[00:00:00] John Marshall: I’ve heard from multiple products and industries that the other free stuff is really way where you make the money. I mean, that was a conversation at Facebook in the early days, about how much you would need to charge the customer, you know, in order to make it viable and to have ad free. And this, this was laughed off, right?
There’s no way, there’s no way those guys want it to be possible for there to be an ad free version, which is subscription-based.
[00:00:34] Matt Bailey: Welcome back to the Endless Coffee Cup. I want to thank you for making the time to download this episode, and I promise it’s going to be an eye-opening episode. It’s going to be well worth your time. I have, as my guest, a longtime friend, John Marshall, who has just recently written and published a book called Free is Bad.
John, thanks for making the time to be on the podcast today.
[00:01:11] John Marshall: Hi, Matt. It’s uh, it’s just great to talk to you again. Yeah. We’ve, uh, we’ve known each other for a long time and, uh, always enjoyable conversation. So I really grateful to you for taking the time.
[00:01:21] Matt Bailey: Absolutely. And listener, just so you know, there, there, the relationship between John and I, I first met him at a conference where John was the CEO of an analytics company. And, uh, I, I like to think I was an early adopter of, uh, the analytics product there. And then we worked together at a training company, and I want to say John, it’s been almost 15 years, I think that we have known each other, uh, in this industry.
[00:01:51] John Marshall: I actually, I think it might even be a couple more than that. I mean, if I were forced to think about it, I might say it’s a couple more than that, but let’s just go with 15.
[00:02:00] Matt Bailey: Okay. Yeah. 15. Yeah. We’re not that old. Yeah.
Well, John, first of all, I think you have a fascinating history or a fascinating biography. I love to tell people when I talking about you that, well, you know, we’ll find out, I would like to ask you first, your bio, but I like to tell people, you’re the person who invented the blink tag in HTML, right? That’s what I’ve always heard about you.
[00:02:29] John Marshall: It is an unfounded, vicious, rumor, which you can’t prove it.
[00:02:37] Matt Bailey: I can’t prove that. Okay. Alright. Well, John, give us a little bit of your background here, cause I think it’s, uh, it lends a very unique view of your book, Free is Bad.
[00:02:49] John Marshall: Yeah, Matt. Thank you. I do have a little bit of an eclectic background for sure. Um, so I start, I did work at Netscape just to put this rumor to bed. Um, I did work at Netscape, you know, that very early browser company and, uh, you know, I was an employee there. I don’t want to make that seem like it was any kind of big deal. You know, I worked there, it was a job and, you know, I learned some stuff, but one of the things that that came from that was sort of a curiosity about analytics and particularly small businesses and analytics, and I’ve always had this, uh, I suppose there’s affinity for, for small businesses and how they approach online marketing.
So, you know, came up with this product, the one that you you’ve just described there, how we met that company was called ClickTracks. It was a web analytics tool. You can think of it as being Google Analytics before there was Google Analytics.
That’s probably easiest way to describe it, but it gave me this insight into how online marketing works on the web and how you measure that. So that was, that was sort of step one in my journey here. After that, I sold that company, started an online training company, Market Motive. We sold courses to teach once again, small businesses, how to market online, using all of these online marketing tools.
And of course, the analytics was a piece of that, and naturally I had some, um, specialty interest in that. Uh, but you know, the company taught all kinds of things. Search engine optimization, paid search, social media, all this kind of stuff. And we, we sold those courses online as distance learning, and nowadays I think that’s become fairly common, but you know, back in 2008, that wasn’t as common and it was, yeah, it was kind of a big deal.
And then we sold that company. Uh, and so the, the third step, I mean, in my journey here, um, was algorithmic ads. That is again, a small business focused products and it was focused on display advertising, the graphical banner ads and how small businesses could create those kinds of ads very efficiently.
Usually, you’d need to hire a graphic designer and it’s really complicated. So we used some, what they call artificial intelligence, some machine learning techniques, and some other stuff. And, um, you know, that was an okay business. I don’t want to say that that was the most successful, actually there was some problems in that company, but that’s okay.
You know, I learned some stuff and I get to the end of that and like, wow. At the end of that process, I end up with, I know a thing or two about analytics, I know a thing or two about advertising online, and most importantly, I ran my own businesses, so I know a thing or two about economics and that’s where I sit today. That’s kind of the background of where I am today.
[00:05:49] Matt Bailey: Wow. I mean, that is such a fascinating background. And, you know, especially being involved in early Silicon Valley, uh, I’m sure you’ve seen and witnessed a lot of, you know, the evolution and the growth, not just of the industry, but of the area and everything around there.
[00:06:08] John Marshall: Yeah. It’s been just amazing. Um, yeah, of course I’m originally from Britain. Um, I came to the Valley in 1992, May of 92 and I just like, couldn’t believe it, you know, just everybody was this hyperrational nerd, just like me.
[00:06:29] Matt Bailey: You’re among your people.
[00:06:31] John Marshall: Totally. Just, just you, you just don’t know how at home I felt.
[00:06:39] Matt Bailey: So, with all of that background, what was it that, that made you want to write this book? What, what, what was that seed that you, you, because when I read it, there’s a purpose in mind. And so I’d love to know what, what developed that in you?
[00:06:55] John Marshall: If there was a couple of conversations that I had along the way, uh, to do with privacy and, uh, the way that we use the web and the conversations often ended up with the statement, somebody would say to me, “Well, information wants to be free.”
And, you know, that’s kind of an interesting thing to say, and it’s a, it’s a founding principle of the internet. So I actually met, let me, let me ask you just for, just as a little digression for a second, if I said to you, that “information wants to be free” is the founding principle of the internet, but I ask you, do you know, the other half of the statement. And let me ask you, do actually, do you, do you know the other half of the statement?
[00:07:43] Matt Bailey: You know, I have heard that statement before, and it’s always interesting the context that it’s been used. But I can’t tell you that I know the other half of this statement.
[00:07:54] John Marshall: And that’s okay. That’s okay. Very few people do, but it just so happened that I, I did know.
And I do know the other half of that statement and I, we will, we will explain to, um, uh, our listeners, your listeners here, um, we will explain the other half of the statement. But, but just bear with me. Okay. Let’s, let’s, let’s keep people in suspense. And let’s say at the, at the end we’ll reveal what the other half of the statement is.
But back to your question, yeah, I, I would hear somebody say, “Well, information wants to be free.” They also would say something like “I am, I use all of these online services and I’m concerned about privacy,” but then they would do nothing about it. This is really what I started to realize.
[00:08:42] Matt Bailey: Yes, yes. A complete resignation almost.
[00:08:46] John Marshall: Yeah. That, that is, that is exactly the right word to use. That is exactly it. And, and yet what I observed, is myself personally, I am not concerned about privacy. And I started to think, well, look, everybody else is concerned here and I’m not. So what is it that they know that I don’t know? Or what is it that I know that they don’t know? Right?
[00:09:11] Matt Bailey: That’s a great, a great way to start research. I love that.
[00:09:15] John Marshall: Yeah. And I started to realize that I think I know something that lots of other people either don’t know or don’t want to know. And I’ve applied that pretty consistently through my career and, you know, the way that I deal with stuff online. And I finally decided that, “John, pretty clearly you’re doing things different than everybody else is. So why don’t you just explain to people what it is that you do and how it’s different?”
[00:10:00] I then thought, “Well, if I, if I do that, I actually, it’s kind of not interesting enough. I mean, it just sort of becomes a recipe and nobody really cares about that.” So in order to make it more interesting for people, I decided that I would write some history that would explain why we have these privacy problems.
Explain your, why those companies, that, why there are these companies that are creating those privacy problems. So like, if you like the economics part, where does the economics part come from? My own software engineering background, I can explain how a little bit, just a little bit of how some of this stuff works so that it creates those economic incentives.
And then I can just tell people, this is what I do to fix this particular problem. Right? So the, in the end, that’s what the book does. That we, we take different online tools that we all use, I explained a little bit of history about that tool, just enough to make it interesting, I explained how the economics of that tool have created some of these problems, and then, “Hey, here’s how I have fixed that particular thing in my life.” We take emails, search, social media, a couple of other things, and then finally news. And, um, you know, media is the biggest single chunk of the book. And that’s it.
[00:11:05] Matt Bailey: You take some very fundamental tools. Uh, I mean, “That’s it,” it’s not that simple, John, you, you go after some very, I mean, you’re talking everyday tools. I made a quick list. So you tackle email, choice of browser, search, social media, and I mean, and news. This is what most people do online every day. You tackle the major building blocks of someone’s day or the major tool set.
And yet I think what you’re going after with the book is these are all things that are free, and because of that, there are some major problems here. You went after some big boys here. That’s, this isn’t, “That’s it.” You, you took on some big, big content areas.
[00:11:54] John Marshall: As you, as you point out, they form just such a huge part of our daily lives. And when I looked at the choices that I was making, I was surprised that not everybody at least thinks about those same choices. I mean, if, if we were to take, for example, search. Search is sort of fundamental to the way the internet works, and it’s almost impossible to have search without advertising. And actually, the history of search is such that it’s never really worked. Search paid for through anything other than advertising just hasn’t worked. But Google isn’t the only way that you can search, it’s not the only thing that exists. It’s not even necessarily the best thing that exists.
[00:12:45] Matt Bailey: Yeah.
[00:12:46] John Marshall: So, so if I said to you, I’ll say to you, Matt, you know, here’s a surprise. I don’t use a single Google product.
[00:12:53] Matt Bailey: Well actually, I will tell you from my perspective, I’m not surprised because I try to avoid using Google as much as possible. And this is something where I think we’re very aligned and I realized very similar to you, uh, when I was doing my master’s work and I chose media and information literacy as one of my content areas in my master’s program. And in doing surveys of people about their views of search and some of these areas, that’s where I came, that’s where I realized people have an attitude of, “Well, they know everything anyway, and there’s nothing I can do.”
And that was the overwhelming opinion. One of the things that really surprised me is those that self-assessed themselves as having a high level of knowledge about privacy, about surveillance, about any of those things, they actually were the highest Google users. And I often scratched my head at that is, wait a minute, how can you say you have such a high knowledge of this, but yet use Google everything?
When I read your book, it was really with the anticipation of, “Finally someone who understands this industry” and, and, you know, I, I’m all about helping you get the word out because yes, I use a paid email service, basically Outlook, uh, for business with my own domain. I use a combination of Firefox and Brave, once in a while I’ll use Edge. I’ve been really impressed with Edge.
[00:14:32] John Marshall: It’s good.
[00:14:33] Matt Bailey: Yeah.
[00:14:34] John Marshall: It’s good.
[00:14:35] Matt Bailey: I’ve been surprised. I try to avoid Google docs, but yeah, I have clients that use it and so I really, really limit that. And yeah, for search, I’ve been using a combination of Bing and DuckDuckGo, and I spread things out, I guess, is my strategy across different platforms, different programs, not because I’m trying to hide anything, but because I frankly am fed up with ads. That’s really where my, my motivation lies.
[00:15:05] John Marshall: So, so let me ask you, uh, just to complete the picture here. This is going to be a very personal and intimate question, and I’m sorry. What brand of phone do you use?
[00:15:18] Matt Bailey: I use an iPhone.
[00:15:19] John Marshall: Why?
[00:15:20] Matt Bailey: Ah, that is a great, great question because I would say for the past few years, I’ve not been too happy, but I’ll tell you my number one motivation for using an iPhone is that it’s not Android.
That’s number one. I’ve become happier with Apple since they have started moving to an opt-in advertising operating system. When that gets fully implemented, I will be totally on board with that, where all advertising, all tracking is opt-in. The other thing is just the consistency of that I’ve looked at other operating systems, you know, everything else is, is Android operating system.
I would say the lack of choices out there, what makes me stay that, but not being Android, that’s my number one motivation.
[00:16:07] John Marshall: Right. So it’s an interesting question to always, I think, to ask people in this question of privacy, because there’s only two choices. For most people, because we have this intimate relationship with our devices, um, you know, we go to bed with them for goodness’ sake.
[00:16:23] Matt Bailey: Oh yeah.
[00:16:24] John Marshall: We kind of have an emotional response to that question, alright? So now let’s, let’s just, let’s just dig into it a little bit more. If you want to drive somewhere and you don’t know where you’re going, you probably use some kind of mapping application, get directions and so on, and you probably do that on your phone if it’s not built into your car.
[00:16:47] Matt Bailey: Yeah.
[00:16:47] John Marshall: What tools do you use on your phone?
[00:16:50] Matt Bailey: I use the Apple Maps and I have not ended up in a lake or in a dead end, I have, I have always gotten where I need to go, so that’s…
[00:17:02] John Marshall: Matt, as I would have guessed, you know, you’ve already figured this stuff out, right?
But a lot of people will choose to use an Apple phone. Um, they will, well, actually let’s start at the beginning. They will say, “I am concerned about privacy and collection of data.” They will make that statement. They then will choose an Apple phone, and which is interesting because given the choice between Apple and Android, they’re obviously one is going to have a different attitude towards advertising than the other.
I mean, one comes from a company that makes its money from advertising, and one comes from a company that makes its money from just selling the phone.
[00:17:40] Matt Bailey: Right. Yeah.
[00:17:40] John Marshall: So it’s this binary choice and people, you know, will say, “I’m concerned about privacy.” They then will buy an iPhone, which would seem to indicate, “Hey, you know, I’m buying an iPhone because I don’t want the Android surveillance,” as you’ve hinted at.
And then the next thing they do is stick, stick, Google maps onto it.
[00:18:02] Matt Bailey: And not just Google maps, they’ll put the whole Google suite.
[00:18:05] John Marshall: Yeah.
[00:18:05] Matt Bailey: Uh, and then make Google the default search.
[00:18:07] John Marshall: Right.
[00:18:08] Matt Bailey: And you’re right back in the system.
[00:18:10] John Marshall: Right. You’re maybe slightly better off than if you, if you had just gone with Android, I mean, your Android is, is baked in at the operating system level.
There’s stuff happening at the OS level that is pretty hard to get away from. Um, but yeah, so exactly Matt, this has always surprised me. You know, I would see people do this and I wondered, I wondered why, why is it that people will choose the phone that has a reputation for privacy and security, and then stick the surveillance stuff on it? Why do people do that?
[00:18:49] Matt Bailey: I had the same question as far as a choice of browser, that the people in my surveys who rated themselves with the highest level of knowledge about privacy and security overwhelmingly, they were Chrome users. And when I asked how many plugins that you have, it was close to 20 to 30 plug-ins.
[00:19:11] John Marshall: Wow. Wow.
[00:19:12] Matt Bailey: And I, you know, the, the contradiction there of your, you say, you understand this, but you are doing this. So it’s either resignation or an overestimation of my security knowledge. But you brought this up, and I think it’s such an important thing to do. And I can’t remember the number off the top of my head, but Google makes hundreds of billions of dollars, and I have to say that over 90% of it is from advertising.
[00:19:43] John Marshall: Right.
[00:19:43] Matt Bailey: So Google is an advertising company, whereas Apple, as you said, makes devices, and that’s what they make it from direct sales. And so, you know, by offering all of these free tools, a browser, search, email, all these things, that’s not how they make their money.
[00:20:00] They’re not selling that. And that’s why I was just like, when I got my hands on your book, I’m like, “This is it,” because it’s almost like you have to gently take people from point A to point B of yes, this is free. Here’s why it’s free.
And the discussion of the economics behind it, of you want free email, you, you have to pay somewhere. You want free search; you have to pay somewhere. And you do a great job of bringing up some of these questions that I don’t think people ask enough about their online experience.
[00:20:36] John Marshall: It’s definitely in the media at the moment. There’s discussion, of course, of a DOJ action against Google on anti-trust grounds.
It’s not quite what we’ve just talked about there, it, it’s sort of adjacent to what we’ve been describing there, but it’s, it…
[00:20:53] Matt Bailey: Right.
[00:20:53] John Marshall: You know, it’s definitely, uh, something that could be happening. And there’s even discussion, uh, um, in, in some quarters of breaking up Google. And if, the economics of that is something that I struggle with, but if we were just, just for a moment, suspend disbelief and say, “Okay, alright, let’s say that happens. What does the world look like?”
So a question that we need to therefore answer is, Google gets break, gets broken up, whether we think that’s good or bad doesn’t matter, and so what happens to Gmail?
[00:21:28] Matt Bailey: Right.
[00:21:28] John Marshall: And what I realized is, the conversations that are taking place about whether Google is a problem, they only take us to the point of breaking the thing up, let’s say, and I’m, I’m not, I don’t mean to imply that I advocate for that, or that my book advocates for that. It’s just a thing that people say, “But what does the world look like after that?” So the, the obvious case I think is Gmail. It’s like, it’s sort of the elephant in the room.
And what do you think would happen with Gmail? How would Gmail be both non-surveillance and free? How do you get both of those things?
[00:22:07] Matt Bailey: Right. That’s the question. That’s the question. Well, and that’s the thing independently, if someone were to buy this Gmail or, or take it over, they would have to right away decide on a business model and that would be it.
Do we continue being free, with which we then have to be ad revenue generated and well, how are we going to do that? You know, now we look at an ethical issue of, how will we provide contextually relevant ads that people want to click on or want to see, or you monetize it by charging the users or charging per space or charging something like that.
The economics are always going to rule it. I think what people don’t realize, it, and this is what I, I’ve seen is, well especially in the app store, app developers don’t want you to pay for the ad free version because they make more money with the ad supported version, and I don’t think people realize that.
People I think are in this mentality that, oh, they want $6 for the app. No way, I’m going ad, ad support. I can deal with the ads, but I don’t think they realize how much money is made from the ad supported versions. And the app creators are in love with their ad supported versions. I don’t think people can comprehend the amount of money that is driven by free email, free apps, free, you know, all those things. I think the economics of it is far above what, what most people would judge.
[00:23:40] John Marshall: Yeah. Um, I’ve heard from multiple products and industries that the other free stuff is really where you make the money. I mean, there was a conversation at Facebook, um, in the early days about, um, how much you would need to charge the customer, you know, in order to make it viable and to have ad-free and this, this was laughed off, right?
There’s no way, there’s no way those guys want it to be possible for there to be an ad free version, which is subscription-based. I do have to say that, that Twitter on their corporate website, a few months ago, they had a job posting for somebody with knowledge of subscription systems, an engineer with knowledge of subscription systems.
And that kind of, I, I think job postings is a really interesting way of seeing where companies might go. And so Twitter, to my mind, you know, my interpretation of that is they might in the future experiment with a subscription model that doesn’t carry ads, that’s speculation on my part, just based on a job post.
[00:24:38] Matt Bailey: Wow.
[00:24:39] John Marshall: Yeah. But, but the, you know, back to your point about free email and so on, in the end, Matt, this is, this is why the book is titled as it is. I mean, I, I thought, “I can tap dance around this thing. You know, I can sort of start out in a subtle way and hint about, you know, privacy and all of this other stuff that we’re concerned about.”
But I don’t know that doesn’t really work for me, and I’ve not had success with that. I’m a bit too, I’m just a bit too direct. So I just decided to fully embrace my directness. I’m going to hit people over the head with it. Here it is, folks. Free is bad. It’s a universal rule that you could apply to anything in life. That is great. That is great. Well, I, you know, on that, just for a moment here, John, now that you’ve made that bold proclamation, I think it’s time to take a break and thank our sponsors for underwriting the cost of hosting and delivering this podcast to us.
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[00:27:16] Matt Bailey: Hey, thank you very much listener for dealing with the word from our sponsors, and, uh, I felt so hypocritical making a break for an ad break after we’re talking about free is bad and yes, podcasts are free, but I think there’s a different level. There, there’s a different scale. We’re not talking about, uh, invasive ads, you know, at a massive scale.
It’s one thing I love about podcasting is it’s individuals who are bringing us very focused, centralized, I would say very specific knowledge and or entertainment, and you can tune in, you can turn off, you know, it, it, it’s, it’s a little different, so that’s my justification for it, John.
[00:28:00] John Marshall: Perfectly okay. It’s perfectly okay. I mean, I think the economic intent here for it, for your listeners, Matt is clear. Right?
And so there, there are definitely, although my book is titled Free is Bad, there are definitely situations where the statement is not completely true. I mean, I say it to be a little bit provocative, but I think the canonical example where it’s not true is Wikipedia, right?
[00:28:27] Matt Bailey: Ah, great example.
[00:28:28] John Marshall: Yeah. It’s free and it’s good. And I think the difference there is that with Wikipedia, there is not a customer with subversive intent. That’s really the difference. So with, with a lot of the online ad systems and particularly, um, the way that Google operates its online ad systems, the, the connection to the advertiser is not really policed by Google.
Google takes a very hands-off approach with that. So you can end up with some pretty nasty stuff coming through on the ads because Google doesn’t want to get involved. They don’t want to have to be policing that stuff. And, and so therefore, you know, the customer, which is the advertiser who is paying for the stuff, you know, whatever it is that you’re consuming online, that easily can be bad.
It can be okay, but because Google is not policing it, it easily can be bad. Oh, conversely, I think with Wikipedia, the customer, let’s imagine for a moment who is the customer of Wikipedia? Well, it actually turns out the customer of Wikipedia is the reader, and although Wikipedia is free, there isn’t an advertiser with bad intent.
Um, in fact, Wikipedia relies on donations, you know, and Jimmy Wales has been very clear about that, but he doesn’t want to take advertising money because it would distort the articles. And I think that’s just, it’s just obvious that that would happen.
[00:30:00] Matt Bailey: Right.
[00:30:00] John Marshall: So although I make the statement, “Free is Bad,” there are some edge cases and Wikipedia is one, and I got to say, podcasts is another, because the form of advertising is, uh, clear and straightforward and non-subversive.
[00:30:18] Matt Bailey: Well, and you make this point so excellently in the book, and you, you just, you brought this up and I want to dive a little more deeper into it.
It’s my customer. My customer is the listener. My customer is not the advertiser. And that is what you roll into your analysis of search and of news and email of who is the customer? You know, whoever has these services, so we’ve been, we’ve been hitting Google pretty hard on this, uh, you know, of Gmail, of search, who is the customer and, and you turn it on its head, and you expose who the real customer is, and it’s not the end user.
[00:31:00] John Marshall: Right. Right. I mean, I, I, this was just based on my experience, Matt, of, uh, of running businesses. You know, I, I thought back to the days, you know, I don’t know, set Market Motive, right? Was selling training courses there.
And, uh, you know, just thinking about the, we got these customers and every day we, we go into the office and remember those days we go into the office, we would, we would think about, uh, you know, what, we got to work on this. We got these customers, and we’d have sales meetings, and we’re thinking about the customers and just everything.
Everything that happens at the company is naturally, it’s nothing wrong with this, is naturally focused on keeping the customers happy.
[00:31:41] Matt Bailey: Yeah.
[00:31:41] John Marshall: So what happens if you, are, oh, creating something like, say news, let’s just right, let’s stray into a different area here. Let’s talk about news media. What happens if you’re creating news?
And that news is, uh, is online and anybody can come along and read it. And that news is funded through ads and those ads are, you know, they’re, they’re online ads, they’re not sponsorships, they’re very much, you know, transactional, transactional ads. That company, that news company, is going to do exactly the same thing that I did at my companies.
It is going to wake up worrying about its customer. What can it do to keep the customer happy? How can we get more of these customers? How can we get more money out of our customers? The whole machine of the business revolves around the people sending in the checks.
And of course, that a news organization, unless that news organization is built, is built on subscriptions, at that news organization, that’s going to be advertisers. And actually, by strange twist of fate for an awful lot of news organizations, it turns out that that’s Google. I mean, it’s Google who is supplying the biggest checks for those ads. So everything that the business does is an economic decision and it is based on keeping and acquiring happy customers and everything else takes a back seat to that.
[00:33:17] Matt Bailey: Absolutely. And you know, the added twist to this, especially when we talk about news is, yes, it’s Google writing the checks, uh, but if that news organization is a corporation, well, now I’ve got to keep the investors happy, and by producing profits. And so my background is journalism and my journalism professor always, always was stressing the division of editorial and advertising.
They should never meet, never mix. There should be a clear distinction. And, you know, we studied, you know, this was back when newspapers were, you know, newspapers and televised news. And we studied that, of how they would delineate that, but we also studied how entertainment was making its way into news. Back in the, you know, eighties and nineties, you started to see shows like entertainment tonight.
And this fulfills, you know, I’m going to go to Neil Postman where, you know, he even said when television is breaking news apart into entertainment, and so very soon entertainment will be news and news will be entertainment. And that’s what we started to get with these news light entertainment shows. And we would analyze that to see, you know, where’s the advertising, where’s the editorial, what’s happening to the editorial based on the advertising?
And you could see how the influence of advertising would change the editorial direction of an organization. And now that we’re online, you can see where I would like to say, pre-internet you had to monetize the news organization or the news medium as a whole. So what I mean by that is, the only way I could affect the news is I could buy an ad at the beginning of the news or in the middle of the news, or at the end.
Uh, with a newspaper, I could buy a full-page layout, I could put something in the classifieds, but now that we’re online, I can monetize an article by itself. And if that article gets a lot of clicks, now I’m monetizing, and I can see what people are drawn to.
And now all of a sudden, this is where for me, uh, you know, with that background, it hits an ethical issue of, I can modify that headline or modify that link to make it more attractive, to make it more sensational, and in doing so I make more money. And that makes more money from the customer, which is ad revenue, but it also makes my investors happy from a corporate standpoint. And we’re seeing it today, the effects of that, it changes the editorial direction.
[00:36:08] John Marshall: Oh, totally, totally. I mean, um, uh, the, the, the phrase I use, forgive me, I invented this phrase and I, I’m not sure that it works in all cases, but I think it’s largely true. I think it’s largely true.
I use the phrase for newer news organizations, I call that “Neo News.”
[00:36:27] Matt Bailey: Yes.
[00:36:27] John Marshall: They’re born online, and they have an online way of thinking about news. So optimizing the way the news reads, continuously testing, dividing articles up, making articles more emotive because, um, if you make them emotive, uh, they attract people more.
Um, and then really the thing that’s pumped steroids into all of this is social media. If you start out with articles that are free for everybody to read, right? It’s just, it just lives online. It’s free and it’s funded entirely by ads. Then you’ve sort of, you’ve taken any words that, that might have had truth in them at the beginning, and you put them through this optimization cycle of testing and experimenting with different stuff, injecting emotion, and then you make it possible for people to share it on social media. And of course they can share it because it just lives on the web it’s free. Right?
[00:37:28] Matt Bailey: Right.
[00:37:29] John Marshall: So the free stuff is just so prone to the business, working as hard as it can to satisfy its customers. I mean, um, I mean, I’m going to be a little cautious here about straying into ethics, because although I think that’s a problem, it’s, it’s something that can’t be quantified. You know me. I’m just this total analytics nerd, I, I, I’m naturally drawn to things that can be quantified. I find them easier.
My brain works best with things that can be quantified. So you’ve got one business. I call these businesses “Neo News.” And um, if you want to think about a name for a publisher here, I don’t want to name names, but we can call those guys “opinion facts,” right? The brand, you can imagine the brand of the news publication here is “opinion facts,” and it’s pretty obvious that putting that stuff out there for free makes the whole machine work super efficiently.
You know, and the customers, i.e. the advertisers, are really happy with that. Now the other side of it, is news publishers that came before the internet, I call these guys “Classic News,” so in order to distinguish them from “Neo News,” I call these guys “Classic News.” And their biggest problem is that they probably don’t have articles which are out there on the public way.
They’re dependent on subscription revenue, and so their articles sit behind a paywall. So you can’t share them on social media.
[00:39:08] Matt Bailey: Right.
[00:39:08] John Marshall: And if you can’t share it on social media, well, then, you know, the emotion thing just isn’t so important. And so if the emotion thing isn’t so important, well, then we kind of can’t drive all of this ad revenue off it anyway.
So you sort of got these two feedback machines in these two worlds, in “Neo News” and “Classic News.” And the feedback machine in “Neo News” just keeps getting louder and louder and louder. It’s positive feedback. It’s just going off the scale.
[00:40:00] And then in “Classic News,” well, they’re kind of stuck behind the paywall. It’s a bit dull. I call these guys dull evidence, by the way, it was a bit dull. And, but, but like, wait a minute, isn’t that what news is supposed to be? I mean, isn’t news supposed to be evidence, logic and reason, and isn’t that like really, really dull? How do you possibly get emotion into that? How do you drive the machine round and round using emotion with that stuff?
What I realized like the big epiphany here is, “Oh yeah, one of these is free and one of these you have to pay for.” That’s the difference.
[00:40:15] Matt Bailey: That’s great. Well, that was what I walked away with. That real news is boring. Let’s be honest. And, and, and that’s where, you know, I appreciate my, my father and my parents.
The upbringing is, you know, if you want to understand something, and this is what you did with your book, you’ve got to go back and look at the history. You can’t understand a conflict around the world with a 20 second news bite, because all they’re going to tell you is, “This happened. This many people died. This country did this.”
And that’s what you get in 20 seconds. But to understand why those things happened and what the foundation of this is, we need to go back into the history. You need to understand the conflict, the people, the situation, and that’s boring because it requires you to invest time and effort to study and learn.
Now, when you see, “This happened,” you have a context to interpret that by. But without the context, well, it’s just information.
[00:41:23] John Marshall: Yeah.
[00:41:24] Matt Bailey: And yeah, so it’s, it’s boring. It requires you to work.
[00:41:30] John Marshall: And yet it mirrored so, so clearly the kind of conversations that I had with businesses related to the analytics product, you know, I mean, going back, you know, going back to the, sort of the origin story here, uh, you know, when, when we met 15, 17 years ago, um, Click Tracks, the analytics thing, I, I spent so much time using the evidence gathered from the online analytics, and convincing business people that their preconceived ideas here were wrong.
One of the, well, it actually, it wasn’t quite as bad as what you might assume, because one of the things that separates people who are successful in business, is that they tend to be pretty good at suppressing their preconceived ideas and just, you know, implicitly, they tend to be open to evidence that comes from outside their, their experience and, and outside their worldview.
But there are plenty of people who are not open to that. And, you know, in business one doesn’t encounter so much of that, but it’s a real uphill struggle, just trying to move that kind of, uh, that kind of thinking across the line, right? And no amount of evidence is going to change somebody’s mind in some cases.
[00:42:56] Matt Bailey: Well, I do a lot of international training and it’s, and it’s always very interesting because I run into that audience where, you know, especially, I would say parts of the world where, you know, you and I grew up with PCs and that’s where we started.
And then we had email, and then we had search, and then we had these things added on. Then we had mobile, and I’m going into parts of the world where, well, they started on mobile. And because they started out on a mobile, Facebook or Instagram was where they started, and just search, email, that type of stuff, that was always been around, but they are focused, so totally focused on, “Social media is how I’m going to build a business.”
And then I go in with my course and I start showing them the analytics and explaining the difference between, well, social media. Yeah, it’s great. It’s free. It’s a great way to expose your business and get some eyeballs, but that’s not your audience. That, that audience belongs to that platform.
They’re renting it to you. And, and now all of a sudden, and then when I started telling them, no, that you, what you want to do is drive people to a property you own, and that you acquire their email, they become your customer, and you can talk to them whenever you want. And that’s the difference between buying and renting an audience.
And then when I start putting it in those financial terms, that, yeah, social media is free. You can use it all day long, but when you start investing in your own property and bringing people there, now that audience belongs to you and there is a learning curve. And now all of a sudden, they’re starting to see, oh, so I have to, I’m working with businesses and they’re coming to that realization.
I have to build a website. And so it’s interesting to kind of now be again, kind of going through what we went through in the early two thousands and even maybe a little earlier, and now I’m experiencing this in other parts of the world of, yeah. We have to use this evidence to persuade people that, look at what you can do, and free is not going to get you there.
[00:45:13] John Marshall: That’s so interesting that, um, you know, Facebook has just come to dominate people’s consciousness, you know, for, for some people, Facebook is their source of news. You know, that is a true statement for some people. Facebook is where they get their news. Now I actually, I have to qualify that a little bit because Facebook has actually introduced a news feature. And it’s, you know, we’re not talking here about memes that people toss around, right.
There is actually a button inside Facebook, which is, which is labeled news. And it is sourced from credible evidence-based news organizations of the type, Matt, that, you know, that you are familiar with, from your, uh, from your training, right?
[00:46:02] Matt Bailey: Yes.
[00:46:02] John Marshall: Your, your early education, you’re familiar with those guys. And so, you know, Facebook has some of that stuff inside the platform.
However, however, I think it’s true to say that just about everybody ignores that.
[00:46:14] Matt Bailey: Right.
[00:46:14] John Marshall: Um, and they rely on memes.
[00:46:16] Matt Bailey: Right. Yeah.
[00:46:17] John Marshall: Wow.
[00:46:18] Matt Bailey: Meme based news or, or the, the meme economy. I, I’m so frustrated with it. It, it, and that’s a thing. It just, it reduces nuance to a binary choice. It reduces information to a joke and many times it relies on irony that eliminates almost any conversation that could happen. Yeah. Unfortunately, you are right. That’s, that’s where people get their news, and it makes me cringe.
[00:46:52] John Marshall: What would your, what would your professor, alright, thinking back to your course, you mentioned before, your professor, what would your professor say to this?
[00:46:59] Matt Bailey: You know, I am trying to get her on a podcast, and she does not want to be on it. She is, this is not her chosen medium.
[00:47:08] John Marshall: That’s so funny. That is so funny. If you, if you succeed, you absolutely have to tell me because I want to hear that.
[00:47:17] Matt Bailey: Oh, I, I am trying so hard. I, I, you know, right now she is chancellor at a university and so, uh, she is still in the educational system, and I am, I’m next going to have to rely on bribery. I think that’s my next step.
[00:47:32] John Marshall: So I got, I got to ask you another question here about, um, about news. And this is, this is, uh, a little, um, topic that, um, I think is, is super, super important.
The city where you live in Ohio, you live in, you live in Canton, right?
[00:47:48] Matt Bailey: Yes.
[00:47:48] John Marshall: What’s happened to your local newspaper?
[00:47:52] Matt Bailey: Oh, it is, I believe a subsidiary of the New York Times. And so it’s a little bit of local, a lot of national and world, and the readership has gone down very, very significantly. I think on a Sunday paper, you’ll probably get the most local news.
And then now I will say they, online, they, I believe give you two articles and then it’s firewall. So there is a little bit of a local presence, and we actually have some smaller local papers out even outside of Canton and some of the smaller communities. I won’t say they’re thriving, but they’re still existing and they are still trying to report local information.
[00:48:38] John Marshall: I mean, I think that’s encouraging. Local news is a really interesting business because, um, got squeezed by the internet, uh, pretty significantly. Um, but we could kind of see a way forward there. Um, but local news got squeezed, in fact, squeeze is, is an understatement. They all got crushed by the internet and by Craigslist, right?
[00:49:05] Matt Bailey: Yes.
[00:49:05] John Marshall: Craigslist came along with the, with the, and swept away, all of that easy business with classifieds, and real estate listings, and your rentals, and cars for sale, and all that stuff. So a lot of communities are, now have no local news presence. And that’s a real problem because you know, local politicians in some ways are harder to hold to account because the institutions that, that would normally keep them accountable are not strong.
And so you’re often dependent on journalism to, ah, you know, ask difficult questions from time to time, and that’s kind of going away.
[00:49:48] Matt Bailey: It is. And I’m glad you brought that up because so many people are consumed with politics and news at a national level. And I don’t think they realize that your local politics, your local issues are going to affect your life more on a daily basis than who’s president.
[00:50:00] And I believe the number is, it’s close to 70%, I believe, of people who listed journalism or journalists as their profession in the last 20 years. I think it has dropped by 70%, how many people were employed as reporters. That’s how much the internet has taken over. And a lot of newspapers just republish press releases.
And I think the value of local news and information has diminished in a lot of people’s minds. That’s what you got from newspapers. You know, the one thing, you know, another piece of action. That’s one thing I liked about your book, there’s a lot of action you could take. And one thing that I would add to that is subscribe to a local newspaper.
Find out what’s happening locally because that’s what affects your schools. That’s what affects your local regulations. That’s what affects, you know, a lot of the services around you and if you’re ignorant of it, then how do you know where to go to change it?
[00:51:09] John Marshall: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s exactly it, man. That is, that’s exactly it. We have in, in, in the town where I live, um, Santa Cruz, uh, you know, we’re in, um, north California, just outside Silicon Valley. We have a local paper, the Santa Cruz Sentinel, you know, we, it’s just dying on its feet.
I mean, and, and, and I, I don’t know that I can say with a clear conscience to anybody that lives here, “Hey, you should subscribe to the Santa Cruz Sentinel.” I mean, I, I would feel bad doing that because it’s terrible. And the website, I mean, like you, you sort of can’t go to the website because it’s just so dreadful and these big blocky graphics, it doesn’t render properly on mobile.
[00:51:55] Matt Bailey: Oh no.
[00:51:55] John Marshall: I mean, you know, there’s all these problems with it.
And I, I don’t think I would feel good about saying to everybody, anybody that, you know, lives in this little town, “Hey, you should subscribe to that thing to keep it going.” But, but we have two other news organizations that have recently started. One of them is called Santa Cruz Local, and the other one is attempting to go national, that there is a sort of a, um, a syndicate/franchise model and I think that is called Lookout Local.
But both of these are startups that are staffed by young people. And they are online only. There is no wood pulp slurry that’s being delivered to people’s front doors, right? That’s the thing of the past. They’re online only and they are dedicated to offering the kind of journalism that local issues require.
And they had, I was so interested in this when I uncovered these, these two companies and it just, it just so happens that they’re in the town where I live. Okay, the town where I live, we are sort of blessed with a high population of people who are driven and creative. I mean, it’s the kind of town that, that we have plenty of that.
So that, and young people, yeah. We have young people too. All of that helps. But the thing that really encouraged me here is that both of these organizations have dedicated themselves to local reporting on real issues and crucially, they are taking only sponsorships and they call it membership.
[00:53:39] Matt Bailey: Ah.
[00:53:40] John Marshall: Yeah. They, and they both use that word. So they, in order to get any amount of any reasonable amount of local news delivered to your mobile device, and it comes by email, by text, I mean, they do reporting by text, right?
[00:53:53] Matt Bailey: Wow.
[00:53:53] John Marshall: You can get news from them via, that’s how forward-thinking they are, but you need to be a member. And I thought this is so interesting. They’re using that word. Doesn’t that word sound better than you need to pay?
[00:54:07] Matt Bailey: Yes.
[00:54:08] John Marshall: I mean…
[00:54:09] Matt Bailey: It brings in the mentality of investment, that I’m investing in a local resource rather than, I am paying some faceless entity somewhere. You know, I think that that’s very well chosen.
[00:54:23] John Marshall: Yeah. Yeah. It puts a human face on things. I mean, these are, these are startup companies and they’re not part of Gannett or, um, Knight Ridder or, or, uh, you know, these, these big publishers, you said that your local paper is owned by the New York Times. There are those big, they’re public companies, they’ve got, they’ve got problems they need to solve that you and I just can’t imagine.
These are, you know, these are local, smaller local companies. And I am actually really optimistic that in our local communities, this kind of ethical, uh, reporting can thrive. And that enough people that care are willing to pay and be a member. I mean, there’ll be, they are using that word membership.
We’re willing to subscribe because I just can’t see how this can work if it is entirely dependent on ad revenue. And by the way, my evidence for making that bold statement, “I don’t think this can work if we’re entirely dependent on ad revenue,” the reason I think I can make that statement is we’ve been entirely dependent on ad revenue, and look at the mess we’re in.
[00:55:30] Matt Bailey: Right. And I don’t think people realize that the division, the clickbait headlines, that drive division, that drive drama, the, you know, everything that’s shared on social media, it drives to free news. I don’t think they realize that how much that supports an ad revenue model. And this is where it leads.
You know, I think, uh, 20 years ago we were on the cusp of, of looking at the internet and everything that was possible. I don’t think anyone predicted where this was going to go and it has created this fractured, angry society.
And if anything, it’s more of the science fiction dystopian future that is typically predicted in science fiction, rather than look at what we can accomplish and look at what ad revenue could do is I, I think I mentioned this to you before, but I think it has been a bad trade off and that the argument has been “Well, if people want free, if we can track you and deliver better quality advertising,” I don’t remember signing that agreement, and I, you know, I don’t remember a survey, but that seems to have been the unspoken line that, you know, Google, Facebook, a lot of the big players have made that line.
That people want better targeted ads, and they’re willing to give us more information. To, in order to use these free things, the exchange is advertising and that’s been a terrible trade.
[00:57:07] John Marshall: Well, you know, just to say it again, right? Remember the founding phrase of the internet, “Information wants to be free.” And we said that 20 years ago, we kind of said that to ourselves. And what we then did is set about putting in place all of the economic incentives to make sure that that remains the case.
Right. We, we, we said that to ourselves, “Information wants to be free,” and we just made sure that that would be true. So now I will tell you where the phrase comes from, and who said it to whom, and what the other half of it is. There’s two versions of the phrase. And if you, if you, if you look at the Wikipedia article, you’ll see these two versions, but the first, the simple one was said by a guy called Stewart Brand.
And he was the founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, uh, sort of an information age pioneer and philosopher. He said, “Information wants to be free. Information also wants to be expensive. That tension will not go away.”
[00:58:20] Matt Bailey: Wow.
[00:58:21] John Marshall: Now that’s the simplified version. The actual original one is even more nuanced and interesting. And the interesting thing here is that this was Stewart Brand again. And he said these words to Steve Wozniak the co-founder of apple in 1984. Alright? So in 1984, there’s a big conference called the hacker conference, uh, Bill Gates was there, he was in the audience, Stewart Brand, Steve Wasniak was there, a whole bunch of people.
1984, and this is what he said, “On the one hand information wants to be expensive because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time.”
So that’s it. “Information wants to be free. Information also wants to be expensive. That tension will not go away.”
[00:59:19] Matt Bailey: It’s interesting. I really liked that. I’m going to go dig that up and I will tell you my first thought though, is we have so much information available to us. Yet the quality of the information is suffering.
[01:00:00] You know, I feel like those of us in the search engine optimization industry owe the world an apology, because from the earliest conferences, it was clear that in order to rank well in Google, you have to become a content developer. You have to write content in order to rank for those words. And then that content, you know, you publish more and more, you put it on social media.
And I think that has been one of the most significant drivers of poor, irrelevant, it’s content for content’s sake. I remember being at one of those conferences and someone from the platform was saying, “Just write content, just put out content,” and someone in the audience, I, I, they were behind me, and I heard them groan and they were just saying, “Can we have good content please?”
But that’s where I feel like we have to apologize for this glut, this over, overabundance of low quality information, and that’s what’s free.
[01:00:47] John Marshall: Yeah. Matt, your observation here is dead on, right? There is, there is no question that quality of information is lower. Alright? I think we can make that statement and we know it to be true, but I ask you just for a second here to refine the statement. Is that statement true for information that you pay for?
[01:01:15] Matt Bailey: As far as the quality?
[01:01:17] John Marshall: The quality. Is the quality of information that you get lower among information that is paid for? I mean, right, we can say when we go online, there’s stuff out there that’s not good. There’s fake news, there’s, alright, there’s all these other problems.
[01:01:33] Matt Bailey: Yeah.
[01:01:34] John Marshall: That didn’t exist 20 years ago.
[01:01:36] Matt Bailey: Right.
[01:01:36] John Marshall: Now, it is my, it is my observation that the quality there has declined among free stuff.
[01:01:45] Matt Bailey: Yeah.
[01:01:46] John Marshall: But the quality among paid stuff has remained just as good. I haven’t seen a noticeable decline there. And of course we, we, we read, I’m sure we read different things. Trade journals, use, I mean, I’m sure that we read different things. So, have you seen a decline in quality among content that you pay for?
[01:02:09] Matt Bailey: No, I just, I told someone the other day, I read more books than blogs because it’s more work for the author to write a book than to write a blog. And I get more information, the context is higher, uh, there’s more work in reading a book than reading a blog, you know, and a part of it too is my choice of what books I’m reading.
Uh, but no, for the, for what I am paying for, because there’s no incentive to cheapen or get more clicks among information and media that I pay for.
[01:02:45] John Marshall: Yeah. That’s exactly it. The economics of the whole thing work correctly for you.
[01:02:51] Matt Bailey: Yeah.
[01:02:51] John Marshall: Right? You’re the customer, the economics is just completely straightforward. You buy the book, and it works and you, you get value from it and away you go. Um, that type of thinking, that’s why I started to just realize, “Hey, look, wait a minute, folks, you know, we’re, we’re getting worked up over, like, let’s say fake news,” right?
It’s a thing. No question. It’s a thing, but I don’t see it. I mean, I am not experiencing fake news.
[01:03:21] Matt Bailey: Right.
[01:03:22] John Marshall: And so what’s the difference? Why is it that it’s not part of my life and it seems to be part of other people’s lives? And that’s when I realize I’m paying for all of my news. No exceptions.
[01:03:37] Matt Bailey: And you are most likely using social media for a specific purpose rather than filling dead moments with it and going through every day and maintaining a profile.
[01:03:54] John Marshall: I have a complicated opinion about social media.
[01:03:58] Matt Bailey: Well, that’s good.
[01:03:59] John Marshall: Yeah. Um, I do, I do use, um, Facebook, right? Just, just to be super transparent here. I’ve been on Facebook pretty much from the start. Many of the people that I know on Facebook are people that you also would know.
[01:04:13] Matt Bailey: Yep.
[01:04:14] John Marshall: Brett, Brett Tabke for example, right?
[01:04:16] Matt Bailey: Yes.
[01:04:17] John Marshall: Great guy, right? You know, all these folks, and I enjoy my use of Facebook. Um, and I actually, I would say I use Facebook once a day. I absolutely don’t use it for news. I primarily use it for the cat videos and related stuff. In other words, for me, it’s just entertainment.
[01:04:42] Matt Bailey: Yes.
[01:04:42] John Marshall: You know, it’s, it’s nothing more than that. And I’m not exaggerating about the cat videos. I mean, I can, I can watch any amount of those and they’re hilarious.
[01:04:53] Matt Bailey: But I think that’s, yeah, that’s where you’re going with that is is you see it completely differently. You see social media, especially Facebook, as a, a specific means.
[01:05:06] John Marshall: Yes.
[01:05:07] Matt Bailey: I’m going there for a specific purpose. And when I’m done, I’m done, rather than it dominating your life or dominating, same with you. I’ve been on, but I probably use it maybe once every two months and that’s just to check and see if anyone has contacted me, but because I am not active, I don’t think I’ve been active for close to eight years, my wife is the one that maintains all the updates that go out just to the family.
[01:05:31] John Marshall: Uh huh.
[01:05:32] Matt Bailey: And that’s all we use it for. Uh, but yeah, I’ll be on LinkedIn probably three or four times a day, and I love the business focus, and, but again, it’s, I’m not getting news from there.
[01:05:43] John Marshall: Uh, actually I like LinkedIn more and more. Um, I used to find LinkedIn, you know, just interminably dull. I mean, basically there was nothing there except resumes, but the way that Microsoft has been building the social aspect of it, there’s almost no politics on there. One of the things I do on Facebook is if people start talking a lot about politics is I, I, I, um, I silence that person either for 30 days off, uh, or you know, for, for forever.
I mean, sometimes the conspiracy theory stuff is just too funny to ignore and you, you know, it’s you, but after a while, that can get a bit much. So, you know, there’s people that need to be pushed to the sidelines there, but, um, LinkedIn is awesome.
[01:06:25] Matt Bailey: Yeah.
[01:06:25] John Marshall: There’s, there’s interesting conversations around topics that matter. Um, you know, you tend to be among like-minded people. I think people in business and people in tech businesses, you know, we, we tend to have a certain worldview and use of online tools that naturally brings us together and gives us common ground. So, yeah, alright. I love LinkedIn and I really, really appreciate what they’ve done with it recently. Another thing I like about LinkedIn is that there are ways to pay for it.
[01:06:58] Matt Bailey: Yes.
[01:06:58] John Marshall: I mean the, the business model of LinkedIn there, possibly the reason it hasn’t become the cesspool that Facebook has become for many people. I think I mitigate that myself with the way that I use it. I still get the cat videos without the nasty stuff.
Um, but you know, I’ve had to work at it, but LinkedIn is not like that. And it’s possible that the reason LinkedIn is not like that is that there is a way that Microsoft can make money from it that is not just the toxic ads and all of that stuff. You know, you can hand over money for LinkedIn and that’s always a good sign.
[01:07:37] Matt Bailey: Absolutely. So yeah, I pay for LinkedIn. I pay the subscription there, but they’ve also developed that model for recruiters and job hunters where, you know, it’s almost like they, they have taken over that, that job recruiting and hiring and that monetizes a huge portion of it. But yet I will say of all the social services, I find so much value in LinkedIn, of just being in the network and seeing some posts, using it for marketing, connecting, the value proposition of what I find there is so much clearer and more tangible than what I find on other channels.
[01:08:19] John Marshall: Yeah. I’m kind of surprised. I mean, I thought, um, when Microsoft bought LinkedIn, “I don’t really get this. Like how are you guys gonna make money out of this? Alright, okay. You know, let’s suspend disbelief, alright, surely you guys know what you’re doing.” Um, but they really have done a good job and, at maintaining the focus on professional networking and sort of interesting professional opinions. That’s something that is really unique about it.
You get people with opinions. That’s okay. There’s loads of opinions out there. But you get professional people with opinions about stuff they know about, and they package it up in a way that is very easy to understand. I think anybody that has an active professional life, you probably need to be spending a little bit of time on LinkedIn every day, cause there’s always something interesting there. I love that thing.
[01:09:12] Matt Bailey: Absolutely. And it’s one of those where, uh, the time you put in is directly proportionate to the value you will get out. And it’s not, it’s not a cold calling. Okay, please listener, don’t use it for cold calling. I think, you know, where I stand on this, it’s there to build relationships. If you’re not building relationships, you’re using it wrong. That’s the key, that’s the key, cause there is some spam.
[01:09:36] John Marshall: The cold calling stuff, what do they call that? Is it InMail? Is that what that is?
[01:09:40] Matt Bailey: Yeah, that’s what they allow people to do.
[01:09:42] John Marshall: Yeah. I, that’s one of the ways, of course, they have of making money, but it’s okay. You know, I’m, I’m, I’m gonna, I’m going to tolerate that to an extent.
[01:09:50] Matt Bailey: Right.
[01:10:00] John Marshall: I mean it’s okay. But yeah, but overall, the, the network that is, um, is clever, it’s well done. Do you know anybody by the way, Matt, that uses any of the Facebook tools that are meant for the workplace? Now, forgive me, I can’t remember the names of any of them, but you know, they’ve got this suite of things that are trying to get people to use Facebook in the workplace. Do you know anybody that uses that?
[01:10:16] Matt Bailey: I know a specialist and she deals in Facebook advertising and a lot of the paid models there. No one’s interested. A lot of it, I believe is because of the Facebook brand. This goes back to a couple of years ago after the Amazon Alexa was growing in popularity. Do you remember Facebook came out with a home assistant?
[01:10:41] John Marshall: Oh, yeah.
[01:10:42] Matt Bailey: I can’t remember what it was called, but from a graphic design perspective, you’re, you’re familiar with, uh, dark design, right? That if I want you to see something I’m going to use high contrast, I’m going to use bold fonts and big buttons to get your attention. If I don’t want you to see it, I’m going to use a thin font that is low contrasting.
So we’re coming up on the Christmas season, and these ads for the Facebook home device are starting to show up on television and on, on advertising. And I’m seeing a lot on YouTube, but what was interesting is they branded the device, but down in the lower corner, Facebook actually changed their brand to be less visible.
And it was the name of the product, and then down at the bottom and a low contrast, thin font, “By Facebook.” And I pointed it out to my kids. I’m like, “See, they’re embarrassed. They don’t want you to know it’s from Facebook because you won’t buy it.” And guess what? We’re not hearing about anymore.
Uh, Facebook’s entry into the market has been dismal, and I, I believe they’ve discontinued it. And a lot of that is I believe that the mistrust that, “I’ll give Facebook this amount of space in my life, but I’m not going to give it anymore.” Uh, it’s, it’s got its place. And, and part of that, I think, uh, I think this, the, the phrase “know your lane,” has a, I think an apt description for what Facebook is trying to do in broadening its services.
[01:12:22] John Marshall: Yeah. Yeah. That’s a very, very insightful thought. I’d forgotten about that um, that stuff that they were doing with the, with the device. I don’t know anybody who uses this stuff in a business setting, you know, and we can contrast that of course, with, um, with Google Services, right? And I think we’ve been a little, we’ve been fairly critical here of Google and actually, I don’t want to bash Google nonstop, because although I don’t use their stuff and I have concerns about what has happened with fake news and other stuff, which is largely funded by Google Ad Tech, I have to say also that they are a better player than many other companies in the ad tech world.
And the corporate products they have, um, you know, the Google Suite, G suite I think they used to call it. They recently changed the name, but they change the name about every four months, so I can’t keep up with it.
[01:13:28] Matt Bailey: Right.
[01:13:28] John Marshall: Um, I think, I think the second, most recent name they used was G suite. If you pay for that as a business, the harvesting of the data and all the rest of it, it is reduced. It is reduced. So we need to give them some credit for, for doing that kind of thing.
But, uh, when, when Facebook tries to do the same thing, we can say that Facebook and Google are both advertising companies, and look, they both got these business products and we absolutely reject attempt by Facebook to have business related products. I mean, that seems to be just a joke, right? Google we more readily accept that. And I think that is because Google is a better player there. They are not as, they’re not what I would do. I don’t want to be using that stuff, but they are better than many others.
[01:14:17] Matt Bailey: I think that’s because search, Google Search is such a foundational tool to access the web. Whereas Facebook is more that social, you know, let’s, let’s post things and see things, and it’s not an essential business tool, whereas search, ever since the internet has been around, you know, and you make this point, what good is the internet without search?
[01:14:43] John Marshall: Yeah.
[01:14:44] Matt Bailey: And so, because of that, I think Google is a more readily accepted business tool, uh, because if we didn’t have search, where are we going to find information?
[01:14:54] John Marshall: That could be the difference that we, um, as business users, we more readily accept, yeah, Google from the point of view of search. Yeah. One of the, one of the most interesting things that I uncovered in researching the book was this statement for, I think it was Sergey Brin when right in the early days, you know, he said something like, “It could be argued from the consumer point of view that if the search engine is powered by advertising, it doesn’t work properly.”
[01:15:21] Matt Bailey: Hmm.
[01:15:21] John Marshall: Because it’s not quite what he said.
[01:15:27] Matt Bailey: Wow.
[01:15:27] John Marshall: But he basically, what he basically said is, “Powering a search engine through advertising is obviously wrong and we’re going to prove it.” And you’re right. And so, so the first couple…
[01:15:38] Matt Bailey: They did a great job of, they have done an excellent, well, I mean, you talk about this in your book. And I, I, we remember, I think they’re conference was probably weeks after they made an announcement that paid results would be in the search results. And I think those, yeah, those of us in the tiny little minuscule community of search, we’re in an uproar. You know, how dare you do that? How dare you, you know, is this the end of Google? I remember the articles and, and the questions that, you know, the ethics of Google putting in paid ads in search and, uh, well, yeah, they’ve proven that point, haven’t they?
[01:16:26] John Marshall: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Um, okay, so, so, uh, do you remember, do you remember who they stole the idea from?
[01:16:33] Matt Bailey: I tried to think, was it like Inktomi?
[01:16:37] John Marshall: Well, that is a great guest. That is a great guest. Cause Inktomi was around in those days.
[01:16:42] Matt Bailey: Yeah.
[01:16:43] John Marshall: They stole it from GoTo. GoTo was a competing search engine.
[01:16:48] Matt Bailey: GoTo, yeah.
[01:16:49] John Marshall: Yeah, yeah. And, and, uh, it was GoTo who came up with the idea of businesses paying for the placement within the listing, and if you pay more money, you’re near, you know, you’re at the top, and so on. Yeah, that was, that was GoTo and, and Google, you know, they looked at that and I mean, I think they, they figured out that there’s probably nothing else that works for a search engine to somehow generate the money, to keep the whole show on the road. Right?
And you know, in the, in the spirit of full disclosure, I have made the statement that I don’t use a single Google product. Um, and it just, obviously you then have to wonder, okay, John, so like, what do you use used to search?
I mean, right? I mean, you surely you can’t go through your life without searching for stuff, and that is true. You cannot live in a Western democracy and not use search. I mean, it’s the only way the, the internet and all this stuff is manageable. And that, the search engine I use is DuckDuckGo.
[01:17:58] Matt Bailey: Yep.
[01:17:59] John Marshall: And therefore, that immediately brings you to the next question, “But wait a minute, wait a minute, John. DuckDuckGo is powered by advertising. So you know, what the hell are you complaining about here?” And the subtlety here is that DuckDuckGo, yes. It has paid listings just as you mentioned, just as Google, you know, introduced it, this conference, even though behind the scenes, they’d stolen it from GoTo. Yes. Google does that, and DuckDuckGo does that.
But DuckDuckGo doesn’t do anything else. And when I do a search, I get listings and I can click on an ad, or I can click on an organic listing. I mean, in other words, the original Google Search engine and DuckDuckGo, as it exists today, they work like the yellow pages, if anybody listening is old enough to remember yellow pages. You know, there’s business listings and businesses that pay and everybody’s in the listing, but businesses that pay more, get a better listing.
And that’s basically the, you know, the original Google Search and, and DuckDuckGo. What happens subsequently is that yellow pages now knows which doctor you go to regularly, and it knows how much money you make, because it’s read your emails with your tax return in it. And there’s all this other nonsense going on.
So we’ve moved pretty far from this nice little cozy world in which it’s just like yellow pages. Eh, it’s not like that anymore, but just for the record, I use search, my choice is DuckDuckGo. What about you, Matt? What do you use?
[01:19:31] Matt Bailey: Uh, like I said, a combination of DuckDuckGo or Bing.
[01:20:00] To, to really, I guess, add an example, so I was helping a family member search for some medical resources. And knowing that if I did this from my computer, you know, even with Bing I’m a little bit hesitant to. This now, is going to be connected with me. And based on the medical condition, based on some of the symptoms, now, if I did this in Google, oh, I, I, I can’t imagine, uh, because those, those things are supposed to be covered by HIPAA, what happens between me and a doctor.
But what I type into Google is sold to the highest advertiser. And so it made me realize that in order to help a family member, well, I turned on my VPN, you know, I turned on my VPN, I went to DuckDuckGo, and that’s where I did my research, because I don’t want to see ads for the medical condition that I’m typing in for the next 6 months.
[01:20:35] John Marshall: It’s worse than that. I mean, those consumer medical websites will sell the visitor data, even though in theory, it’s anonymized, they will sell that visitor data to insurance companies so that the insurance companies know what people are searching for. And that data can be joined up to your personal profile through the IP address.
[01:21:03] Matt Bailey: Exactly.
[01:21:03] John Marshall: So I have a friend who used to run a VPN company. He sold the company a while back, but a few years ago, he ran a company that provides VPN software. He went to visit a doctor. He had a fairly unusual condition. He went to visit a doctor at Stanford and the doctor said, “Yes, you’ve got this going on. And this is the da, da, da…”
And then at the end of the visit, the doctor says, “Now I have something very important that you should know. Um, don’t go home and Google this condition because what you have is so unusual, that, right? It will be tied up.” And the doctor then said, “But if you do really want to Google it, then I recommend you use this VPN software before you do that.” And he recommended back to the guy, the guy’s own VPN software.
[01:21:49] Matt Bailey: Only in Silicon Valley is that going to happen.
[01:21:55] John Marshall: Absolutely straight, absolutely straight. So you know, this idea that the theoretically anonymous information that you are navigating when you’re doing a Google search and other things, there’s all kinds of ways where that can be not anonymous. And I don’t want to sound too much like a tin foil hat, conspiracy theorist here.
Instead, I’m just going to say that there is a strong economic incentive for many companies to start monkeying around in this stuff, because there’s just so much money to be made. This is not a conspiracy theory. This, you know, concerns over this stuff is straightforward economics.
[01:22:38] Matt Bailey: I, I couldn’t come up with a better way to summarize the reason for your book and the reason for the podcast, John. That is an excellent, excellent way to summarize why we have to look at anything that’s free with a skeptical eye. That was perfect.
[01:22:56] John Marshall: Yeah. Yeah. Free is bad.
[01:22:58] Matt Bailey: Alright. Hey John, where can people find your book and learn more about you, too?
[01:23:03] John Marshall: So we, ah, the website for the book is freeisbad.com just all strung together.
[01:23:07] Matt Bailey: Oh, that’s great.
[01:23:08] John Marshall: Yeah, no punctuation. The bought, bought that, that was the first thing I did is buy that domain name. It’s available on Amazon and in a, in the Kindle format and also in print.
And I just finished recording the audio book and that will be up on Amazon within about, you know, probably, probably by the time you listen to this, the audio book will be there as well. I also, I also, you have an exclusive here, man. I also am planning, um, uh, bridged version of the book, which is meant for young people, and that is the title that is ” Free is Bad TLDR.”
[01:23:52] Matt Bailey: I love it. I love it. Dear listener, I, TLDR, uh, in case you don’t know, is abbreviation for “Too long. Didn’t read.” So that’s, that’s why I’m loving the TLDR version of the book. That’s great, John. Way, way to keep hip with the kids’ lingo.
[01:24:12] John Marshall: I try, I try, Matt, you know. I do my best. Um, so the, um, yeah, the T, the TLDR version, uh, I’m in the middle of writing it at the moment. To the extent possible, Free is Bad TLDR will be free in an unironic sense.
[01:24:33] Matt Bailey: Nice. I love it. I love it. Well, I think the history part ought to be in textbooks, uh, because if we use all this technology, we’ve got to know where it came from. And that was a lot of work on your part to put together, put that together.
[01:24:46] John Marshall: It was just so much fun. I mean, really just you just so much fun, you know, like telling people that there was a web concept before the internet.
[01:24:56] Matt Bailey: Oh yeah.
[01:24:57] John Marshall: I mean, I think people can just about understand that there was a time when the internet didn’t exist, and therefore somebody had to invent it. And then this, this guy, Tim Berners-Lee who happens to be a Brit as well out of this coincidence, of course. But you know, he, he invented it. He was working in Switzerland, and he came up with the idea and he invented it, but, but he sort of lifted the idea from somebody before that
. And I found that just so interesting to dive into that concept and what happened there. So, Matt, I’m glad you enjoy the history stuff. I got to tell you that I loved writing it. It was just, it’s just, um, you know, it was great. It was just great.
[01:25:39] Matt Bailey: Good. Yeah. Coming out of the industry, a couple of the brand names there, I just laughed out loud. I’m like, oh my goodness. I haven’t heard that name in 20 years. That was just so, uh, it was a trip down memory lane. So, dear listener, I would strongly recommend picking up this book. If you’ve been in the industry for 20 years, you’re going to find it a refreshing review. Uh, if you’ve not been in the industry long, this is a great way to get some roots, get a little bit of understanding about where things came from, how they came about, and also what has made Google, the powerhouse it is today.
It’ll give you a great base of knowledge to work from and to understand what’s happening in the digital world today and what will be happening tomorrow. So, John, again, thank you so much. I really appreciate your time today.
[01:26:28] John Marshall: Oh, Matt, it’s been too much fun. Thank you.
[01:26:31] Matt Bailey: Absolutely. We’ll look forward to doing this again soon.
And listener, thanks again for joining me on the Endless Coffee Cup.