This Week in Tech 546
Leo Laporte: It's time for TWiT, This Week in Tech! Om Malik is here, along with Iain Thomson and Erin Griffith. We're going to talk about the week's news. We'll talk about Internet.org, Om has some strong opinions there and what's going on at Twitter. Big layoffs ahead! It's all next: on TWiT.
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Leo: This is TWiT, This Week in Tech, episode 546, recorded Sunday, January 24, 2016.
Do I Look Like an Angel to You?
This Week in Tech is brought to you by audible.com. Sign up for the platinum plan and get two free books. Go to audible.com/twit2, and follow Audible on Twitter, user ID audible_com. And by Citrix GoToMeeting: The powerfully simple way to meet with coworkers and clients from the convenience of your computer, Smartphone, or tablet. Share the same screen and see each other face to face with HD video conferencing. For a 30-day free trial, go visit gotomeeting.com. And by Gazelle: the fast and simple way to sell your used gadgets. Shop from a variety of certified pre-owned electronics, or trade one in for cash. Give new life to a used device. Visit gazelle.com today. And by stamps.cOm: Start using your time more effectively with stamps.com. Use stamps.com to buy and print real US postage the instant you need it, right from your desk. To get our special offer, go to stamps.com now. Click on the microphone and enter TWIT. That's stamps.com, enter TWIT. It's time for TWiT: This Week in Tech, the show where we cover the week's tech news! Hello everybody! It's that time once again. Joining us at the TWiT table, some lovely people. We'll start with Iain Thomson from The Register, theregister.co.uk. Welcome.
Iain Thomson: Good to see you, Leo.
Leo: I feel like we see a lot of you. It's good, I'm not complaining.
Iain: You know, I get around a bit.
Leo: We like it. We like the English accent here. It's awesome. It makes us a little posher.
Iain: I shall say nothing.
Leo: See? Even saying that is posh. That's Erin Griffith from Fortune magazine. She has a wonderful, new URL. fortune.com/unicorntears. Are youtaking up teaching in your apartment? It looks like you have a chalkboard.
Erin Griffith: That is a chalk board that was gifted to me by an old roommate years ago.
Leo: I love that. Do you use it for brainstorming and stuff?
Erin: I use it for my to do list, which currently has a "getting a New York ID." I'm coming up on my ten year anniversary of living in New York, and I have yet to get an ID in the New York State, and that's the one thing on top of my "to do list" on the chalkboard.
Leo: So you have a driver's license from Maryland?
Leo: That Cactus must feel really lost and alone in snow ridden New York City, I must say. Are you snowbound?
Erin: I left the house today and there's snow covered cars where there's literally just a tiny little rear view mirror sticking out from the snow. That's all that you can see is the car.
Leo: 27 inches. But those got buried by snowplows, right?
Erin: Yeah. People are digging out their cars and throwing the snow into the street, and then the street plow comes and pushes it back onto the cars. It's a passive aggressive fight they're having.
Leo: It's all right. It'll be slushing a few hours anyway.
Erin: Tomorrow is going to be pretty gross.
Leo: It's so nice when it snows. I've seen so many great videos. 27 inches total was the last I saw. Casey did a wonderful video of him snowboarding down Broadway through Time Square.
Iain: Yeah. My in laws are totally snowed in at the moment, but they're OK. They've got food, they've got fuel, they've got alcohol, and they've got books.
Leo: Also with us, Om Malik formerly of Gigaom, now of Om.co. Hey Om.
Om Malik: Hello, Leo.
Leo: You just got back from somewhere.
Om: No. I've been home for two months, almost. It does sound crazy.
Leo: Are you going somewhere soon?
Om: I was going to go to New York, and I'm glad I didn't go.
Leo: Jeff Jarvis went to Davos this week and he's stuck in Zurich. Can't fly home.
Iain: Expensive place to get stuck, though. If you don't like getting shafted on bills, Switzerland is not the place to visit.
Leo: It's a pricy, pricy country. Well, speaking of price, we know a little about how much Google has made on Android and other things from the Oracle Google lawsuit. Google isn't happy about this. Among other things, disclosed. This is the lawsuit over Java. Google paid Apple a billion dollars in 2014 in one year to keep Google as the default search provider for IOS. Not much to Apple, but still. A billion dollars is a billion dollars.
Iain: Good deal for Google as well, because they're going to need more than that out of it. I've got to say Apple when it comes to contract negotiations must be a bit, another billion here, a billion there. Sooner or later it adds up to real money, so...
Leo: I wonder if Apple though. You're right. They don't need the money, but I wonder if for pride they're tough negotiators. "We're Apple. Give us money."
Erin: What's their alternative? Bing?
Leo: That's what Google says.
Erin: As soon as people search on that, they're going to be confused and switch the default to Google anyway, so they may as well say OK, fine. A billion, that's not much, you're going to make ten billion over the course of a year. It'll be interesting though, because Google's business already has or will soon shift to be more mobile than not mobile, and at that point, Apple might be able to charge a lot more, because they'll realize how crucial it is to Google's overall business.
Leo: I'm looking at an article from 2014 talking about IOS 8 and OS X, and of course this is two years ago almost. Apple will let you ditch Google search for Duck Duck Go. This never happened. This was Apple saying to Google, "See? We could do it."
Erin: The interesting thing is that the headline is "let." That's a present they're giving us?
Leo: I'll be allowed.
Iain: Chat to Apple and go "Nice search engine you've got there. It would be a shame if anything happened to it."
Leo: It would be a shame if a duck were to fly through you're window there. Also, we learned that in the lifetime of Android, Google has generated 31 billion dollars in revenue. Android has been a profitable enterprise. 22 billion of that profit. Not sure where the other 9 billion went to. Where did the money come from? It makes money for Google in two ways, advertisements on Android phones, and of course the Google Play store. That's not an insignificant amount.
Iain: Microsoft makes a significant amount of money out of Android as well because it gathers enough of a pattern pile that it can sale, big thick pile of patents here. If it went to court, that could be expensive, so why don't you pay us some licensing fees?
Leo: The rumor was for a whie, five bucks per Android handset. They're making a lot more on Android then they're making on Windows phone. Lest you believe a 22 billion dollar profit is meaningful, 9 to 5 mac immediately jumped in the fray. Apple made more from an iPhone in a single quarter than Google has made in all of Android history.
Erin: I hate that headline. It's so stupid, because we're talking about devices.
Leo: Hardware, it's a completely different--
Erin: You have to add in how much Samsung, how much every phone maker makes selling Android phones if you really want to compare it Apples to Apples.
Leo: It was inevitable, wasn't it? We knew that would happen at some point.
Erin: I think that comparison is so silly.
Leo: Om, this is one of the negative side effects of these lawsuits that fly around Silicon valley is what gets revealed in discovery.
Om: Why are you saying it's a side effect? Why is it bad?
Leo: I think about the Apple/Samsung lawsuit. Apple sued Samsung and so much was revealed about Apple's process that I think Apple might have come to regret that lawsuit even though they got a huge amount of money in the settlement.
Om: I'm not so sure there was that much revealed. Even if it did, nobody can replicate what they do as a collective. I think there's a lot which is made out of the whole Apple details that are secrets about, it still is Apple doing what Apple does and Google doing what Google does. This is part of a process, the cost of doing business. I like that all these lawsuits are happening, because it keeps reporters busy. They got something interesting to report on. Otherwise they will write those clickbait articles, one quarter revenue worse. I think it's better if you have details.
Leo: I agree. Maybe this is a misunderstanding, but one feel likes Apple has a visceral aversion to anybody knowing anything about what goes on inside. Oh my god! They found out we have a design team!
Erin: That's not just Apple though. I don't cover Apple as closely as I cover Google and Facebook, but they are equally as controlling about what kinds of information... they do more outreach because they want positive stories and they want stories to be told about what they're doing and they want their innovation to be praised, but they're still very controling and very protective of the kind of information that gets out. The best stuff is always from leaks or lawsuits like this.
Leo: Who is the most open Silicon valley company? Who do you guys find easiest to cover?
Erin: The smallest ones because they're more desperate to be covered, so they'll share stuff. The bigger you are, the more at stake there is, and the less benefit you have from talking to a reporter and having some executive say something stupid and that's taken out of context or something that could help one of your competitors. The bigger and more powerful you are, the less motivation you have to be transparent.
Iain: I think that's very true. We saw this with Apple. Their entire PR strategy for the last ten years has been "Don't tell anyone anything, unless we know they're a friend of ours." A lot of other companies have hooked up onto that as well. You're right. The smaller the company, the more open they are to talk about their tech.
Leo: If I were a PR person, I would say there's nothing to be gained by talking to the press period.
Iain: You've got to ask yourself what is your job? There are 4.2 PR people for every journalist in this country.
Leo: That's why they don't say that.
Iain: Crafting the message side of it. Informing the press to inform the populous strikes me as the PR's job.
Leo: Why should the populous know anything at all? The populous should get everything it needs from advertising.
Iain: Yeah, because when somebody has to pay money to convince you to buy a product that means it must be worth buying.
Om: May I make one point here as somebody who is no longer apart of the business? The way tech media has become today, you step away and realize actually you don't need it very much. I think the noise which passes as news is becoming so high that it is actually pretty strange that you focus on anything meaningful anymore. I think that is the bigger challenge. The PR people have done a great job of focusing attention away from real news to noise, I think that people are writing about Internet.org as if it's the second coming of Jesus, and essentially it is. It is a ploy to have insidious control over what seems to be the Internet for the rest of the planet. Most of the press is not covering that angle. They're covering the easier PR accessible angle on that story, and I think that's what I mean. All of it is just noise now. Very few people are actually digging into deeper stories.
Leo: I'm glad you brought this Internet.org up. Did we talk about this the last time you were on?
Om: I think I may be the only person who keeps talking about this.
Leo: I'm going to play the opposite. I understand what you're saying. Internet.org, which is Facebook's initiative to bring Internet access to developing nations where they don't have any Internet access at all, but it's a weird Internet access. It's access to Facebook, Wikipedia. It's additional stuff. But Wikipedia, it's not just certain parts of Wikipedia that Facebook likes, it's the whole Wikipedia. Right?
Om: No Google, no Twitter. Things which fell into the... it's their idea of the Internet. My issue with this is if you want to connect people and give them access to Facebook approved access, don't call it internet.org. Call it Facebook.org. It's disingenuous to call it internet.org, because Facebook is not the Internet. To call it internet.org is actually the first sin of the whole thing.
Erin: Didn't they change the name of it though? They changed it to Free basics?
Om: It's Internet.org/freebasics. No. Change the name of the organization completely. I think we have to look at this from a cultural standpoint. In the pre-Industrialization, the east India company was the spearhead of the British empire. In a way, they controlled two most important commodities you needed for economic growth. One was labor and the other was actual commodity. In the post Internet age, attention and connectivity are the two limiting factors to economic growth, so by controlling those points, what you're looking at is Facebook is trying to control what will happen in the future. I think people look at it and say no. This is just the Internet. But if Facebook can decide who wins the elections, that is not a good situation to have. They never address those issues directly. They don't address the insidious nature of Internet.org and its impact on local Governments and local populations, so I understand that they're trying to do good, but I don't think it's as simple as that. This is about advertising and making money and decisions, which will be made based on how Facebook makes more money in the future. Right now, you can say whatever you want, but I draw the parallel between what was the East India company and I think Facebook is trying to do somewhat the same thing.
Leo: You raise a good point. You're Indian, you know India better than I do, but isn't it the choice between this and nothing at all? I look at some of the free basics platform does allow people to supply and become part of it. Admittedly, this is provided by Facebook, Maya a woman's help support network that sees 71 percent of its traffic from free basics, they're providing women's health information, baby centers reached 3.4 million people with information for pregnancy and parenting. These are people who wouldn't get this information otherwise. I understand the issue of we don't want one incumbant to control elections and so forth, but I don't have a problem with them being a "for profit." No NGO is stepping up and doing this. Facebook is stepping up and doing it. Isn't it better to have this than nothing at all?
Om: Here's the thing. You look at most of these countries, they have a competitive telecom environment. Not only that, they actually do have Internet available to a lot of people at prices which are much lower than what we pay for in the US.
Leo: So these people are served anyway?
Om: People have access to these technologies. So by saying Facebook is subsidizing access to these things doesn't mean that they're doing the right thing. If they want to subsidize access to Facebook or Facebook approved sites, they should do that, but that doesn't mean they should call it Internet.org. That doesn't mean they should be using that as a single play to access all the information. I think by becoming gatekeepers of information, it is a much deeper problem that they can cause in the long term. I am absolutely sure that this is where the problem is going to happen in the future. We don't know what people are doing in these things and who is accessing all these services. I would challenge Facebook to get one... if you want to do good for the planet, how about having a clean source of water for every 10,000 people they want to give access to?
Leo: Maybe they're doing that too.
Om: No, they're not.
Leo: Mark is giving away his fortune.
Iain: Technically not. What he has done is created an LLC which will make charitable contributions, but he hasn't said he will make charitable contributions. Bill Gates raised this point. When the whole Internet thing from Facebook was announced, he said look. If you got a choice between having Internet access and having clean drinking water and the power to run the device, which one are you going to pick?
Leo: I'll choose clean water, of course. That’s a fundamental, but does it have to be an either/or?
Iain: Facebook is dressing this up as this big philanthropic...
Leo: Would it be OK if we didn't call it Internet? If we called it something else?
Iain: It's called a basically, "We want more people to use Facebook," but it's not a very catchy title.
Leo: But what's wrong with that? That's their business.
Erin: One thing I thought was interesting, Jessie Hemple at Wired wrote a big feature on this topic last week, the one thing, the challenge that they're having in India, a lot of the pushback they're having from local people saying that we don't want your version of the Internet, in a lot of remote places, people don't see the point of WiFi. They already have phones and data plans and they don't understand why they would need to sign up for Facebook's WiFi. So the challenge is actually adoption. While we're all freaking out about this now and saying Facebook is horrible for trying to control the Internet, in the end, maybe it won't be a problem because people won't use it.
Leo: In India, it's very controversial, I understand. In fact, the Indian telecom regulatory authority pulled the plug on internet.org while it debates whether Telecom operators should be able to offer different services with variable pricing or whether Net neutrality should be enforced. Mark Zuckerberg's response was to write a piece for the Times of India by Billboard's ads a television campaign to promote free basics. Couldn't you say this is anti-competative malarkey from the Indian regulatory body? If they want to do something, why don't they step up and do something different?
Om: They have created so much competition in the marketplace, right? There are seven mobile companies there who are competing in the marketplace and much more ruthlessly than we have here in the United States. I think would you say the same thing about the FCC?
Leo: It remains to be seen. If they do what they say they're going to do, it's not malarkey.
Om: I think the point here is if they want more people to connect to Facebook, that's fine. They want to subsidize it? That's fine. I can't argue against that. T Mobile is banning access to YouTube. That's no different than what Facebook wants to do. I'm perfectly fine with that. They want to pay to subsidize access to Facebook on people's phones? Fine. That's an application whose usage is subsidized by Facebook. Great. Don't dress it up as the Internet. Don't dress it up as you're doing great for the planet. You're doing this for making more money. I'm fine with that. There is nothing wrong with this being a for-profit venture.
Leo: Just don't pretend it's charity.
Om: Yes. It is unfortunate that it's become this kind of debate. I think I'm perfectly fine with Facebook doing what it does with its own shareholders, that's their job. Don't expect us to buy into it. I have issues with that.
Leo: Call a spade a spade. I'm quoting from an article in The Register by professor Mark Graham at the Oxford University Internet Institute. He likens Facebook's giveaway to Nestles’ free baby formula giveaway in the 70's.
Iain: Yeah. That's kind of far. You don't necessarily inadvertently kill people with that giveaway. When it comes to this, this is slightly less serious.
Leo: It might not be a bad analogy though. It's one of those things where Nestle could say, "We just want to make sure babies are proper nutrition, we're giving a free formula to people who are very poor who wouldn't otherwise have access to this", and what they don't mention is it's not a good alternative to breast feeding. It's not... it hooks them on this product.
Iain: Also, they would give away just enough baby food to ensure the mothers stop nursing. Then they had to go to Nestle and the prices got jacked up. That's why so many people died. In this case, it's not a life or death situation. I can see why from an Internet's rights perspective it gets people riled up because you are basically subscribing to the gatekeeper model, and whatever Facebook likes goes on there. Whatever they don't like doesn't. I find it very worrying. I find it annoying that they dress it up as a philanthropic activity as opposed to we just really want to widen our footprint in what is going to be a key market.
Erin: I'm curious though, because Mark Zuckerberg is so sincere in the way that he talks about this. He acts like he just really wants to help and why don't people want his help? I don't know if that's naivete and Silicon Valley drinking the CoolAid or if it's I'm really tricking them we'r going to help and we're going to make so much money. I can't tell which one it is, so I'm curious what you guys think.
Leo: It's one of the reasons I'm raising this, because Om says we don't cover it enough. I want to cover it and give you a chance to speak out about it. Mark Zuckerberg writing in the Times of India says, "What reason is there for denying people free access to vital services for communication, education, healthcare, employment farming, and women's rights?" I think that's a legitimate question, and I want to hear how you guys answer that. I think you've done so, Om. I think there's a really anti-corporate point of view in some parts of the world. Less so in the US.
Om: It's not an anti-corporate point of view. I think what it is is he's not being straight when he talks about this. If people should have more communication, they should use everything from WhatsApp to Kick to WeChat. Whatever is out there, not just Facebook approved messaging services. If he wants to subsidize people's Internet access, then they should have access to all the Internet. `Not just Facebook approved Internet.
Leo: What if somebody created a library that wasn't public, it was a commercial enterprise, they chose the books, but it was a lending library, a free library, would that be OK?
Iain: There is the argument that some information is better than none, certainly.
Leo: That's my argument.
Iain: The whole point of the Internet is that there is no platform without access to information that's on there. If you're going to say we'll give you this little chunk of it, by the way, that includes a large part of our own services as well...
Leo: Although there's no requirement that you use Facebook to do this.
Iain: No. There's no requirement that you use Facebook, but let's face it. If somebody is giving you this free thing you've got to check it out to see what's there.
Leo: Facebook is pretty good. I think it would be a reasonable thing for Mark to say hey, if they have access to it, they might use it. I bet a lot of them will.
Iain: It might also be better if...
Leo: How harmful is it if people use Facebook? That's not the end of the world.
Iain: It's not the end of the world, I'm saying if you want to be strictly fair about it you could say Facebook will pay their taxes and actually give the government a revenue.
Leo: Are they not paying taxes?
Iain: Facebook is pretty bad. Google has just reached a deal this week with UK tax authorities whereby they're paying 130 million pounds in tax, which is a tax rate of 2.5 percent. Facebook last year in the UK paid 4,000 pounts in corporation tax because they had shifted things through to other subsidiaries. I take these campaigns more seriously if the companies involved pay their taxes to let Government do it in an equal handed way, as opposed to following their corporate agendas.
Leo: Mark says, "Who could possibly be against this?" I feel like he's sincere. Do you think he's not sincere when he says who could be against this?
Om: It's a nice line. Can't argue against that line, but I don't buy it.
Leo: I love the conversation. We'll table it. By the way, I'm playing devil's advocate here. I want to know why it's such a bad idea, so I think you've all done a good job of saying.
Erin: I think Om is right. It hasn't been covered as much as it should be, but in the last week there were two good deep dives into this, and there was one on Buzzfeed if anyone is interested in, they should definitely check out because it does take a more critical angle looking at this.
Leo: I wish BuzzFeed... I want to read and like BuzzFeed as a journalistic enterprise.
Erin: You should.
Leo: I know. Many of my friends work there, and they do great stuff.
Erin: I'm about to hear what's stopping you from doing that.
Leo: Because it's BuzzFeed!
Iain: It takes a while to get away from number four will shock you.
Erin: You know that the New York Times has a style section that writes some of the most ridiculous stories on the Internet, right?
Leo: I agree, but it's the Styles section.
Erin: It's BuzzFeed's life section.
Leo: If they had started as a journalistic enterprise and added a click bait section, that would be different, right? They wouldn't have any traffic, that's the problem.
Erin: It's worth pointing out. They can finance all kinds of investigative journalism where their writers don't have to churn out three stories a day but can spend several days digging into something because it's all supported by Cat Gifs and food videos on Facebook.
Leo: I'm an old man. I'm old fashioned. The 20th anniversary was last Friday of the first New York Times website.
Iain: Beginners. We've been online since 94 for goodness sake.
Leo: Really? You beat them by two whole years.
Iain: I know. I love this idea that 20 years ago we took this brave step forward, and it's like, yeah, after other people got there first. Good on them.
Leo: It was a funky looking site in those days.
Iain: It's always fun, getting all the way back and seeing how these things look.
Erin: I didn't think it looked all that much different than their site today. The logo is the same, the layout is the same.
Leo: The font is still Times New Roman. You know what I found interesting? In the upper left hand corner is an ad for auto classifieds. That showed that it came from a different era.
Erin: That's a billion dollar company now, not owned by the Times.
Leo: That was before Craigslist almost put them out of business. Let's take a break. We'll come back with more. Om Malik is here from Om.co. What do I call you, Om? An angel investor?
Om: I'm a professional venture capitalist.
Leo: A professional venture capitalist.
Om: I'm a partner at Ventures and all I do is invest in...
Leo: You're like the real deal.
Om: Do I look like an angel to you?
Leo: None of this I'll write you a check. I'll write 5000 dollars, give me half your company. None of that. I want to talk more about unicorns in a bit.
Om: I think Erin is more...
Leo: She's got the URL.
Om: She has the URL, so I'm going to listen to what she has to say.
Leo: Fortune.com/unicorn tears, Erin Griffith, she's also here. And from the Register.couk, who has been doing it for two more years than the New York Times...
Iain: We've got to blow our own trumpet sometimes.
Leo: Great to have all three of you. Our show to you today brought to you by audible.com. I'm going to try not to do a five hour Audible ad. It would be easy for me to do, because I am such a fan of Audible. Since 2000, I had a long commute. I used to get books on tape. You'd get them in a box of 20 tapes, you would have one month to listen to them and then you'd send the box back. It was not the best way to do it. I fell in love with audiobooks at that time. Along comes this little startup. Audible.com and they send you out this hardware device that you can listen to books. Eventually I put it on my diamond rio, and lo and behold 16 years later and I've had 500 books. I can go to my Audible site and still see my entire library. I know what my very first book was, I know what my most recent book is. When you look at this, they've come such a long way. 180,000 titles. There isn't a best seller that comes out on Audible the same time it hits the bookstore. The readers are so good. It's so compelling. It's not just books. They have great courses too. The best college professors teaching college level courses. Here's Einstein's relativity in the quantum revolution, modern physics for non-scientists, 12 hours, 24 lectures. It's food for your brain. You can get this and another book free. This and the Dorito effect, the surprising new truth about food flavor. I like books like that too. I also love the fiction. There's so much great fiction on Audible.
Iain: And some Harry Potter, I see.
Leo: You guys in the UK, Audible UK has Stephen Frye reading the Harry Potters. He's wonderful. But here in the States we have another guy named Jim Dale. There's a real schism between the Frys and the Dales. Over Fry and over Dale. Jim Dale really goes into all the voices. Stephen Fry is too big a star to do...
Iain: He's a classically trained actor. Here's a little Jim Dale. Everything Jim Dale reads, by the way, sounds extremely urgent.
Jim Dale: Mr and Mrs Dursley of number four Privet drive were proud to say they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.
Leo: I think this version is more British than the British version.
Iain: Yeah. I can see your point. I never found Harry Potter believable. A guy with red hair in a boarding school with two friends? It's never going to happen.
Leo: Not to mention a lightening mark on his forehead. Anyway, Audible is a great place if you've not read Harry Potter. You can do this with the kids, there's lots of adult books on here, but this is one you can listen to with your family in the car going on a road trip. Audible saves you from road trips. It saves you from commuting. It saves you from the boredom, the tedium of the treadmill. It is amazing. There's lots of politics on here too. This is a great year to catch up. If you love the X files, they're coming back tonight you can read some of the novelizations from the X files. Here's the deal. I'm going to get you two books. Pick two. This is the Alexander Hamilton book the Broadway show was based on. There's no singing in this.
Iain: A Broadway show based on Alexander Hamilton?
Leo: You don't know about Hamilton?
Iain: Was this the guy who killed people in duels?
Leo: Yeah. It's a rap version. It's the hit on Broadway. You don't know about Hamilton? Have you seen it yet, Erin?
Erin: No. Shamefully I haven't. What Internet are you on? How have you not heard about this?
Leo: We'll get him up to speed on Hamilton.
Erin: At least listen to it on Spotify. The Soundtrack is amazing
Leo: The soundtrack is really good. Start with a book. You get two of them by going to Audible.com/twit2. You'll be signing up for the Platinum plan. That means two free audio books in a month. You'll get the daily digest and the New York Times and the Wall Street journal. You can cancel any time in the first few days. Pay nothing, but those two books will be yours to keep. A little Robert Heinlein would be great... They have great science fiction on here. Woah! There's a new William Gibson. Why didn't you tell me? I said to no one in particular. Awesome. It's so good until it ends, who cares? The guy who put cyber punk on the net.
Iain: I'm on my fourth copy of Necromancer, and I lend it out to people and I never get it back.
Leo: New William Gibson, it's called Peripheral. I'm signing in my Audible account right now to download it. You're going to love Audible. audible.com/twit2. Your first two books are free. See I have a credit. So I got it for free because I subscribe.
Iain: Audible books are invaluable on a long commute.
Leo: Flights, travel. I can think of one hundred reasons. I do it on my Amazon Echo. I can say read to me. I can say Echo, read to me and it starts reading my book.
Iain: I was going to say, if you do that on public transport, I might have to kill you.
Leo: I listen with headphones on public transport. Audible.com/twit2. I just bought the peripheral William Gibson. It was that easy. 20 years in the New York Times. Do you feel like the New York Times has turned the digital corner? Or Are they like Kodak, just hanging on to an inevitable end?
Erin: Isn't there data that can answer this question rather than going by feelings?
Leo: I think there is data. Some numbers. Recently published, right?
Erin: I am not up on it.
Leo: I think they have a million... trying to remember. A million digital subscribers.
Erin: I don't know if that means more revenue than print. There was a report this week that showed the decline of Newspaper subscriptions and it was very ugly.
Leo: I love this number. The New York Times has a million Digital only subscribers. 1.1 million print and digital subscribers.
Iain: Hang on.
Leo: Do some subtraction.
Iain: That means there's not many people subscribing to the version. You can kind of understand it because Sunday's New York Times, you can break your foot with that thing.
Leo: What I do is I subscribe to the Sunday times and I get the digital as part of that. But it's more than a hundred dollars a year for the digital subscription. It's more than 100 million dollars a year in revenue, I don't know if that's more than before. You've lost all of that classified ad revenue, the display ad revenue when you get digital is not very good.
Iain: I know the user room has been through some fairly savage cuts, but they're still employing a lot of journalists to go out there and get the news. I don't know.
Leo: Times says, "We employ as many reporters as we did 15 years ago. In fact, we've swolen our ranks with graphics editors, developers, video journalists, leather digital people, to do things like what's that one with the snow?
Erin: Snowfall. Three years ago, can't stop talking about it.
Leo: Was it that long? Wow.
Iain: Time flies by when you're having fun.
Leo: 57 million monthly uniques? That sounds like a lot, but what's BuzzFeed's? Gosh it seems bad when Buzzfeed is beating the New York Times.
Om: All clicks are not the same.
Erin: Wise words.
Leo: The Times started this new enhanced subscription thing. Times insider. That I would be curious about. It's an additional 8 dollars a month.
Iain: The Guardian is doing something along those lines as well. I'm curious to see how it works out for them, because it's a really tough job, converting clicks into montey these days, particularly if you're a national Newspaper like the Times.
Om: I don't think it's a national Newspaper. The Times is definitely...
Leo: Just a left and right coast paper?
Om: What's wrong with that?
Leo: As somebody said on the left coast, nothing.
Iain: I'd assumed it got fairly nationwide...
Om: I think it's an International paper. It's a paper which is navigating the transition from what it was to what it wants to be more effectively than most people. Is it perfect? Probably not. I think if you really had to decide today what are the papers you will pay for, the Wall Street Journal and New York Times will be the two names which will be on everyone's chart list. I pay for five publications right now. I pay for the Times, Sprint because I get digital free with it, I pay for Wall Street Journal because I get digital free with it, I pay for the Economist because I get digital free with it, and I pay for the New Yorker because I love the New Yorker. The fifth company is Fast Company because I love the publication. We have a choice to make. If there was no print publication today of the Times, I would pay for the digital version. They have a brand and a quality and the strength to withstand the ship. You could never make me pay for USA or Washington Post. Not even the SF Chronicle.
Leo: I'm with you. Times is the only one I pay for of that bunch.
Om: I think we kind of underestimate the challenge of going from the past into the future, but they have made better efforts than most people. Washington Post essentially had to go out of business in one sense of the word and then find Jeff Bezos and climb back into relevance. I'm not, I hate on the Times a lot, but I also have a lot of respect for the kind of journalism they do and the kind of efforts they're making to transition out of the print only world. I think the challenge for them is how they deal with the penchant plans they have and the plants they own and the legacy nonsense they have in the business. A million subscriptions, other publications can say they have a million subscribers.
Leo: That's a pretty big number.
Om: They're making half a billion plus in revenues from Line. That's way more than our friends at BuzzFeed are.
Leo: Amazon is looking for... Bezos is not in Amazon, it's his own personal investment. He's looking hard at beating the New York Times to the point that Amazon is giving Prime members a deal on the Washington Post, but I still don't think it's come close to a million subscribers. I don't know. I'll have to check the numbers.
Om: Having been in the business for a long time, I would say you look at what BuzzFeed is doing. BuzzFeed is building the traffic and backing into the good journalism. Whereas the New York Times has the brand and they are basically using that brand and continuing to do what is good journalism. I think that is the key thing. Most of the publishers do not understand. Click baity things can only be great for a little while. In the end, you're in the business of serving your leaders. You do that by bringing great journalism. That's exactly what Washington Post is doing. That is exactly what New York Times is doing, and that is exactly what...
Leo: Chris Hughes is doing. Never mind.
Iain: The New Republic.
Leo: One of the Facebook founders, Chris Hughes bought and trashed the New Republic. I'm done.
Om: That magazine has to just go away.
Leo: Om, it's a great magazine. I love it.
Om: Nobody cares. If it was so great, people would be buying it by the truckload, right?
Leo: No, because it's an inside the beltway...
Om: It's a nonsense publication which doesn't really have anything much to say which is relevant to...
Leo: There's a risk to this. What we thought the Internet would fix is a consolidation of voices. You want the New Republic and the Washington Monthly to exist as well as the New Yorker, as well as the New York Times, as well as the Washington Post, but it doesn't look like there's enough room for all of those.
Erin: There's room for them, the problem is they wanted to exist as they always have without changing, without adapting to what...
Leo: That's what Chris Hughes was trying to do, he was trying to make a digital product.
Iain: He went around it in such a candid way.
Leo: Some staff quit on him. That was the problem.
Erin: The temper tantrums were too much. I think, first of all, that whole news cycle was the first time most young people had ever heard of the New Republic because all the people on the Internet are suddenly freaking out over it, but it also is one of those moments where you're like, what's going to happen there?
Leo: I thought Om would be defending it as one of the man of some stature and age.
Om: You should read my piece. I have little time and patience for the East coast media. I think they are so orthodox and they miss the bigger story.
Leo: I went to Yale you know, so we like to keep it in the family, so to speak.
Erin: What is the bigger story that they missed though?
Om: I think most of the time, people, there is a reason why the publication like New Republic isn't getting any readers. They don't have anything relevant to say to people who want to read that stuff. The world is different. The world gets its information on the Internet now. I think Chris was making a great effort to give some life to this patient which has been in a coma forever. They have not made money in close to twenty years. Marie Perez says he never made a profit on that business. Any business which is not making profit, why do they exist? I think this is a huge challenge. I think my argument on this is actually I don't oppose calling it journalistic orthodoxy, which is on my blog. I'll plug that.
Iain: I got to say...
Leo: Why would you be so reluctant? That's the only reason people are here is to plug things.
Om: Really? I need to hang with you.
Leo: I'm going to read this, though. You wrote this about a week ago. There is absolutely a journalistic establishment. There's a bubble in Silicon Valley too. Bubbles exist. There's the beltway Bubble, there's the East Coast IV League Bubble, there's the Silicon Valley bubble.
Iain: I don't get the argument that just because it has to make a profit... The Guardian in the UK doesn't make a lot of money it loses a fair amount sometimes, but it produces some of the best journalism...
Leo: You don't have a tradition in the UK of government supported...
Iain: We have the BBC, which is kind of different. The BBC is part of its remit has to inform the populous. It's paid for by license fees.
Leo: Where does the Guardian trust come from?
Iain: The Guardian Trust is simply a bunch of people who set up a charitable trust to support the Guardian.
Leo: It's like Jeff Bezos.
Leo: Jeff thinks he's going to make money. Great picture of Jeff flying his reporter, Jason Razan who was held hostage, held in jail by Iran in July 2014 and was finally released after some serious negotiations. Bezos flew his private jet to Iran to pick him up. That's classy. I think that's cool. That shows a commitment. He could have sent a drone to pick him up, but he went himself.
Iain: They haven't quite got that big yet. One of the people he was exchanged for was an Iranian hacker who had hacked into Arrow defense systems over in Virginia. Picked up in Turkey, extradited over here, now sent back to Iran with a full pardon as part of the hostage exchange.
Leo: But we know who to look for now.
Iain: He obviously couldn't be that good if they picked him up that quickly.
Leo: Give him the bad hackers, that's OK. It's a conversation we have a lot on TWiG, with Jeff Jarvis. We all agree that we need a variety of journalistic voices, including some kind of semi-not for profit voices or profits shouldn't be the sole motive.
Erin: Do we want those nonprofit voices to be backed by billionaires? One person who may or may not have an agenda or may or may not make it clear what their influence is on those voices verses a trust or a group of backers.
Leo: We have systems now, thanks to the Internet. We have Patreon. We have systems for that kind of backing. I think the problem is while we all make a big noise about how much we want journalism, nobody is going to foot the bill, including individuals.
Iain: Unfortunately people have got far too used to getting news for free and not realizing that it does cost money. You can run an advertising funded publication profitably, the problem comes when you've got a whole host of media out there who don't make a profit and who pays the bills for that? I think there are a fair number of examples were people have taken over, they run these companies and they expect their personal opinions pushed. That's ultimately bad for journalism.
Leo: By the way, Om, I'm enjoying this journalistic orthodoxy. I think what has happened is there was this period and you talk about this where it looked like the promise of the Internet could replace voices like the New Republic. It seems as if that promise we are disappointed. The Internet has not lived up to its promise. Would you not agree, Om?
Om: I think there is a lot of great stuff you can read on a daily basis. I think just because the time for the New Republic has come and gone. I think just moving... Why are we judging Buzzfeed? Just because it doesn't fit our idea of what a publication should be? We start judging them? Why? There are people who are actually reading it. There has to be a reason why they read it. By dismissing BuzzFeed, we are dismissing the actual people who want that kind of content.
Leo: I'll tell you why I don't like BuzzFeed, it feels very arovist. It feels anxious for your attention.
Erin: You had to use that word.
Leo: Well you know. It feels like it wants your attention. Link Bait cheapens you. That side is doing real journalism and that side is doing linkbait, but it's the same organization. I think it cheapens you and I don't think that...
Erin: That's what people say every time there's a new publication. I think the people inside BuzzFeed like to make the comparison to CNN and all the ridiculous antics that they threw out there when they first launched.
Leo: It is awful, by the way. They're right.
Erin: That doesn't mean they haven't also done a lot of great things. I think you would be foolish to dismiss CNN or Buzzfeed and the merit of the journalism they have done. Of course the stuff that we're scrolling through right now is horrible.
Leo: Buzzfeed quiz, how lazy are you being today?
Erin: They have reporters in the same places that the New York Times has reporters all around the world writing about political conflicts, writing stories that are relevant to local people in their languages. Basically they're intimating the New York Times on their News side, and it's worth paying attention to that.
Iain: Buzzfeed in the UK just broke a story about professional tennis playing.
Leo: Kudos. They are starting to break a lot of news. I like the idea that they're funding it with things like how to turn any cake into a funfetti cake, or 24 hilarious tweets about kids that are too real for every parent. Or 27 surprisingly funny tweets about cats. These are all on the front page of BuzzFeed.
Erin: Nobody goes to the news on the homepage of a website anymore. I find BuzzFeed stories that are relevant to me through social media because I follow the authors that are useful. Some of their most successful verticals now are only on Facebook. They have this thing called Tasty that has 30 million fans and it's food videos and they regularly get a 50 million views, which is insane. It's only on Facebook.
Om: Can I point out a handful of headlines on The Register?
Leo: Register has never made any bones about it.
Iain: We do Tabloid headlines and proper stories underneath them.
Om: I think Register is an important technology publication. Any publication that produces a journalist like Kate Meds in my book is pretty damn good. And Iain, who I love to read.
Leo: This also comes from a British tradition that Americans don't often understand.
Iain: It's weird. The US and UK are diametrically opposed on this. Your newspapers tend to be we are the egalitarian, and your TV stations are one way or the other, whereas in the UK, the newspapers are rabidly one way or the other and the TV stations are straight laced. Also, we have red tops, which are tabloids in the UK and they go...
Leo: That's a signal that a Brit would recognize. How interesting.
Iain: You've got to have fun with headlines. I did a story on Friday. The US Navy is now doing buyer fuels. The obvious headline is the next Cuban Gristle crisis. It had to be done.
Leo: I don't mind that. I think that's great.
Om: I think Leo, when you really think about it, what people at BuzzFeed are doing, those headlines are a way to attract attention in an environment where attention is so fractialized and we are so addicted to the dopamine hits that there is no other way to attract people. Right? Those headlines are advertising for what is essentially a very good story. That is the way of the world right now. We cannot call it clickbait. I think it is just attention grabbing in the 21st century. I think attention grabbing in the 21st century is the New York Post or the London Sun and the headlines that came up. I just feel that we tend to be very quickly judgmental about the new media. That's not really true. The media formats get popular because they reflect how the world around them likes to consume information. Blogs became popular not because they were amazing, but it was easier to consume information faster because we had broadband. You see that progress, and we are at a point where I think BuzzFeed is the norm. I think if they don’t do it, they will actually lose their backer in my opinion.
Leo: And Jonah Peretti has made no bones about it, this is the plan, right? To kind of subsidize news. And what’s interesting they have attracted some very, very good journalists.
Iain: There are some very, very good journalists working at BuzzFeed. But as you say, the bulk of it is financed by cat videos or you won’t believe the 20 ways you can get objects stuck in people. So it’s, there’s nothing wrong with it.
Leo: It’s like selling heroin to support you know. But the good news is, we’re giving you free news.
Iain: Well, I wouldn’t go that far. That’s all the insight Facebook org approach.
Iain: No, I mean a lot of people look at this stuff. I am perfectly guilty of passing around stuff you know, to my friends.
Leo: But don’t you feel guilty about it?
Iain: I make sure that it has to be A. very, very good and B. no one else is actually got a hold of it. Which is almost impossible to expose.
Leo: Well I’m glad you understand.
Iain: And also has been run through Snopes to check that it is actually true.
Leo: I’ll follow you immediately on Facebook (laughing). You know what? I feel like I guess I’m old but I also feel like it cheapens us.
Om: What do you mean, you guess? You don’t know?
Leo: (Laughing) Om Malik from om.co. Do read that article on that journalism. In fact I should just read this every single day because I love your stuff.
Om: Why don’t you? I can’t believe you don’t.
Leo: Do you post every day though? You don’t post every day.
Om: I try to post once every two days.
Leo: Every two days.
Om: It’s not my day job anymore.
Leo: No, I know, but it’s in your blood, isn’t it?
Leo: I love the “7 Stories to Read This Weekend.” See now that I look at every weekend.
Om: I just do that, you know, you read and then you know, you can come back and write me back there.
Leo: You need, just can I give you a little tip? Snappier headlines.
Leo: Yea, I’m just thinking more linked. Instead of saying Rainy Tuesday, like say You Won’t, There’s Water Coming Out of the Sky and You Won’t Believe What Happens Next. That would be, people would click it.
Om: Good news for me is I don’t need to make money off this.
Leo: You don’t care. That’s the best kind of journalism.
Om: I write them just to make myself happy so, and seriously it’s very freeing to not have to think about headlines and traffic and advertising.
Leo: Is it better?
Om: Oh, it’s great.
Leo: See I have a moralistic—I realize I have a very strong moralistic kind of streak in me. So I kind of, I feel like Google for instance should just be like a priesthood where they don’t have any side businesses. They just want to do the best search that they can because that’s a very important thing. And if we had side businesses like YouTube we would be tempted to promote them ahead of other people. So they should just focus. Journalists should accept the fact that they’re going to live in a garret and get tuberculosis and suffer for their art, but they are journalists. And it’s a higher—and I’m joking but I have that moralistic streak, that feeling like this is important stuff. You don’t need to have cat pictures involved.
Erin: If someone was ambitious enough to create Google and make it the success it was amid a dozen other successful search engines of the time when it launched, I don’t think that their ambitions would be limited to only search. That’s a lot to ask.
Leo: Of course. No, they’re extremely, their ambitions basically have no limit. That scares me too.
Erin: But you want, you don’t like that.
Leo: I don’t dislike it because I feel like Larry and Sergei are actually trying to do big things, big important things. They’re trying to take their money, as is by the way, you can make fun of it, Mark Zuckerberg, as is Bill Gates, they’re trying to do something important with their money. You know what happens, and Jason Calacanis was talking about this. You make that much money you start to feel guilty.
Leo: And you feel like, “I’ve got to do something because this is insane.”
Om: Calacanis has never felt guilty in his life.
Leo: I know, he’s the wrong guy to state that, but (laughing).
Iain: I was going to say, not everyone is well. Somehow I don’t think that Larry Ellison sits there in the middle of the night going, “You know what? I’ve got too much money.”
Leo: No, he does not feel guilty. He needs to feel guilty.
Iain: Everyone else has got money. Why isn’t it in my pocket?
Leo: He needs to feel worse about it.
Iain: Steve Jobs is a lousy giver.
Leo: Yes, in fact he shut down all of Apple’s charitable efforts. It wasn’t until Tim Cook took over that they reinstated all of that.
Iain: Yea and I mean there are great philanthropists. Bill Gates, I think Bill was kind of just got sick of being the most hated person in the computing industry and just decided.
Leo: That’s what Andrew Carnegie did. Andrew Carnegie made his money in steel and was you know, a robber baron. Let’s face it. So I think what happens is you start to think about your death and go, “Oh, crap, I can’t leave this behind.” So he said, “I’ll build some libraries.” We have a lovely Carnegie Free Library in Petaluma.
Iain: Oh, you’ve got one here.
Leo: Yea, it’s beautiful. I’ll take you over there after the show. It will be fun. We’ll have a little walk.
Iain: Yea, I don’t know. I just found Facebook, particularly about Mark Zuckerberg. You know he comes out with this pronouncement that his kid was born when he gave away, he sort of gave away his money into this limited company. He’s doing the internet.org thing. He’s like, “Well we’re just trying to make the world a better place.”
Leo: This is my problem.
Iain: And it’s wonderful. No, seriously, it’s so self-serving.
Leo: It comes down to your personal opinion of Mark Zuckerberg. That’s what it is. That people don’t trust Mark.
Iain: No I trust people on their actions. You know I mean Gates is actually eradicating polio at the moment. But Zuckerberg—
Leo: Mark’s young. Mark’s young. He’s—when Bill Gates was Mark Zuckerberg’s age I promise you he was not eradicating polio. He was amassing as big a fortune as he possibly could get.
Iain: Yes. You have a valid point on that.
Leo: So here’s a guy in his early 30s who has already said, “I’m going to give it all away.” And I believe him. Just because he made an LLC out of it, I don’t think that that, I feel that’s unfortunate.
Om: I think those are two separate things. What he’s giving away of his own money, and what he’s trying to do with internet.org. Those are two absolutely separate issues. On the first one, he’s making a choice how he is going to give away the money he’s made. And I think one can’t be judgmental about it. He didn’t say anything about the process he’s going to use to give away the money. I believe he will give away the money. He will figure out the right way to give away the money. So I will defend him on that side. But I oppose the internet.org vehemently. Like there is no, I am not ambiguous about my dislike on the internet.org.
Leo: And it has nothing to do with animosity towards Mark.
Om: I love Mark Zuckerberg. I think I saw, I met him a long time ago in 2004 and from where he was to where he is today. If most of us improved as much as human beings, there world would be a much better place than it is today. He is a remarkable chief executive. He has, he’s probably one of the smartest internet thinkers right now. He has all those things. Which is why I also have doubts about the internet.org that it’s not a valid plan as a long term movement.
Leo: He’s very, very smart and strategic.
Om: Very smart. I think he is one of the best tech CEOs. He’s a way better tech CEO than—he has outsmarted Google in pretty much every sense of the word. He has, you know they were late starters in mobile and they have become the biggest beneficiaries of the mobile revolution. They make more strategic moves right than they make bad ones. And I think that is all because he is still Mark Zuckerberg, an always improving person. Where everybody else is still like, you know, everybody else is just trying to change the world without really knowing what it needs. So but then, you know that is one aspect of Mark Zuckerberg. I think the other one is this whole internet.org malarkey in the words of him. And I don’t by that, not even for one minute.
Leo: I also think Mark, when he gave, what was it, $100 million dollars to the Newark Schools in a very kind of famous failure learned a lesson. And said, wait a minute. And Gates himself said that. He said, “I’m not going to give away my fortune until I can do it right.” It’s hard to do with you know, you don’t want to waste that money.”
Iain: No I agree with that. They just come across as being a bit of a Zuckerberg hate fest here. And the guy’s phenomenally talented in a lot of areas.
Erin: Then why do we think people hate him so much? Why do people not trust?
Erin: Why do people hate him so much? Why do people not trust him? I’m curious.
Leo: Why do people hate Facebook? People hate Facebook, don’t they? They use it and hate it at the same time. I find this very interesting. I’m not talking about regular people. Regular people are probably not that conscious of how they feel about Facebook. It’s just a thing. Like you know, they don’t think “I have a feeling about AOL or Gmail or whatever.” It’s just a thing. But those of us in the business really have strong feelings about it.
Erin: I guess because Facebook is such a personal part of people’s lives. It’s so ingrained. They have your baby photos, you know, photos of your kids, they know when you broke up with someone, when you start dating somebody. They have all of this stuff. So I guess it’s just the personal aspect that people feel like, you know, Mark Zuckerberg is in their lives.
Leo: Yea, and whether they like it or not, and maybe a little too much.
Om: I don’t think, I would say I hate Facebook at all. I just disagree with one or two specific things they keep doing. I think now I’m not, now I’m like a civilian so I’m just saying I like using the service and whatever, but I think as journalists, when I was a journalist, because my job to report on privacy, on how they were using our data. That is the job of the media. I mean there’s a reason why I don’t get to talk to him. It’s because I would ask these questions.
Om: I mean if you’re a media reporter who’s not asking the relevant tough questions, you have access to all the CEOs. That’s how it works now. This is very Hollywood. This is very much like in beltway. It’s not, people don’t want to talk about the stuff which actually is important. That is a fact right now. Everybody is actually just doing the, has to play by the rules and stay in the lines in order to get access to them.
Leo: That’s kind of how we started and I think that’s true. News is managed. The information is heavily managed now.
Iain: Oh yea, I mean I’ve got to say access journalism over here really is a curse on the profession. There are far too many people out there.
Leo: Why has it not emerged in Britain?
Iain: I think because it’s the press work together more closely than they—over here press seems to be very much in competition with each other. I’ve noticed this in the Bay Area in particular.
Leo: So it’s divide and conquer.
Iain: Yea. I a lot of journalists don’t talk to each other. They don’t share information. Whereas in the UK, it’s very common.
Leo: It’s us against them.
Iain: Yea. Have you gotten anywhere on this? Because I’m trying to do this. And you share information, you pool information against a common foe. Rather over here, certain people, basically any people will try to suck up to those in power in return for access.
Leo: That is maybe—you may have pinpointed the single biggest change. It’s not about the internet or digital. The single biggest change over the last few decades is going from the notion, we’re the 4th estate. We are here to represent the interests of the people against power, against the government to speak truth to power to how can I get clicks? How can I get access? How can I get the big interview? And so what if I don’t speak truth to power? I want to have that Mark Zuckerberg interview on the front page. That may be the single biggest- you may have pinpointed the single biggest change.
Iain: I think that that’s a large part of it. The companies also got wise to the fact that if they cultivate these particular people, then they can give them exclusives.
Leo: Yea, Apple’s brilliant at this.
Iain Apple’s very good at this. But I mean there are other companies that do it as well. But the concept is “be nice to us and we’ll give you exclusives.” And these exclusives are just going to be what the company wants to see in print anyway. So it’s ultimately for journalism it’s a losing game.
Leo: I stopped interviewing CEOs long ago because it was obvious that it was basically an advertisement. I remember Comdex. They said, “You want to interview Bill Gates?” I said, “I’d love to interview Bill Gates.” They said, “Ok, submit those questions. Here’s the questions you’ll be allowed to ask.” And I said, “OK, I’m not interviewing Bill Gates I guess.” There’s no point in that. It becomes, you become a shill for the company.
Leo: But now too many people are willing to do that because that’s how business is done. And maybe that’s my problem with BuzzFeed is you can’t have it both ways. You can’t be the 4th estate. You can’t be in opposition to power if you also have to cultivate clicks.
Erin: You have evidence of BuzzFeed kissing people’s asses for access?
Leo: No, no I don’t. No, you’re right. I shouldn’t.
Iain: I’ve got to say The New York Times also didn’t exactly cover itself with glory.
Leo: No, they’ve not been.
Iain: It sat on the wiretapping story for 4 years just because the US Government said, “Would you mind please just not saying that?” Yea, there is fault everywhere and nobody is perfect on this front. But I do think that journalists in particular have really got to grow a pair and start asking tough questions.
Om: I think this is, this was business, this is how business is done in Hollywood and in Wall Street and in Washington. And now it’s happening in Silicon Valley. I think we are just noticing it a lot more now because it’s a more recent phenomenon the last 3 or 4 years I think. So the last few years at Gigaom you could actually feel it because you would have to. You would not get access to a lot of people because—
Leo: You were not in their pocket.
Om: You were not playing the game. And I think if you don’t play the game—you know what? I would rather write my own independent blog than play the game.
Leo: And that’s why you guys had great journalists like Matthew Ingram who ended up at Fortune, most of them because they were people who still had that mission, to tell the truth, to speak truth to power. Let’s take a break. We’ll come back with more. Erin Griffith is here from Fortune Magazine. She’s of course at the very famous url, Fortune.com/unicorntears. We’re going to make that number one on Google. When people search for unicorn tears they’re going to get Erin Griffith.
Erin: Right. I’ll be beating out the results for the—there are like purses and iPhone cases you can now get unicorn tears on them.
Leo: You’re going to be a Snapchat meme you know, animation any minute now. Tears coming out. Also from theregister.co.uk it’s my good friend, Iain Thompson. And of course Om Malik who—you may not be officially a journalist still but you’re still the dean I think of tech journalism and we’re really glad to have you. Really glad to have you. You’re the dean emeritus.
Om: Whatever you want to say.
Leo: I’ll call you anything I want.
Om: I know. I can’t win.
Leo: (Laughing) no, we love you. I love doing this show because I just, the people we get on this show are just so great and I’m really glad to have all three of you. Our show today brought to you by GoToMeeting, the way to meet with coworkers and clients without the time and hassle of travel, the money. And nowadays with your clients and your colleagues all over the world, you can’t often meet with them in person. But you’ve got to meet. It’s so important. People hate meetings. If you could make meetings more efficient, more effective, you’d do it, wouldn’t you? You’ve got to have them because it’s the best way to break through the Gordian Knot. We have a rule here. More than 3 emails exchanged, face to face. GoToMeeting makes that easy because you can meet with your team wherever you need to, wherever you are, from any computer, any tablet, any smartphone. No travel expenses. No traffic. No Snow-megedon. You can actually present from an iPad sitting out on your back porch. Your team can join just by clicking a link. There’s no sign-up. They don’t have to be GoToMeeting members. No speedbumps. If they don’t have the software it downloads in seconds. They’re ready. They join. Turn on their HD webcam, you can see them. Turn on your HD webcam, they can see you. It’s like you’re in the same room. You can see each other’s screens so you’re all on the same page if you have a presentation. You know this is great for sales pitches for instance. You’ve got a presentation, you’ve got a power point, you don’t want to make the client jump through hoops. You want to be efficient. You want to get to the point. You want to give the client the information they need and you can do it fast and easy with GoToMeeting. They’ll appreciate it and you’ll do more. I want you to sign up right now. It’s free for 30 days. Actually you can do it right now and have your 1st meeting going in just a minute or two. It’s that easy. GoToMeeting.com Click the try it free button. I want you to try it right now. GoToMeeting. We love it. We don’t do a meeting without it. Google Amp. I guess we can stay in the journalistic vein. Google Amp is about to come out of, I don’t know what you’d call it.
Leo: Beta. Everything at Google is Beta. This is Google’s attempt to, well it’s got a couple of faces. One, to compete against Apple and Facebook, both of which have their own kind of news story feature. But also, Google I think did this because they wanted to speed up the mobile net and they didn’t want people to use ad blockers because that’s their business. So they said, “Look, we can make this a better internet with Amp.” It’s an open source project. Google says, “We don’t control it.” And yet, in a way they do because if you want to make an Amp page you’ve got to use Java script and tags, not traditional HTML tags, but your own Google approved tags.
Iain: That does rather make nervous about the whole thing.
Leo: It feels like an internet.org to me in its own way. It feels like to me Google saying, “Look, the internet doesn’t work so well, let us handle it.” And I feel like—go head.
Erin: Sorry. I’m just going to say, that’s—I think we should get used to that feeling. I think that’s going to happen a lot more especially with the fact that most media companies are, even including the one that I work for, not amazing at tech.
Iain: Yea I think you’re right. We are going to have to get used to it. It doesn’t mean we have to like it though. I mean there’s just—
Erin: No, and we should definitely debate it and talk about the challenges and what we’re giving up when we agree to do Facebook Instant Articles or Google Amp. But ultimately I imagine that most media companies are going to join it and agree to it and get sucked into it and deal with the consequences later. And then probably in ten years from now try to extract themselves from it. Similar to the way—
Leo: No, you’re right.
Erin: I’m thinking about like at the beginning of the internet at Time Inc., the company that I worked for, we had content, AOL had people but no content so they’re like, “Ok, let’s just put your content through our portal and we’ll control it all.” And then time spent years trying to extract itself out and build its own website after that. And that feels like this all over again.
Iain: Yep I think that’s very accurate, a very accurate summation of the situation that we’re in in the moment. I mean Facebook has its own news service, their news service that they floated in last year as well. I think you’re right. It’s increasing the, people are trying to command the portals now and I don’t think it’s good for journalism.
Leo: It started with the app economy where people stopped using the free and open web and started moving everything into apps. And that, I can understand. That’s the same argument if you’re the Wall Street Journal, you’d rather people read the Wall Street Journal in the Wall Street Journal app. Right? I mean maybe not, I don’t know.
Leo: Because you can totally experience.
Iain: You can gather much more data.
Erin: Sure, it’s faster. They can actually track people. There’s not really a lot of good cookie systems set up on the mobile web.
Leo: You don’t want people wandering around the internet. They could get into trouble. You want to keep them in a nice, safe place. Where do you go, Om? What do you think about this?
Om: I have to fully disclose that I’m invested in a company which provides similar technology to companies who want to speed up their experience. And so, you know. If people want to use Google or Facebook, that’s up to them. But there are real world solutions. The company is called Twin Prime. And I believe like the problem with the actual content delivery on the mobile is a very real problem. And it’s not just about ad blocking. I think ad blocking was actually people saying that we will not be abused by the publications and the ad networks more than anything else.
Leo: Doc Searls calls it the largest boycott in the history of the internet. People are boycotting advertising. I think that’s a really interesting way to put it.
Om: But if you really think about what whether it is the Facebook Instant Articles or Google AMA and some of the technology V that Twin Prime had, is that people want faster access to information on the mobile. The kind of latency they expect on desktop they want on mobile as well. And the mobile sites are not really built like that. There’s just too much clutter, too much java script, too much nonsense.
Leo: There are pages I cannot read on my smartphone because of the take overs.
Om: But even the networks themselves are not really great, right? I think there is just one aspect is the actual websites but when the app economy, the performance is because the networks are not as optimal. So I think that all this is pointing to a direction where we need better ways of offering access to information. And I think technology companies are out there. I wish the media companies would take a step back and say, “Can we do this independently? Can we use vendors who are actually trying to make these technologies and not get sucked into Facebook’s and Google’s silos?” That’s a question media companies need to ask. And I think that’s where it all boils down to. It’s like how much are they willing to try independent things or how much they want to get just sucked into those two worlds and just kind of say, “Ah, well, they’re going to pay for everything and we’re just going to go fight.” I think David Winer is writing some of the best stuff around this issue right now in my opinion. You should and everybody should read his blog.
Om: Dot com.
Leo. Dot com.
Om: Yea and he’s been pointing out the challenges of being locked into these silos we have emerging on the internet. I don’t know. I just feel that we need to be very careful. When I say we I mean media companies. I don’t know why I keep saying we.
Leo: Because it’s a habit.
Iain: Once a journalist, always a journalist. You know the rules.
Om: No, no, no. I am not sure I want to go that far.
Leo: Well you’re a journalist for the couple of hours you’re on this show now. Sorry (laughing).
Om: I would love to know about the unicorn tears. How did that come about?
Erin: I started a column in the magazine and they wanted a shortcut to it. And the column is called Boom with a View and so they created fortune.com/boom. And once I realized we had that functionality I—
Leo: What else can you do with it, this internet thing?
Erin: (Laughing) I started putting tech requests for other ones and that was the only one that got approved.
Leo: Well boom works too so we can use boom if you want something little bit shorter.
Erin: You know one thing that I was thinking when you mentioned that this was the biggest, this is the biggest boycott on the internet, I actually think the fact that nobody’s subscribing. People have been boycotting subscriptions on the internet since pretty much the beginning of the internet.
Leo: And now we don’t want ads either.
Erin: Right, exactly.
Leo: You don’t want a pay wall. You don’t want an ad. What do you want?
Iain: Everything free.
Erin: Right, yea. It’s kind of unfortunate that we’re here but. It’s too late.
Iain: I was speaking to an analyst and he was actually saying something quite competent which was that people are actually getting smarter about their ad block use now in that if they like a publication they will take it off their ad block list provided the ads themselves aren’t too pushy. And I think—
Erin: How generous of them. Wow.
Iain: Well you know, a lot of people, a lot of companies still make serious money from advertising.
Leo: Look, Erin, I’m going to do this just for you. I’ve gone into my ad blocker. I am at Fortune.com/unicorntears. Disable. Disable the ad blocker. I am going to see the 25 ads apparently and the 20 out of 32 domains that are connected on this page. Bring it on.
Erin: It’s very slow also. And this is why. And we’ve gone back and forth for a long time of how to speed up our site and it’s like, “Oh, well we have to have that, you see that line across the top that has all the publications at Time Inc. we have to load that and we have to have all these ads.” So it’s kind of, you know we’ve kind of dug our own grave before we’ve even started and I’m not the one who makes these decisions and who’s in control of this stuff.
Leo: No, no, of course not.
Erin: But I can tell you as somebody who loads Fortune.com a lot that it is frustrating.
Leo: You don’t use an ad blocker?
Erin: I don’t.
Leo: You wouldn’t be, it would be kind of—
Erin: I’m not necessarily morally opposed to it because I think that internet ads are pretty awful but I just don’t maybe out of laziness or I don’t know.
Iain: Yea, I was going to say I agree with you 100% on the point, Erin. There are far too many websites, and everyone has been guilty of this, have these ridiculous advert, full screen popups or to play video. Take your pick. And it just drives people off and drives people into the hands of ad blockers. And that’s perfectly understandable because nobody wants a website that takes a piss on this. But you know—
Erin: And it’s a data suck too. Months ago we talked about how much actual dollars and cents of your data plan are actually costing you really make it realistic.
Leo: I love Matthew Ingram and I bet he got in a little bit of trouble writing on this on his Fortune site. You shouldn’t feel bad about using an ad blocker, and here’s why (laughing).
Erin: I’m sure he got a stern email about that.
Leo: No, I’m sure he didn’t. I don’t think Fortune would do that. Well, I don’t know. You work for them. I don’t know.
Erin: I haven’t gotten any emails.
Leo: I think they’d be smart enough not to say anything about that. Was it Forbes?
Erin: Yea but it is really interesting to watch. So the IAB which is kind of in charge, the industry group that regulates, not regulates, but tries to basically unify internet ads and make them all the same and make them easier to buy. You know, they’re sort of like the voice of digital advertising. They’re having a real existential crisis over the ad blocker thing. They had a conference last fall and they invited some people that are kind of running small websites, making their livelihood off of these websites and that have been seriously affected by ad blockers and they kind of had them testify as to how much it’s hurt their business. And how can we help them. And how can we save them from ad blocking. And it was just really ironic because we’re sitting here and well, you guys are the problem. You created a crappy product that people hate so much that they’re willing to download a specific tool to avoid it. And these are internet users who are pretty lazy and don’t like to pay for things. So I feel like they have so much soul searching to do when it comes to making ads less awful.
Leo: I have to be honest. Also, even before I started using an ad blocker, I didn’t see those ads. I almost tuned them out unintentionally.
Leo: So I wonder how effective they are.
Erin: It’s a matter of speed. Although sometimes there’s ones that are just flashing right next to what you are reading.
Leo: Well that’s why they look like that, right? Because I wasn’t paying attention. It’s my fault.
Iain: Well I mean you’ve got with a lot of the main ad blocker products, adverts do still get through. Companies can pay the ad blocking company to allow their adverts through.
Leo: No the one I use (laughing).
Iain: No, yea.
Leo: Yea, but Adblock, you’re exactly right. Adblock Plus, I’m sorry.
Iain: That’s their business model and if you have what they call approved advertising which isn’t too intrusive, you can pay them some money and they’ll let that through. And I think that’s rather disingenuous.
Erin: That’s extortion. That’s total extortion.
Leo: You know I had the guys from Adblock Plus on and we did an interview with them. And we talked a lot about, I can’t remember, the approved ads program. And I think they defended it fairly wells saying, “Look, we have guidelines. If you follow the guidelines you can just give us money. You have to have ads that don’t jump out at you. They don’t have java script.” There’s some reasonable guidelines. And I do think it’s appropriate to say—I mean black and white, no ads versus ads isn’t really enough. And I think it’s reasonable to say, there are ads—you know, I go to Daring Fireball, John Gruber’s site. He’s one of those small bloggers who is probably hurt by ad blockers. And he’s got one ad on a page. It’s a text ad. It’s harmless. And I think that there is a reasonable kind of middle ground where you say, “Well, maybe we can allow decent, small, unobtrusive ads through.” And still support the sites. I pay for Google Contributor and one of the nice things about that, by the way, that’s bigger and bigger all the time. More and more sites. I see the contributor blocks on. You can pay up to $10 bucks a month. That’s the maximum. And then sites that are somehow opted into this. You won’t see any more ads on them. No Google ads anyway on them. And let me—I have to disable my ad blocker.
Erin: And then they split all that revenue with the participating sites.
Leo: Right. Well, I don’t know if it’s all that revenue. I wonder. It’s Google after all.
Erin: Well, some of that revenue.
Iain: Enough to make it interesting.
Leo: A lot of sites use it.
Erin: You know one company that is not freaking out over ad blocking is our favorite company BuzzFeed because all of their ads are native. They look just like the content that you’re consuming everywhere. And they can, I mean they’re kind of genius in this way. They can have a cooking show and then just have a product placement or an ad on it at the beginning of their video or at the end and they don’t have to deal with Facebook. They don’t have to deal with Google. They don’t have to deal with any ad network whatsoever. They are kind of in control of their own destiny there which I think is kind of smart.
Leo: But that’s the negative, again, another negative side effect is native content where it’s posing as content.
Erin: That’s on debate where they at least kind of own their situation and they don’t have to worry about people blocking their ads.
Leo: So I turned off my ad blocker and what I did with contributor is I said, “Show a kitty cat wherever there would be an ad.” So now here on Re/code—and at first you might think Re/code really likes cats. But in fact that would be an ad but Google Contributor, because I paid them some money, is going to give some money to Re/code and put a kitty cat on my page.
Iain: Yea there are plugins. I think there used to be a plugin for Mozilla which would every time—there’s a British tabloid called The Daily Mail. Every time you clicked on a Daily Mail link it would direct you through to a picture of a kitten because that was much better for your brain then actually reading The Daily Mail.
Erin: Yea, I’m sure Re/code is appreciating that like 5 cent check that they’re getting every month.
Leo: Maybe they’re making more than they would from that ad. I don’t know. Those ads, the cost on these is very low now because nobody looks at them.
Erin: Yea, that’s true. It’s not a good business anyway so that’s kind of what the ad industry really has to deal with is like why are we defending this like business that’s declining and the amount of revenue it brings in and doesn’t work. Never worked. And people hate it. It’s kind of hard to defend, so, yea.
Leo: By the way, Re/code is a good example. The Atlantic, good example. There are good journalistic sites still around doing a good job. Absolutely. Register’s a good example. I think Fortune’s a good example.
Erin: Gee thanks.
Leo: No, I really do. No, I really do. No, I read your stuff all the time. And Matthew’s.
Erin: No, that’ great. It just sound like you’re like, “Wow.”
Leo: And by the way, Fortune is not so bad. The internet. It’s not that bad really. Especially if you run an ad blocker. It’s great. I want to talk about Kara Swisher. Apparently Kara has now decided there’s no point in covering Yahoo. Who cares? So now she’s turned her baleful glare to Twitter and apparently we’ve got a big day coming tomorrow. We’ll talk about that in just a little bit. We had a great week on TWiT. Let me show you some of the stuff you missed if you missed shows this week on TWiT.
Narrator: Previously on TWiT.
Megan Morrone: This is the Echo and I’m going to give you a few tips on new things that she can do. Ask my admirer to say something nice.
Echo: I think about you while I am on the epiphany toilet.
Megan: (laughing) should we try that again?
Narrator: Security Now.
Steve Gibson: We’re still in the early days of internet of things and they’re just not secure yet. All of our IOT devices need their own isolated Wi-Fi network.
Leo: So you set up the guest Wi-Fi and you put all the IOT things on that.
Narrator: Know How.
Bryan Burnett: This is a soft mod called Magic Lantern. And it’s an open source way of unlocking all the different features that you should have had available straight from Canon.
Father Robert Ballecer: Yea, I would really like to try this on Leo’s new camera. He just got this Canon.
Narrator: Tech News Today.
Megan: We talk a lot about use of VR as a way to increase empathy. Do you think that it does in this case?
Kara Platoni: Given the fact that I’d only been in these simulations for a few minutes, I was really surprised when I was told that I was going to the slaughter house and I was not only kind of angry but afraid at the same time. You really felt present in that cow body and kind of attached to being a cow.
Narrator: TWiT. It’s time to see Leo in the cat suit.
Leo: (Laughing) we’ve got a great week ahead. In fact it’s earnings report week. Let’s see what Jason Howell and Megan Morrone will be covering on TNT next.
Jason Howell: Hey, thanks so much, Leo. We’ve got a few things coming up next week on Tech News Today. January 26th has a couple of earnings, Apple and AT&T. It’s actually earnings week bonanza next week. January 27th, Facebook, Ebay, Qualcomm and PayPal. January 28th, and that’s Amazon, Microsoft, Electronic Arts and the Alibaba group. We’re going to check in on some of these and if they are impactful and impressive, we will let you know all about it next week on the new Tech News Today report, Monday through Friday, 4:00 PM Pacific. So join Megan Morrone and I as we do that. All right, Leo, back to you.
Leo: Thank you, Jason Howell. By the way, Mike Elgin will be back tomorrow with me on Triangulation. We’re going to interview Bill Fernandez, Apple employee number 4. One of the men behind not only the Apple 2 but the Macintosh. He’s the CEO of a company called OMNIbotics but some Apple memories tomorrow on Triangulation. That should be pretty fun. I always look forward to that. Our show today brought to you buy Gazelle, G-A-Z-E-L-L-E.com. When new phones come out, when new tablets come out, when new computers come out, it’s time to retire the old one. I do hope you don’t just throw it in the drawer. That would be such a bad idea. It would be like taking a hundred dollar bill and just going, “Hey, you gather dust in there. I won’t be using you.” Trade in your old device for cash at Gazelle.com. And you want to see how much you can get? You can do it right now. You can get a quote on your old device. Lots of different kinds of devices. They even buy broken iPhones and iPads. Give you cash.
Erin: How much do you think they would pay for this cracked iPhone?
Leo: What do you got?
Erin: This is a cracked iPhone 5.
Leo: Let’s find out. Not very much but hey, it’s better than just throwing it in the trash, right? How’d you crack it?
Erin: I think I just dropped it one too many times. It was—
Leo: How big is it? How much memory. Look, it’s $75 bucks. Wait a minute, broken. Click that again. $20 dollars. Hey, that’s not bad. You get a sawbuck there. That’s not bad. Better than nothing. Anyway this is a great place to do that. They’ll send you a check, a PayPal credit if you’re in a hurry or an Amazon gift card. They’ll bump that up by 5%. The point is really not to just take that but I bet you have a few other gadgets lying around, Erin. Pile them all in.
Erin: I don’t know what else to do with this other than throw it in the garbage.
Leo: Right. It’s recycling it the right way. What they do is they sell it for parts. So it’s a really smart idea and they’re going to pay the postage on it. Which means you can pile, they’ll send you a box. You have 30 days to decide. Go get a quote. Get all your other stuff in there. You’ve got a Surface tablet, you’ve got all sorts of stuff. They’ll send you a box that you ship it. They send you the cash. It’s great. In fact if it’s really broken and you can’t—I don’t think that’s actually broken because it still works, right?
Erin: Oh, it works.
Leo: Well I don’t think that’s broken. So I think—anyway, they’ll adjust it up or down. They’re very good about that. They’ve given me more money several times. And they’ll also wipe your data if you can’t or you forget to do that. Now, it’s also a good way to replace that broken iPhone, Erin, because they sell certified pre-owned devices. They take the really, the best stuff they get. They run it through their 30 point inspection to make sure it’s not only fully functional but that there’s no major cosmetic issues. And then you can buy it at a significant discount without extending your contract. Although they do of course work with all the major carriers with devices from all of them. iPhone 4s through 6 Plus, for iPads, for standards, for Air, for mini models. You can even get Samsung Galaxy phones. So Gazelle to buy and to sell. G-A-Z-E-L-L-E, Gazelle.com. One more plug. We’ve got a TWiT newsletter for the first time. We’ve never done this before. Everybody always said, “Hey, you don’t have a newsletter? Everybody has a newsletter.” People wanted it. We did it. It will just kind of come out Sundays and will be Bill Frenandez is going to be on Triangulation, that kind of thing. If you’re interested, we promise not to do anything with your email address. We won’t send you additional emails. We won’t sell it of course. TWiT.tv/newsletter if you want to get the very first edition 1, it’s going out tonight. TWiT.tv/newsletter. And it’s double op in, don’t worry. You can’t subscribe your enemies to it and all that stuff. We’re doing it right. TWiT.tv/newsletter. If you didn’t see The New Screen Savers by the way, we didn’t get that in to the promo but that augmented reality sandbox was wild. So cool.
Iain: This is all part of the developers kit?
Leo: Yea, no. No, no, you didn’t have to wear anything. It was an actual sandbox with a projector and an Xbox Connect. And the Connect would sense your hand and sense the sand and the idea is you could make terrain. You could make it rain by going like this and it would rain and you would see water and it would slosh around. And then you could draw a line in the sand and the water would flow. You could build up mountains and it makes the top all map out of it. It was great. You’ve got to see this thing. It was so cool. I want to build one because all it takes is a projector and a Connect.
Iain: It’s on my downloaded list so I will check it out.
Leo: And open source software. There it is.
Iain: Oh, that is rather cool.
Leo: It’s Linux software. It’s open source. Lake, L-A-K-E-V-I-Z.com, Lakeviz. It is pretty neat. So Twitter. What’s going on? What is going on? Kara Swisher writing in Re/code along with Kurt Wagner. He says there’s a big executive upheaval coming tomorrow.
Erin: The Journal just published a story that says one of the conditions of Jack Dorsey coming back was that the entire board would eventually be replaced.
Leo: Yikes. By the way, I don’t blame him because on that board, one is Dick Costello. He’s gone, former CEO. And Ed Williams, former CEO. You want to get those guys out of there, right? You don’t want to be—
Erin: Yea, but that’s, part of the story with so many startups and Twitter especially is that only the founder, the founders feel such deep affinity for this thing they started, it’s their baby. And only they can really save it. But when there’s multiple founders I think it’s really hard to give it to one and push the other out. I see that rivalry continuing if Ed Williams eventually gets kicked off the board.
Leo: Alex Roetter, he’s the head of engineering, has left. Kevin Weil, he was the product chief has left.
Iain: Yea. See, I’m not entirely sure it’s a good idea to bring founders back in. I mean look what Jerry Yang did to Yahoo. It was not exactly the sharpest tool in the book when it came to taking back the company that he co-founded. I just—
Erin: Not saying it has a big success rate. Everyone points to Steve Jobs, but I’m just saying.
Iain: He’s the exception.
Leo: Yea, he’s the exception.
Erin: He’s the exception but it is just a really common thing. It’s hard for, this happened at Reddit last year too. You know the founder came back to try to save it after leaving too early. So I just think it’s a really strong draw. If a founder leaves the company and they see something going wrong, it’s really hard for them to not want to step in and fix it and that’s what happened with Dorsey obviously. But Ed Williams is still there too. I just don’t see the two of them, I don’t see him exiting gracefully.
Iain: It does feel like they’re kind of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. It’s just not quite, there’s something not quite right going on at Twitter. They just cannot seem to turn what is a globally used platform into something they can make a teensy bit of money out of for shareholders.
Leo: It doesn’t seem who leaves is as important as who they hire, right? They need somebody, maybe it’s Jack, but they need somebody to figure out what to do, how to save this.
Erin: I want to hear what Om thinks they should do.
Om: So just to be clear, Jack joined exactly three and a half months ago. And to think that we would have a miracle turn around in three and a half months when they have been dealing with this chaos for a long time is actually kind of ridiculous.
Leo: He hasn’t done much though. I mean he added—
Om: I think he’s done a lot more than what had happened prior to that.
Om: What he’s trying to do actually from what I’ve heard is that the company needs to move faster and there is a certain stencil for lethargy right now. And he needs to overcome that. Like I mean, I’m not in the business anymore so I may not be as up as Erin and everybody else in the industry is. But that said, I do feel that they need to take step back in order to make progress. And I think that is what they are trying to do. This is a company which has too many people. At one point I saw that they had like 3,000 plus people which is—wait, compare that to Facebook and you start to get, realize there is a challenge with this company. And so it will be interesting to see what comes up next. I still sit on the sidelines and let Jack make a few moves before I have an opinion.
Leo: Paul Kedrosky tweets, “Being head of product for Twitter is like being a drummer for Spinal Tap.” If you saw the movie, you’ll remember that they kept blowing up and disappearing.
Iain: (Laughing) checking up on someone else’s vomit.
Leo: (Laughing) it’s true.
Erin: Well luckily Jack is a product guy. It might be hard to work, or a CEO that really wants to be involved in the product and then you’ve got your own ideas. But obviously the CEO / Founder is going to trump anything you have.
Iain: Yea I just, every time they try, Twitter changes the mix. There was a rumor a couple of weeks ago they’re going to extend the character limit. And people kicked up a storm. And last year it was injecting ads into a Twitter feed. That kicked up a storm. Not doing a strict data feed, but doing Facebook’s organized view of what’s going on. Users didn’t like that either. I mean every time they try to change the product, the users kick up a fuss. And it’s a question of whether or not they can power through that and push some good changes through. Or whether they’re going to say, “We won’t do anything and we’ll carry on losing money.”
Leo: Is Moments a big improvement?
Iain: No. Moments is bloody awful.
Leo: Does anybody use Moments?
Erin: Yea, no.
Leo: So that’s, I mean that Jack Dorsey didn’t come up with but they released it as soon as Jack arrived. Obviously he said, “Hey, what do you got?” “I’ve got this Moments thing.” “All right, launch it.”
Om: That’s like something if the Wired article, there was a big Wired article on that.
Leo: Yea, we knew it was there.
Om: And that was that Dick Costello and Kevin Weil.
Leo: It was the last act.
Om: Those guys were the architects of that. So you know, who knows. Again, I think there are just too much, people are just like too much of, too much of a rush to see the impact. But because this is a company people use their product every day. So everybody has an opinion about it.
Leo: Well, yes and no because it doesn’t have that many users to be honest with you.
Erin: 300 million’s a lot.
Leo: 300 million, half of who are bots and spam. But let’s be generous. We’ll say 200 million real users. I think half are not real but let’s say two thirds. But that’s nothing compared to Facebook, a billion and a half. It’s two hundred million is nothing compared to WhatsApp. It’s nothing compared to Instagram. It’s just, I think it’s something that the tech elites are very well aware of but I wonder if the rest of the world is.
Om: I will say whether it is – you know you brought up Facebook and Instagram. You mean to say there are no spam accounts on those?
Leo: No, there are too.
Om: Those are closed silos so we can’t figure out how much of those users are actually nonsense. In case of Twitter, you can because—
Leo: It’s obvious.
Om: It’s a much more open platform. I mean you can find out about those things. I actually do believe at the end of the day, Jack may not have a year but he still has another 3 to 4 months to make some moves. Just see how everything goes. And I think this is part of the change that he’s trying to bring in. And again, I am not sitting here and saying I have any firsthand knowledge of what he’s trying to do. But I do know, you know when you have a company of 3,000 plus people and you have a company which has a very certain way of thinking, you have a lot of legacy thinking. You need to do something radical to get it going again.
Leo: Well, he’s doing that, I think, right?
Om: Whatever. I don’t know what he’s doing so I can’t, I can only comment on what’s been published in the media right now. And from that standpoint, it seems like he wants to bring in a little bit of his own focused team to make this thing move forward. Who knows?
Erin: Hopefully nobody from Square. I’m sure that would be a really unusual conflict if he brought somebody over from another company that he’s running.
Leo: I think part of the reason this comes up is it’s so hard for us to think of what would you do to fix it?
Iain: Well this is a problem. I mean Twitter is very, it is influential within the circle, the group of people who use it simply because they got on there first and they tend to be people in the tech industry players have awareness to. But it’s such a basic set of functions and they don’t seem to be able to change it that much. I do wonder how long the business-
Leo: They’ve talked about 10,000 character limits.
Erin: I think that speaks to what Om was saying. There’s a lot of legacy thinking there. People think that Twitter in its form today is sacred and that they couldn’t change it because users would revolt. But that’s actually how Facebook got to a billion users is by creating new, looking at behavior, creating new products that kind of feed into that. And then people freak out. People freaked out when they introduced News Feed. Which was, which is now basically the core of Facebook.
Leo: It is Facebook, yea.
Erin: Yea, but people boycotted it. There were like pages, “Get rid of News Feed. We hate this. It’s invasive.” And now it’s obviously the best part or at least the most familiar part of Facebook. And so I think like Iain, you were kind of hinting at this earlier but like the way for them to succeed now, especially with a founder back in the driver’s seat, is to piss off some people. Introduce some things that users will initially hate but eventually adapt to and really love.
Iain: Yea, I couldn’t agree more. I think getting them, make some noise and make some changes. I mean 140 character limit. I mean it was a great, cute way of getting things on the ground but as soon as you went on Twitter you saw it wasn’t working. Because I don’t know about you but when I went on it was just like, “Oh, 140 characters. Everyone will be composing elegant little haikus to go out there.” And just look at this it’s really funny. And that’s what 90% of tweet posts are. You know there’s no style, there’s no innovation there. So getting rid of the 140 character limit, I say go for it.
Erin: You don’t think it’s just going to become a nosier version of Medium?
Iain: Yea, it could do. As long as they actually limit, limit it down. The big advantage I see in Twitter is it’s a pure data feed. I mean we’re getting to situations now where you can get a tweet when the Virginia earthquake I think it was 2011. People were getting tweets in New York that an earthquake was occurring actually before the earthquake hit you. A couple of seconds before because the data was traveling faster than the shockwaves.
Erin: Yea, I remember that.
Erin: That was cool.
Iain: That kind of thing, that’s what makes Twitter really special to my mind. That kind of pure data flow. And it just, 140characters? They need to be one thing or the other really.
Leo: I feel like there’s something radical that needs to be done. Bring back developers. Open source it. I don’t know. There’s something radical they need. Because you’re a publicly held company unfortunately. This is really the problem that Twitter faces. They had an IPO. They raised money and now the expectations are untenable. You can’t, who’s calling hardest for Jack to do something quick? Not us. His shareholders.
Om: Yea. I think you look at two bloggers. One when Twitter went public, I wrote this blog post about to live and die in public, that’s Twitter. And it was a little pun intended in a sense. This is a company which went public. This is a company which lives in public. I don’t think any other corporation has the kind of rigorous scrutiny they have at a product level. And so it is very hard to make some changes there. And another post I wrote which was about some little changes they can make. And the idea I was proposing was take away the idea that links should not count towards the 140 characters. A dozen photo attachments should not count as attachment to in a sense. That should not be towards the 140 characters. Make the 140 characters mean a lot more. That is a good starting point. The fact that we all are talking about radical changes, I think just making small changes will get this company set on the right path. I think there is, people just start looking for a lot of motion and confusing that for action. And that’s not really how you try to come back from this dire situation Twitter is in.
Erin: Do you think that they need more users or they should just figure out how to make more money on the users that they have?
Om: They need to make the product so much more simpler and attractive so that new users can come to it and use it and stick to it. People are curious about Twitter, they just don’t want to spend time on it because they don’t know how to deal with it. And I think they need to figure out how to keep the newcomers on the site and on the service. That is the thing we need to solve. I think maybe 10,000 characters solves that problem, right?
Leo: Some little thing. A hashtag, an at sign, something. I mean that’s true. The Twitter leverage’s these minor tiny changes into something very big.
Om: And they have so much data on what people are reading, tweeting, sharing, whatever that they can actually be the new saver of the planet. And that is a great place for non-power users to start with. Secondly I think if you really look at this company, you know it just, the innovation in Twitter comes from its users. Like the tweets for idea didn’t come from within Twitter. It came from folks like Mark Andreessen. The idea of quoting a tweet or doing snapshots of paragraphs, you know that’s coming from people. Hashtag came from Chris Messina.
Leo: That’s kind of what you want isn’t it with a platform? You want to make something that’s generative, that people can use to create. And then embrace it appropriately.
Om: I think the company’s become too big, too bloated. It was much slower. It needs to move much faster. And I don’t know what that, you know, what it takes to get to that point but any kind of change in my opinion is a good change for this company.
Leo: I think the other reason we’re fascinated by it, and you point this out in your article, in your column, Om, is that it’s a Greek tragedy. That unlike Mark Zuckerberg and Larry and Sergey who seem like, or Steve Jobs, like you know, gods on Olympus, Jack and Noah and Ev and Biz are very much mortals, with huge failings as we learned from Nick Golden’s book, Hatching Twitter. And really it’s the amazing drama and craziness around Twitter. It’s like a little kind of, it’s like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. We just love it even though it’s kind of a little bit of a struggle.
Iain: I mean it is one of those tales that is both inspirational in Silicon Valley in entrepreneurship and also kind of a warning of when to just let it go.
Leo: Twitter can’t die, can it?
Iain: I think it can be integrated and then fade away. I’m not sure it’s going to die.
Erin: I would be so sad.
Leo: Is it in play because its stock prices are so low? Is it in play? Is someone going to come along and by it?
Iain: Well the latest rumor I heard this week is that Yahoo was going to buy Twitter.
Leo: That would be sad. That would be death. That’s death right there. That’s how you die (laughing). It’s maybe the living dead, but it’s dead.
Iain: Someone just said a geek tragedy. Yes, I can see that.
Leo: Yea, it is. So who could buy? I thought Google would be a natural.
Erin: They’ve had their chances before Twitter even went public they had the chance. Any natural buyer has already had the opportunity at this price. There’s only a handful of M & A buyers in Silicon, in the tech world these days. That’s the problem with a lot of the overpriced unicorn startups also. They only have 4 or 5 companies that could actually afford to buy them.
Leo: Right. That’s why we’ve kept the value of TWiT so low. I never wanted to be a unicorn. I always wanted to be an affordable purchase. We’ve got to find some way for Jack to turn this around. We just need to all pitch in. We could all, let’s all go over. We’ll bring, we’ll have a potluck. We’ll come up with some ideas. Jack, we’re coming and we’ll give you some suggestions. We’ll come up. Brainstorm something. Folks, our show today brought to you by Stamps.com. We’re almost done here. I think we’ll wrap it up in just a second but first let’s tell you that the best way to be a business that mails stuff is to use Stamps.com. It’s certainly not to take a walk to the post office, try to park, figure out how to send stuff at the post office. If you’re doing that you need a better way. Stamps.com is awesome. Because it starts by buying and printing your own legal US postage from your computer and your printer. No postage meter, no trips to the post office. But it does so much more. Whether free postage scale, shipping large envelopes or packages, even easier. You can set it up in minutes. It’s so straightforward. And you, it makes you look so professional. Here’s the Stamps.com kit you’re going to get if you go to Stamps.com, click the microphone and use the offer code TWiT. This is a $110 dollar bonus offer. You get the USB scale which is awesome because you never have to guess what the postage is. That’s Carly holding that. She uses it I’m sure all the time. This is how we do all of our mailings. You also get $55 dollars in free postage. You also get a month trial of Stamps.com. And what’s nice is when you print out your Stamps.com label or your print right on the envelope, your logo is there. It gets the address with ease from your website if you’re an Etsy or Amazon or EBay seller. It’s so easy. You get discounts you can’t get at the post office. Barcoded postage, return and delivery addresses in one step right on the envelope. Don’t get that $5 dollar deal. That’s ridiculous. See that? Give us a try, get $5 dollars free. No, no, no, no, no. Click the microphone. You might think, “Oh, Leo, they’re not going to give you $55 dollars in free postage.” Click the microphone. Enter the offer code TWiT. Let’s just see how much free postage is Stamps.com going to give you? $55 dollars in free postage. A digital scale. A supply kit. And yes, a 4 week trial of Stamps.com. It really will make your business look more professional. It will save you time. It will save you money. Stamps.com. I wish you to try it. What is YouTube’s weird world of football makeup? I keep going to ofrtune.com/unicorntears or Fortune.com/boom and seeing this article. You put this out.
Erin: Yea it’s the last article I wrote I guess. Yea YouTube hosted some press event touting whatever Super Bowl ad product they’re going to have and it was pretty, it wasn’t that exciting. And that was the best fact that I learned from it was the fact that there are 16 million videos of women showing other women how to put football themed makeup on their faces for the game day. And it just reminded me of how bizarre and full of strange things YouTube is. And so I just did a quick story on it. But a lot of people read it actually. There’s a lot of weird stuff on YouTube.
Leo: You see? But everything’s on YouTube. That’s why I love YouTube.
Erin: Anything you could ever think of in your entire life that you want to do, there’s a how to on YouTube.
Leo: Yea. Look, here’s a panda rolling in snow. Where else would you find that except maybe on your GIF feed on Facebook.
Iain: Everybody was sending me that thing yesterday.
Iain: Isn’t it cute? Yea, it was cute the first time.
Erin: Because it’s shot vertically it makes me think that it might have been on Snapchat first.
Iain: Yea, I know.
Erin: That was the sound of minds being blown.
Iain: No, no, far too many dank memes all over social media.
Leo: What kind of memes?
Iain: Dank memes.
Iain: What’s dank?
Iain: Oh, just overdone.
Leo: Dank memes. I just feel like the animated GIF explosion is just beginning because all the messenger programs now are allowing you to post. I no longer type. In fact, I just got it. Twitter, animated GIFS. It would solve the whole thing. Because the problem is typing a thought in English. It’s so un-nuanced. But a GIF can have so much nuance.
Iain: Yea, if you’re going to start promoting emoji’s then I’m out of there.
Leo: No, no, no. The GIF replaces the emoji. See it started with emoticons, semi-colon, dash, right parenthesis. Then the emoji was kind of a flimsy replacement. But it was the same size. Then we had stickers but they didn’t move. Now we have animated GIFs. And they have all the emotional resonance of an emoji but with a humor and meme creating capability of a sticker. I mean it’s just awesome.
Iain: Could be interesting.
Leo: I’m telling you. That’s communication.
Erin: We’re acting like GIFs are this great technological innovation but they’ve actually been around since—
Leo: They’re the oldest things. It’s CompuServe.
Erin: The man shoveling, the construction guy shoveling saying Under Construction. It’s like.
Leo: Yea, it was invented by CompuServe. So there. I bet none of you know what CompuServe is.
Iain: Oh yes. I’m just trying to remember my first--
Leo: 75106,3135. You never forget your first number.
Iain: Oh sadly I have but it’s been years and years. I wasn’t that long on it. In sense of an email address it was just like, are you trying to make this difficult to remember and explain to people because you’re doing a good job of it if so.
Leo: 7175. But then it was like @cis.com or something like that. Netflix whizzes past 75 million subscribers.
Iain: Yea a lot of those people chilling.
Leo: People thought Netflix was over a year ago or two years ago when Reed Hastings decided to split the DVD business from the download business. Boy, he was—I knew he was doing the right thing. And then he apologized. Like it’s oh we won’t do that. And of course downloads won.
Iain: Oh yea. I’m sure there’s a couple of old Blockbuster executives out there who are just like, “You know, what could have been. What could have been.”
Leo: 1.823 billion dollars in revenue in the 4th quarter. 43 million dollars in profit. The share price up 121% in 2015. And they of course they expanded. In January they’ve now expanded into 130 more countries around the world.
Erin: That’s such a coup. That little piece right there. Because if you look at what’s tripped up a lot of the streaming, the music streaming companies from growing it’s been because they couldn’t get the international licenses or the music industry was really difficult about giving them access to have fans internationally streaming their content. So the fact that Netflix was able to negotiate that just speaks to how powerful they’ve become.
Leo: And it’s the international growth that’s important because US growth is slowing. So international—
Iain: They’ve done a whole bunch of really interesting stuff to do with the user traffic in terms of commissioning new stuff for the channel on that. I think Netflix really is a case in point of how you take something which A was a very constructive technology. They haven’t just burnt out and smashed everyone else in the business. They’ve actually developed it and they’re now having a very positive effect. And we have a subscription at home. I never thought the very concept now of going down to a video shop or waiting for something to be on TV is so alien to the new generation coming through that I think it’s a good thing.
Leo: We still have a video store in Petaluma. Every time I drive by, it’s called Silver Screen Video. I wonder who the hell’s going there? Are you going there?
Jason: I’m going to check it out later this week.
Leo: What are you getting, DVDs?
Jason: I want to see what they’ve got. I want to see what they’re doing.
Leo: It’s a great place to get old VHS tapes because you can get like 5 movies for $3 bucks. As long as you don’t—
Erin: What do you play them on?
Leo: You don’t have a VCR? Come on.
Jason: See that was the death of Blockbuster because they got rid of the old stuff and all they had was new release, new release, new release. If you wanted the older things, you had to go very special places.
Leo: Some of you might note that there was a football game or two on today and I’m glad that those of you watching live didn’t know that. And I’m sorry I told you know. But something happened during the AFC Championship. You know for a long time, the NFL was fighting this uphill battle. All the announcers on the NFL were calling the tablets they were using iPads even though they’d made a deal with Microsoft to replace the iPads with Surface Tablets.
Iain: $450 million deal.
Leo: Nice deal. Well, guess what? The announcers now know that they’re Surface Tablets because they crashed during the AFC Championship game, and not for the Broncos, just for the Patriots.
Iain: Aha. Ok. Some of the Windows team showing their support there for their favorite sporting heroes.
Leo: You wouldn’t know this because you’re a Brit but it turns out that the Patriots are quite famous for radio and the internet issues at their stadium in Foxboro. So I think the Broncos prepared a little welcoming treat at the stadium.
Iain: To make it feel like home.
Leo: Yea, just to say, “Hey, those things that you make happen to the other team? Guess what? They can happen to you.”
Iain: I have an objection to the name. New England Patriots, it should be New England Rebellious Colonials.
Leo: Yes, yes. Thank you. Well good news. They’re not going to the Super Bowl. Oh, no actually my son’s going to be devastated. He’s a Patriots fan. I grew up in Rhode Island. I’m a Patriots fan. But I want to see the Broncos win. I want to see Payton Manning. Even though some guy on Twitter said, what did he say? “Carolina’s going to kick your butt.” Ladies and gentlemen, I think we can wrap this puppy up. Put a bow on it and send everybody home with a smile and a warm feeling in the pit of their stomach.
Iain: Well we’re doing whiskey shots later.
Leo: Yes (laughing). Erin, it’s so great to have you. And I hope you’re not too snowbound. Can you go out the door and shop and stuff?
Erin: Thanks for having me. Yea, I walked around. I dropped off my laundry today. There is commerce occurring. Life has moved on.
Leo: Did you ride a city bike in the snow?
Erin: That would be a bold move. The streets are not—ok, maybe I was overstating how much we’ve bounced back. The streets are still a disaster.
Leo: The only reason I say that, New York Times Headline “Snow, Ice and Wind. No Issue for City Bikes Diehards. There are still plenty of people in New York City.” Just riding around on their blue rental bikes.
Erin: I’m not a diehard.
Iain: Yea but there are plenty of people in New York City who have embraced public urination as a lifestyle choice.
Leo: (Laughing) No, no. New York is a great city.
Iain: Oh, it is. Absolutely. I was there for the last blizzard in fact. And people were panicked buying whiskey, batteries and soy milk for some strange reason.
Leo: Perfect. I’d add toilet paper to that and you’re set. Have you used the LinkNYC Wi-Fi yet, Erin?
Leo: That’s that really fast Wi-Fi that’s in the old phone booths in Manhattan.
Erin: Oh, you know—
Leo: You don’t even know about it. This is typical. You know there’s this thing in the middle of the Bay there that’s called The Statue of Liberty. You should go visit it. I hear a wonderful site. New Yorker’s don’t appreciate it.
Erin: When I was working remotely and I was in and out of coffee shops and parks and trying to find Wi-Fi, walking around with my laptop trying to find Wi-Fi wherever but now I’m in a big office complex and the train pretty much drops me off right there, so.
Leo: It’s pretty cool.
Erin: In the winter time we don’t wander too far from where we need to be.
Leo: There’s Times Square.
Iain: Oh it’s not looking to gristly there.
Leo: Is this live, Jason?
Jason: Yea, it’s live.
Leo: It’s melted. The snow’s all melted.
Erin: It’s just nasty slush now.
Leo: Just dirty, dirty, ugly slush with some yellow.
Om: I think this is what a real city looks like.
Leo: Isn’t it beautiful?
Om: No, they have a blizzard and they clean it up so they can get on with it. It’s not like San Francisco when we have green and then it’s like pileups.
Iain: Yea, with you on that. I mean San Francisco drivers aren’t the best, aren’t particularly good at the best of times. Throw some rain in there and it’s kamikaze death race 2000 on the highway.
Leo: Can you imagine if in snowed in San Francisco?
Iain: Ah, for goodness sake. It would be the Apocalypse. They would have to call the National Guard out.
Leo: Erin Griffith, go to Fortune.com/ your choice, boom or unicorn tears. Either one works.
Leo: Nice to see you. Thank you for joining us today. It’s great to have you. Also you too, Om Malik. Om.co. The shortest URL on the internet. Om.co. Om dot co. @om on the Twitter.
Om: I think o.co is the shortest one.
Leo: Does somebody have that?
Om: Yea, there’s some company, Overstock.
Leo: Oh, that’s right. Overstock has it. Nobody uses it. They think this can’t possibly work.
Iain: It obviously does.
Leo: I’m jealous that you have @om. I read that article. I thought it was very interesting. Your first tweet which was in 2006 when Twitter was just launching. They still had no vowels. It was on a Nokia E71 phone. Wow.
Om: There’s a shortage of vowels in my life.
Leo: No vowels. Great to have you, Om. Thanks for being here. We really appreciate it. And you too, Mr. Iain Thompson of Theregister.co.uk.
Iain: Great fun as always.
Leo: Keep up the good snarking under the red banner. I did not know that.
Iain: Yea, the red tops. It’s just a term.
Leo: Now you know it’s a tabloid. Very interesting. I want to thank everybody that joins us each and every week. We do the show live, and I know a lot of people, thousands of people like to watch live, be in the chatroom. And I appreciate that. It’s 3:00 PM Pacific, 6:00 PM Eastern, 2300 UTC on Sunday afternoons, Sunday evening, Sunday night depending on where you are. Could be Sunday morning depending on where you are. Monday morning. I don’t think it could be Sunday morning actually. Monday morning.
Iain: Yea, Monday morning in Australia at this point.
Leo: Good morning, mate.
Iain: Although I think it’s a national holiday in Australia.
Leo: A national what?
Iain: I think it’s a national holiday in Australia today.
Leo: Is it really?
Iain: I think our Australian offices, or at least they told us it’s a national holiday. I’m going to have to check that.
Leo: Somehow that sounds like a line. Wait, we’re not coming in. It’s a holiday. If you would like to get the download, you can do that too. TWiT.tv, YouTube.com/thisweekintech. Of course every podcast client you can always get it. Subscribe that way you get it each and every week. And don’t forget, speaking of subscriptions, TWiT.tv/newsletter if you’d like to get our newsletter. If you’d like to be in the studio we have 5 people bored to death right now. And no, they’re having a great time. And you too can do that. When will this be over? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and we will put a seat out for you. Jason, have I left anything out? Jason Calacanis? I know, Jason Calacanis will be here next week. Along with Alex Wilhelm. Oh, that will be interesting. Oh that will be interesting. And Roberto Baldwin from Engadget. He’s new.
Iain: You’ve got the police alerted for that one.
Leo: Yea, that’s going to be a treat and a half.
Jason: And tomorrow’s Triangulation.
Leo: Yea, we’re going to have fun with Bill Fernandez and Mike Elgin’s going to stop by for that. Thank you for being here! We’ll see you next time. Another TWiT is in the can.