Episode 0067 · August 22, 2023

The podcast about what to do next.

Culture as a Feature

[Unedited Transcript]

Rich Ziade: [00:00:00] Hey Paul,

Paul Ford: Hey Rich, how you doing?

Rich Ziade: I’m doing well. How are you doing?

Paul Ford: I’m doing fine. I’m still a little sniffly, but my energy’s back. So you’re going to hear an energetic sniffly guy on this podcast.

Rich Ziade: You sound a little better.

Paul Ford: I’m doing all right. I’m on penicillin.

Rich Ziade: better.

Paul Ford: Life is good. Life

Rich Ziade: Good. Um, so, guess what I’m not?

Paul Ford: What are you?

Rich Ziade: Don’t do it.

Paul Ford: Oh man, oh, it’s a

Rich Ziade: Don’t do it. I’m not addicted or opening the app Threads.

Paul Ford: oh God. Tell the people what Threads was.

Rich Ziade: Okay, was. You, it sounds like it belongs in history books at this point.

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: I [00:01:00] knew And I think I tweeted it out just so I could say see I told you so I knew that when it came out And it was good like Threads was solid. It’s scaled. It was fast.

Paul Ford: Alright, so wait, wait, wait. Hold on, because people will be listening to this, like, they might be listening to this in September 2023, and no one will know what Threads was. So, tell them.

Rich Ziade: Just three weeks from now Threads was essentially a Twitter clone in effect a Twitter clone made by Meta Facebook’s parent company Because they saw that Twitter was kind of Skidding into. Um, this terrible sort of pit of shit, and so they’re like, you know what, we have a giant audience, as in like a third of the earth, uh, why don’t we come up with a Twitter clone?

So they came up with something called Threads, I think it’s by the Instagram team, I think it’s more as closely associated with the Instagram team, and you know, they had the users. So it was very easy for you to just log in with your Instagram account or [00:02:00] Facebook account or however way they were doing it.

And within like… A day, they had 50 million users, or some ridiculous number, right? And then everyone was like, man, it is pleasant over there. It is just nice. Nobody’s yelling at anyone. I just saw that Miley Cyrus jumped on. It’s gonna be great. And that’s the end of Twitter. And this has happened like four times. Uh. Mastodon showed up and it’s like well guess what we got right here There is no Yeah,

Paul Ford: hold on. This one is a little different. Like, Macedon is, Hey, you know what? There’s this federated, non controlled Build it yourself network of Twitter like experiences over here in the Fediverse.

Rich Ziade: had been around prior to all the like Twitter melting.

Paul Ford: And so people were like, well, I guess, you know, I’m looking for something different. I’ll give that a go. But I mean, let’s be real. Like the Fediverse adoption curve is just always going to be slower because it’s dirtier and [00:03:00] it’s not, doesn’t have one nice central app and you got to set up an account on a server.

And so like there, so Mastodon is its own thing, but yeah, there’s BlueSky, which is just a Twitter clone. You know, it’s, I think it has

Rich Ziade: x Twitter people

Paul Ford: has like a kind of crypto ass, but they’re always, you know, there’s like, they’re always trying to add

Rich Ziade: There’s always an angle. Yeah, there’s this one called post which raised a bunch of money Which is another Twitter clone, but everybody has their little twist on

Paul Ford: well, threads was

Rich Ziade: a bug

Paul Ford: because it’s like Mark Zuckerberg and it was naked. It was just like, yeah, this is our Twitter. We’re not going to worry about that. And then they put, it got like 150 billion users in like a minute, which is essentially half of Twitter’s active user base. Like, it’s a

Rich Ziade: yeah, yeah. But a tenth of Facebook’s user base

Paul Ford: Correct. Correct.

Rich Ziade: or something like that. Yeah. And, and, and I knew, I knew that it was going to fade off and, and it led me to think about Other bad [00:04:00] relationships in my life, and I don’t mean by bad relationships as in other people, but you have, we have relationships that we know are not healthy.

They could be with objects, they could be with nationalities, they could be with religions, um, that we stick to. And I don’t think people, people think that it’s about a feature set or about starting fresh, but here is the thing. Culture and social dynamics do not migrate.

Paul Ford: No,

Rich Ziade: You can’t export that data. They just don’t.

Paul Ford: threads had an immediate, like, clearly they were, they were seeding it with Instagram influencer types who were like, Oh man, is this my favorite new social network or what? You know, there’s a lot of that kind of content. And, uh, that was a rough go. You get in there, you’re like, Oh, all right.

And then. All the regular people show up. People like me.

Rich Ziade: yeah,

Paul Ford: you know, I just don’t have an Imbi anymore. I don’t think anybody does. We’re just like, oh god, remember how the last one turned out? Why will this be better? And [00:05:00] there’s no answer. It’s just like, ah, you’re going to get to engage with brands.

Like, we’re back to 2006.

Rich Ziade: yeah, and and and I don’t I don’t think that Anyone wants to start fresh. I don’t think anyone does like I think it’s I think

Paul Ford: Well, what’s the benefit? TikTok is like, I’m going to show you a hot girl dancing with a duck. And then she’ll give you duck farming tips. But she’ll do a dance. And you’re like, I’ve never seen that before.

Rich Ziade: yeah, and

Paul Ford: go ahead.

Rich Ziade: No, no, no, go ahead.

Paul Ford: No, I think, so like, what did Threads have? It was like, well, it’s another text box, and this one is endorsed by Mark Zuckerberg, who, you know, he’s doing better lately, but not an unalloyed history of successful advocacy for the consumer’s interest over his own.

Rich Ziade: correct, correct. Um,

Paul Ford: I want to get back to something you said, though. Hold up.

Rich Ziade: yeah,

Paul Ford: Because I think this is important, and I think it’s really subtle. The great sin [00:06:00] on social media that people like to call out over and over and over again, and it’s sort of like a very… Grew up very lefty inside. The great sin of progressivism is always hypocrisy.

You know, like you, you, you are, you’re a hypocrite. You, you took the money, you got the job and you got the insurance and so on. And which is why people, I think often people age out of it because they literally are like, Oh my God, I have two kids, right? Like you’re

Rich Ziade: Yeah, I want a house with a backyard. Yeah.

Paul Ford: I’m going to go for some hypocrisy.

Certainly I did. So, uh, what’s real is that. Every engagement with a system that’s a lot bigger than you comes with a hypocrisy tax. Every single

Rich Ziade: Mm hmm.

Paul Ford: Most people, I think, on earth, who are not focused on their ideology, but just kind of like want to hang out, are utterly happy to pay that tax. Could care

Rich Ziade: Oh, totally. Totally. And I think what’s interesting is I [00:07:00] think when people leave, and you saw this intensely when Musk bought Twitter, and it started, like, the weird changes started to come in, people viewed their exit. As an act of defiance, it’s like I’m done here. You can find me on this new address at this new neighborhood That is much nicer and everyone respects each other.

Bye and then they leave and then to your point 85% of the people on there are like, well, where’s he going? They just go back to what they were doing. Number one. Number two It gets real lonely on the other side there because nobody came with you. You thought you had power there that you were going to, you were going to be the beginning of a migration out, but you didn’t.

Paul Ford: Well, the platform has the power. I actually think, though… I do think Twitter truly is dying. I think social media is dying. I just don’t think like the appetite for it in [00:08:00] the culture is, can sustain. It was this very new and novel thing. It brought everybody together. And then I think everybody went, Oh God, no, I’m kind of tired.

Like, but you saw it in waves. Like it’s, it’s good for updates about grandma’s health. But it also gets real depressing. And like then Twitter, Twitter is now at this point where, yeah, everybody, a lot of people did leave, right? Like tens of millions have kind of drifted off. Most people never posted. They just watched.

And now there was a point a little while ago where it felt like it was getting to its true form, was just naked primate screaming, just people dunking and just kind of nothing but, but

Rich Ziade: yeah, yeah,

Paul Ford: But even that, everybody gets, humans just get bored. I cannot emphasize enough. I feel like if I could go back and rebuild my career from first principles.

I would just build it around the concept of humans having, at most collectively, a six month attention span for some new world changing idea.

Rich Ziade: and then [00:09:00] then back to the back to the median. Yeah. Yeah Yeah, is that and and and you know when I think about this I think about what we tend to drift back to valuing right which are which are Very relatable, but less interesting and exciting to the rest of the world things, right? And that could be your job, that could be your profession, that could be your research, that could be a hobby.

Um, and I think a lot of that happens now further away from these platforms. Because the platforms don’t reward it. They just don’t reward you having a club, right? They just don’t.

Paul Ford: because it’s literally like, hey, check out my model train. And someone will be like, hey, that model train is, uh, you know, the scale model there was used by the Germans to plan war crimes. And you’ll be like, whoa, you know, I just installed a little horn. And they’re like, yeah, [00:10:00] well, that’s…

You’re part of the problem and you just, which like, it could be true. That’s not true, but it could be true. But you’re just like, I just want to run my tutu around the track.

Rich Ziade: I think, look, I’m gonna tell you, I hate this phrase. I hate the phrase Town Square.

Paul Ford: Oh yeah, it’s a rough one.

Rich Ziade: it. I can’t stand it

Paul Ford: a, it is a favorite of the billionaires too. Billionaires love a good time. This was, I wrote about this. I wrote about how it wired the, uh, it wired. Uh, cause my, my thesis is that God destroyed Twitter because it became too much like the Tower of Babel. You just can’t get everybody together and then God just occasionally comes down and is just like,

Rich Ziade: like, enough.

Paul Ford: You’re not doing that! Gonna scatter you to all the different lands. Uh, Twi A billionaire loves a global town square. And I, I think it’s because it’s a market. I think they’re like, Aw, you got everybody together. Woo! Finally, it’s gonna be efficient. [00:11:00] And we can get Bitcoin!

Rich Ziade: And there’s also that love. No, no, no. And there’s also that love of like, well, at the town square, everyone is free to express themselves. There’s that feeling of like just unfettered freedom of

Paul Ford: It’s also like these guys, everyone needs to live in New York for like a year, especially if they’re about to become a billionaire.

Rich Ziade: come to Washington Square

Paul Ford: yeah,

Rich Ziade: for the town square.

Paul Ford: a man is wearing no shirt. Like, you know, it’s… I went out to get dinner and somebody, as I walked out, somebody was just like, Your skin is dead white.

You are the reason that they’re, you are the devil. You know, I’m just like, cool. And it’s, you know those guys, they’re in Fulton Mall. It’s totally, like, they’ve been around. They used to be in Times Square. They’ve been around forever. That’s part of the town square. I actually, in a horrible way, I see them with almost affection.

But, um, but like that’s, that’s not what they’re saying when they say town square.[00:12:00]

Rich Ziade: well, I guess there’s an optimist look I’ll give them one thing about it is I think it’s an optimistic view of people to say Oh the town square is a wonderful thing. I think when I think town square I think weirdos

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: I also think Everyone is talking shit about everyone else in smaller groups in the town square.

So I, I, I don’t know if it’s cynical or it’s just realistic. I’m just being realistic about just human nature. And I guess I want to toss the question to you. Is this just, is this just us? Like fundamentally? Come on, Paul, you gotta give us an out here, man.

Paul Ford: no, there is

Rich Ziade: Are we ending this podcast? Is this the end of our advice right at this very moment?

Paul Ford: is, I think I’m going to bring two things back together. So what is, I just said, I would love to rebuild my career along the principle of just humans getting bored, right?

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: Human behavior does not fundamentally change. It just doesn’t. [00:13:00] We could have another World War II tomorrow.

We really could. We know this. And we’ve taken steps, collectively as a society, for more than 70 years, because that was so bad we don’t want it to happen again. So we don’t have regular nuclear mis uh, nuclear bomb explosions on Earth. Because that’s so bad, right?

Rich Ziade: Well, it, we just saw the end game, right? Like, and that was terrifying. And that’s, you know, mutual assured destruction. And so we sort of tiptoed back, but we’re still, we’re like, you know what? But artillery is still cool, right? And so we still have a lot of conventional wars around the world.

Paul Ford: That was very confusing to me as a lesson to read about, like, the Geneva Conventions. Because I’m like, why don’t you just stop it? Right, like, why, why do, yeah, right,

Rich Ziade: That’s very optimistic.

Paul Ford: 15, like, you know, why do

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: but then what you don’t think of as a 15 year old is like, what enforcement mechanism will, will stop it, right?

And so,

Rich Ziade: exactly.

Paul Ford: so, uh, so [00:14:00] no, but wait, wait, wait, so like, all right. I don’t think the fundamentals of human behavior change, even in relation to extremely exciting technology, what I do think happens is humans get excited by that possibility. And because we’re so innately bored, we lead in and we go, Oh my God, AI is going to change everything.

And I’m going to tell you the truth. I’m looking at the mid journey, like, you know, look at the images this AI can create. And it is big titty anime girls staring at the camera over and over and over again. I’m like, okay, here we are right here’s where we’ve ended up. We’ve ended up back where you could have predicted.

We’d end up big titty anime girls. One after the other, endlessly, and they’re bad. It’s like bad art.

Rich Ziade: yeah.

Paul Ford: makes, so we made a computer make bad art, and we’re back to the boring place,

Rich Ziade: I think what you’re saying is, is that, is that tech, technology and computers and the [00:15:00] internet don’t, they, they aspire to change human behavior, but just always going to revert back to the norm.

Paul Ford: all of our systems aspire to change human behavior. Religion, um, you know, health care, right? Like, what changes human behavior? Some drugs? Exercise regimes. Democracy is actually, you know, I’m not one of those people who’s like, the founding fathers were the great geniuses, but what they were geniuses of is a kind of compromise, even when it was like the most ethically fraught compromise, like around slavery.

They were like, we got, we got to figure it out. We’re just going to get that. We’re going to get away from England. We’re going to get this thing together. Democracy is a fantastic compromise because you’re just going to, I just went, um, to pick my kids up from camp. So you always want to have like a little mission along the way.

So my wife and I stopped at the W. E. B. Dubois, uh, sort of home site. So for those who don’t know him, look him up.

Rich Ziade: in [00:16:00] Massachusetts.

Paul Ford: Yes. Absolute founding, uh, one of the most brilliant people who’s ever lived in America. First, uh, African American PhD. Uh, at Harvard, I think, and

Rich Ziade: Yeah,

Paul Ford: kind of created, created infographics and a real sort of got slammed at the end as a communist, partially because he joined the communist party, but like, you know, it was a true activist, uh, from the, from the.

I guess the late 1800s, early 1900s, uh, into the 50s and 60s for the rights of African American people and sort of the global rights of, of African descended people. And you’re up there and like what he said over and over, and this is as you do the walk through the woods where they have little plaques, he was a huge, huge fan of democracy because he just believed that it was probably the best way.

To get change. Like that people would learn, and they would figure stuff out, and they would get smarter, and they would vote. And it… That’s not a popular viewpoint when you [00:17:00] throw everybody together in the town square on Twitter, but I still buy it I I think we’re in a rough patch right now But I still buy that like we’re smarter and better as humans that we were in like 1840 Like we’re it’s just not as fast as like you would have thought when you got that Pentium 15 years ago, we didn’t we don’t move as fast as our technology

Rich Ziade: Yeah, and, and, and, that’s a great point. And, and, you know, we’re talking about mechanisms that actually change human behavior and actually… Tip us in the right direction. I think democracy is one of them I think what I would tweak to what you’re saying here is that I think what the Founding Fathers got right is that All those systems they put in place all the checks and balances all the mechanisms around like it’s actually quite Distrustful of humans.

In fact,

Paul Ford: extremely

Rich Ziade: nobody can really do anything without the okay of everyone else. And they knew they’d be at each other’s throats, and they understood that. And it’s [00:18:00] actually quite s it’s almost like a, a cynical view of, and of really embracing the idea that, look, this is gonna be shitty. Right. Let’s how, how do we minimize the bad?

Paul Ford: every good system is paranoid about human behavior. I mean, a good, uh, counterexample here is what happened in the Catholic church around child abuse, right? Like the system is broke down.

Rich Ziade: Yeah,

Paul Ford: wasn’t, they had so much faith in themselves that they exploited vulnerable people, which is exactly contrary to the whole fricking shebang,

Rich Ziade: yeah, yeah,

Paul Ford: Um, I would, I do want to just go off on a brief tangent. I started to watch John Adams, which was a miniseries on HBO.

Rich Ziade: With Paul Giamatti,

Paul Ford: That’s the thing. I can’t do it cause I can’t, I can’t

Rich Ziade: It’s just,

Paul Ford: founding father, Paul Giamatti, it’s cause it’s just him. It’s just him. It’s just him. It’s just him. It’s just him. It’s just him.


Rich Ziade: wife is Laura Dern in

Paul Ford: no, it’s not Laura Dern.

[00:19:00] Laura Liddy

Rich Ziade: Laura Linney. Who’s, who just looks, like, looks the part.

Paul Ford: Oh, she’s great.

Rich Ziade: dignified and thoughtful. And then Paul Giamatti just fell out of a Brooklyn bodega into the 1700s.

Paul Ford: they shave his head at one point. You’re just like, no, no, no, don’t do this.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, yeah,

Paul Ford: Why don’t you guys say, I’m off to Philadelphia, my dear. You know, just, oh

Rich Ziade: Oh God.

Paul Ford: Oh, you’re really, if, if that was, you’re, you’re just like, there’s no way this country can work out when you see that you’re like, no wonder.

Rich Ziade: We can’t end it on Paul Giamatti. Let’s sort of bring it home here. I think, and I don’t think this is advice, I think this is acknowledgement and understanding that people don’t change. Human behavior doesn’t change. And that the systems that aspire to change And a lot of that comes from tech.

Some of it comes from philosophy. Some of it comes from like, you know, political ideas. It can be a lot of different things. That system has to understand that people [00:20:00] don’t change. To me, what democracy is, is… There is the ideal and then there is the sort of Watered downs like look if we can make it 20% better we won here.

It’s still better than a dictatorship, right? That’s all we got That’s all we got. So let’s run with that. And I think Having that humility most that’s the thing about billionaires, right? They’re convinced that if it’s their town square, it’s gonna be different

Paul Ford: them in the office and they will say the words only I can fix it.

Rich Ziade: yeah, yeah. It’s wild.

Paul Ford: here, here’s the thing, and I think about this, the, the product you and I are building now, it’s called a board, it’s the sponsor of this podcast, and so on and so forth. The products that I wanted to build in my thirties, let’s say,

Rich Ziade: Mm.

Paul Ford: I still had a lot of like, if we get this right, boy, we’re going to blow up the world.

I really believe that. But what I’ve seen, and this is true of Google, this is true of Twitter, this is true of everything. There’ll be these brief moments where you’re like, whoa, new society just showed up. I can’t [00:21:00] believe it. Here we are. We’re living in the future. And then the old stuff always asserts itself.

I remember writing, you know the first time with Twitter, it was, um, and I wrote about this. I wrote about this for the New Yorker early days. It was when, uh, Turkey just turned off the internet. uh, like, People were, no, people were, uh, spray painting DNS, 8888, and then it’s around

Rich Ziade: That’s wild.

Paul Ford: because Erdogan had shut off the internet because everybody was using Twitter too much during the protests.

Rich Ziade: Yep.

Paul Ford: And it was like, and I remember postulating like, you know, a dictator with this megaphone, you know, we talk about it always being positive, positive, positive, a dictator with this megaphone could really do a lot of damage, never assuming that that would be an American president on Twitter.

Rich Ziade: Yeah. Exactly.

Paul Ford: but, but yeah, no, no, all these platforms, what, what I think about the town square [00:22:00] is that the global town square must be a very, very structured place.

You can get a little signal in, media is a global town square, uh, democracy allows people to express themselves, constant expression of thousands and thousands of voices. Where everybody’s together gets you like QAnon, right? Like it’s, it’s, it’s dangerous that way because viral ideas can spread without, and it’s that old line about, you know, a lie could travel the world five times before the truth puts on its boots.

Like that,

Rich Ziade: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Paul Ford: because you’re satisfying people. You’re giving them a sugared fat. Um, I really do believe that the best thing you could do building technology is empower small groups to do the things they want to do and hope everybody meets up later through the other, through the big systems that we use to manage our society.

Um, you know, if I was 25, I think I’d believe differently, but this is, this is where I’m at right now.

Rich Ziade: I think, I think those small groups, especially ones [00:23:00] that are act, you know, active and towards a cause or trying to make something a little bit better, they don’t want, they don’t want the dopamine hit of acknowledgement. They just, they’re doing their thing, they’re following a particular mission, and they’re trying to make the world like 0.

2% better. And that, or each other better, frankly. It could be a hobby that has nothing to do with an altruistic cause, and that’s fine too. Um, but at least it’s not It’s not running towards the scoring mechanisms around social dynamics, which are always a bad scene. It’s just a bad scene. right, Paul, tell me about a board.

You mentioned it earlier.

Paul Ford: Well, my friends, a board is a tool for managing all kinds of information. It is a tool for bringing in tons of links from the web and it turns them into these beautiful cards that you can move around and organize. You can put them in stacks, you can add tags to them. We just made it really easy to do whatever the thing is that you do.

So if you are into model trades, a board is like a really [00:24:00] good place to, for you and your model trade buds to

Rich Ziade: Rod Stewart, that’s you. We’re talking to you right now.

Paul Ford: For those who don’t know, Rod Stewart is an absolute model trade enthusiast. Um, no, like if you’re like, truly, this is a good platform for model trade folks to organize themselves, figure out the beat up, look at the model trades that they really want to buy and they, you know, the little tiny.

Trees, always get those little trees. You know what I’m talking about?

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: them places. And, uh, so that, that’s what a board is for. It’s for that kind of community and that kind of group. Now that group could also be the local mutual aid society or the, the free library or the little company that you’re starting.

So it’s, it’s for that. So, but, but check it out on board. com. Really big changes coming really, really soon or big announcements coming from a board. If you, if you’re not in yet, you are going to be in soon. That’s the way I would put it.

Rich Ziade: Uh, and you’re listening to Ziade Fort at the Ziade Fort podcast, advisor’s podcast at ZiadeFort. com and at Ziade [00:25:00] Fort on X, which we use. We’re not going to hide that fact. We’re on X. We tweet out our episodes.

Paul Ford: got yelled at it. I got yelled at about it the other day by a sort of old internet head who’s like, Why are you still here? And it was like, Oh man, I don’t know. Who cares? Like, there is an element of like, who cares? Just

Rich Ziade: Oh, I think that one of the healthiest, we’ve had, we’ve talked about this, about not caring too much for all the wrong reasons on the internet. It’s like, who cares is one of the healthiest things you can say to yourself while you’re using the internet.

Paul Ford: I feel that New York City really helps here because like when I, I come down out of the office, there’s a guy sitting on the steps reading a book who’s a retired doorman

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: and, uh, and, uh, he doesn’t care.

Rich Ziade: He doesn’t care. He’s reading his book.

Paul Ford: He’s not

Rich Ziade: got a pile of books. He’s not worried about it.

Paul Ford: he’s living a completely functional American life where everything we do is kind of relevant

Rich Ziade: Yes, I know this person and he says things to me like, [00:26:00] it looks nice today. I’m going to take a longer walk than usual. That’s literally what he says.

Paul Ford: literally, it is, he is every single element of citizenship that we have and has decided on a different path, and it is. He’s rocking it, as far as I can tell,

Rich Ziade: He’s killing it.

Paul Ford: he’s not thinking about Twitter right now.

Rich Ziade: Not at all. He doesn’t even know what it is.

Paul Ford: So I, I do feel like there’s just enormous, that guy is right there in the global square.

He’s just like, would you all shut up?

Rich Ziade: yeah, yeah. He’s having his like biscotti and espresso and just watching everybody.

Paul Ford: jealousy every time I walk by. Alright friends, we will talk to you soon and thank you for

Rich Ziade: a lovely week. Bye bye. [00:27:00]

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