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This week Paul and Rich eulogize the web, which has been dying since its inception. They compare the early, organic days of the web with today’s trends towards massive commercial centralization. They also talk about Outbrain and Taboola (“20 slides spread over 400 pages”), Disqus and Facebook comment threads, and the hellscape that is, leading Rich to declare, “Maybe the web sucks! Maybe it should die!”

Clarifications and Corrections

  • We mix up the WIRED “Web is Dead” cover from 2010 with a story from 1997 about Pointcast and push.
  • We also mixed up John Hermann and John Mahoney. Mahoney wrote about chumboxes.


Rich Ziade: Paul, are we going to do this again?

Paul Ford: Yeah, we’re going to do this again. Let’s do Track Changes, the podcast from Postlight.

Rich: Paul Ford, good to see you.

Paul: Good to see you, too. Do you know what Postlight is, Rich?

Rich: I do.

Paul: What is it?

Rich: It’s a web and app shop here in New York City. Just a kick-ass place, great collection and designers, engineers, product people, that just build build big, beautiful things. Big, beautiful tech things.

Paul: Couldn’t say anything better. The thing that is exciting is that boy are we humming.

Rich: We are humming.

Paul: We’ve got nine clients. Before we had two.

Rich: I think by the time this podcast airs, we’ll have twenty…six?

Paul: I think at least.

Rich: At least.

Paul: We’re just out there, we’re working, and we’re glad to talk to everybody who wants to talk to us. We are a busy little shop in New York City.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: And one of the things that’s working for us really well is this podcast. People are getting in touch.

Rich: You know, I think…we can’t have a whole podcast where we talk about ourselves, but I will just say one last thing. I love that we are going out of our way to have a place, and have a voice in the design and tech community, beyond just being a shop that does projects.

Paul: Yeah, we want to help. We’re starting to use our space for not-for-profit organizations that teach people how to code, like Girl Develop It, they’re coming in and doing stuff.

Rich: Yeah, a lot of cool stuff.

Paul: We’re very hands-off on that. It’s literally, if people want to do interesting technology things in New York City, and even if it doesn’t involve money, you should get in touch with Postlight. We like to talk to people and find out what’s up.

Rich: Yep.

Paul: All right, let’s get in the show, let’s go.

Rich: Let’s do this.

Paul: What’s your question?

Rich: I don’t know if it’s a question.

Paul: [sighs]

Rich: I’m going to frame it, and I’m going to frame kind of it cryptically. We were talking to someone, a thought leader, you could say. Definitely, if we named who we were talking about, I think most would agree that this is someone that is a pretty influential person that’s shaping the web today. They said something pretty provocative, I think. They said that the web is dying.

Paul: OK, well we’ve been hearing that for an awfully long time.

Rich: We have, we have, and this may be just another go around, I don’t know.

Paul: You know, let’s frame that. What does that mean that the web is dying? When people say that, they’ve been saying that for twenty years.

Rich: Wasn’t there “The Web is Dead?”

Paul: There’s “The Web is Dead,” there’s …

Rich: Because of PointCast or something?

Paul: Push. Push was the big thing.

Rich: Push was going to kill the web.

Paul: That was the first time the web died, was when Wired said, “The Web is Dead.”

Rich: Right.

Paul: It was referring to PointCast, which was a push network that would put news onto your screen saver.

Rich: Yeah, it was just a cl — it was like Times Square —

Paul: Mobile was going to kill the web.

Rich: People should go do an image search of PointCast, because most are not going to know — many are not going to know what we’re talking about.

Paul: Anyway, the point is that every couple of years, the web is dead.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: And what people are saying is that open set of standards and rules and protocols that make up the web that are very decentralized, so like, I set up a server, you set up a server, you put up a page and you link to my page.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: We don’t actually have to have any handshake deal to make that happen. That’s a big decentralized connected document. That’s the web, and it can do stuff, in JavaScript, and sing and dance. What people are saying when they say the web is dying, or that it’s going to die is that some new consolidated platform or thing is going to show up, and make all that other stuff irrelevant, because people are just going to prefer to use the one big thing.

Rich: Or two big things, or three big things.

Paul: Facebook is one of the big things.

Rich: Yeah, I mean, I’d frame it a little bit differently. If I had a big ambitious idea, because I want to write about hiking, and I want to put up great photo galleries about hiking, right? It is getting harder and harder to say, “OK I’m going to go buy a domain.”

Paul: I’m going to go buy, like,

Rich: Right. Which you can do. It costs $5, or whatever. They upsell you all kinds of nonsense, but you can do that,

Paul: Right.

Rich: And I’m going to start to put great content there.

Paul: So, “put great content,” do you mean I’m going to edit an HTML page and put up pictures, or get a blog, or —

Rich: Yeah, let’s not even get into that. Let’s say I’m going to even put a little money behind this. I’m going to talk to some great hikers, and have them do some stuff for me. It’s going to be really good, you know?

Paul: I’m going to make an awesome hiking web site.

Rich: I’m going to make an awesome hiking web site, right? And I haven’t thought yet about money. I just love hiking, and I want it to be great. And I’m going to assume that the environment I’m putting it in is going to be fair game. That that hiking web site will be found by people, will be indexed by search engines, so when people search for hiking, I’m going to be somewhere in there, and that links are going to get shared around, and word of mouth will get out there. I’m going to build a reputation, and build something meaningful.

Paul: That was my experience with the web in the ’90s.

Rich: It was peoples experience of the web in the 2000s, too. I don’t think you have to go far back for people to say, “You know what? I’m going to make my mark.”

Paul: Right.

Rich: And the prerequisite for this is that this is a place that is not owned by, run by, and there are no gatekeepers of commercial influence on the web. If you boil it down to the piping, it’s just this place.

Paul: So I’m really into hiking, and then somebody might make the “Hiking Site List.”

Rich: Correct.

Paul: And you go to, and I’m on there, and search engine X might go ahead, and when someone types in “hiking,” I’m number 20 on the page. That all works.

Rich: That all works, right?

Paul: What I remember from being in a world like that, I have web site called ftrain, and I don’t update anymore, but it was very early days. It was 1997 the site went up, in a slightly different form, but what I remember is that you could see people come in and find it, and they would make lists, and the search engines would find it. The key thing to remember from that era is that a good day might bring you a couple hundred people.

Rich: Right.

Paul: There weren’t that many people on the internet, so it’s easy to get pretty nostalgic for how tightly connected, and how much control we had, but the audience wasn’t there in the same way. It was a bigger audience than I could get going to Kinko’s, and photocopying a zine, but it was a much smaller audience than anything we could think about today. I hit many more people on Twitter than I did in the first 4 years of having a blog.

Rich: Fast forward to the reality of today. This is the argument by the way. We’re getting back to the statement that was made that the web is dying. The reality of today is that people aren’t on the web. That people are on Facebook, are on their phones, are using the five or six or seven popular feed-driven platforms, like Instagram and Snapchat and the like.

Paul: The old pattern was, I’m going to go look at this site, and maybe I’ll follow some links on that site to some other sites, and that will be my experience of the web.

Rich: Correct, and it was fair game. I mean, look it was hard. Still you weren’t going to just bump up against that quickly, but you really were on equal footing in many respects. A domain was a domain, and it’s a place where, frankly, probably trillions of dollars in value were created by allowing it to be this arena that wasn’t taken over or controlled by and particular commercial interest.

Paul: It was really a tricky, right? Because the early days of the web are not professional. The professional bloggers, the ones that I remember were, not even the mommy bloggers. That was a whole wave that came after. But some of the political bloggers, that scene, Talking Points Memo, and stuff like that really started to grow up.

Rich: Yeah, and many of them folded in. Andrew Sullivan ended up at The Atlantic, if I’m not mistaken.

Paul: A bunch of different places.

Rich: A bunch of places, the gravitational pull of —

Paul: He came out of the New Republic, and went back to —

Rich: To The Atlantic, and then he was spun out again, if I’m not mistaken.

Paul: He jumped from old media into this, so there was a precedent for him.

Rich: Yeah, but let’s not get hung up on him, though.

Paul: OK.

Rich: I mean, so what’s happening today? Facebook is pitching you and saying, look, billions are here. Don’t bother, effectively. Put it here, start here, and here. We’ll give you a model.

Paul: Get the likes.

Rich: Get the likes, and there are advertising opportunities within this ecosystem.

Paul: Oh God, I’ll tell you though, because I put up the page for Postlight on Facebook?

Rich: Mmmm hmmm.

Paul: And it’s just an endless, miserable come-on, from Facebook now that I have that page. Its just them going, “Would you like to promote this?”

Rich: You’re a company, yeah.

Paul: “You had five visitors.” First of all our website is doing much, much better out on the web than it is on Facebook. That’s notable. We’re not getting hundreds of thousands of hits or anything, but we’re getting plenty of hits. And Facebook just begs me, constantly, to promote the Postlight landing on Facebook. I went and looked, and it’s $10 to buy people.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: So that’s the equation of the web right now.

Rich: I mean, is it over? Is that free flowing ecosystem, where you can just do stuff without asking anybody’s permission. Is it over, because there’s been a land grab of all — the users aren’t there. Between apps and Facebook and a few other places, it’s done. Medium is probably the most obvious recent overture that is embracing this shift, and saying, “You know what? Check out our network.” They say the word network when they talk about themselves.


Rich: is a network, right? And when they say that, what they’re essentially saying is, “This is a carve out. This is a place where you would have otherwise had to stand on your own two feet.” The Medium value proposition isn’t just the network, it’s the tools, too, right? Forget all that other work you have to do. Forget, even thought it’s pretty trivial to stand up WordPress, or whatever.

Paul: We say it is. It’s actually not.

Rich: It’s actually not. And it’s beautiful editor —

Paul: For someone new to this, it’s three or four weeks of work to really get on the other side of WordPress.

Rich: Correct.

Paul: And that’s actually — I rag on WordPress a lot, it’s as good as it gets for a classic, content-management blogging engine.

Rich: Yeah, that’s right. And so: is this bad? I was actually having that conversation with a friend, and sharing this exact topic, and he said, “So what? What’s the big deal?”

Paul: Rest in peace. Onward we go. Thank you, web, for getting us started.

Rich: You could draw this pie chart where the web, lower case w, ends up being 20%, and then Facebook’s like a fat 42%, and Medium’s a 26%, or whatever is left is eaten up, right?

Paul: There’s another point here too, is that Medium, Facebook, Twitter, whatever, they’re all truly built on top of the web, and web technologies, and continue to be.

Rich: That’s true. To be clear, the web is still the piping.

Paul: The infrastructure, the piping of the web, that’s not going to go away, because if you are like us, if you’re a company that delivers engineering services, if you have engineers, it’s the only thing that everyone kind of all works on. If you say, “I’m going to make a public API,” that means you’re going to have servers that send JavaScript in the form of JSON to clients. Whether you understand those words or not, everyone knows what that means if they work in this business.

Rich: The piping is the piping.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: Yeah. Agreed. When he confronted me with, “So what?” It took me a minute because I didn’t really have a great — I mean, there’s a bit of nostalgia, there’s a bit of “OK, this can’t be great,” because what you’re essentially saying is, this is to me the equivalent of all the little coffee shops in that charming town —

Paul: Starbucks.

Rich: —are gone, and there’s two Starbucks, and a Dunkin’ Donuts. You recoil from that, because that’s just a little sad, the charm, the independence, the uniqueness of these places. I mean, let’s face it, Medium — I actually think Medium is great by the way, because I feel like I have to wash my hands after using any other part of the web, and Medium has actually tried to create a place where people are asked to pause and not put garbage up for clickbait, or to just get traffic. I really respect what they do. At the same time, everything looks the same. I mean, everything looks the same. That is because you live in their house, and you’re sleeping over for a night, and that’s it. Well, I —

Paul: Yeah, but we all lived in Myspace’s house, and …

Rich: Look what happened?

Paul: They let us do whatever we wanted, and then …

Rich: Look, I thinks it’s good —

Paul: I should actually pause really quickly, too. I’ve been an advisor at Medium for a while. I own part of that company now, I hope.

Rich: Yeah, you’re actually wearing a Medium t-shirt as I make this —

Paul: That’s right, not just t-shirt.

Rich: —as I share these thoughts.

Paul: Not just t-shirt.

Rich: This isn’t to imply evil, or ill intentions, or anything of the sort. It’s just a shift that’s happening. And it is bad?

Paul: Well here’s the — OK, so …

Rich: I don’t know.

Paul: Let’s hit pause for a sec, because —

Rich: —that’s a gross generalization.

Paul: There’s two waves on the web, so the web shows up, and it’s, “Hey there’s this new thing that everyone’s going to do, and actually the old way where you made the pages, that’s no longer relevant. It’ll be mobile, or it’ll be PointCast, or it’ll be giant platforms like Facebook. I would say first of all, I think Facebook is the first true threat to “the web” that has ever existed.

Rich: I agree.

Paul: Facebook is enormous. It has billions of users. Some of those users do not know that there is a thing called the internet. They do no know that Facebook has anything to do with the web. They know that they get on their Facebook on their phone.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: That to them is their experience of all telecommunications. If you look at Facebook’s acquisition strategy, they do things like buy Whatsapp. God forbid someone in Lebanon, or, you know, like, discovers the web. They instead, they’re going to be talking on Whatsapp which is incredibly dominant as a communications platform, and Facebook knows about what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, where the are, and so on, and so forth. So that’s a control that, that giant decentralized system then emerged out of the web never attempted to exert over people.

Rich: Yep.

Paul: And Facebook as an enormous global company, does have direct interest. Even if you assigned to it the most benevolent purposes, it has direct interest and understanding who people are, where they are, what they’re reading, why.

Rich: It’s a publicly-traded American company. I mean, again, it has a particular set of obligations that are part and parcel of being a public company.

Paul: One of the challenges I have is it’s so —

Rich: I’m OK with that. By the way, just to disclaim, I mean, you’re an advisor for Medium, I’m a thriving capitalist, so.

Paul: Here’s the thing that I actually find tricky, but you know there’s a funny thing, you’re a, you were a lawyer at one point, and I find one of the things you’re really good at is getting into a neutral zone, and trying to just look at things as they are. A very legalistic mindset. “OK, here’s the law. Here’s what people are doing. So on and so forth.” I feel that with the web there is a sense of obligation, and a sense of betrayal, when we talk about the web dying. It’s not just, “Oh this technology is no longer fashionable,” like nobody listens to old time radio, or make old time radio shows any more.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Most cars have modern transmissions.

Rich: Yep.

Paul: That sort of stuff. We don’t cry for manual transmission all that much.

Rich: Right.

Paul: But we do cry for the web, because there’s a sense of community that emerged, and then there’s a sense of betrayal. And what I noticed, you know, the thing that I noticed that really started to get to me was around early 2000s, people that you knew, that you’d see at conferences, that were really big web people, they’d be like, “Oh, I’m working for Google now.” You’d be like, “Oh cool. What are you up to?” They’d be like, “How’s the weather?”

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: They’d pulled themselves out of the conversation in the interest of the business.

Rich: Sure.

Paul: And I feel that that to me, the web was a set of technologies that allowed you to publish web pages, but it was also a community that was looking for new and dynamic ways to communicate more — more effectively, more intelligently — and do more with that platform. That’s still there. There’s still a core of that, but there reality is that as these giant platforms emerged, they would pluck people away from that conversation, and the conversation would just stop.

Rich: Yeah. They had to go and swear allegiance to the company. Captial C.

Paul: When we talk about the web being —

Rich: That’s OK. I feel like we’re framing this as, look at the evil corporation —

Paul: No, I don’t think that.

Rich: —that swooped in on the web?

Paul: When we talk about the web being dead, what we’re talking about is something really specific, which is that the platform, the technology that makes up the web.

Rich: Thriving.

Paul: That’ll be here a thousand years from now.

Rich: Thriving.

Paul: Absolutely, and that’s great, because I can go still make that web page that I could make in 1997, and it still works exactly the same.

Rich: Yes.

Paul: Some really good things are happening there, but the conversation about that world, that decentralized world where we were all sharing ideas, that may be dead, that may be over, because giant orgs suck those people away and give them jobs and tons of money before they can even contribute to the larger cultural conversation that we were having.

Rich: Maybe this was inevit — I mean, I feel like there’s a strong analogy here between, sort of, us being small, agrarian, and grandma’s pound cake was just so good and fresh, and then industrialization kicked in, and mass production kicked in, and Wonder Bread showed up. It made it all the same, and cheap, and available, and less interesting. Hey, maybe the reaction’s coming. Maybe USDA organic will be on the bottom of web sites.

Paul: That’s right.

Rich: Years from now —

Paul: There’s absolutely like an indie web scene, and an indie movement, where —

Rich: Right.

Paul: It’s like anything, are you going to cut and paste that line of code, or are you going to go ahead and just update your blog on Medium, or put a wall post up, or Tweet? My God, just Tweet.

Rich: Right. I mean, I think that’s right. I don’t even think Wired believed the web was dead, when they put, “The web is dead.”

Paul: No, of course not.

Rich: —on the cover. Dying is dramatic, right? Good, strong topic. But it’s an interesting time, though. This is a pretty important shift for the web.

Paul: You know, I’m going to make a point too, which is that, I would say, and this is impossible to quantify, but the conversation that was going on as people bounced from page to page, was very diverse. It was “I am — ”

Rich: It was wild.

Paul: It was, “I’m an African American wheelchair dancer,” and the you’d click a link, and it would be, “I’m a mushroom obsessive,” and that was a natural transition. You go boom, boom, boom, and it would just be experience after experience, person after person, people who were essentially in cults, people who were getting their PhDs, all of that. The conversations that I see happening, even on global giant platforms like Twitter are boring as crap. It’s the same stupid argument over and over and over again. You tune in and out. I tune in and out.

Rich: Yeah, it’s tiring.

Paul: The variety isn’t there. On one side you have people being like, just the diversity argument. I’m dead-set that tech has a huge problem that, you know, I’m a pretty left dude. I see the same old arguments over and over again, and it’s like people are inventing them.

Rich: Yeah. I mean even going beyond arguments, what’s going on at the bottom, the bottom of the web page has lost its mind.

Paul: Oh, the footer?

Rich: There’s like eight boxes at the bottom. It’s sort of like, I thought I was just going into a DVD shop, but I ended up in that aisle.

Paul: What do you mean? I don’t understand.

Rich: OK, I read an article, oh it turns Ryan Gosling is making a movie, and it’s a movie that looks pretty cool.

Paul: Oh, I like Ryan Gosling.

Rich: Then I scroll to the bottom, and there’s a little box there, and it says, man with three feet —

Paul: Oh yeah.

Rich: —trying to just compete in the Olympics.

Paul: It’s big, crepey skin, real problem that —

Rich: Crepey skin. I mean, you could go on and on.

Paul: There’s an article if you Google “chumbox.” What people call it is the chumbox, but it’s the product of companies like Tabula or Outbrain. They put those little links in.

Rich: It you just feels so gross.

Paul: What you feel is the desperation of publishers who are like, “How do you get this out of there? How to do it? I got to put it on there. Oh, payday loans, crepey skin.” What I love are the ones that are just like “The Five Child Celebrities Who Grew Up Ugly.” Literally things that are not just — you can have a lot of empathy for the young person who’s in the content industry, who’s like, “All right, I got to make the lists.” OK, fine. Then you see something like that. That person is just a frickin diarrhea monster, I just …

Rich: Well it’s so basic. They’re not even trying. “Oh Rich seems to be into basketball. Let me give some more basketball links.” No. No matter who you are as a human being, you want to see what happened to that child star, or you want to see, you know, it’s usually the —

Paul: Do you ever click through to those sites?

Rich: Oh yeah.

Paul: Oh yeah, it’s just like —

Rich: It’s just a bad part of town.

Paul: It’s 20 slides spread over 400 pages.

Rich: It’s unbelievable, it’s unbelievable.

Paul: You get lost immediately.

Rich: You just keep going. For some reason when you’re in it, you just keep going.

Paul: I think comments got so bad. For a while people thought comments would be what would give you traction, and then you could — but that just ended up being a nightmare. Then everyone started farming out comments to Disqus. Disqus!

Rich: Disqus, or whatever it’s called.

Paul: I always see Disqus as like the FEMA trailers of the internet, where it was just like, “Oh, this is a disaster. Let’s put down this temporary housing and hope it all works out OK and then later we’ll come back and figure it out.” And then you come back five years later, and everyone’s just really angry.

Rich: Yeah, it’s the bad scene.

Paul: Then all the Facebook discussions which are just a running nightmare. 30,000 responses to some —

Rich: Maybe the web sucks. Maybe it should die.

Paul: There’s a problem when you get two billion people doing something.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: You’ve never had two billion people just yelling and screaming all at once before.

Rich: Credit to Medium, unless it’s in the feature, in the roadmap, there’s no slide shows, you just can’t do it.

Paul: You can have lots of pictures up on the screen though.

Rich: Yeah, it just doesn’t serve well.

Paul: It’s not like that. No it’s not.

Rich: It doesn’t serve. The typography kind of shoos people away.

Paul: It’s not like 150 ducks that can’t say no.

Rich: You know what? The hell with the web.

Paul: No, I’m not done.

Rich: OK.

Paul: I’ll tell you why, because we haven’t solved for composition yet. There’s still, like, Medium is great, but it’s about writing articles, and Twitter is about writing Tweets, and Facebook is about having a network unto itself.

Rich: Yup.

Paul: We’re in here. We’ve been making podcasts and watching, trying to distribute the mountain to the world. It’s a mess. You can’t make a podcast in a web browser yet.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: You could —

Rich: Creation.

Paul: There are tools that let you do it, but it’s not in the same way that putting up a blog post is. There’s all sorts of creative things that human beings like to do, that we haven’t even started messing around with yet. Honestly, they’re just not going to get built on top of Facebook, because Facebook doesn’t care.

Rich: I think you’re right. I think the tools, like, why was there enough room for Medium to show up? I think Medium was very thoughtful about the tools.

Paul: That’s right.

Rich: The tools of empowerment and communication. I think when you do it right, people will come to it, but it’s like, “Wait a second here, you’re giving me the mic.” I think that’s incredibly powerful.

Paul: Obviously I’m biased in a lot of ways, but that is a good way to compose stuff in a web browser.

Rich: It’s great. It’s beautiful.

Paul: You can just get the work done.

Rich: Yep, agreed.

Paul: And so I feel that, I mean, Google Docs is still of the web, in a way. There’s just stuff to be done.

Rich: I think you’re right. I think tooling — there’s opportunity in tooling.

Paul: People are nowhere near done communicating. They’re nowhere near done experimenting with new ways to communicate. That’s going to be going on forever, because we just keep reinventing, and sometimes we reinvent the wheel. I’ve seen articles in magazines reinvented 45 billion times, with very little effect, but every now and then something pops up. The weird thing is it pops up, and then it becomes a new centralized service, like Twitter. Twitter is just blogging.

Rich: Yeah, short form.

Paul: It’s incredibly accelerated blogging.

Rich: Right.

Paul: It became a giant, whatever, billion dollar platform.

Rich: Yep, so there’s hope. OK we started with the web is dead, then we decided the web is garbage, and then we came to ‘if you empower people and give them the right tools, we’re all going to be OK.’ We got to end this on a high note dude.

Paul: Well it’s not just a high note. Humans are on the hustle in general, right? I find Twitter exhausting. I find Medium a good place to create. I really like that. I find Facebook to be powerful, but also just like, I don’t know what it’s for any more. I just seems —

Rich: It’s utility at this point, all right.

Paul: Yeah, you advertise on Facebook, and …

Rich: My uncle is just utterly vulgar on Facebook.

Paul: Oh, that’s awkward.

Rich: It’s just so weird. I can’t — I guess I could unfollow him.

Paul: You can’t unfollow your uncle.

Rich: He’s 56, and he puts just the grossest, greasiest stuff up.

Paul: [disgruntled sigh]

Rich: In between like, you know, “Hey, twenty seconds to make a cinnamon bun.” Facebook’s just chaos, I mean, it’s just chaos.

Paul: It’s just people as they are, without — it doesn’t really help them get better. It just …

Rich: He’s also like, “Join me and play Jelly Jam.” He doesn’t know what he’s pushing when he’s opening those JavaScripts.

Paul: He’s never read the web like you do.

Rich: Right.

Paul: It’s like this is a bucket. You throw stuff in the bucket.

Rich: Right. This is not, I mean, fairly certain he’s never going to listen to this, so I can talk shit about him.

Paul: I would say it’s about, I know your uncle. It’s about a 1,000% chance he will never listen to this.

Rich: He’s not going to listen, yeah.

Paul: I think that’s the thing. There are an enormous range of opportunities for people to come up with new ways to communicate. We’ve seen it five or six times. The social networks.

Rich: It’s simpler than communicate. You’re narrowing it when you say communicate. I think it’s expression, actually.

Paul: Right.

Rich: It can be very basic, very simple. Apps are sort of feeding the beast right now though. There’s so much out there right now in terms of —

Paul: Well there’s Snapchat. Remember when that game, that Draw Something game, that took — I think these things are more fashion-driven than they used to be. They don’t even last long enough for them to —

Rich: I don’t even know if that’s the web any more dude. I know if we talk concretely about “the browser?” I’d love to bring two twelve-year-olds in here and talk to them about the browser, and see what they think of it. I’d love a quick poll amongst twelve, eleven, ten, twelve-year-olds about what they’re doing in the browser. You’re going to see very little.

Paul: At best Wikipedia.

Rich: If that, if that.

Paul: [sigh]

Rich: We’re screwed. It’s over. It’s dead. We tried.

Paul: We better go build some apps. I need those kids to get off my lawn. You know what? Let me tell you something. I don’t have a lawn.

Rich: Right.

Paul: I live in a condo.

Rich: There you go.

Paul: I don’t know. I just don’t buy … It keeps dying. Everyone keeps saying it’s over, and then something pops back up.

Rich: Really quickly, this is a narrow discussion about what the web is. The web is a billion things, and we talked about content effectively just now.

Paul: That’s true.

Rich: There is commerce. There’s all sorts of tools. I mean, billions flow through eBay. Billions flow through Amazon. I mean there’s kinds of things that … People are doing their expense sheets in a damn web browser. That’s where it’s happening. This was a narrower conversation, because we were looking for dramatic effect, and we want to have a really sexy title for this podcast.

Paul: Yeah, that probably true. This is huge and complicated. It’s not over.

Rich: It’s not over.

Paul: It’s not over. It’s not done. There is no single thing that you can point to and say, “The web is done.”

Rich: Right, and that’s the beauty of it.

Paul: That’s probably going to be the case for the rest of our lives. I’m assuming a web browser will still be built into whatever computer I have jammed into my skull socket that runs straight down to my hip replacement when I’m 85.

Rich: Ideally.

Paul: Yep, I hope so. I hope there’s a browser. I’m sure we’ll still be arguing about HTML standards.

Rich: I doubt it.

Paul: Yeah, you might be right. I don’t know. Maybe computers will just be talking to us at that point, and telling us where to go.

Rich: That’s another topic.

Paul: I think we’re going to run out of time.

Rich: We’re going to run out of time, but I’d love to talk about talking to computers.

Paul: We should get a talking computer in here.

Rich: We should interview it.

Paul: Yeah, I think we better.

Rich: Something that ties into this is

Paul: Yeah. I’ve notice that ties into a lot of things, when it comes to you. You love

Rich: The colors in …

Paul: Let’s tell people what this monstrosity is.

Rich: All right. I mean, it’s That’s

Paul: W-I-S-H.

Rich: .com, and there’s the apps, Wish, the Wish apps, right? It’s essentially a store.

Paul: It’s a nice web store.

Rich: It’s a web store. You go on there and you sign up, and you’ll get to see all the products for sale. It is chaos. First off, everything is less than $10.

Paul: Everything?

Rich: 90% of the stuff on there is less than $10.

Paul: I’m looking at it now. There’s a very nice blue dress —

Rich: OK.

Paul: —and it’s $9.

Rich: As you scroll through, it gets more and more pornographic. It’s really weird.

Paul: Oh, there’s a phone — there’s a smart watch.

Rich: For $3.

Paul: $12.

Rich: $12, exactly.

Paul: Selfie stick for a buck.

Rich: We’re making jokes. This is a multi-billion dollar e-commerce platform. It’s huge. Their trick is two things. One is they have a premise here that they go with, and they’ve said this pretty openly, that if it’s less than a certain amount of money, people don’t think. They’ll just buy stuff. They’ll just buy shit. Which I think is true. You just sit around. You’re sad for some reason. You don’t know why, and you just go on Wish, and you’ll buy something for $7.

Paul: Sure. Here’s a lot of iPhone lenses that you can —

Rich: A lot of phone accessories. A lot of weird underwear, a lot of phone accessories, a lot of strange hoodies, like really weird looking hoodies.

Paul: Yeah, a derby cap to two bucks.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: What I notice about this — sunglasses for a dollar — is that …

Rich: It’s surreal.

Paul: … they don’t even try to make the photographs look, like usually when you’re selling a knock-off, you go and get the hottest possible photo. Here it looks kind of janky.

Rich: Oh, I got to tell you. I spent ten minutes trying to figure out if their “fusion razors” were Gillette Fusion razors, because Gillette Fusion razor, four razors is $130. They’re really expensive. The packaging was exactly the same. It said “fusion” on it, but it’s obviously not the same ones, because it was $4. But this is what this site does. Basic rule number one, keep it cheap. People don’t think when it’s cheap. Rule number two is they don’t have an inventory. When you buy something they send a email off to the factory in China to make it. It takes time to get your thing, because it doesn’t exist anywhere.

Paul: I’m looking at these $1 unisex sunglasses. Can I read to you the description?

Rich: Yes, please.

Paul: 1.) 100% brand new.

Rich: [laughter] That’s amazing.

Paul: 2.) High quality, durable, convenient to carry. 3.) Versatile for use.

Rich: I think —

Paul: 4.) UV protection. That’s like the only real feature. 5.) Nice design, fashion, and p.

Rich: And “p”?

Paul: I think it cut off in the CMS. [laughter] Just the letter p.

Rich: I mean that’s pretty amazing isn’t it? Now you’re thinking “Oh these guys, wow, they’ll be out of business soon.” They are, if I’m not mistaken, Facebook’s biggest advertiser.

Paul: [low whistle] This is the future of garbage commerce. This is where you used to go to —

Rich: It’ like a 99 cent store.

Paul: But for the entire world.

Rich: Yeah. You ever by those cookies, those wafer cookies at the 99 cent store.

Paul: 99 cent store food, unless your actually a heroin addict, it’s a sign the everything in your life is going wrong.

Rich: It creates this layer of weirdness on your mouth that stays there for like six hours.

Paul: It’s really bad. Drug store food is really bad, and then the layer down from drug store food —

Rich: —is 99 cent food.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: Drinks.

Paul: Lemon cookies, and —

Rich: Oh, lemon cookies, yep.

Paul: Oh, the drinks, that’s true, or the off-brand, but same soda, but it’s from another country.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Like Indonesian Diet Coke, this is different. It’s still good, it’s just different.

Rich: We’re sounding a little elitist right now.

Paul: No, it’s just like, stuff comes off a boat at weird times. New York City is also, when people are listening to this, stuff falls off the boat into stores in New York City.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: And so like most of the batteries I own are Chinese.

Rich: That’s bad?

Paul: No. I mean, they just come in. When you buy batteries at the store —

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: —for your kid’s toy, or whatever.

Rich: Yeah, it’s junk.

Paul: You realize they’re … No, not even junk, they’re just Chinese batteries. They’re still Duracell.

Rich: Oh, oh, oh, I see.

Paul: They’re from the Chinese market.

Rich: Right, right, right, right.

Paul: Well look,

Rich: I mean, visit First off, we’re giving it hell, but every everyone should go check it out.

Paul: Do you feel this is the future of commerce?

Rich: No, no. It’s just this junk store, where you get to hang out for a little bit.

Paul: All right, but this is the thing. The like totally decentralized, they own all the relationships, but don’t have any inventory.

Rich: I think Wish is going to go the way … I’m going to go on a limb here. They are going to go the way of Groupon. It’s going to be faddish.

Paul: Ahhhh.

Rich: That’s my sense. Because you don’t need it. You never bought anything you actually needed on Groupon, so they’re not really building a relationship with the customer.

Paul: Is that what happened with Groupon? It was so big. It was so hot. It was $6 billion. They —

Rich: How many frickin’ massages are you going to buy, because it’s $40?

Paul: Well, that’s a good point. None.

Rich: Right. You do it because you’re like, “Wow that’s a deal. I want in on a deal.” Eventually it’s just, “OK enough. I got the high.”

Paul: Yeah, you don’t really get those stories any more about how the horrible Groupon people descended and destroyed a business.

Rich: Yeah, it’s over.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: Anyway, go check it out.

Paul: Well Rich, we did it.

Rich: We did.

Paul: We got through The Podcast.

Rich: Yes.

Paul: And our listeners got through it with us.

Rich: They sure did. Thank you for listening.

Paul: We’re all in a family now.

Rich: We are appreciating, I have to say, the feedback we’re getting and the audience that’s showing up on Twitter, and in emails, it’s great.

Paul: Yeah, we’re learning as we go.

Rich: We are.

Paul: We really are.

Rich: We’re honing.

Paul: We’re stumbling around a little bit in the dark, but we’re starting to get better here and there.

Rich: Yep, yep.

Paul: So the web —

Rich: The web’s going to be fine.

Paul: OK, that’s good, that’s a big relief for me, because I just started a web company. [laughter] Should we do this again in the future?

Rich: I think we should.

Paul: All right. Well you know what, so we’ll be back. If it strikes you as you go about your daily business, to go on iTunes and give us a 5 star rating, and a good review, go ahead and do that, and we will be forever in your debt, and eternally grateful.

Rich: And if you’ve got questions —

Paul: Send them to:


Paul: That’s the one email address you need for all of your digital needs. Goes straight to Rich Ziade and Paul Ford. This is Track Changes, America’s best podcast.

Rich: Winning.

Paul: Can’t wait to get back in here next week and talk more about something related to technology.

Rich: Yes.

Paul: OK, let’s go back to work.

Rich: Be good. Take care everyone.

Paul: We’ve got a bunch of meetings. Bye!