Episode 0048 · June 1, 2023

The podcast about what to do next.

Why We’re Building Aboard


Paul Ford: Richard.

Rich Ziade: I’m in a marketing mood.

Paul Ford: Well we usually go out there and give advice about stuff, we have some good emails that we want to respond to… but you know, you and I have a day job.

Rich Ziade: We do.

Paul Ford: We’re building a product that deep inside we think, for those who use it and commit to it, will make a better internet.

Rich Ziade: Let’s make a better internet.

Paul Ford: Exactly so, look this podcast is about how we are figuring out the world and this product is a huge part of how we’re figuring out the world.

Rich Ziade: It is, and so you may be asking … but wait what’s wrong with the internet. We’re gonna walk through that.

Paul Ford: Let’s do that.

Rich Ziade: Okay.

Rich Ziade: I have a theory.

Paul Ford: What’s your theory?

Rich Ziade: I have a theory, that the popularity behind like to do list apps, like reminders on iPhone, which is very good by the way, to-doist, Anydo is another one.

Paul Ford: Wow, okay…

Rich Ziade: Things, there’s one called “Things”.

Paul Ford: Okay, no, I’m watching in real time as our audience count goes down, like the CNN vote

Rich Ziade: I know I’m sorry – here’s the thing.

Paul Ford: Where are we going here?

Rich Ziade: Uh, the reason [00:01:00] people like them is cause they’re quiet and they’re safe, but it turns out to do just about anything, you gotta open a browser. Nobody talks about the browser anymore, but pretty much to do anything…

Paul Ford: Anything.

Rich Ziade: You gotta open the browser.

Paul Ford: So, so first of all, computers didn’t used to be quite so annoying, but boy are they annoying now. Even the Mac, I always think, you know, when their little icon bounce jumps up and down in the dock.

Rich Ziade: Why would anything jump up and down?

Paul Ford: It’s like a toddler. It wants your attention, you know, it’s just like, Hey, hey, I’m, I’m getting there, huh? Look at me. Look at me. I’m gonna, you’re gonna, and I’m like, you are Microsoft Word, could you calm the hell down?

Rich Ziade: Calm the hell down.

Paul Ford: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. And, probably the pinnacle of Annoyingness is navigating the internet.

Paul Ford: It is, no, I’m sorry, the pinnacle of Annoyingness is navigating the internet plus browser notifications.

Rich Ziade: I block ’em all. Do you let ’em in?

Paul Ford: Everybody pretends – like that’s the [00:02:00] worst feature that’s ever been added.

Rich Ziade: We might add it to our product aboard.com [chuckles]

Paul Ford: Yeah, but no, look, you know, when I turn them on, I turn them on for Google Calendar when I’m using it.

Rich Ziade: That’s common sense.

Paul Ford: Yeah, like if, there is a-

Rich Ziade: What about Bed, bath and Beyond?

Paul Ford: That’s the thing, man. If it is a information service where it’s going to give me notifications about the information I put in Slack or the, or the people that I’m working with put in Slack, et cetera, um, Google Calendar, maybe Gmail. I’m okay with the browser notification.

Rich Ziade: Yes.

Paul Ford: But otherwise, it’s an unholy crime and every media organization that wants to jam those bad boys down, my eyeballs needs to go look at itself in the mirror and say, what are we really about here?

Rich Ziade: You know, everyone, I think what happens is the volume level is so high that you’re trying to come in like one decibel higher just to get noticed.

Paul Ford: I’ll tell you what happens cause I’ve watched you be a product manager. We’re gonna need notifications, I saw that they’re doing ’em [00:03:00] over at, um-

Rich Ziade: I’m, I’m bad that way.

Paul Ford: Yeah [chuckles].

Rich Ziade: I’m driven by Envy As a product manager [laughter].

Paul Ford: Everybody hates ’em Rich, everybody hates notifications nobody wants them in there – “Yeah, well we’re gonna need them”.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, so I wanna talk about the web through a different lens here to sort of outline I think what’s happened and how we cope with it today.

Paul Ford: Okay. So wait, what’s the problem?

Rich Ziade: Well, there’s a few problems – A, it’s slow. It’s just slow. The internet is slow because when you go to read the article, like a bunch of uninvited guests are in your computer and it takes a long time to do anything because it’s trying to understand who you are and [00:04:00] advertise and target you and all that.

Paul Ford: We should explain that to people, the process of loading a webpage, it’s like, imagine if you were hosting a dinner, okay, everybody’s coming over to have dinner at your house.

Rich Ziade: And like an extra 80 people show up.

Paul Ford: An extra 80 people show up, and they all have unusual dietary requirements.

Rich Ziade: [laughter].

Paul Ford: And it’s not like I can’t have dairy. It’s like, I can only have oat milk and I’m going to, and if you give it to me, unless I get my oat milk, I am not gonna allow this dinner to move forward.

Rich Ziade: Exactly.

Paul Ford: And there’s 80 of, that’s when a webpage loads, that’s what happens.

Rich Ziade: Exactly. So it’s slow, another related point is that it feels creepy. Like I was looking for sandals three days ago, and then I visited like, uh, you know, financialtimes.com and it advertised the sandal there. So there’s a lot of backroom dealing with, with your data. So that’s a little-

Paul Ford: I can boil this, I can boil this into one statement for you. Now that you’re saying it. The browser has become a bureaucracy.

Rich Ziade: That’s a great way to [00:05:00] put it.

Paul Ford: Okay. It is all of this consensus, all of these constraints and systems have been built into the web browser and into the web as a platform.

Rich Ziade: Exactly and so it’s slow, it’s intrusive. Your behavioral data is getting tossed around and bartered in backroom deals. But let’s go even more subtler, there’s something else that’s happened on the web, which is we seek, we go to the web because we want information. That’s it, that’s pretty much it. Like yeah, there are apps you can use on there and it does cool stuff, but like so many people get on the internet to get information.

Paul Ford: Well, no, hold on. It’s also like the number one software delivery platform for other kinds of transactions as well.

Rich Ziade: It, it is, but I, I’m just comparing, um, Wikipedia with a s an e-commerce store, like-

Paul Ford: People spend more time looking at Wikipedia than they do in the Chase banking app.

Rich Ziade: Researching, uh, the best, uh, garden raise beds.

Paul Ford: Yes.

Rich Ziade: Uh, you’re looking for instruction. Look, while you’re doing that, you will get pitched a lot of [00:07:00] products, but you’re looking for knowledge and information.

Paul Ford: And if we count social media as knowledge and information, which fighting aside, that’s the intent, uh, then that’s, I think that is unequivocally true. I’m gonna go with that.

Rich Ziade: That’s right. Now I’m gonna give one more example of why the web’s a mess, which is actually less to do with, you know, bots and ad tracking and all that. And more to do with just how, um, Sort of underhanded it’s become. I was looking for a screen recording software for my Mac, and you end up on these lists, top five screen recording software. And all of the lists are published by screen recording software companies that put their product at number one. VPN is legendary for this right top VPN. And it’s like, whoa, this was written by Nord VPN.

Paul Ford: So this is web marketing today. I mean, we used to do this at the agency, right? So at the agency you would write a piece of content that would be like 10 reason — how to pick a great agency.

Rich Ziade: Yeah. [00:08:00]

Paul Ford: And it, it tend, it tended that the 10 ways to pick a great agency happened to really align with our service offering.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: You know, now, and it would be like, you might be ironic about it, you might throw it out.

Rich Ziade: But that’s less deceptive than top 10 New York City agencies and we put ourselves at number one. That would be silly.

Paul Ford: Wait, no, that’s not silly. You can pay people to do that for you.

Rich Ziade: That’s what people do.

Paul Ford: Yeah, we would get pitched that all the time.

Rich Ziade: So, holy hell like, pause and think about this. When did it become such an ugly thing to just do anything?

Paul Ford: Oh, 2007, February.

Rich Ziade: February, 2007 [chuckles].

Paul Ford: Yeah exactly [chuckles].

Rich Ziade: The web is really just a bunch of data points. It’s [00:12:00] it’s data. The whole web is really a web of data. These end points are websites, information, uh, if you want to talk a little, technically, sometimes it’s an API endpoint.

Paul Ford: But the web is other people’s databases. That’s real.

Rich Ziade: The web is other people’s databases. And when you look at the web that way, there is one node that is just the crown jewel. It is like if, as you’re brushing the dirt to see if there are little beads of gold and, and there is one more data point, that data node, let me call them nodes, that is more valuable than any other, and that is you.

Paul Ford: Oh, thank you.

Rich Ziade: You’re special Paul.

Paul Ford: I’m fantastic.

Rich Ziade: And you’re incredibly valuable

Paul Ford: I’m utterly unique.

Rich Ziade: Yes, and.

Paul Ford: Hold on, let me give my social security number to this person who just asked for it to show how unique I am.

Rich Ziade: Don’t do that.

Paul Ford: Okay.

Rich Ziade: Do, don’t do that. But, and so if you look [00:13:00] at it that way, right? And you peel back, all of the gaming that goes on, which is for human eyeballs.

Paul Ford: Mm-hmm.

Rich Ziade: It is just data.

Paul Ford: Mm-hmm.

Rich Ziade: Right, and when you think about it, if you could give me the web cleansed of all that manipulation and all the gaming, I know I have to go get it, I’ll go get it. But once I find what I want, can I have it and can I have it in a place where I can be productive and useful and I can actually convey my own knowledge and interests without it being something like, come over here, ignore my 60 open tabs. I want to show you what I found.

Paul Ford: This was the motivation for the product we built, which is called Aboard, aboard.com, et cetera.

Rich Ziade: Yes, and, and I guess what we’re – aboard is sort of going back to to-do lists, which are, you know, quiet places. What’s nice about, like, apps, there was this trend at one point where if you wanted to write, your whole screen went white and it, and it just snowed in the background.

Paul Ford: Oh, that was wonderful. That was a great moment.

Rich Ziade: But, you know, I think the appeal of a lot of these, those kinds of tools is that they’re just quiet. Like it’s away from the mayhem of the web.

Paul Ford: This is what we’ve built. Look, I, I wanna, you know, we’re bringing people in, we’re waving them in. You know, if you DM the Abort account, we might find a way to get you in even sooner.

Paul Ford: You know, we did just do the Nord VPN thing. We’re like, what’s the best tool for organizing and controlling the web… Aboard!

Rich Ziade: I don’t know if a board is the best.

Paul Ford: No, it may not be. That’s true.

Rich Ziade: What I do know is that, um, [00:16:00] the idea of carving out more productive spaces has always been away from the web. So when you look at tools like Airtable and um, other productivity tools out there.

Paul Ford: They happen to run on the web.

Rich Ziade: They happen to run on web.

Paul Ford: What they love is the web’s collaborative nature. They’re like, oh, it’s so easy to get, like, everyone can, yeah, I can share a link-

Rich Ziade: It is amazing. It’s actually great. I can invite Paul to Todoist and we can have a shared to-do list.

Paul Ford: Yeah. But there’s no pages.

Rich Ziade: Well, it’s, it’s away from the web and, and, and really our – I’ve been a fan of Andy Bio for

Paul Ford: For a long time. Yeah, yeah.

Rich Ziade: waxy.org.

Paul Ford: Sure.

Rich Ziade: Probably one of the like, original curators of the internet stuff culture for what? 20 years? 25 years.

Paul Ford: Yes, yes.

Rich Ziade: Um, and he kindly tweeted out, uh, and shared on his, his, his feed, his RSS feed, bless his heart, it still works. Um, that, you know, Paul Ford and Rich Ziade, [00:17:00] released a social bookmarking tool.

Paul Ford: Mm-hmm.

Rich Ziade: Which I, you know, it was nostalgic. There was a product called Delicious many years ago which Yahoo acquired and then somehow put away behind the, um, food court snacks. But let’s put that aside. Um, and you and I looked at each other as like, uh oh, like, what? Is that all we are? Um, so what are we, Paul, I’m going to throw it to you now.

Paul Ford: First of all, I think it’s okay for people to look at a thing and go, oh, that’s for social bookmarking, because that, that’s a utility in Andy’s head when he saw this thing.

Rich Ziade: Absolutely.

Paul Ford: And it’s totally – what we put out made it look that way.

Rich Ziade: Oh, it’s also kind of funny. It, it’s not, it doesn’t exist today. There really aren’t many-

Paul Ford: There’s Pinterest, there’s some stuff, but not, like, not in a-

Rich Ziade: I want to talk bout Pinterest for a minute, but go ahead.

Paul Ford: Okay, so what are we? Well actually, there isn’t an exact category for what we [00:18:00] are because you could look at us and you could say, oh, they’re low code. Oh, they’re data management. Oh, they’re spreadsheet plus. Oh, it’s social bookmarking. It brings in the web. You can add cards, make cards. I mean, all these sort of like software things. I’ll tell you what we really are. We’re a place to make a clean, well lit space on the internet for you and a couple of friends or coworkers, and then, if you choose, you can give that space back to the internet. Nice and cleaned up.

Rich Ziade: Right.

Paul Ford: But you don’t have to, so you can, and what can you use it for? Well, you can use it to make a grocery list. Um, we’ve already seen people use it to share recipes with their community. You can use it to do HR for your company, because that’s what computers are for. People use spreadsheets for these things.

Rich Ziade: Yes.

Paul Ford: But, it’s in the web, it’s of the web and it can go back out to the web, which is unusual for software as a service type of tools. Most of them say, Hey, thanks, we’ll we’ll bring some stuff [00:19:00] in.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: And then let’s not really put it back out again.

Rich Ziade: Yeah. Um, and so if we think about the web as a data layer, not just as a place that holds images, a good way to look at Aboard, one of the ways to look at Aboard is Aboard doesn’t have a bias towards what you’re bringing into it, but it wants to look at the web differently. It wants to let you pluck what you find valuable, bring it to another place, and then invite others in to talk about it, to get some things done, to work on things and whatnot. I’m speaking a little abstractly here, but a big part of people using tools is how they get information in. It is horrible to – people hire people to just keep a list in shape.

Paul Ford: Sure.

Rich Ziade: The spreadsheet is still the number one way to kind of hold a bunch of stuff. And there are teams of people who do that for other [00:21:00] people.

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: Right? And we wanted to build something that made it really easy to, uh, bring information in and then be productive because people skipped the bring in, bring information in.

Rich Ziade: Now this sounds like this was one really long ad, uh, and-

Paul Ford: Yes, yes. It does sound that way.

Rich Ziade: Oh…

Paul Ford: What you gonna do? It’s all right, they can’t all be like – I mean, this is what we work on all day.

Rich Ziade: This is what we work on all day now, what is it for? But what is it for? That’s a great question, and we’re figuring that out and we’re learning from people as to what they can use it for. What we do know is this, when you talk to people, AI is exploding now everywhere, but if you ever talk to anyone about how they work, whether it be a real estate agent or an interior designer, it is like the stone age.

Paul Ford: Alright. This is what we’ve been building, I, here’s the thing, I want people to use this thing, not because it could theoretically make us money. As far as I know, anyone using this thing is costing me a lot of money right now. So if you want to cost me a lot of money, go ahead and check out Aboard. That’s fine.

Rich Ziade: It is free today, we’re [00:27:00] still learning about how people use it and how they want to use it. Um, and uh, I really enjoyed just nakedly marketing this thing today.

Paul Ford: I don’t see this as naked marketing. You and I have, uh, this is, we, we got to do the thing. We’re very lucky. So this is the – we’re very lucky and we’re taking advantage of our luck, which is we could kind of sit in a room and dabble and, you know, I could get into drones. You know, and, and like programminng.

Rich Ziade: Racing, drone racing. Yeah.

Paul Ford: Stuff like that, that stuff is cool. I really like it. But instead, we were like, okay, we’re in a position, can we make a slightly better internet? Can we make a thing that, can we test our big software ideas in the world and the world might kick us in the face? So I’m ready for that.

Rich Ziade: Yes. Look, our, we have really old internet passports, like they were stamped way before a lot of people’s, and we’ve watched it evolve a certain way. We still believe in people and finding utility [00:28:00] and feeling useful on the internet, and a lot of people want that. But man, it’s a grind.

Paul Ford: Yeah, you know, we’re like Soviet internet in the era of Putin like it. Hey is all right. [laughter]

Rich Ziade: Tell us what you think, excuse me [clears throat], tell us what you think. And sign up, uh, if you, we will give you an inside track if you try, uh, sign up for a beta invite @aboard.com. We’ll let you in, just, uh, uh, ping us, uh, either at hello@ziadeford.com or follow us at ziadeford on Twitter, and uh, send us a note.

Paul Ford: Sounds like a plan. All right, we’ll talk to everybody soon.

Rich Ziade: Take care, bye.

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