Get in touch

Postlight joins Launch by NTT DATA! Learn more.

We did another podcast. Lots of people listened to the first one. That was nice. Some people liked it. Some people had helpful hints, some people had more critical hints. We’ll keep going. All hints are sacred.


Paul Ford: Hey and welcome back to Track Changes, this is the second episode of our podcast. Not brand new but still pretty young. Track Changes is brought to you by Postlight which is a web app and product development shop in New York City. I’m Paul Ford co-founder of Postlight and right across the table from me is …

Rich Ziade: Rich Ziade, co-founder number 2 of Postlight.

Paul Ford: Rich, it’s great to have us here.

Rich Ziade: It’s great to have us here.

Paul Ford: Welcome back everybody. Let’s talk about today. What are we going to talk about Rich? We’re going to talk about Apple and the FBI.

Rich Ziade: We’re going to talk about Apple and the FBI. It’s exciting.

Paul Ford: We’re going to talk about a thing that we read on the internet. That’s going to be really something.

Rich Ziade: Also exciting.

Paul Ford: Oh men. We’re going to answer a question by a listener who wants to know how much she needs to learn about the web in order to be really good at the web.

Rich Ziade: Perfect.

Paul Ford: All right, let’s get going. Ready?

Rich Ziade: Let’s go.

Paul Ford: Apple and the FBI. Can you summarize what’s going on at all? Can anyone?

Rich Ziade: It’s getting more complicated each day.

Paul Ford: What are the basics? The basics is Tim Cook writes a letter, that’s when I started to pay attention.

Rich Ziade: Open letter.

Paul Ford: Open letter. Good. Another internet open letter, those are very important. Do you remember the first open letter you saw? It’s never a good sign.

Rich Ziade: No, usually it takes the tone of a suicide note often.

Paul Ford: It also shows how much Apple has changed because the last open letter with this level of gravity as Steve Jobs talking about how he was going to pull back from Flash.

Rich Ziade: I think that might be the last one. There was another one against using open formats for music. He also wrote that too, I don’t know if you remember.

Paul Ford: No, he was for open formats. It’s when he went over to like, “You have no more DRM.”

Rich Ziade: No more DRM.

Paul Ford: Apple has gone from, “No more DRM and we’re pulling back from Flash too. We refuse to create custom software to allow people to access iPhones for the FBI. That they can find out what’s on a mass-murdering, couples, terrorist’s cell phone.”

Rich Ziade: Correct. Apple is gradually stepping into the role of protecting our civil liberties, eventually things like voting, free speech. Apple has got our back down the road.

Paul Ford: It’s great to see corporations becoming the major way of protecting all of our rights. That’s a really healthy sign for our republic I think.

Rich Ziade: Goodness, it’s far gone.

Paul Ford: It’s great. I think because Apple doesn’t really have any motives aside from taking care of our civil liberties.

Rich Ziade: No.

Paul Ford: As a giant, publicly traded company that sells consumer products and has enormous investments in places like China.

Rich Ziade: Yeah. I mean you don’t have to default to a cynical view of a corporation.

Paul Ford: We’re a corporation.

Rich Ziade: We’re a corporation.

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: The position they’re taking is fine.

Paul Ford: We’re nice.

Rich Ziade: We’re nice, they’re nice mostly.

Paul Ford: Everybody gets along.

Rich Ziade: Yeah. I was thinking about this, I think part of why this is so sensitive is I think smart phones are just tools that help us really define and shape and express our identity.

Paul Ford: They’re super intimate.

Rich Ziade: They’re super and not just intimate.

Paul Ford: It’s just everybody has already got their fingers in and like AT&T and Verizon are all already over it and it’s just like, “Really you need more?”

Rich Ziade: Well it’s the way I show you the cinnamon buns I cooked last night. It’s a very personal thing.

Paul Ford: It’s awesome when celebrities get hacked and we see suddenly there’s celebrity nipples everywhere.

Rich Ziade: That’s right.

Paul Ford: It’s because they got into their phones. It’s not really, it’s their phone accounts.

Rich Ziade: Right.

Paul Ford: It’s not direct access. This is a little different, it’s almost like, “Give me a special key that will open up an iPhone.”

Rich Ziade: Yeah and I think the real crocks of the issues have actually all been confused and the debate is actually misguided because it turns out that we seed privacy all the time. Not all the time but based on certain criteria we give up some privacy. You hear about how absolute they’re trying to frame this, it’s silly.

Paul Ford: Wait what do you think they should do?

Rich Ziade: Well I mean it’s worth framing what’s going on here, right? The FBI historically has had the right to go into things to further an investigation. Usually the way it does it is by asking for the keys or the right to use a battering ram to go into someone’s house to search it.

Paul Ford: The safety deposit box.

Rich Ziade: The safety deposit box or the bank account. They do that by presenting enough evidence that, “Hey look, there’s some baseline evidence here, let us further our investigations.” When a crime happens and they put the yellow tape, you expect … I mean it’s almost a matter of fact that the police are going to come and search the place and see if there’s other information or evidence that’s needed. Really in the physical world it’s pretty normal. If you now-

Paul Ford: We’ve accepted that as a culture. There’s a lot of abuses happening, there’re a lot of issues related. It seems like just about everyone in America is like every now and then, even as a baseline, the cops or the FBI can go into a place and look through the stuff.

Rich Ziade: Yes. Now, it’s worth noting that there are mechanisms so that there isn’t abuse. An agency often has to go to a judge, make the case of why they need a search warrant. The judge sometimes may say, “This isn’t enough. I’m not going to let you break into that person’s house.” Sometimes they say, “Okay, this is compelling or it passes some threshold. Go ahead, go and invade that person’s privacy.”

Paul Ford: I wish we could hear a little more sometimes about the judges saying, “No.” Because what you hear a lot about, is when it breaks down and it break down a lot.

Rich Ziade: Correct, so what’s happened here is, there’s the San Bernardino shooters, some phones were left behind, the FBI is doing its investigation. They’ve been through the house, they’ve been through the cars, they’ve been through everything in their lives. Now they have their phones and they want to go through their phones and the battering ram doesn’t exist. They just can’t just pummel their way into the phone. They’ve gone back to Apple and said, “Could you just do me a favor and unlock this for me please.”

Paul Ford: “Give us a means to unlock it.”

Rich Ziade: “Give us a means to unlock it.” That’s right. Apple is like, “Well, no. We’re not going to do that because we want to protect the civil liberties of iPhone 5, 6, 6s, 6s plus owners.”

Paul Ford: Which iPhone do you have?

Rich Ziade: I have a 6s.

Paul Ford: I have a 6s plus.

Rich Ziade: That’s the framing. I mean that’s really what’s at play here. I think to argue, “Well we have the right to privacy, leave my phone alone and don’t touch it.” I think over simplifies it because there a certain criteria. There is a set of facts that can surround something where you should be able to get into someone’s stuff.

Paul Ford: Wait a minute, I can get really strong encryption programs and start going end to end on everything. Make it really hard for people to get into my stuff.

Rich Ziade: You can.

Paul Ford: Like mathematically almost impossible. It could be like a 50-year thing or it could be huge amount of resources to unlock what I’ve got.

Rich Ziade: I think eventually that’s going to be against the law.

Paul Ford: America will outlaw strong cryptography where it’s impossible to get in and look at the source material. They’re going to insist on a back door.

Rich Ziade: Well, yes I do think so.

Paul Ford: Do you think they could win that? It doesn’t seem like it’s possible. Software doesn’t work that way.

Rich Ziade: I know. I mean that’s the rub. Right? I mean that’s impossible, also hiding your drugs and your money in some volt offshore also makes it pretty impossible to get to. You can do a lot of things to skirt being found out. Right? A lot of people do that.

Paul Ford: Do you think it will be illegal?

Rich Ziade: Well I don’t know if it will be illegal. I mean, look, ultimately we as a society probably want it to be illegal because we have to be able to give a second set of keys to a government that is responsible for our safety.

Paul Ford: I don’t buy that. I don’t buy it all. I feel as this is endless, slippery, sloppy and never get done.

Rich Ziade: You want to eliminate search warrants for homes?

Paul Ford: No, I don’t want to do that unless there’s totally reasons for public safety that people could go in. Its information on a phone, it’s going to be encrypted. How are you going to put that back in the box?

Rich Ziade: You’re confusing the argument.

Paul Ford: You can’t make a door that can’t get battered down.

Rich Ziade: I think you’re confusing the argument. Look, fundamentally here, do you trust the government?

Paul Ford: No.

Rich Ziade: To take care of your safety. Okay, if you can’t get past step 1 then the encryption power part of it and the free speech part and all that other stuff is nonsense.

Paul Ford: How do we keep another J. Edgar Hoover from popping back up into the FBI?

Rich Ziade: Having mechanisms that balance things up.

Paul Ford: I mean once it’s in the zone or culture, once it’s human beings making decisions as to whether to apply the back door.

Rich Ziade: Then how can you ever trust the search warrant? Under your argument you shouldn’t trust any search warrant.

Paul Ford: I know but his is total … This gets into everything. Search warrants-

Rich Ziade: Homes?

Paul Ford: Yeah but this-

Rich Ziade: Homes? When they get a search warrant, they can destroy the house. They do destroy the house.

Paul Ford: Sure, absolutely. Statistically how often do search warrants get executed? How often? It’s not every day, every moment. If I want to hack into your phone every day and I have a back door to do it, I can.

Rich Ziade: You know what you’re getting at here? We balance a lot out for society to function. We accept that to have safety, we have to seed in certain circumstances and based on certain criteria, some privacy. We have to trust that there are mechanisms that are going to police when that privacy can be intruded upon. It’s not a blank check. Right?

Paul Ford: Sure. I mean we assume that a cop is going to check out our face when he walked by us on the BEU. He’s going to look at us and reckon. Of course, I get that.

Rich Ziade: No, let’s go really deep in there. Right? Let’s go there like surveillance. You can get a warrant to literally bug someone’s phone and listen to their lives.

Paul Ford: Sure man. I saw the wire.

Rich Ziade: Exactly.

Paul Ford: I’m an expert now.

Rich Ziade: Exactly. We agree, we accept that these mechanisms are necessary for law enforcement to function today. The thing is there is a baseline set of requirements to get that level of intrusion. What happened 4 years ago is Snowden-

Paul Ford: The phone system was essentially like a wing of the government for about 100 years. Right? They’re able to capitalize on that. There’s been a relationship between the United States government and the various varieties of phone systems since both of those things existed.

Rich Ziade: You’re hopping the technology because it’s complicated but really there’s something more fundamental broken. What’s fundamentally broken is that our trust in the government got busted like 4 years ago.

Paul Ford: I also think it just was Snowden I mean.

Rich Ziade: With Snowden.

Paul Ford: I also think-

Rich Ziade: Let me just finish the thought there.

Paul Ford: All right.

Rich Ziade: When Snowden revealed what he revealed, what he showed was that it wasn’t just that they’re listening to every phone, they’re listening to every conversation blah, blah, blah. What he showed was that those mechanisms that we trust, that police, that seeding of privacy were completely ignored. Where we’re at right now is, it’s like relationship. “I caught you red-handed, you cheated on me, I still love you. I need time, we need time to work it out. It’s been 3 years.”

Paul Ford: It’s the relationship between the American citizen and the NSA and [crosstalk 00:12:03].

Rich Ziade: I think it’s government when you say FBI and NSA and it’s just these incredibly powerful arms of government screwed up bad, really bad. To the point where when we look at government now, we don’t think about it. It’s like, “Fortunately they go to a third party, a judge who’s going to definitely really look out for our rights and make sure it’s police.”

Paul Ford: This is one of the things I react to because I think that everybody gets very technologically determined.

Rich Ziade: That’s right.

Paul Ford: Right, but the FBI and the NSA, they all do too. They’re like, “Hey, we could get into this phone. Therefore we must.” There’s no real discussion about that and that mentality led to the stuff that Snowden showed us. That’s just like, “Hey, we can listen to every phone call.”

Rich Ziade: We have to be able to trust that we can give the government a second set of keys. If we can’t trust that, then the arms of government that protect us and then keep us safe, pretty much are crippled.

Paul Ford: Socially it seems like literally no one left or right particularly trusts the government with the second set of keys.

Rich Ziade: Well we’re still burnt. It still stings, it’s been a few years.

Paul Ford: How would we gain that trust where we’d go, “Hey, any phone you need to get into, you can get into.”

Rich Ziade: No, that’s not the criteria. The criteria is I have the tools to get in and I have to go through these steps to gain the right to do it.

Paul Ford: The minute you do that isn’t China knocking at the same door that you just built in?

Rich Ziade: Let’s worry about ourselves first.

Paul Ford: All right but this is the thing. You open up the SA’s Pandora’s Box. Everybody certainly.

Rich Ziade: I don’t know, this is an American company based here. The American-

Paul Ford: Can you really call Apple an American company? Sure they were founded in America, most of their products are build in China.

Rich Ziade: Most of their money is in Ireland.

Paul Ford: Yeah, that’s right.

Rich Ziade: Put that aside for a second. The system that we have here which is the best system in the world. It’s flawed but it’s the best in the world, needs to be running on a certain level of … There needs to be mechanisms that ultimately they are based on trust. That’s what stings here, that’s what really burns here. China, it’s dirty to the core, right? It’s just understood that human rights and all the issues that exist in many countries. It’s just the case but here we have to be able to build on that foundation. If we can’t build on that foundation, something more fundamental is broken. Getting into encryption and phone lines and blah, blah, blah, that just confuses the discussion.

Paul Ford: Right, I don’t see anything that’s happening now that’s going to change that. Now we’re in a situation where no one trusts the government, everyone has phones, Apple is saying, “Stop.” The FBI is saying, “Go.”

Rich Ziade: I don’t think no one trusts the government. I think they did a poll and it turned out that most people want Apple to give. They’re thinking in an isolated case of terrorists phones but they want them to open them up for the FBI. I think there’re going to be laws, I think there are going to be mechanisms around those laws which are going to have checks and balances.

That an agency can’t just dip into your pocket. Just as there are checks and balances to pretty much do anything that’s intrusive on privacy and personal rights. That exists today and it’s going to be needed here. What Apple doesn’t want to get involved, it’s like, “Don’t make is us hold the key. Go make your laws and then we’ll give the key. FBI when the judge says you can go into someone’s phone, then you go do it.” I mean Apple is just worried about its reputation a lot.

Paul Ford: That’s right. If a law was passing and it just had to be there and that no telecommunication device can be sold without these capacities. Apple would almost definitely comply.

Rich Ziade: It would comply and it would have to comply legally. Here’s the thing-

Paul Ford: I mean it exists in the interest of its stockholders, they’re not going to support it taking this bold stand.

Rich Ziade: That’s right and does Apple trust the American government to give it that second set of keys and trust that the system that gets put in place is going to take care of things? Does it? Now does it trust? You can run down the list of countries it’s selling iPhones in but can we at least trust the structure and the mechanisms and the protections that can get put in place to protect privacy but at the same time ensure safety?

Paul Ford: I think they’re going to dig their heels in. I don’t think they will, I don’t think enough people do in the industry and particularly, especially after the NSA regulations. I think they’ll dig their heels in until the law is passed and then everyone will just show again. Be like, “Okay, here’s your back door.”

Rich Ziade: Yeah, I think this is going to play out.

Paul Ford: I don’t think there is a conclusion. I think this is part of life now until there’s some legal resolution. What do you think is going to happen?

Rich Ziade: I think there’s going to be a bandit in the near term, there’re going to be some decisions probably out of courts in the near term. I think ultimately, I think this too important. I think congress is going to get in on this and I think there’re going to be laws. I think Apple even said it, I think either Cook or somebody from Apple said, “Look, if congress gets involved then our hands are up.”

Paul Ford: Apple is a law abiding corporate citizen.

Rich Ziade: It reveals its hand, doesn’t it?

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: Right, which is, congress is not exactly pristine in its motive and intent, right?

Paul Ford: It’s shown tremendous understanding of technology over the years so it would be great.

Rich Ziade: Right, but you know what it does, it washes Apple’s hands.

Paul Ford: Mitch McConnell back door bell or whatever nightmare they may have.

Rich Ziade: It will be a cool name, we should think about that. Yeah.

Paul Ford: Yeah. I don’t know if there’s any, if anybody is listening to this, good ideas for what the horrible piece of legislation will be called. Remember we got the Patriot Act, we’ve got all these. The clipper check count.

Rich Ziade: It doesn’t need to be called the backdoor, that’s problematic to begin with.

Paul Ford: No, it won’t be called that. We call it like defending our children from terrorists’ technology infiltrate. It’s going to have an acronym.

Rich Ziade: Oh, yeah.

Paul Ford: Yeah, it’s going to be great.

Rich Ziade: Many be the word eagle will be in it.

Paul Ford: Eagle chip or something like that. All right, well look, that’s where we are. We didn’t end up in any obvious place because there is no answer to this situation.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, it will take some time.

Paul Ford: It’s going to take some time and it’s going to have to play out through the courts which is great. Because everyone has tremendous patience for the legislative process.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: Especially right now.

Rich Ziade: Everybody works together so we’ll bang this out.

Paul Ford: It’s a good time for it too. I feel that in America this is a great time for this issue to come up and to just be quickly resolved. By next week we’ll have some answers.

Rich Ziade: We’ll give an update.

Paul Ford: Let’s move on. There’s another thing to talk about today which is, like a week or 2 ago, this guy … Have you ever had heard of a man named Steven Sinofsky?

Rich Ziade: I have.

Paul Ford: Yes. This was a big Microsoft dude, right?

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: What did he do?

Rich Ziade: I think he flew the Window’s ship for a while.

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: Very successfully.

Paul Ford: This guy was the company in a way. If you had like Ballmer and you had Bill Gates and this one of the people who would be in the room with them.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, for sure.

Paul Ford: He got Windows out, he …

Rich Ziade: He left.

Paul Ford: He left and now he’s in the rich guys wilderness which is I think Andreessen Horowitz is what that’s called.

Rich Ziade: Right.

Paul Ford: He’s at a venture capital firm and he’s probably got some title like extraordinarily, powerful person.

Rich Ziade: In residence.

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, exactly.

Paul Ford: The guys who’s in between enormous companies and residents. He wrote a big thing on Medium which God, there’s a killer of an author.

Rich Ziade: Really?

Paul Ford: It’s like 40 million words but he’s the thing, it’s about product and about change. It’s about building things on the internet and putting them out in the world and how people push back. Let me throw something out. I think that Steven Sinofsky is one of the most influential people in culture because he shipped Windows and I think he changed the world.

Rich Ziade: Well I don’t know the history of Sinofsky in detail. My understanding is that he took Longhorn which was a mess …

Paul Ford: We ought to just tell, we can’t expect people to know what that is.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, true.

Paul Ford: Longhorn was going to be the new Windows like for about 7 or 8000 years.

Rich Ziade: Yeah and it got out of hand. They kept adding the rails.

Paul Ford: They added everything too. They were around Windows 95 and they had Windows Antigo and all that stuff was working pretty well. Then they’re like, “We got to get it right this time.”

Rich Ziade: It was all glossy and weird and it went 3D and-

Paul Ford: It’s classic second system syndrome. They were going to do it right and they added everything to it and it was slow and it was a dog. The end game on that was like Vista.

Rich Ziade: It was Vista.

Paul Ford: Which to get that Windows laptop with Vista and it will cost $700 and work beautifully for about 2½ hours.

Rich Ziade: Yeah and it would overheat.

Paul Ford: Then that first patch would come down the pike.

Rich Ziade: Yeah and then all bets are off.

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: Right, exactly. That he came in and he pretty much streamlined it and Windows 7 I think is his big badge for his time there. To me it changed the world, Windows 7. I don’t know if I equate Windows 7 with changing the world.

Paul Ford: I don’t want to say change the world in like the Gandhi-ish way, but change the world in, here’s an individual who made decisions that honestly put that thing back on rails.

Rich Ziade: That’s absolutely true.

Paul Ford: Really who knows which way windows was going at that point? The fact that we forget about it, everybody talks about Apple all the time because everything went mobile and they’re very powerful. You can’t mess with the overall cultural influence of Windows. It’s just enormous, [crosstalk 00:21:37].

Rich Ziade: No doubt at all.

Paul Ford: It’s the platform that everything shipped on forever.

Rich Ziade: Yeah and I think you’re right. He did put it back on the rails

Paul Ford: He wrote this piece on Medium, I should let people know I’m a Medium advisor and also that we publish on Medium. The piece by Steven Sinofsky is called ‘Why the heck can’t we change our product?’ It opens with the quote from JZ, ‘I drove by the folk in the road and went straight’. I think that that’s a problem there but let’s move on.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: We’re probably going to end up meeting this guy and have to explain why. Just like-

Rich Ziade: This guy being JZ or Steve Sinofsky?

Paul Ford: No, we’re never going to have to meet JZ.

Rich Ziade: Okay.

Paul Ford: There’s no situation we have. We might end up being in a room with Sinofsky but I can’t see a situation where we’d be in a room with JZ.

Rich Ziade: A Tinder. Is it Tinder? The music?

Paul Ford: No, Tidal. Tinder is really different, that’s the one where you swipe left and right.

Rich Ziade: The dating site.

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: Okay, I confuse the 2. Tidal.

Paul Ford: If you could mix the 2 together, can you imagine the power?

Rich Ziade: Just swiping and getting a song and a date.

Paul Ford: That will be amazing. These people like these songs, like just a purely music preference-based, swipe-driven, listening app.

Rich Ziade: I think you’re on to something.

Paul Ford: I think it’s just great. I think IEC should call me right now and we could be the next … What’s it called? Spot and dot, Tinderfy.

Rich Ziade: Well figure out the name later. IEC, we are Postlight. We do stuff.

Paul Ford: You know what it is actually and we created a new interaction called Swipe to play trademark.

Rich Ziade: Oh, bingo.

Paul Ford: Swipe to play.

Rich Ziade: It’s a pattern.

Paul Ford: It’s also not just to play music.

Rich Ziade: Okay.

Paul Ford: It’s swipe to play.

Rich Ziade: Okay, I mean this …

Paul Ford: No, I’m enjoying your … You were horrified.

Rich Ziade: No.

Paul Ford: Horrified but it’s great.

Rich Ziade: All right, continue. Sinofsky quote.

Paul Ford: You know what Rich, what I’m going to do, is I’m going to throw out a Sinofsky quote and then let’s talk about it.

Rich Ziade: It sounds great.

Paul Ford: Pretty much why we’re all here.

Rich Ziade: Yes.

Paul Ford: Changing something that people have an emotional connection to is difficult. An emotional connection creates expectations or even norms and the natural human reaction is to defend the status quo and maintain control. The discussions of change rapidly deteriorate the preference, taste or argument by analogy or assertion. All of which are very difficult to counter when compared to facts, stop watches or physics. The first thing I want to say actually about this is like that to me is archetypal, Microsoft mentality.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: He didn’t go. People really push back when you change something but I actually got it all the way to Physics in 1 paragraph.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, exactly. I mean this is a classic challenge with a product. He actually had the mother of all products that people got used to.

Paul Ford: I mean that’s the thing. That’s why I find this piece fascinating. Is that it’s all about how to deal with that but you’re talking to half a billion users who are all going to be disappointed.

Rich Ziade: You know what this is? This is Microsoft deciding to take out Solitaire in the next version of Windows. Literally, statistically more people will die in retirement homes more quickly if they did that.

Paul Ford: Sure it’s a brutal decision.

Rich Ziade: It’s a brutal decision.

Paul Ford: Everything they do is brutal like, “We’re going to change the start bar.” You’re going to get a letter from someone who’s like, “The only way my child can communicate is by using the start menu.”

Rich Ziade: That’s right.

Paul Ford: Those are the kind of consequences or you put the ribbon into Microsoft Word and you realize that what you’re doing is wrong and that it’s wrong for everyone. Everything’s going to be really bad for everyone forever but you do it anyway.

Rich Ziade: Yeah. I think there’s 2 sources a time. 1 is these tools become such a part of our lives and they become really good and even the bad parts of it. We just get to know it. It’s like that weird uncle that shows up for the holidays, he’s just weird and he’s going to say strange things. He’s going to make you uncomfortable but he’s your uncle. He makes you laugh, he comes every year, whatever, he’s your uncle.

Paul Ford: Right or there’s the guy who’s job is to back-up the server every night on a tape.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: Right and he’s been doing it for 14 years and he could be replaced by a 12-line script.

Rich Ziade: That’s right and so when you dismantle those things, it’s a pretty delicate thing. Then you have the pressure of a business to just do the next thing, it’s the new car model. Like a car comes, he’s never going to say, “You know what? This is ridiculous, we’ll come out with a new car model every 5 years.”

Paul Ford: He tells a story and that’s it. I hesitate to call it interesting but it’s interesting to you and me.

Rich Ziade: Which is what this is all … This podcast is about you and me.

Paul Ford: I worry about it. I worry about the things that we find fascinating and the tolerance of our listeners but let’s do it anyway.

Rich Ziade: Go.

Paul Ford: Sinofsky tells this story and I think this is really the reason to read this piece. In the 1990s, Sinofsky is a product manager at Microsoft, he’s working on Office. They have this, it’s a consumer product. You go to the store or you order it and you get a CD-ROM and you put it into your computer out in a box and so on. That’s a consumer product but what they wanted to do is transition it to an enterprise environment. Because what was going on is that … Who knows? General Electric would buy 30000 seat licenses

Rich Ziade: Sure.

Paul Ford: They didn’t have ways to manage those installations. A good example would be, “Do you get Clippy or the little dog to be your little virtual assistant? Does all the clip art come over on every hard drive installation. Right, things like that. Those are the problems you want to solve.

Rich Ziade: A way to distribute it across a big organization quickly.

Paul Ford: Microsoft went in and what they decided to do is, “Okay, let’s build a management tool to make it easy for people to do these installation, to make it enterprising.” The way they had to do it was like this complexly garbage format. Like all these crazy comments and 1 little file and you’d run it and it would install and you’d customize. It’s a deep, dark Arcane knowledge that only existed in Microsoft. Except when they went out, they found that all these people had learnt that format and were doing all their custom installations of Microsoft Office all the way across the enterprise. When they showed up with this really new, easy way to do it which they assumed to be well-received.

Rich Ziade: Revolt.

Paul Ford: Total revolt because what happened is the people who’d been heroes were now literally reduced to …

Rich Ziade: “Figure something else now to do.”

Paul Ford: Yeah. “Here’s the piece of software.”

Rich Ziade: “Yeah or get a new skill.”

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: Sure. I mean it’s the history of technology in a way. Right?

Paul Ford: I think that that’s why it’s such a good story because you’re just battling with that in little ways and big ways, all the time.

Rich Ziade: I mean, think about what you’re defining for that person. It’s not just, “Hey Jim, can you help me with this thing.” Jim is feeling good because he’s the expert. He has this deep, profound knowledge of how to do this weird corner of the world stuff that nobody else knows. You’re going to eliminate that. You know how important this is for Jim? This is not just he gets to keep his job and make good money. It’s his own self-perception, his own self-worth is defined here in a way.

Paul Ford: I don’t think if you-

Rich Ziade: Then you show up with a wizard that’s just going to make him obsolete.

Paul Ford: For people who don’t know, wizard is not an actually wizardly person.

Rich Ziade: No.

Paul Ford: Actually one of those little like-

Rich Ziade: Point and click and solve the problem.

Paul Ford: That’s a wizard.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, so that’s pretty devastating. The rub here is that Jim is often the decision maker as to whether he’s going to let that new tool in. What happens is they dig in and they protect their territory and I’ve seen it happen. They protect that territory because it is going to disarm them and make them much less relevant, much less powerful in an organization.

Paul Ford: I think you go to remember too, they’re not self-aware. He’s not sitting there going, “Oh, I don’t want to give up my job.” It’s more psychologically complex.

Rich Ziade: It probably is.

Paul Ford: He’s going, “They’ve replaced this with a wizard and it looks really easy but the truth is we have a much more complicated installation.” I’ve seen it with the web a million times. I’ve been in meetings where people go, they’ll take 3 months and someone else goes, they’ll take 3 minutes. They’re both right.

Rich Ziade: That’s right. In the early 2000s I let a team that built one of the first and one of the earliest web-based applications to insure your home.

Paul Ford: Okay.

Rich Ziade: You could go in, fill out some fields and we didn’t go all the way to credit card. This is like 2000, 2001 but we took care a lot of the entries and would have you get a call back and they’d finalize the transaction. They’re about 20 or so call center people who before I showed up were just taking those calls. They would advertise a phone number and that’s how you insured your home. All of a sudden I show up with a team of 5.

Paul Ford: What are you? Like 28?

Rich Ziade: I’m 29.

Paul Ford: You’re literally everybody’s worst nightmare.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: You’re old enough to actually have a lot of power but you’re also like, “I’m going to do it my way.”

Rich Ziade: I ship this too in 12 months and I would run into someone that’s in their 40s, 50s, in the kitchen. I was just Satan walking the earth. I was the biggest pain in the ass that they could ever have dealt with. I was excited, I was like, “Isn’t this great? Look at this efficiencies we’re having.”

Paul Ford: I’ve had that experience a couple of times. I would be like, “Oh, this is that I’m building for you is going to be so cool.”

Rich Ziade: Correct.

Paul Ford: Then I couldn’t figure out why everybody hated me.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, exactly.

Paul Ford: I was threatening an order that was so suttle and also just such garbage. I was younger and saw the work that they were doing … You’re 29, you’re a programmer and manager and you’re looking at what they’re doing and you’re just like completely dismissive of it at some level. Even if you were respectful of them, you were like, “That’s stupid.”

Rich Ziade: This is someone that’s been doing this for 20 years.

Paul Ford: You’re right. I mean we in those roles, you’re not even sensitive to it, you’re just like, “I see a better way and a more correct way and you actually just lack the ability.” That’s why I think so often it’s young people who build these companies. It’s not just because they can see it differently but because they actually have almost no ability to perceive the incredibly, delicate, social order that is allowing people to have health insurance.

Rich Ziade: Exactly.

Paul Ford: They just run through like garbagy tornadoes and blow the trailer park to shreds.

Rich Ziade: I’ll tell you, thinking back, there was a retirement cake in the kitchen at like 2:30 one of the days. A sweet, older gentleman, he was probably early 60s, late 50s and made a toast. Everyone was in the kitchen and jokingly said, “I also want to thank Rich for destroying my job.” As a joke.

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: I was like, “Hey Jim, you’re a riot. Aren’t you the funny one?” I don’t think he was being too funny.

Paul Ford: No, he wasn’t being funny. I mean that’s the thing. We work in an industry that the whole point of the industry is to automate and optimize existing processes. We don’t talk about it in ethical terms, we talk about it in terms of money and fun and-

Rich Ziade: Progress.

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: Innovation and yeah. Exactly.

Paul Ford: Where you see that actually explode is when Facebook goes to India and then they’re shocked that people are like, “Hey, wait a minute. We’ve actually had really rich, white people show up here before. We think maybe we’ll do our own IT infrastructure.” You see these missed steps where they just can’t believe that somebody wouldn’t want what they’re selling. Because we’re in a world here all we care-

Rich Ziade: Oh yeah, from the perspective of the creator.

Paul Ford: Oh my God.

Rich Ziade: You’re like, “Of course, isn’t this great? Don’t you want this?”

Paul Ford: There’s actually a whole giant, trillion dollar industry telling us how great it is all the time.

Rich Ziade: That’s right.

Paul Ford: Microsoft in the 90s sending you developer kits.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: Every one of those of those was an opportunity to completely rim some other industry and blow up a ton of jobs.

Rich Ziade: Of course, I mean that’s how it goes.

Paul Ford: There’s 2 questions I have for you as I’m thinking about this. 1 is, what do you do? Do you just go ahead and kill the jobs? What do you do?

Rich Ziade: Do you just go ahead? You frame it that way, right? [Crosstalk 00:33:43]

Paul Ford: Yeah, sorry to put you on that … We’re on this hot seat. I mean that’s …

Rich Ziade: My goal is to build software that will make people lose their homes. That’s actually professionally what I need to do.

Paul Ford: See, it’s tricky though because I will take almost any job that … We build a lot of content systems. Actually what’s weird for us is a technology company. A lot of times the technologists are a little annoyed that we show up because we’re from the outside.

Rich Ziade: True.

Paul Ford: We’re real advocates for the people using the software, the editors and the writers.

Rich Ziade: That’s right.

Paul Ford: I’ve done probably 4 or 5 jobs building systems and helping set up new publications where I know for a fact that I generated jobs for writers and I generated jobs for people who normally … Those jobs weren’t there before I built the system. There is a way to be mindful of what you’re doing and make it productive that way.

Rich Ziade: That is the long game. Right? The truth is, if you look at the advances in the last 30 years, jobs have been created in fact.

Paul Ford: Right.

Rich Ziade: More jobs have been created, the economy has grown, we’ve expanded.

Paul Ford: We’re going to get comments on this buy yeah, absolutely.

Rich Ziade: The long game, like unfortunately that guy standing in that kitchen retiring isn’t thinking, “Well you know what? This is was a hit but in the long-term jobs will be created.” He’s not thinking that.

Paul Ford: No one is like, “Hey, I was a pawn on the chess board.”

Rich Ziade: Right, life goes on.

Paul Ford: “It was good to play.”

Rich Ziade: Right, but we’re talking about it in a pretty self-centered way. I mean this is the story of the world. Right? I mean there was a day when being the train conductor was just the shit. Right?

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: That was the job to have or the guy … I forget what they call him, who changes the cards at the terminal to tell you what times the trains are coming? Train master or something.

Paul Ford: All right, let’s call him the train wizard.

Rich Ziade: Train wizard, whatever. Jobs get eliminated. That’s what been happening for the last 22000 years. That’s just how it goes.

Paul Ford: I like your voice change right there, “You know!”

Rich Ziade: I mean it’s true.

Paul Ford: All right, so you know Rich, I’m looking at the clock and we’re going to have to leave this Steven Sinofsky essay alone. It really is worth reading because a lot of writing about product is very impassioned but not written by the world’s most-powerful product makers.

Rich Ziade: Yes.

Paul Ford: It’s interesting to see how systematic and he considers an enormous number of permutations in this. It can be a little dry but you also see, “Okay, this is how many aspects of product development a person wants.”

Rich Ziade: At that scale they’re only probably a handful of people who’ve ever dealt with something that impacts that many people.

Paul Ford: Manage teams that large, 1000s of people.

Rich Ziade: Sure.

Paul Ford: Probably 10s of 1000s working on incredibly abstract stuff globally. Right? Spinning those plates in your brain is hard and it’s interesting to me. That’s an artifact produced by someone who can spin those plates, that’s really interesting. That’s worth checking out. Just check out You’ll always find everything you need. That brings us to our Q&A because here we are talking about content management systems and creating jobs and we have a very interesting question from a woman named Elizabeth. Who wants to know about how much of the web she needs to understand.


ere it is, “I’m foolishly going to start an online magazine. I have good mark-up skills and minimal coding skills. I have a lot of experience working with big company systems and I can find my way around any CMS easily. I’m pretty fuzzy on all the in-betweens to get my content and code on to the web. I know I can just use WordPress or something or rely on a website building company like Squarespace. I’m interested in learning how my content shows up on the web from start to finish without some pre-package pipeline. Is that a silly thing to try to figure out in 2016? It’s not 1996. Is it a good use of your time to learn how the back-end works and do it by hand while you’re trying to publish content?”


hat’s a hashtag content, a little wink and node there in the question. “While you have so many other web duties around that content, notably various social media presence is something that was not part of the equation in 1996.” It’s somebody who wants to go really deep on content. What would we tell them?

Rich Ziade: I would tell them not to code.

Paul Ford: I have to say it pains me because I want people to understand how this works but I agree with you. I think that there’s so much to do when you publish online today that trying to do it from scratch is a team project now. 1 person can’t really do it anymore.

Rich Ziade: Yeah and also I think I’d bounce a question back which is, what do you want to be great at? Do you want to be great at your magazine and your content? Do you want to be great at being a coder who can put stuff out on the web and proficient at all the bits and pieces inside? Today you can’t be both. If you’re thinking about all that great content and the voice and all the stuff that’s required for a great magazine. You just don’t have time to go and dig in and actually do the bits on any …

Paul Ford: What you could do is build a hobby, content management system. I mean you could take a couple of weeks and just do the best you could.

Rich Ziade: Sure, you could do anything you want on your free time. Elizabeth, we can’t control her life, she can do whatever she wants.

Paul Ford: It’s true.

Rich Ziade: As far as this goes, you want to make a great magazine? You don’t want to spend 5½ months really dissecting the bits and pieces of what a good content platform looks like for you. It’s insanity.

Paul Ford: I think it’s tricky for people to realize how much they get for free when they stumble onto the internet today.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: Like, “I need to publish pages.” Well you should probably just use WordPress and it will cost you less than a dollar a month if you find a certain plan. The cost to produce and deliver content is basically zero or approaching zero. The tools to upload all kinds of rich media and do all that stuff are widely available. You have to ask yourself, “Why?” If it’s for an intellectual exercise it makes a lot of sense.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: Anyone who would come to us today and say “I want to build a new CMS.” They need to really know why they’re doing it.

Rich Ziade: Exactly.

Paul Ford: Why would you? What would be your reason to build your own content management tools top to bottom?

Rich Ziade: Just generally, humans. It’s pretty disheartening when you’ve got that amazing vison of how the world should work and you’ve boiled it down to some ideas. To tell someone, “Don’t bother.” Is like death in a sad, little way.

Paul Ford: It’s true they really want to bother.

Rich Ziade: They want to bother, right? “I’ve been doing this for 12 years and I know exactly what’s wrong. I’ve outlined it here and it’s time.”

Paul Ford: I get a lot of those.

Rich Ziade: “It’s time to fix the CMS.”

Paul Ford: I get a lot of those on email. They come in at like 2:00 in the morning and they’re like 36 paragraphs long about how we fix this.

Rich Ziade: Exactly.

Paul Ford: Then in the end they’re like, “Could your company do this for free, for equity?”

Rich Ziade: For equity, exactly.

Paul Ford: I think for Elizabeth, probably the most meaningful thing for her to do would be to read the source code to something like WordPress.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, if she wants to go that deep, why not? I mean it’s out there, it’s iconic at this point. WordPress is out there to get beaten up at this point as a platform.

Paul Ford: It’s open source, you got or, download the whole thing and actually do the anatomy before you go and build your own.

Rich Ziade: Right.

Paul Ford: Use that as the reference implementation. You can’t really go and look under the hood at Squarespace or Medium in the same way.

Rich Ziade: Again it depends on what her motivations are and what she wants to focus on.

Paul Ford: I’m trying to think when people would want to build their own. I think if you wanted to do something weird with video or people could cut video up and add comments to clips. Things like that. That’s when you might start thinking about building your own, top to bottom confidently.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, you’ve ventured out into territory that somebody hasn’t covered just yet. Usually that’s a pretty complex place to go that it’s not trivial to. Like messing with video is not trivial for example.

Paul Ford: Anything that involves paying people for content also takes some time and energy to get right.

Rich Ziade: Sure.

Paul Ford: There’s a lot of different ways to do it and that’s like it’s practice, it’s craft.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: Yeah, when you want to do something new with media, when you want to cut things up, put them back or run things in parallel. Like I’m going to do automatic transcriptions of podcasts and we’re going to have all the podcast together and you’re going to be able to search them in new ways. That’s when you go and build but-

Rich Ziade: Thinking back on her question and where you’re going, your inclination as a technologist and a thinker is to go to the deep end of the pool. I think if she heard you suggesting these things, she’d probably say, “Where are you going? I’m just talking about doing my own stuff.”

Paul Ford: Headlines. Yeah.

Rich Ziade: Yeah. I think, I don’t want to speak for her. I think that’s what she’s asking about and in that case, don’t build it.

Paul Ford: What you want to learn in that case is as much of the HTML standards as possible.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, I guess, maybe.

Paul Ford: Just like all the videos, all the tags, all that stuff.

Rich Ziade: Let’s say for example Elizabeth’s friends are just … She’s got an end with all the comedians, all the up and coming comedians in New York.

Paul Ford: Happy, good, cool people.

Rich Ziade: Cool, fun people, church going people.

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: She’s like, “I want to use this. They’re offering up their stuff and I want to put in a place.” Who cares about the HTML code? Look, it doesn’t matter. The value of Squarespace is that it lets her focus on her friends who are the comedians and not the HTML code. We grew up in a world where Squarespace wasn’t around and we feel like it’s an invader of sorts for us. For her, who gives it? Who cares? She just wants to get her comedian friends online and if that takes off, it is not going to be because of Squarespace’s admin interface. It’s going to be because of her comedian friends.

Paul Ford: Right, what about eCommerce?

Rich Ziade: Well eCommerce is interesting because it was later. Right?

Paul Ford: It really wasn’t because actually it’s very nerdy but the initial specification for the web has error code 402. Most people know what a 404 is, that’s when it comes back and says like, “The web page is not available.” 402 was payment required and it’s built into the speck but nobody was able to figure out how to do it. It’s 1 of things I think a lot about which is like, if you’d had that, would you have had like eBay and Amazon? Would people have been able to build their own sales tools if that had been actually built into the web?

Rich Ziade: No.

Paul Ford: No, probably not.

Rich Ziade: Yeah. When I said later, I wasn’t talking about a speck.

Paul Ford: Yeah, I know.

Rich Ziade: I was talking about point and click, Shopify, which even though it feels make you feel dirty, is going to let you sell your stuff.

Paul Ford: Why does Shopify make you feel dirty? It doesn’t make me feel dirty.

Rich Ziade: Because Shopify …

Paul Ford: It’s green, it’s got that weird green.

Rich Ziade: It’s got that weird green.

Paul Ford: It’s too much for you?

Rich Ziade: The thing about Squarespace is …

Paul Ford: What is up with the ‘ifys’ and the greens because Spotify also has that same green? Is there like an ‘ify’? I don’t want us to get distracted with color choices because we could do that all day. Shopify, why do you hate Shopify?

Rich Ziade: I don’t hate it.

Paul Ford: Why?

Rich Ziade: I don’t hate it.

Paul Ford: Really?

Rich Ziade: No, its aesthetic was a little off.

Paul Ford: Because I just watched another sponsorship opportunity go out the window.

Rich Ziade: True. I don’t hate it, I don’t think I said I hated it.

Paul Ford: You had a look in your eyes like-

Rich Ziade: Well I said I felt dirty by using it.

Paul Ford: “Shopify.”

Rich Ziade: No, I know. It’s a little gross.

Paul Ford: Why is it gross? Have you ever bought anything on Shopify?

Rich Ziade: I probably have, I probably didn’t know.

Paul Ford: You wouldn’t know it.

Rich Ziade: I probably wouldn’t know it. Let me put it this way, if I wanted to sell my stuff on Shopify, I would probably go through extreme lengths to eliminate the Shopify aesthetic and put in my clean lines. I think it [crosstalk 00:45:52]

Paul Ford: I’ve done like 15 years on and off eCommerce and it’s always a disaster. They always think that they’ve solved the catalog problem or the purchasing problem. You just can’t ship something to Canada. It’s never going to be possible and you have to put in your own custom … Yahoo Stores was the one. Oh my God and I burnt a lot of hours on the Yahoo Stores. It sounds like Elizabeth should just go ahead and use Squarespace, WordPress, whatever fits. She should go shopping for a solution. If she’s curious how it works, she could pick something apart, read a couple of books.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, if Elizabeth’s content is really lousy, I would suggest she learned how to code and become a junior, front-end person. You made an assumption there by saying that which I, “Focus on your content.” She might not be able to make a living on that so it depends. After 2 years of really no visitors at her site which she used Squarespace for, she may decide, “I’m going to go.”

Paul Ford: Should she buy some traffic from [inaudible 00:46:59]? You could, you can always buy friends on the modern internet.

Rich Ziade: You can. Elizabeth, don’t do that.

Paul Ford: Thanks for your question Elizabeth, if anyone else any questions please email.

Rich Ziade: Questions@?

Paul Ford: Well Rich, we’ve come to end of the podcast. It was good to be here with you, I get to spend about 14, 15 hours a day with you, so this was another one.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, where we’re wholly focused on one another.

Paul Ford: Yeah and literally looking into your eyes right now, they’re a nice shade of brown.

Rich Ziade: Thank you.

Paul Ford: Yeah, I never really even thought about that before.

Rich Ziade: Are you in blue-grey?

Paul Ford: Very blue-grey, and still so sleek.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: Yeah, very beautiful actually.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: Thank for listening to Track Changes, you can listen to us and subscribe on iTunes of course and leave us a glowing review if you wouldn’t mind. You can also find us on all the regular places like SoundCloud and on, P, O, S, T, L, I, G, H, T, .com, which is the agency in New York city that creates websites and apps that brings you Track Changes. Rich, thank you.

Rich Ziade: Paul, always a pleasure.

Paul Ford: See you soon.

Rich Ziade: Love, all around.

Paul Ford: Okay, now we’re going to go back to the office together. It’s awkward.