The Glut of the Platform Economy

Episode of: Track Changes

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May 29, 201832m
The Glut of the Platform Economy
May 29 '1832m
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How many cake decorating videos does it take to disrupt the platform economy? Would forcing constraint on platforms generate better content? How do we reconcile unlimited access to an infinite library when we’re being pummeled by bad content?

Endless scrolling is the opium of the people: This week Paul Ford and Rich Ziade discuss how platforms like Spotify, Netflix, and Youtube have turned into an inescapable hellscape of unfocused content. We talk about being disappointed with the infinite media libraries of our dreams, and the potential for platforms to redeem themselves by constraining content, while looking at how smaller creators are already doing that. Paul also reveals his utopian dream of a centralized platform of curated cake-making content.


4:45 — Rich: “I go to the track, and I go View Album, because I’m wondering if I’ve stumbled on an artist that I want to really dive into… then I go to the album, and I want to like it so I’ll give the album a full listen. There’s so much shit. I get through the first [few] tracks of the album and then the waves break the glass in my house and flood, taking the table and me and the chair, and I go to the next thing.”

5:45 — Paul: “You know what I’ve noticed is the truly talented young artists just produce EP after EP, for years, and then they’re like ‘oh, I’m gonna do this album now.’ They don’t jump to the album. It’s a high risk game. 80% of it is gonna be trash unless you know what you’re doing.”

8:30 — Paul: “With the pure algorithmically defined entertainment that Netflix specializes in, there’s this thing called Dinotrux. It’s dinosaurs that are trucks because they know that little boys like trucks and dinosaurs — little girls too! Have you seen Dinotrux? It’s so bad.”

10:00 — Paul: “It must have been very exciting though at first where it’s like, ‘I’m doing a new thing, a Netflix standup special,’ and then a month goes by and it’s just not as cool for the comedians. Now you’re like, ‘I’m doing a Netflix special!’ and your housekeeper says, ‘so am I!”

12:30 — Paul: “We have a developer/designer here named Darrell and he made a playlist expiration tool. It’s called Dubolt. It’s quite good, you seed it with a few tracks and parameters and you get a very good playlist back.”

13:30 — Paul: “So we’re hitting a point in the glut where we’re realizing that emotionally and intellectually it’s not that satisfying to keep waiting and searching. You saw this when cable TV suddenly had five thousand stations and nobody could figure out what to watch.”

14:00 — Paul: “There’s always the great simplifying agent, which in our industry is often Apple, [saying], ‘you don’t want all those choices.’ Now the problem that Apple has — which is the problem everybody who creates a successful minimalist approach has — is that everybody starts adding stuff to it.”

15:00 — Paul: “We’re in the glut. There’s very little quality in a glut. There’s no sense of quality. Literally, it’s just this tsunami of content coming in and we’re all just like, ‘wow, that’s a lot of content!’ You thought it was what you wanted.”

15:25 — Paul: “We measure creativity by how people respond to constraints.”

16:50 — Rich: “When I see a Netflix Original Series, I just assume — and I could be surprised — I assume it’s bad.”

16:55 — Paul: “Compare Netflix and Youtube for a minute. What do both of them solve? They solve distribution. Suddenly they were like, ‘oh my god, we can put moving pictures in a rectangle on a screen and we can get it out to millions and millions of people.”

17:20 — Rich: “There’s a phenomenal quote by the Chief Content Officer of Netflix. They said, ‘what’s your strategy?’ and he said, ‘we have to become HBO faster than HBO can become us.’”

19:10 — Paul: “Here’s a thing I think a lot about: Cakes. Cake making is a whole scene on Youtube. There’s probably 30 million people… who watch and subscribe to cake content where people smear things with fondant. Very charming people. They sell spatulas. That’s how they monetize. I sort of look at Netflix as being very well set up to capitalize on these nascent expanding scenes in a way that Youtube can’t. You’ve got thirty, forty, fifty cake-making personalities but Youtube doesn’t really bring them together.”

20:50 — Paul: “It’s a promise that everyone is roughly equal on the platform, which is weird because you walk down the street and there’s a giant picture of a Youtube celebrity painted on the side of a wall in Manhattan.”

22:00 — Paul: “Netflix is weird because it’s all about subjects and I almost think it should be more focused around verticals. Like channels, or something on Netflix where you can go over and participate as opposed to these ‘movies for people who like cats and have no hair!’ I think Netflix is totally primed to do that.”

24:10 — Paul: “The whole system is set up where the platforms make it challenging to create real utility. The ways that you focus by making products that allow them to access the media and give them new powers and understanding — the platforms are not set up for that. They’re set up for continual delivery of a single experience which is usually a rectangle of video. They’re focused around the media, not the actual usage of the media to do things.”

24:50 — Paul: “Youtube is just a big open hole that anybody can throw their trash into, and sometimes people are like, ‘that’s not trash! That’s good!’”

26:00 — Rich: “For the consumer, I’m worried about them. The motivation on the creator side is to just pour more and more on my head. For the consumer, that’s led to a terrible state. Everything’s garbage. Most things are lousy.”

26:25 — Paul: “Even when you have a lot of money and you do everything right, the odds are that it’s gonna be pretty bad.”

28:35 — Rich: “You know what the most popular piece of advice is now? [Companies are] telling the person: Leave your phone outside the bedroom. Take a book with you. Pause and think! Think deeper!”

29:10 — Paul: “It’s always been crappy bestsellers and big stupid movies with car chases. That’s been the baseline for a long time. It’s not surprising that in an era of digital glut we just end up with more. Not better, but more… Do you try to build the new platforms where there are more constraints and more creative work? That’s a way to address this but you are climbing a very high mountain.”

32:20 — Paul: “Constraints matter, but platform economics take over. You have to choose how to live in this world, because it’s being done to you.”

A full transcript of this episode is available.


Track Changes is the weekly technology and culture podcast from Postlight, hosted by Paul Ford and Rich Ziade. Production, show notes and transcripts by EDITAUDIO. Podcast logo and design by Will Denton of Postlight.

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