Episode 0043 · May 16, 2023

The podcast about what to do next.


[Unedited Transcript]

Paul Ford: [00:00:00] richard, how you doing I’m Yeah, me too. Me too. So look, I, I have a topic for us today, which is that my, uh, you, we talked about it before my, my father passed away almost a couple months ago now.

Rich Ziade: Right.

Paul Ford: And, uh, after you die, you leave a lot behind you’ve bank accounts and a dresser and

Rich Ziade: Email boxes, email inboxes, all kinds of

Paul Ford: Even when, I mean, his life was very constrained at the end. He was in assisted living. We’d taken over his finances for years and so on. Even so, there’s a lot. He left a lot of manuscripts, which I scanned and put online and so on and so forth. So I’m down to one last task.

In the sort of saying goodbye, grieving, cleaning it all up, mess


Rich Ziade: And, and if I may ask, you have a brother, he has other family members.

Why did you get tasked

Paul Ford: I, I got all the digital

Rich Ziade: Okay.

so that was

Paul Ford: my wife took over the money. My brother took all the physical stuff and some of the money stuff.

And so sort of like my brother was [00:01:00] down there near him, so he took on more of that. Like

Rich Ziade: physical care,

Got it. Most families don’t work this stuff out when the person is still alive.

Paul Ford: Yeah.

we had a, we did a good job, and this is, this comes down to my wife actually, and I, I’ll just say this as like complete advice for everyone listening.

Get one password and get all of their passwords into one password Get them on your account, teach them how to use it. Know they don’t want to do it, they write it in a little book, et cetera, et cetera.

Rich Ziade: This, this podcast is not sponsored by one password.

Paul Ford: Yeah. I gotta tell you that it ma, it makes a world of difference, of course, because what happens is you gotta get into the Gmail account to get into the bank account, to get into the blah, to get into the

Rich Ziade: You don’t wanna get in touch with Microsoft with the

Paul Ford: No, you don’t. You really don’t. No. It’s just, so, anyway, uh, so. Uh, the, the task I’m doing now, pretty much everything’s done except for kind of the long it actually takes, it’s gonna take like a year to get all the bank stuff settled [00:02:00] cuz it goes through the courts and so on and so fine.

No worries. So there’s that, that’s gonna linger. But the last thing is I, I wanted to just like download all of his email and just kind of archive it in a zip file in case we ever needed anything but not so Gmail. No problem. Here it is. Got it. Okay. Google takeout. All done.

Yahoo Mail, which was his dominant source of email.


Yeah. Not so easy, right? Yeah. So this is

not about Yahoo Mail. I want to talk about what I learned. Going to clean up that account.

Rich Ziade: So you’re seeing the emails, just to clarify forever, you’re not just getting a bulk zip file,

Paul Ford: No, you can’t. You can, you can with Google. So

Rich Ziade: do. Google takeout

Paul Ford: Got it all.

It’s, it’s downloaded. It’s in [00:03:00] a folder and gonna zip it up and it’ll, it’ll, it’ll sit on a hard drive and then eventually, um, I will die and no one will care. Like that’s, that’s gonna be around for 50 years and no one will look at it.

Rich Ziade: Yeah. I have to ask why bother?

Paul Ford: Uh, just sort of crossing everything off the list.

Rich Ziade: Okay, so it wasn’t a wish that was

Paul Ford: No. What was the, the wish was that I would archive his manuscripts and put them online. I did that. You can go to archive.org/details/frank b for, and there’s 7,000 plus manuscripts.

Rich Ziade: Okay.

Good. Good.

Paul Ford: he was a writer. That was his, that was his big request of me. That

Rich Ziade: that was a request.

Paul Ford: He asked me many times to

Rich Ziade: But he didn’t care about spam emails?

Paul Ford: Never talked about it. Yeah, never talked about, but I’m just sort of like, you know, it’s just like, here’s the record of the guy. It feels wrong to just, I could just let the account sit there, but that’s

Rich Ziade: This is a little bit of the librarian in you.

Paul Ford: I just wanna get it done. Okay. I just wanna get it done. And this is, and so like I said, Gmail and I sort of like, I had this list in my head of like, let’s archive his emails is clean up his [00:04:00] footprint, cancel the eBay account, like all that stuff. Just like cut off the, the ways that people could exploit his identity or you know, cuz you know what they do the minute you, you die and they published your security, your social security number kind of gets retired.

yeah, there’s like lists of dead people’s social security numbers, but, but identity theft like happens right? The minute that obituary hits the website from the funeral

Rich Ziade: people try to hijack

Paul Ford: Yeah. Yeah. So you’re actually like, bank accounts get compromised and so what happens is now, so it’s doubly hard to unlock people’s, like bank accounts after they die because everything’s fraud.

Like everything I

Rich Ziade: I see,

Paul Ford: you know, like some, someone is so, and people were trying to get in, they, they. Didn’t, you know, just like this, this just happens, like this is just a given. Yeah. So, so I just kind of wanna diminish the, the digital footprint, right. So anyway, um, my, uh, so Yahoo mail, older product, not, not the most robust of

Rich Ziade: it’s still around. [00:05:00] My mom still uses

Paul Ford: Oh yeah. A lot of moms, A lot of dads. And, uh, so I get in there and I, you know, I, I, I use imap, the classic thing to download it. And it turns out you can only have. So I’m like, I’ll go get all that mail. I’ll be done, I’ll zip it up, all done, say goodbye to dad on order life. But no, you can only get, um, 10,000 messages at a time in a folder.

Rich Ziade: Okay. That’s like three weeks of messages

Paul Ford: of, of especially if you’re 90 and like to subscribe to newsletters.

Rich Ziade: Oh boy.

Paul Ford: And so, uh, this has been a multi-week process, but it’s not like an active process. What happens is I go in.

Rich Ziade: You batch a bunch,

Paul Ford: you. Literally, you scroll and it dynamically reloads, and I get like a couple thousand messages listed in the window, and then you hit the button that says Select all.

Mm-hmm. And then you wait like 45 seconds. I usually go do something else.

Rich Ziade: Oh,

Paul Ford: I come back. Then you hit delete. This

Rich Ziade: this is rough.

Paul Ford: not great. There are like 240,000 messages.

So I’ve had to [00:06:00] do this a lot. Takes a while. So I was like, this is a grizzly task, and, and sort of why bother? Right? And, and then I was like, well, let’s see what, you know, just this is way my brain works.

Let’s see what we can learn here. And so I learned a lot. I, I saw, you know, I didn’t know great secrets fall out of my dad. Right? Like I knew him pretty well that way. And so, like a lot of, you know, basketball emails with his buddy

Rich Ziade: mm-hmm.

Paul Ford: And, you know, pictures that I sent him of the kids and he would reply and he’d be like, looking good, you know, the.

So, so some sweetness there and put those into folders that we’re saving any of the photos, anything like that. Okay. And, uh, but then the newsletters and I started to actually see our entire industry in a slightly different way as a result of this process.

Rich Ziade: Explain.

Paul Ford: So I look at the newsletters and it’s.

What you would expect for a left-leaning, 90 year old New Haven guy who’s now in Florida. It is [00:07:00] democratic, you know.


Waserman Schultz needs you, Frank.

Rich Ziade: Ah, okay. Okay.

Paul Ford: A lot of like Joe Biden sending emails in 2015. Like just one question,

Rich Ziade: Yeah, yeah, yeah. A lot of direct first name basis

Paul Ford: need that $20, you know, we’re almost there.

Yeah. And a lot of, and then those tend to devolve a lot of them into like, It’s intolerable. That’ll just be the subject

Rich Ziade: Yeah,

Paul Ford: Or this can’t keep happening. And then, um, so that’s the, that’s the politics part. And then there’s the, uh, newsletters, the New York Times, the New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, where I used to work, and so on and so forth.

Okay. Then there’s the Amazon stuff,

Rich Ziade: which is endless.

Paul Ford: Legion. Yeah. And then there’s like, Pills and medicine and health tips, and Dr. Merkins, this and that and the other. Yeah. Um, and, and it’s an absolute ti wave. It’s, it’s, you know, [00:08:00] maybe 150 a day. Wow. And I can see the read and unread. He’s reading one or two.

You would skim ’em really up until into his nineties. Like he, he got his news that

Rich Ziade: it was email. Someone emailed me.

Paul Ford: And so I had this funny thought and it, it’s really something that is, I’m starting to process, which is there are two things going on. One is,

Um, you know, I saw the messages from like Harper’s Magazine and I used to work there, right?

So I’m like, oh, that’s cool. You know, I mean, dad and I had that in common. We talked

Rich Ziade: a connection.

Paul Ford: It’s a connection. And, you know, long after I, I left way 10, 15 years ago at this point. And, um, uh, so, okay, there we go. And then I’m like, I’m the New Yorker. Well, you know, I, I wrote for the New Yorker website and I know people there, and then I’m like, oh, these Democratic emails.

And I’m like, yeah. You know, the, we used to work a little bit with some of the people who worked with the Obama Foundation and they used to use these systems for like mailing all these people and then the New York Times, like we know them, we know their tech. I’m, I’m looking at you as I’m saying this cuz you and I [00:09:00] over our current, there was a bank in there and that bank.

Actually approached us about buying something that we owned once, like yeah, you know, that was his bank and it, it was this weird moment where I realized that like by being in New York City and working in tech, We touched all these systems. You know, we worked, Postlight had MailChimp as a client.

MailChimp, right.

Rich Ziade: powering all of that. A lot of it,

Paul Ford: So like it’s, it was really weird to be on the, and I get a lot of newsletters and unlike everybody else, right. It was really weird to just see it in someone else’s eyes and

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: The downstream of all that signal that we generate. It really kind of looks like one thing.

And I don’t think it does to you and me, I think we’re like, oh, that’s this. And there’s, you know, here’s the, here’s the democratic fundraising app, and we kind of know the machines behind it. Yeah. And it’s not like everybody sits down and works together, but you might run into each other at a party.

Rich Ziade: Yeah. Yeah.

Paul Ford: But I think when I look at my dad’s inbox, it was this monolithic fire [00:10:00] hose of people tapping on the shoulder and saying, I wanna tell you something. And also I need 20 bucks. Doesn’t matter what, and it could be the New Yorker magazine cuz they want that subscription and so

Rich Ziade: Sure, sure.

Paul Ford: And I noticed, not that it got real profound, he wasn’t like a Fox News guy, but there was definitely like a kind of conspiratorial bent

as he got old.

Not like, not like intense, just sort of like, ah, those bastards.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: Real normal on an older guy.

Rich Ziade: Sure.

Paul Ford: I’m sure it’ll happen to you and me. Yeah. But man, when I looked at that inbox, I’m like, yeah, of course. That’s how it would look like to me. It looks like, it looks like that. Yeah. It looks like God these’s bastard, everybody.

Them and them and them, and everybody wants something and they’re telling me about the other people who want to kill us all. And you know, it’s just like, it’s this real just fire hose.

Rich Ziade: I, I, you know, it’s interesting, I don’t think anyone, there’s been a lot of attention given to, um, [00:11:00] sort of public side of tech. The, the, the toxicity of social media, the misinformation, all of that stuff, which is frankly out in the open,

Um, the dynamics of creating critical mass around sentiment. Turns into mob very often. Mobs, you know, the thing I love to mention is, you know, oftentimes the traffic is not because of the accident, just people watching the accident. Right? That’s, that’s, to me, the internet

Paul Ford: like mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Rich Ziade: and what you’re talking about is something very different and it’s actually almost equally creepy, except it’s not out in the open, it’s not adversarial.

It’s just a guy in Florida getting pummeled. Constantly because everyone is looking for that last bit.

Paul Ford: Right? That’s right.

Rich Ziade: And, and, it’s a strain. Here’s what people don’t realize, and if anybody’s listening outside of the United States, [00:12:00] poor people in the United States who are elderly oftentimes have hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Middle class people, lower middle class people that have been kind of pecking away their whole life. Mm-hmm. Have some money.

Paul Ford: if they ever owned a home.

Rich Ziade: especially if they ever owned a home, and believe me, they know and they profile and then what they hope is, uh, they can, uh, just get a little bit, everyone’s just trying to get a little bit, and what you end up with is this channel that was a really designed for your kids’ pictures, getting to him

Paul Ford: Mm-hmm.

Rich Ziade: fully appropriated by a system.

That’s right. Right. And that’s a wild thing. And, and you know,

Paul Ford: and, and let’s be clear, like he, Yahoo has a very easy interface for unsubscribing, for newsletters. One of the best I’ve seen. It’s like unsubscribe for newsletters and it shows you all the newsletters with their icons.

Yeah. And you one click. And I, I un that was great. It was excellent. I unsubscribe from like [00:13:00] a hundred newsletters just to stop the flow and,

Rich Ziade: why do you think he didn’t, if you had to guess? Obviously he’s not here to explain himself,

Paul Ford: but it’s the newspaper he was when I grew up, he read the paper every day and he would get the Sunday New York Times at the Wawa at the store

and he would read the Sunday New York Times.

Like that’s, it was, you fill your brain, right? You, you keep going and, and. And, and the thing is, is like these are all, there’s no scandal to this. There were like,

Rich Ziade: no, it’s junk mail,

Paul Ford: but it’s, but it’s junk mail from like the Times in the New Yorker and it’s all, it’s like, you know, the Borow witch report was in there.

That was, that was the most upsetting

Rich Ziade: Did

you, did you ever get mail that, um, is. Really trying to trick you into opening it.

It says like open immediately

Paul Ford: Yeah. There’s, there’s, you’ve won and then there’s like, these are your blood test

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

there’s, they’re trying to get you to just take that next step and then sometimes when you [00:14:00] open it, it’s like handwritten ink that’s dried, but clearly it’s a little too consistent.

So there’s like startup, I know there’s companies that, like they have machines that write handwriting.

Paul Ford: man. When I used to work in magazines and that’s how you market ma, like the letter from the editor will often be that fake handwriting

Rich Ziade: Totally, totally. And and the truth is, guess what? That stuff, it’s actually pricey. There’s a math

Paul Ford: Yeah. No, no. Costs

Rich Ziade: you know, we’re gonna spend $50 on this individual in this, in this calendar year, and there’s like a 3% chance. But when they tap, when they tap in, we’ll make thousands of dollars. So we’re

Paul Ford: you don’t, if you don’t live in this world, right.

There’s cost for acquisition, there’s arpu, which is average revenue per user. Like there’s all these terms and, and concepts that vary from industry to industry.

Rich Ziade: Exactly. But I think what happens is the cost of uh, just pummeling you in your email inbox is just way, way lower. And so they’re like, you know what? Just carpet bomb, that shit

Paul Ford: Go to town.

Rich Ziade: yeah. [00:15:00] I mean the state of Florida, the spam, the collective spam inbox of the state of Florida.

Paul Ford: it, it’s, I just have seen it, man. And it’s, you know, Chan Channel six Orlando News.

Rich Ziade: Yeah. Yeah. Is it bad?

Paul Ford: It’s neither bad nor good. It is fascinating. So first of all, I, my father was, um, up until really towards the end pretty with it.

Yeah. And so he was opted in. He was a technical person. He used a laptop, like he had control

Rich Ziade: Did he hate it?

He didn’t hate

Paul Ford: Didn’t hate it.

Rich Ziade: this is, I, I think I, I can give you a second data point. My mom doesn’t hate it either. My mom, when I try to quote unquote clean up her machine, she tells me to stop.

Paul Ford: No, that’s on my free emails.

Rich Ziade: She’s

Paul Ford: my father, spent more time trying to get free access to the New York Times. It was like the number one goal in his life, and I wanted to buy him a subscription. Then I realized I would’ve taken away everything meaningful.

Rich Ziade: You know what? It’s motion and it’s activity. Yes. [00:16:00] And it’s communication. Even though it’s a machine that’s doing

Paul Ford: well, there’s also, there’s no, hi,

Rich Ziade: Frank, get in touch. Frank. Frank, we need you. Right? Like when you see your first name in an email, right? That’s a I’m, I’m younger. You’re younger, you know, for years.

It’s like, wow, look how annoying this is. Look at this weird kind of overture they made on LinkedIn with me. But when you’re older, doesn’t, nobody’s calling you.

Paul Ford: No. And you know what the cl the idea of the cleaned up inbox has no meaning to him. Right. Like, that wasn’t what he was going for.

It was just a s Yeah. Well he’s never scrolling back.

Rich Ziade: He’s never scrolling back. Exactly. Exactly. My mom, the idea of unread, like inbox zero, it doesn’t make any sense to her at all. No. Why? She just, she just sees it as Tuesday’s new stuff and she might get through it or she might not, it doesn’t matter. To her

Paul Ford: Gmail earlier and stuck with it. Yeah. I wouldn’t have this problem cause I would just be able to get all the email and I would never think about it

But I, I, you know, this sort of pushed me into think about it. The [00:17:00] other thing that made me realize too though is like, The effect is the same as like the Facebook ad campaign and social like it’s, you’re getting all this like huge fire hose of information. Yeah, but it’s disaggregated. And it made me wonder, you know, we go, when we criticize and think about tech, we go for the big targets because they have a lot of money.

There’s people like Mark Zuckerberg in charge, and Cheryl Sandberg formerly and. Uh, they’re not necessarily acting in our best interests and they keep telling us they are, and it’s weird and it’s bad, and we kind of go after, and it’s, and newspapers like to write about it, et cetera, et cetera. Yep. But the sum effect of everybody kind of having their saying, could you get your wallet out just for a minute, no matter who it is, across hundreds of different organizations.

Isn’t that different, right? It, it’s sort of like, it isn’t, we, we kind of revert to this form as a society when we have cheap communication methods and older people who still have money in the bank.

Rich Ziade: Yeah. It isn’t that different. I, I think what [00:18:00] is different though is that, um, unlike the line between earnest, like genuine communication and marketing on. Social media is much trickier to, to, to pin down. Um,

Paul Ford: it’s true cuz all your friends are right there.

Rich Ziade: Yeah. I think my mom knows that people are shilling stuff in her inbox that she knows, like, and she’s okay with it because she likes to get a pile of mail every

Paul Ford: it’s like getting the penny saver in the mail,

Rich Ziade: Yeah. She doesn’t mind it. I think online, you know, I think where it starts to get blurry is when people have hidden agendas and they’re either marketing something or they’re trying to trick you or frankly they’re trying to misinformed you and you can’t tell the difference anymore. I think the inbox is a funny thing.

The inbox is you saying, please read me, I am in your mailbox if you like.

Paul Ford: Well, I think you and I just have utterly different relationships cuz we’re still working. right. That’s right. And it, it’s so,[00:19:00]

Rich Ziade: yeah, my mom doesn’t get my mom as soon as she figured out. Like chat and messaging never communicates with us through email.

Paul Ford: No, that’s right.

Rich Ziade: It’s all one big

Paul Ford: it’s for

Rich Ziade: square, like madness,

Paul Ford: it’s for newsletters and it’s for, um, sales and circulars.

That’s right. I’m gonna, oh wow. You know Tiger Direct. That’s right. Tiger Direct. Love my

Rich Ziade: She doesn’t need Facebook’s notifications. She goes to Facebook. She’s already in there, so she doesn’t see it that way.

And she sees it as a place that tries to sell her stuff. Now I will say there she, my mom, because she’s. Kind of generous with her information. She’s, they’ve attempted to scam her many times. Like, they’ll call her and say, listen, she’s gotten letters of like, uh, debt collectors of stuff that she didn’t know.

Like it looked totally authentic.

Paul Ford: This is the worst part when they’re like, my dad especially has like real sharp and then money was where he got real starting to, we took all of his finances away from him at the end cuz he was [00:20:00] so every time you get a bill panic.


Rich Ziade: My mom doesn’t need to be in debt. She has debt on like 20% credit cards. Yeah.

Paul Ford: Today.

Rich Ziade: And by the way, I was like, let’s pay these off and clip, clip the card.

They’re big, colorful little little jewels in her wallet. She doesn’t wanna get rid of ’em. She likes ’em. She takes her friends out to lunch. I’m like, mom, take her out to lunch. But just pay with cash or a debit card? No, I, I have the Capital One. Golden Jubilee

Paul Ford: Oh

Rich Ziade: card. You know? You know it.

Paul Ford: tell you something. We’re about to launch this product aboard the sponsor of this podcast. Speaking of like paid promotion sponsor

Rich Ziade: sponsor of the podcast.

Paul Ford: This, everybody knows this is a marketing product as well as, no, not really. This is a, this is a sponsored podcast.

There is by a, sponsored by a company we co-founded. So

Rich Ziade: It’s on a board.com. We are gonna start waving in tons and tons of people,

Paul Ford: great time to sign up. But, oh, I will say,

We’re just getting started and we don’t have this huge email strategy that we were gonna pursue with the board. Yeah. But it did make me think it was just like, you know [00:21:00] how you’re right.

My father liked his emails.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, right.

Paul Ford: But there wasn’t a lot of utility and there was a lot of noise.

Rich Ziade: A lot of

Paul Ford: And so I’m just like, I don’t know how you solve this, but I’m like, how do you make the one that he would want to open that would have the information and the, and the bargains and the deals

Rich Ziade: it gets hard to find the good stuff.

Right. Let me ask you this, we’re a lot unread.

Paul Ford: Oh, all of them.

Rich Ziade: All

Paul Ford: like 99%. That’s what, so it was, it was

Rich Ziade: you’re going back three months and they’re on red.

Oh, so he’s not even opening them.

Paul Ford: no. It’s actually really easy to clean it up because all I did was I took all the red ones, which goes to about maybe like 5%.

Rich Ziade: wow. It’s like my mom.


Paul Ford: yeah, put those into a folder and now I’m just erasing the 95%

Rich Ziade: He didn’t bother reading ’em anyway.

Paul Ford: Yeah. It doesn’t matter. There’s, they’re, they’re

Rich Ziade: Right?

Paul Ford: And then once that process is done, I’m down to about 19,000 messages. I will have a reasonable intractable inbox that I can download and zip up.

So that will be the end of this process. But yeah, no, no, no. They are all nice and bold on the web browser [00:22:00] screen completely untouched.

Rich Ziade: Um,

Paul Ford: So we’re gonna do that. We’re gonna, we’re, we’re gonna keep talking about how to create value. One of the things about this product, and, and as you come in and

Rich Ziade: you’re talking about a board. We’re talking

Paul Ford: about a board, when you come into a board, you’ll see it’s kind of for everybody.

Like, I would love for people like my dad or my mom to use it.

Rich Ziade: I,

I, mean, I, I think. Buying gifts for people, collecting things, creating resources is a very basic, universal

Paul Ford: Here are the, this, a board is a good tool for sharing the, the gifts that the kids really want.


Rich Ziade: The gifts,

Paul Ford: g those two, right?

Yeah. Um, and and so that granddad buys them something on Amazon they want.

Rich Ziade: That’s right. Or you can, you know, what does my mom do? She’s like, tell me what the kids like these days. Right.

Paul Ford: These books and so on. And the kids could

Rich Ziade: We’re being cryptic again Paul soon.

Paul Ford: in. Come in, yeah.

Rich Ziade: Oh, so soon. We’re gonna talk when a board is out there and you can go to a [00:23:00] board.com and not just see funny gifts, but actual product description.

Uh, we’re gonna have a couple podcasts talking about it.

Paul Ford: So if you want to get in touch, hello@ciford.com and uh, check us out at CI ford on Twitter and uh, let’s get back to it. We got a product to lunch.

Rich Ziade: Yes, have a lovely week. Bye.

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