paul Ford: Okay set me up.

Rich Ziade: An acquaintance of mine.

Paul Ford: Okay, somebody.

Rich Ziade: Somebody I know quite well.

Paul Ford: Somebody you know well, okay.

Rich Ziade: Actually, tells me I need to look at their laptop.

Paul Ford: Okay, so just, here it is, here’s the laptop.

Rich Ziade: Something’s not right.

Paul Ford: Mmm.

Rich Ziade: I was like, okay, gimme the laptop. And by the way, a lot of people equate the browser with the whole laptop.

Paul Ford: Fair enough, right?

Rich Ziade: At this point.

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: Listen, uh, fix it, it’s running real slow. And, but don’t close my tabs.

Paul Ford: Ooh.

Rich Ziade: I open the laptop.

Paul Ford: But also, now you’re in a real-

Rich Ziade: Which by the way-

Paul Ford: You’re in a pickle because if you can’t restart a computer, you can’t fix a computer.

Rich Ziade: It’s just, I mean, that’s the, that’s the smallest of the pickles, there’s a jar of pickles here.[00:02:00]

Paul Ford: It’s like a printer, like everybody’s like, why won’t my printer work? And it’s like, unless I can restart, I cannot help you.

Rich Ziade: The internet is an incredible operating system with a file system built in.

Paul Ford: Oh yeah, it’s good stuff.

Rich Ziade: And yet, and I know, I know, I’m not talking about the exception here, the tabs open and I open this, this laptop and I could tell you, lemme tell you something, first of all, it warmed my legs. I had some sort of muscle spasms in my quads. It was so hot that it warmed my legs.

Paul Ford: Because like 75 tabs are open and Chrome.

Rich Ziade: 75 tabs are open, now Google has got, I mean, Chrome, I think all the browsers have gotten real smart around throttling down tabs that are not in view.

Paul Ford: They like to forget things when they don’t see them. They’re like, oh, that, don’t worry about that one right now.

Rich Ziade: Yeah but when you can’t even when there’s so many tabs open that you can’t see the la, the labels anymore.

Paul Ford: No, no, they just did, it just looks like a stack of chicklets across the top.

Rich Ziade: It looks like a stack of chicklets [chuckles]. And I would turn to this person, we need to give this person now, let’s call them [00:03:00] Jeff.

Paul Ford: Jeff, okay, Jeff.

Rich Ziade: Jeff what’s with all the tabs? Don’t touch ’em, this is weeks of research.

Paul Ford: That’s right.

Rich Ziade: And I don’t wanna lose them.

Paul Ford: Now, first of all, let’s acknowledge it’s a miracle because 10, 15 years ago, leaving a computer on for more than three to five minutes, especially if it was like a Windows or a Mac Box

Rich Ziade: Blue screen.

Paul Ford: It had to start over again.

Rich Ziade: Start over.

Paul Ford: You just, I, people I don’t think can process, how all the work that we did when we built the technology industry-

Rich Ziade: Yeah, yeah.

Paul Ford: as we understand, was done in five minute intervals between computers crashing [chuckles].

Rich Ziade: [laughter] I used to be, I, I, I’m still to this day cause it’s built into me.

Paul Ford: Command S.

Rich Ziade: Oh, constant saving.

Paul Ford: Command S, you know, it’s like you ever see the movie Memento?

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: That’s what using a computer was like [laughter], like you just wake up, you’d be like, where am I? Who am I?

Rich Ziade: Scrambled [laughter].

Paul Ford: And you’d have like things written on your arms to try to remember how to keep word from crashing. Anyway, better world, lots of memory, tabs open. Every [00:04:00] tab is a little operating system, just chugging along.

Rich Ziade: The MacBook is effectively a panini press at this point.

Paul Ford: Yeah, it really is.

Rich Ziade: Because it’s running so hot. But here we are-

Paul Ford: I would buy that, if you could flip it over and do a panini.

Rich Ziade: Man, that would be amazing.

Paul Ford: The hinge like the, the, the laptop that could also be the George Foreman Grill.

Rich Ziade: Everyone’s focusing on foldables, well, laptops fold, and they also run hot sometimes.

Paul Ford: That’s right, it’s the inverse foldable griddle.

Rich Ziade: Press the sandwich [laughter].

Paul Ford: The Macgriddle.

Rich Ziade: Sure, alright. So what am I getting at here, Paul?

Paul Ford: What are you getting at?

Rich Ziade: Okay.

Paul Ford: Sin of the web.

Rich Ziade: Let’s keep talking to Jeff.

Paul Ford: Well what’s the sin?

Rich Ziade: Well, lemme keep talking to Jeff.

Paul Ford: Alright, talk to him.

Rich Ziade:This is, you’re gonna find out to sin real quick.

Paul Ford: Alright.

Rich Ziade: Why don’t you just bookmark these? He goes, well, I don’t know, I don’t want to save everything. And also, I don’t know if I like some of these, I just gotta go through ’em.

Paul Ford: Jeff doesn’t want to make a mess.

Rich Ziade: He doesn’t wanna make a mess.

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: He’s got 50 tabs open. So, and I also, I hate bookmarks, okay.

Paul Ford: It’s true though, tabs float above the floor, but [00:05:00] don’t land on the floor.

Rich Ziade: They don’t.

Paul Ford: They’re like socks.

Rich Ziade: They’re non-committal.

Paul Ford: But the socks aren’t on the floor yet.

Rich Ziade: They’re non-commital.

Paul Ford: Yeah, yeah.

Rich Ziade: I’m like, okay, well, why don’t you use like Google Keep or Evernote?

Paul Ford: Nobody said those words ever, as if, Google Keep [chuckles].

Rich Ziade: Like, what? What? He kind of got annoyed with me.

Paul Ford: Did you notice though, how like the Notes app in, in, in MacOs is slowly achieving full general intelligence, like it’s It’s because everybody’s like, oh, we’re gonna, you know, chatGPT is gonna take over the world [chuckles].

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: Have you looked at that thing lately?

Rich Ziade: It’s like a full, full platform.

Paul Ford: You can do anything.

Rich Ziade: You can do anything.

Paul Ford: Yeah, it’s super powerful.

Rich Ziade: Uh, and here’s the thing that ends up happening with Jeff, he gets annoyed with me. He’s like, why didn’t, could you just fix the laptop? Like, don’t just leave it alone, just, I just leave my tabs.

Paul Ford: Yes.

Rich Ziade: I like my tabs, leave my tabs open. So what is-

Paul Ford: There is also, when you help people with computers, there is an element, a power dynamic emerges, doesn’t matter if you’re in control in the situation, you’re the more successful or older person, just you nerd, could you [00:06:00] just fix it? And you’re like, I gotta restart it.

Rich Ziade: I don’t really, they never care about what the root cause is.

Paul Ford: No and you’re like, but you have like 36 updates to apply.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: And they’re like, how long will that take?

Rich Ziade: Yeah, exactly. They complain.

Paul Ford: You nerd.

Rich Ziade: What’s the sin? The sin is this, if you think about what Jeff is trying to do, he’s effectively, found himself taking, chronicling his journey through the internet. And this is a really lame attempt at some sense of control and some way to maintain state for him.

Paul Ford: Ah state.

Rich Ziade: State.

Paul Ford: Okay, we gotta tell humans what state means, I’ll, I’ll, let me give it a go.

Rich Ziade: Give it a go.

Paul Ford: So computers are actually weird because you think they know and can store things, but that is a side effect of lots of weird physical processes and tons of work. Computers are actually very, very liquid. Like [00:07:00] stuff is just electricity is flowing through them.

Rich Ziade: Yes.

Paul Ford: And so there is an idea that you want to hold things in the computer’s memory.

Rich Ziade: Yes.

Paul Ford: Like, um, your name or a webpage location.

Rich Ziade: Sure.

Paul Ford: Or the entire state of your browser.

Rich Ziade: Yes.

Paul Ford: So there, see I just used the word state. State refers to the status of all the different things in the computer’s memory at a given time.

Rich Ziade: At a given moment. And, and for Jeff it’s meaningful because, because the tabs are there and because he’s holding a physical piece of hardware, he trusts that state. Not only does he trust it, but he feels like this is the product of many, many hours of scouring and work and research. And sometimes-

Paul Ford: But if you restart, goodbye.

Rich Ziade: Which is actually not true. Like close Chrome it reopen your tabs.

Paul Ford: Yeah, but boy, boy, that can be a performance.

Rich Ziade: They don’t trust it.

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: Whether it works or not is not the point. So there’s a few problems here. One, this is terrible. That’s not how [00:08:00] computers are supposed to be used, we have solved storage in the cloud, nobody even, it’s not even impressive anymore to say cloud storage anymore. It’s been 20 years now.

Paul Ford: Right.

Rich Ziade: And yet Jeff’s holding on to this thing, problem one.

Paul Ford: Well, Chrome does have all these different You, you’re right, like I log into different computers, Chrome knows who I am on each one. I can switch profiles, it’s kind of a mess though.

Rich Ziade: It’s kind of a mess, it’s not great. You know, Apple’s doing something similar in their ecosystem. Everybody wants you to know that you can trust them and that the state is transferring nicely and all those open tabs, if you open your phone and open Chrome on your phone, you can reclaim those tabs sort of, but it’s real hard.

Paul Ford: But let’s describe a good experience. I use iCloud cause I’ve gave my entire life to Apple, whole thing, one of my children, my house, they just have the whole thing. And I have a watch, a phone.

Rich Ziade: You did it, you went in.

Paul Ford: I went all the way in because I was tired of thinking, and you know what? It’s good for that I haven’t had a single thought in my head in six months. [00:09:00]

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: And so, but you know what’s good is iCloud. I got, I have a desktop folder and when I go home and I turn on my Mac, it’s the same desktop folder that I have here at the office.

Rich Ziade: Mm-hm.

Paul Ford: And if I want to get to those files on my phone when I’m on the train. It’s right there in the Files app.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, yeah.

Paul Ford: And I never think about it, and so what, what I do is I’m like, oh, you know, I’m learning some stuff, I’m doing some stuff. I’ll make a folder and I put it in the folder and it’s always there forever.

Rich Ziade: It’s, it, it’s also, I mean, it’s worth noting, there’s many tools that do this, but the prerequisites are gone and it’s very simple. Apple just, you know, they’re so obsessed with simplicity, um, and, and it’s about mass appeal app, Apple thinks about mass appeal.

Paul Ford: Dropbox did this, but it always had to do some thinking, be like, oh, I gotta spin these wheels a little bit.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, and also, I mean, this is the advantage that an Apple has and is it’s built in. I don’t tell Jeff that-

Paul Ford: Remember when we used to have like a whole, there was a whole like antitrust thing going on there for a while where you weren’t supposed to do stuff like that, but now, eh.

Rich Ziade: Uh, that’s a separate podcast, but, [00:10:00] uh, there is, it’s a known thing to sort of keep a comp, like Google and Apple are effectively neutralize each other’s antitrust behavior. Just as AMD Intel.

Paul Ford: There’s no Microsoft taken over the world right now. It’s, it’s the idea that these giants are so giant that everybody.

Rich Ziade: Intel and AMD. AMD, like, could have been crushed by Intel any, like, they could have glanced in their direction and ended them over 40 years.

Paul Ford: Right.

Rich Ziade: But they kept them around. I, this is a theory of mine, but I think it’s actually written up that it, it is a neutralizer for antitrust because they would’ve owned microchips, uh, CPUs effectively.

Paul Ford: Good old, we should talk about Intel sometime too. But anyway, that’s the, we’re way off track, track.

Rich Ziade: One more problem.

Paul Ford: Let’s go back to state.

Rich Ziade: Okay, so let’s bring this back to Aboard.

Paul Ford: So, but I don’t have the equivalent of like the, in theory, the browser keeps trying to gimme a nice file system of my tabs where I go, I would go home and I could kind of get to the same state, but doesn’t quite work the same way as I put the folder in on my desktop and I went home and it showed up.

Rich Ziade: It’s another problem I, I’ve seen Jeff, he can’t, [00:11:00] he’s lost track. He’s trying to find a thing in the tabs.

Paul Ford: Here’s the thing-

Rich Ziade: It’s a disaster.

Paul Ford: Your web state is, is aligned with all these different identities, emails, passwords, things that you have.

Rich Ziade: Yes.

Paul Ford: Like there’s all this a document, it looks, doesn’t look the same if you just open up a webpage as if when you’re logged in.

Rich Ziade: Yes.

Paul Ford: And so it has to keep like the-

Rich Ziade: Oh, you get logged out, by the way, Jeff has kept his tabs open for three weeks.

Paul Ford: This is, oh, sure, that’s the whole point. This is why files can be really good, right? Because it’s just, it’s just a file, you put the PDF in the folder.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: And it’s gonna be.

Rich Ziade: That’s why PDFs are still durable, right?

Paul Ford: And it’s gonna be that PDF forevermore.

Rich Ziade: Yes.

Paul Ford: Whereas the webpage will change it’s dynamic.

Rich Ziade: So the sin, there’s a few sins here.

Paul Ford: Okay, lets get some sins. I love sins.

Rich Ziade: One is, um, the idea humans love to collect. They love to collect and the tabs open is just another form of collection. Startups like Pinterest… and others.

Paul Ford: Boy, I missed, I [00:12:00] used to take the-

Rich Ziade: They love to collect.

Paul Ford: I used to take the express bus when we had the office in Manhattan and you get on the bus and this doesn’t work quite the same in the train cause everybody on the train is looking at their device, but you can’t see what they’re looking at.

Rich Ziade: Sure.

Paul Ford: But when you’re on the express bus and you wa- you can actually look over everybody’s shoulder as you’re going back and forth.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, what are they doing on those phones? Candy Crush.

Paul Ford: They are– a lot of Candy Crush, absolutely.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: But also scrolling shopping sites and Instagram, but not Instagram– I saw less and less social influencer Instagram and more and more product.

Rich Ziade: People love to shop.

Paul Ford: They love to shop.

Rich Ziade: Love to shop.

Paul Ford: And I, I do feel that like we can be a little holier than thou in our industry. These are like people, these are people who work as executive assistants from at Garrettson Beach, they wanna look at shoes.

Rich Ziade: They want to look at shoes.

Paul Ford: They have other things in their life-

Rich Ziade: No, no-

Paul Ford: But when they’re like chilling out on the bus on their way home to like deal with their kids, their 15 year old who also just wants video games.

Rich Ziade: Yep.

Paul Ford: They wanna look at some shoes, look at [00:13:00] some baby pictures, and kind of get on with their day.

Rich Ziade: It’s fine, it’s fun.

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: Collecting is-

Paul Ford: I mean, I look you and I are absolutely-

Rich Ziade: Collecting is terrible on the internet. Um, another problem, sharing that collection. Sh– Jeff once said, Hey look, I did a bunch of research. I wanna show you all the different places I found.

Rich Ziade: And then it is-

Paul Ford: Oh, there’s so many.

Rich Ziade: It is just, it is the equivalent of digital vomit coming at me through messages, through emails. What’d you think of this one? What’d you think of that one?

Paul Ford: We want– alright.

Rich Ziade: It’s a mess.

Paul Ford: I’m gonna, I’m gonna be bougier than I normally am for a minute, okay? We won at the public school auction, an advisory from a guy who helps people furnish their houses. He tells them what to buy.

Rich Ziade: Fun.

Paul Ford: Oh, it was cool, and it was, it was a, it was for a good cause, et cetera. And so he came to our house and he looked around he’s like– and first of all, our lighting fixtures are from like Lowe’s in 1995, like if they look bad and they’re starting to falter.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: So it’s, it’s time for new lights, time for a rug, you know, all that stuff. So [00:14:00] he’s like, I gotcha, no worries. And about once a week, over the last six months, he sends us a totally different site for reviewing furniture choices every single time. It’s just like-

Rich Ziade: He’s trying different tools.

Paul Ford: It’s not just that, I think there’s just like, this is the one for rugs where you can do the rugs and this is the one for lighting.

Rich Ziade: I see, I see, yeah. By the way, it sounds like we’re stating the obvious and I think this is the, this is, now, let’s bring it back to Aboard.

Paul Ford: Okay.

Rich Ziade: Plenty of good clipping and collecting tools on the Internet.

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: Plenty of ways to share things on the internet.

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: Even collections of things.

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: And we sound like, it sounds like it’s 2006 as we’re right as we’re recording this podcast.

Paul Ford: I think it’s always 2006 on the internet.

Rich Ziade: That’s the thing, it’s still to this day, uh, tech loves its own echo chamber and the truth is it is still a [00:15:00] terrible mess. And there’s one more thing that’s happened, which will be sin number three for the next podcast.

Paul Ford: Okay.

Rich Ziade: Which is it’s getting more and more hostile to collect those things. It’s not, that,that laptop is overheating because there are about three dozen trackers on each webpage.

Paul Ford: It is true the entire Chinese government is launching balloons, it is [chuckles].

Rich Ziade: It’s just, it’s hostile, it’s hostile by the way, in terms of your information, which is well known. Like, oh my God, they’re, they’re watching me. But it’s also just, it’s a minefield. And the more, the higher the stakes, the more sort of hazardous the whole experience is. It’s pretty terrible, right?

Paul Ford: Well, I mean, let’s, let’s play it out. Um, you be a, you be like a consumer or human and say, Hey, I want to bookmark something. Just say that.

Rich Ziade: Hey, I wanna bookmark something.

Paul Ford: Well, have you used crypto? You wanna bookmark something? Have you used AI? You wanna bookmark something? Have you used…

Rich Ziade: Yeah, yeah.

Paul Ford: Like, it’s just everybody wants to solve the [00:16:00] interesting problem, not the actual problem.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, yeah. No VC wants to be pitched, I’m gonna solve for 50 tabs open.

Paul Ford: Yeah, trust me, we’ve pitched a lot of VCs.

Rich Ziade: [laughter] And so I think a lot of this is about the rest of us. All of us actually, most of us is the better way to put it. Um, and so ultimately, and we talked about this in the first sin podcast, this is about a sense of control. It’s about feeling like, I can, I can, I can window shop, I can do whatever I want on the internet, and then have a sense of control and a sense of clarity around what to do next.

Paul Ford: Alright, let’s hold ourselves accountable, cause we’re essentially, this is the Vaporware podcast at this point.

Rich Ziade: It is.

Paul Ford: So let’s say we just said some big things right here. When Aboard comes out and people are invited to use it, which won’t be long now, how will they know if we’ve succeeded on this front?

Rich Ziade: I think at first when they see the value proposition, [00:17:00] they need to very, very quickly say, okay, uh, can I have it? Can I try it? Because if you tell people there are about a dozen steps before they can do the thing, they’re never gonna do the thing. So it, the value has to be immediate right? For them to adopt it and try it. Once they try it, uh, how are they gonna stick to it? We know a few things about people, people love to collect, they love to show off their own knowledge, they love to share their knowledge with other people. And so can this tool very easily let people do those things? like, and, and make them feel good about doing those things? That is, how are we gonna know, we nailed it? I can tell you this, we, we know we nailed it, if people are engaged and spending a lot of time in this place.

Paul Ford: Okay.

Rich Ziade: I’m gonna make a prediction, Paul. This is not a technology challenge, it’s a design and cultural challenge. Has nothing to do with technology, and we’re a technology company.

Paul Ford: I’m with you. I love it, I like using it [00:18:00] and I’m excited for people to see it, but it’s good if we’re gonna, if we’re gonna show vaporware, we should hold ourselves to account when it actually comes out.

Rich Ziade: I think we have to, there will be a, a monumental moment when this podcast shifts to YouTube where we show this damn thing, and I don’t think it’s far away.

Paul Ford: No, it’s not far away. Well, so here we are, let’s get back to work.

Rich Ziade: Alright, follow us @aboard.com and @aboard on Twitter. Have a great week.

Paul Ford: Bye.