Podcast Episode 10: Web Sins #3 – Showing Off

By Aya Taher

[Unedited Transcript]

Rich Ziade: [00:00:00] Yeah.

Paul Ford: We’ve been talking about the sins of the web. Number three.

Rich Ziade: I love that we’re assuming that the entire web is Catholic, but let’s not

Paul Ford: fair enough.

Rich Ziade: Uh, yeah. The third sin, let’s set up. I don’t know if I’d call it a sin. I’d call it a, a forgetting our roots.

Paul Ford: Oh, okay.

Rich Ziade: I’m old.

Paul Ford: We’re a little out of touch.

Rich Ziade: I went to South by Southwest when the interactive part of South by Southwest wasn’t the biggest deal and wasn’t a massive spectacle.

Paul Ford: Let me describe South by Southwest to you.

Okay. It’s in Austin, Texas. Cool city every, yeah, I mean, used to be [00:01:00] cool. Austin used to be weird. Now it’s a city like Capital C

Rich Ziade: Yes,

Paul Ford: It used to be like the college town Plus. And it was the Oasis in Texas and so on. So big indie music scene. South by Southwest is the indie music.

Rich Ziade: That’s how it started.

Paul Ford: That’s right. And then they add early days for the web. They add, uh, interactive, something’s happening with technology. They had Texas instruments down there. They were

Rich Ziade: Come on over, come

Paul Ford: on over. Well let, let’s bolt a little, some CD rams onto this bad boy and see what

Rich Ziade: And

it was small.

Paul Ford: It was real small.

It was like, you know, web people who, you know, probably now no one even remembers showing up high fiving each


Rich Ziade: I mean this is one of those things where the promoter’s like, if this doesn’t work out, no biggie, . Yeah,

Paul Ford: let’s, there seems to be something here and then fast forward about a decade,

Rich Ziade: Eclipses

Paul Ford: It’s one of the weirdest thing. You’ve been a couple times. I’ve been a couple times. It’s just a very strange event. You know, you have like [00:02:00] people, uh, running around in petty cabs that are sponsored.

Doritos on behalf of the internet. Like it’s just a lot.

Rich Ziade: It became big. Why? Because a couple of big, a couple of internet startups became big

Paul Ford: That’s true. Twitter. Twitter got a Twitter, like didn’t, it didn’t launch it South by Southwest, but it got hu it got big at South by Southwest. That’s when it started to become part of the story. And so you end up in these vast conference halls with hundreds and hundreds of people and people like Mark Zuckerberg giving talks that are

Rich Ziade: Sure. It became, uh, it became an important, um, event for tech innovation and Silicon Valley

Paul Ford: sort of, it became a marketing orgy.

Rich Ziade: It it evolved into that. Yeah. And so it

Paul Ford: and, and you can’t get a hotel, et

Rich Ziade: yeah, it became a mess. But that’s, we’re not talking about today’s south by, we’re talking about.


South Bay used to be and how it really was this little community that showed up in person, which was [00:03:00] strange.

Paul Ford: So, wait, that’s not a sin. What is.

Rich Ziade: Well, the sin, and again, sin might be harsh,

Paul Ford: Okay.

Rich Ziade: you know, whatever.

Um, is that, if you look back on how South by started the interactive side of it, it was really just probably on the order of thousands. Of voices on the internet. When I say thousands, I mean people who embrace blogging. Uh, finally seeing each other in person.

Paul Ford: Right? Let, let, let’s say like the entire, there might have been like a million regular internet users and probably 5,000 of them

Rich Ziade: Or 10 million, it doesn’t even matter. The publishing part of it, the, the friction and the overhead to publish went down dramatically through innovations like blogging and, and tools. Blogging had been around, but you needed to install php then.

Paul Ford: people don’t, like if you’re young, you may not even understand this. Like you kind of [00:04:00] had to build your own blog. You would get code that doesn’t, you’d run it on your server and so on. So you’re, you’re looking at. Let’s actually frame, because I think this is important.

Let, let’s frame that for one second. Let’s say you wanted to run a really basic weblog on the internet in the early two thousands.

Rich Ziade: Mm-hmm. ,

Paul Ford: that’s 15 hours of work a week without the writing.

Rich Ziade: it was, I, I, I’d installed movable type many times.

Yeah. I’d installed WordPress a bunch of times. Um, you had to be technical and then, you know, people forget blogger. Most people who are younger than us don’t know what that is. Blogger really blazed the trail. For the input box as a way to just absolutely let explosive contribution happen on the internet in a big way, like it was acquired by Google.

Uh, eventually, Eve Williams, the founder, was also the co-founder of Twitter. I mean, but that is a pioneering moment in my mind of what was happening and. And at that point, what hadn’t happened yet was the idea of [00:05:00] monetizing and understanding patterns around behavior and seeing how to turn that into, into advertising yet.

And so it was communities, it was many, many communities. Right.

Paul Ford: It was also incredibly cheap, like it was in in comparison to any other form of distribution of content.

Rich Ziade: content.

Yes. The other thing I think worth mentioning is,

the mechanisms and the incentives around doing it were not around becoming popular. You’d never assume that this was gonna, there was no such thing as going viral back then.

It was like, okay, I have an idea about how to like write PHP better, so I’m gonna write this up.

Paul Ford: You did want attention.

Rich Ziade: You wanted attention, but the mechanisms, the technical mechanisms and the scoring wasn’t in place yet, which

Paul Ford: one second I mentioned in the village voice and it felt like the world had changed.

Rich Ziade: It’s wild.

Paul Ford: . I realized very early on I was never gonna be like famous. That was impossible. Not with the internet.[00:06:00]

Rich Ziade: So when did the sin creep creep in?

Paul Ford: Yeah. When is the

Rich Ziade: The good news about the sin is it’s not our fault as humans.

Paul Ford: thank God. I need one thing that’s not my fault.

Rich Ziade: The, the, the bad news is that it is. The, the commercialization of the internet, and I’m, I’m an unapologetic capitalist, right? Put mechanisms in place that are effectively shunned, smaller circles to the side in favor of amplifying content.

Paul Ford: This

is real, so I, I am an apologetic capitalist

Rich Ziade: Sure are.

Paul Ford: Okay, so. The giant platforms show up. Right. Your Googles, I don’t see, and what you’re describing looks like a conspiracy, but having lived through it, it’s not, it just, they were just like, oh man, all those little communities, good for them. That’s good.

But we’re gonna make this thing over [00:07:00] here that’s 50 cents cheaper. And it’s gonna be like, or it’ll be really, really easy to publish.

Rich Ziade: I’m okay with the 22nd dance routine. I don’t mind it. Um, if that makes you happy and it felt easy to put together. There are apps and tools that will like automatically edit and put music on

Paul Ford: You’re talking about like a TikTok.

Rich Ziade: Even YouTube shorts, uh, Instagram 22nd video.

Paul Ford: is anything more naked than YouTube shorts.

Rich Ziade: When I hear YouTube shorts, I think of a pair of shorts.

Paul Ford: It’s so bad. They’re just like, okay, fine. Portrait mode. Okay, fine, fine here. This what you want.

Rich Ziade: I’m okay with that. I’m, I’m okay with the creation of that content. Okay. I think what I struggle with, not that I struggle with it, I have two little kids and, but I, I’m as guilty as anyone else, right?

Is is that it is designed for, um, quick skimming [00:08:00] across lots of people rather than narrow deep connection with a few people.

Paul Ford: can lay this out for you in such a way that we can probably build our sin right on top of it.

Transactions are what matters to the giant platforms. so more transactions faster is better. So more videos, more ad views, more velocity is always better cuz you get more transactions. What can you do with a transaction? Transaction? I’m writing something to a database. Yeah, good for me. But then I can actually get information, although I can sell it to an advertiser

Rich Ziade: and that drives everything, but it also drives our behavior and it does something else.

Which is it’s, there’s a few, and this has been talked about plenty. There’s a few consequences to it. One is, um,

The, the, the impact level keeps going up to get our attention. So it either has to be a fight [00:09:00] or hilarious. Or tragic. Right. Or

Paul Ford: Let me see a couple different strategies.

You see the Instagram post where like a woman is pretending to nurse a cat on an airplane cuz she knows it will go viral in a like Americans or bananas kind of way. Correct. So there’s that. You got that and then you have the, like, no matter what it takes, I will polish this content until it is flawless and professional.

Uh, and it will cost an unbelievable amount of money to do. But I want that a.

and so it’s just, but there, there are these different paths that people go down. Outrage, expense.

Rich Ziade: so all of our bandwidth, Goes to consumption rather than connection.

And why? Because the platforms are optimized for you to consume right again and again and again. And if you don’t like it, go to the next one. And go to the next one. And go to the next

Paul Ford: one. Oh. The puzzle of human behavior is if you give people these options, they’ll kind of keep doubling down and you can go over to the side and make YouTube University. You can make [00:10:00] something really good and healthy.

We’re only gonna make kale in this channel. That’s right. But nobody watches.

Rich Ziade: Well, there’s good news. There’s a glimmer of hope. Paul,

Paul Ford: Ah, I like a good glimmer.

Rich Ziade: Pick just about any specialized corner of knowledge and look for it on YouTube, and you will find communities, you’ll find people who share information, acknowledging others in the same community.

Paul Ford: This is absolutely true. I’ve seen it with, since I’ve seen it with gardening. I’ve seen it all over the place, but hold on a minute. The problem with it. Is that I need to know about that community to find it, because YouTube never says, Hey, I plugged you into the algorithm, man. You look like somebody who could do a little gardening, I think could help you out here.

YouTube never does that. The algorithm never says, you know what? Take a break.

Rich Ziade: No, it doesn’t. And, and, and the only glimmer of hope you have is that if it does, watch what you search. And it’s like how to plant [00:11:00] cucumbers. It’s like, okay,

Paul Ford: Yeah, but without that initial intent. Without that initial intent,

Rich Ziade: still not a fan, by the

Paul Ford: you know, they give up. They’re just like,

Rich Ziade: no. They’ll throw you the cucumber.

It’s like, look, I’m gonna give you the cucumber video, but do me a favor. A dozen cats are about to fall off the side of a truck.

Paul Ford: Do you know what an incredible bummer it is at YouTube hq. When somebody gets into gardening, they’re just like, ah, man, our,

Rich Ziade: hit the ceiling

Paul Ford: oh, that’s $400 an AR poo to nothing.

Q how much The cucumber seeds cost rich

Rich Ziade: $2, $3.

Paul Ford: You are YouTube’s worst nightmare.

Rich Ziade: so I guess, I guess, you know, when we say sin, it sounds like there’s like, there are people to blame.

Paul Ford: Okay, rich. First of all, name The sin

Rich Ziade: Mainstream viral performance has pushed communities and deep connections between people to the fringes of the internet.

Paul Ford: All right, well, let’s, I can give it to [00:12:00] showing off is the sin

Rich Ziade: the, in a way, and I’m okay with people showing

Paul Ford: Everybody shows off a little,

Rich Ziade: Yeah. But the internet, the thing is, it’s such a shrill sound

Paul Ford: Oh, it’s a lot

Rich Ziade: to get noticed,

Paul Ford: You gotta yell

Rich Ziade: just say, check out my new button down.

Paul Ford: Gotta stomp your foot.

Rich Ziade: It doesn’t work. . Right. And so you have to keep dialing it up

Paul Ford: All right, so board is about to come out of Vapor Word World. We’re gonna be a real product in a couple months

Rich Ziade: It really is. Yes.

Paul Ford: We’re gonna, we’re gonna, that’ll change this podcast quite a bit actually, when we have a real piece of software.

Yeah. Okay. So how do we avoid this?

Rich Ziade: We’re not gonna reward popularity.

Paul Ford: okay?

Rich Ziade: We want a million. Little communities versus five communities with a million eyes on them.

Paul Ford: This is real. So when we, we started with our group wear product and we had an event and launched it, and then we looked at each other and we thought, this needs to integrate with more [00:13:00] of the web, and we don’t want to create huge communities.

They create tremendous drama

Rich Ziade: That’s right.

Paul Ford: That’s exactly right. Okay, so are, are we, how do we hold ourselves accountable?

Rich Ziade: Well, let’s make a commitment right here on this podcast, which will air in March, 2023, that we’re gonna not do certain things, We’re not gonna ever sell your behavioral data to anyone else.

Paul Ford: Personal

information about you Right?

Rich Ziade: And

someone may walk up to us and say, you know, I wanna buy you and do that, and now you can call us out on.

we don’t wanna do it. We can create a business and we can, that’s right. Build a

Paul Ford: Platform. Let’s be clear. That isn’t us saying we’re never gonna do advertising.

Rich Ziade: No advertising. That is ab,

Paul Ford: let me make it concrete.

You’re into gardening and you Aboard is a data management [00:14:00] tool and you collect a bunch of YouTube videos about

Rich Ziade: Garden. They promote some seeds to.

Paul Ford: that I know, that I know it’s gardening. I don’t say, Hey, you can come over here and get a look at Rich Ziti.

Rich Ziade: That’s right. My profile is not going back out into the world without me knowing it.

And this is, a lot of this has been talked about, GDPR is about that

Paul Ford: Right?

Rich Ziade: Um, we’re not gonna do

Paul Ford: Well, we’re not, which, which means a lot of patterns, like opting you into certain subscriptions or things without telling, you know, like, like if, if people want to give data, they have to know and they have to give you their permission and they, you have to, you know, and it has to be on them.

You can’t just be like, oh, uncheck these 50

Rich Ziade: People

listening to this may say, well, how are you gonna make money? There’s plenty of ways to make money. Uh, we’re, we haven’t figured them out yet. We’ve seen like, we’ve plotted like five that don’t include selling

Paul Ford: your look. Let’s just not suck. There’s lots of ways to make money without being a horrible marketing machine.

That’s right. All right. So the [00:15:00] sin is too much showing off an a structure that incentivizes performance.

Rich Ziade: Yes. And we want a structure that incentivizes community building in a really easy way. Uh, and the ability to share knowledge. Connect with others, maybe meet them in person one day.

The idea of a YouTube influencer meeting anyone is only, is viewed as only through a celebrity lens now, right? Like there’s no like, oh, I’d love to meet the 11 people who keep commenting on my stuff. It’s always like, I gotta cross a million and then I will go to the makeup conference and I will sign

Paul Ford: and I’m gonna self monetize.

Rich Ziade: Exactly. Exactly. Um, This is gonna, we are, we’ve been very transparent on this podcast. This is the Close it out Paul. Um, we’re gonna bob and weave. We have to, we don’t know everything yet. We can’t wait to get this into people’s hands so they can tell us what’s working and what isn’t. [00:16:00] Um, but there are certain principles I think that drive it.

Paul Ford: look, I think that’s a good baseline, which is this is a data product. We’re gonna do all kinds of things with data, but we’re never gonna tell anybody who you are

barring a subpoena Right. Even that, even though we’re gonna be careful,

Rich Ziade: to the Caribbean and dodge the subpoena or

Paul Ford: Although those are all real problems, but we don’t have ’em

Rich Ziade: we don’t have them yet. Alright, um, thanks for listening. Let’s go. More optimistic next episode. No more sins,

Paul Ford: sys, wonderful things about technology. Yes. All

Rich Ziade: All right, uh, you’re listening to the, uh, board podcast. If you’ve got questions,

Paul Ford: hello to board.com.

Rich Ziade: Have a wonderful week. [00:17:00]