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Track Changes

What happens when software eats the world? Industry veterans Paul Ford and Rich Ziade chat with their friends about technology, design, and business from a distinctly East Coast point of view. Decades of experience inform their no-BS, quick-witted patter about what digital transformation really means. Created by Postlight, the digital product studio they co-founded in NYC.
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Track Changes
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Jun 18, 2019

Don’t hide what you want people to do: is the advice that Al Rotches gives Paul and Rich about online advertising. Al has built a career on making banner ads for clients like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. On this week’s episode, we chat with Al about how he gets people to engage online with his ads. He shares his insights about the importance of ad placement and about why most banner ads are so horrible. He also gives us some advice on how big and what colour the button should be on your ad. Hint: it should be big and stay away from red!

 

Links:

Al Rotches’ Website

Barack Obama’s Banner Ads

Jun 11, 2019

No more slapdash, we want Slack-Dash: Ever get bogged down by a neverending Slack thread where few decisions ever get made? On this week’s episode of Track Changes we hear about a new Slack app that solves this very problem. Paul and Rich sit down with fellow Postlight employees Matt Quintanilla and Phil Johnson to chat about Dash, the app they developed that helps you organize your teams and deadlines in Slack. Matt and Phil tell us about why and how they created this new app and why it can be used for anything from preparing for a meeting to wedding planning.

 

Links:

Get Dash

More about Postlight Labs

Jun 4, 2019

Is this really necessary?: This week Paul and Rich sit down to discuss the current culture surrounding software updates. Are constant software updates necessary? Are they improving the user experience or complicating it? We chat about our love/hate relationship with updates and get to hear Paul compare Spotify to a shapeshifting witch!

Links:

Updating Spotify

Postlight Labs

 

May 28, 2019

Improworsement: is an improvement that makes things worse, and Erin McKean knows all about that. She's wanted to create dictionaries since the age of eight and this year she is celebrating the 10th anniversary of Wordnik, an online dictionary she helped create that has grown to 10 times the size of the Oxford English Dictionary. This week Paul and Rich sit down with Erin to discuss the evolution of Wordnik, from its humble beginnings in PHP to developing a full scalable API. Erin shares the challenges she’s faced, both technical and financial, and gives us tips on how to deal with failure. She also helps us expand our vocabulary and answers the difficult question: what is the best word?

 

Links:

Wordnik

TED Talk - Erin McKean: Go ahead, make up new words!

Wordnik on Twitter

 

May 21, 2019

Technology, You’ve Changed: For years, the conversations we’ve had about tech have focused on the negative. We’ve all heard about how tech giants have infiltrated our politics and our privacy, we’ve ridiculed the power-hungry people behind the platforms we love, but that’s not the technology industry Paul and Rich fell in love with. On today’s episode, we look at where we’re at right now, we ask ourselves if tech giants want to be ethical, and we try to defend an incredibly difficult and powerful industry. We also hear Paul’s top-three favourite tech things!

 

LINKS

May 14, 2019

Don’t go chasing easy answers: This week Paul and Rich are joined by Microsoft veteran Adam Barr to speak about his new book, The Problem with Software. Barr worked as a programmer for Microsoft for over 20 years and during this time he saw a number of troubling patterns in software development. We chat with Adam about what’s changed in the industry over the years and about the need for better education for programmers. Adam also gives us an inside scoop on what it was like working for Microsoft in the old days and draws some parallels between Microsoft management and baseball. This episode is a homerun!  

Links:

The Problem with Software: Why Smart Engineers Write Bad Code

Adam David Barr on Twitter

May 7, 2019

Prioritize growth and allow for risk: This week Paul and Rich come back from holiday to discuss the best ways to encourage creative thinking. We uncover the relationship between reducing clutter and problem solving. We discuss the importance of deadlines and prioritization as tools to better organize your thoughts and make time for the things that matter.

We also discuss the paradoxical trick for better growth and productivity: stepping away from our computer screens rather than towards them.

Apr 30, 2019

Email sucks: On this week’s episode of Track Changes, Paul Ford and Gina Trapani reflect on how Gmail has revolutionized email over the past fifteen years. We recall the many iterations the platform has gone through—going all the way back to the days when it was invite only— and discuss the many flaws that still remain. Is there ever going to be a productive solution to deal with that ever growing pile of emails?

 

Links:

Superhuman: The Fastest Email Experience Ever Made

Lifehacker: The Guide to Working Smarter, Faster and Better

Apr 23, 2019

This week on Track Changes, Paul and Rich sit down with a live studio audience to discuss funnels. Lately, Salesforce and Mailchimp seem to be everywhere, from the buildings around us to the platforms we’re creating for clients. How can we integrate sales funnels without destroying user trust? Can we understand the immense economy underneath each online click? What does this mean for the future of the platforms we create? Spoiler: Paul created an acronym to help us out!

LINKS

Apr 16, 2019

Beyond metaphors and into the digital future : In 1973, Xerox PARC introduced the Xerox Alto. It was the first computer to support an operating system based on a graphical user interface. This began the desktop metaphor; the computer monitor as if it were the top of the user's desk. Forty-six years later, the metaphor lives on. We talk about files and documents— even when there’s nothing to print. Why are we still hung up on the desktop? Can we imagine a digital future free of off-screen comparisons? Paul and Rich ponder the possibility, and more.

Links:

Apr 9, 2019

The battle over the App Store is far from over: In March Spotify launched Time to Play Fair, a website outlining how Apple mistreats companies like Spotify by charging excessive fees, blocking upgrades and promoting its own services in its App Store. Shortly after, Apple fired back in a press release, making the case that Spotify’s claims are misleading

This week, Paul and Rich weigh in on the squabble. Is Apple really muscling in on Spotify? How symbiotic is their relationship? Why is Spotify making this case now? What are the implications of opting into the platform economy?

Links:

Apr 2, 2019

Why Go In?:  On today’s episode of Track Changes, Rich and Paul sit down with Andrew Smith, a journalist and writer who recently learned to code. We talk about following curiosity, and learning to program in a world where almost everything we interact with is mediated by code. We discuss Andrew’s pivot from writing about music and culture, to technology and high-finance, and dissect what that says about our lives today. We also get some insight into Andrew’s most recent research into the kids who ran the internet through 1995 - 2000 (Spoiler: the reasons behind the dot-com crash are a sham!).

 

LINKS

Andrew Smith https://andrewsmithauthor.com/splash/

Andrew on twitter https://twitter.com/wiresmith?lang=en

Moon Dust : In Search of the Men Who Fell to Earth https://www.amazon.com/Moondust-Search-Men-Fell-Earth-ebook/dp/B005EJKRDM

Douglas Rushkoff https://rushkoff.com/

Real Player https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RealPlayer

Quincy Larson https://twitter.com/ossia

Free Code Camp https://www.freecodecamp.org/

Mar 26, 2019

It is always a negotiation: This week on Track Changes, Paul and Rich discuss how to be a good manager and leader of people. We compare past experiences we’ve had as managers at our worst and best selves, and what we’ve learned from them (Tip: do not passive aggressively go in!). We discuss the importance of building a culture of speed and execution from the beginning, and how to foster conversation around timelines and scope. Paul and Rich also give tips on how to push back on a manager’s demands, in the right way.

 

Rich— 2:11: “Consensus and discussion and dialogue around decisions are really important. But as a leader, sometimes you actually want to apply a little pressure … and applying that pressure means there is less dialogue.”

Paul— 7:26: “You are always caught between do I mentor this person and give them a model of thinking that they can apply or do I tell them what I need to get done and assume that they will figure it out later.”

Paul— 13:21: “It really is a negotiation. If you firmly believe that anything less than 6 weeks completely is a risk, then you have to come back to me and say, ‘we have got to cut scope’. We don’t want to fail and be humiliated in public.”

Rich— 16:54: “The best advice I can give [to someone with a manager]… is pause and think about what are the motivations that are creating that pressure. … if you pause and think about those motivators, then a) you start to empathize with why you’re getting that pressure and b) you can actually have dialogue when you are talking to your manager about that pressure. It actually opens up their thinking and they start to see a leader, in you.”

Mar 19, 2019

Turning the universal mouse button on its head: this week, Paul and Rich discuss the importance of getting into new skills and unlearning old habits. We look at Rich’s new interest in Blender, how it’s led to him making a beautiful hotdog, and the time it takes to learn how to use a 6 button mouse (spoiler: it doesn’t take long!). We talk about how the phone is the new computer and what that means for the future of the desktop. We also invite you all to attend our live podcast taping on April 11th at Postlight!

Links:

  • blender https://www.blender.org/
  • blender guru https://www.blenderguru.com/
  • the architecture of open source applications http://aosabook.org/en/index.html
  • net logo https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NetLogo
  • jupyter https://jupyter.org/
  • raspberry pi https://www.raspberrypi.org/
  • little bits  https://shop.littlebits.com
  • logitech MX Anywhere 2 https://support.logitech.com/en_us/product/mx-anywhere2
Mar 12, 2019

Good design doesn’t have to be complex: Like many, Rich feels like a bit of an outsider when it comes to design. To non-designers, the field can seem confusing, at times even intimidating. But it doesn't have to be like this way. At Postlight, design drives the process, and in this episode we break down that process.

 

Paul and Rich are joined by Postlight’s directors of product design, Skyler Balbus and Matt Quintanilla, who lead Relay, the Postlight design sprint. What is a design sprint? What makes good design? What role should it play in product development? And what makes a great product designer? The team answers these questions and more.

 

Links:

Mar 5, 2019

Can a reclusive coder become a criminal mastermind?: Journalist and author Evan Ratliff spent four years piecing together the story of Paul Le Roux, a programmer who began by selling hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of painkillers through an online prescription drug network— but he didn't settle. The rest of Le Roux’s story spirals into a grim parody of startup culture not even a novelist could’ve dreamed up.

In this episode Paul and Rich sit down with Ratliff to discuss his new book, The Mastermind, the true account of the decade-long pursuit of Le Roux. What happens when expertise on information security and internet infrastructure falls into the wrong hands? What could have become of the villainous tech-savvy entrepreneur? What can the tech world take away from this eerie chain of events?

Links:

Feb 26, 2019

The web is a mess, and it’s getting messier: This is something you know if you read articles online. Close the pop-up, scroll past the ads, and click ‘next page’ to finish the piece. You’re right, it shouldn’t have to be this hard. In 2009, Rich hacked together simple bookmarklet called Readability, which would turn a cluttered article page into the essentials— a headline, headers, images, and the article.

The project’s impact is undeniable. After more than five years of operation, Readability was shut down and replaced by Postlight’s Mercury Toolkit, a lighter, more flexible open-source web parser. In this episode Paul and Rich are joined by Postlight developer Adam Pache to talk about the online battle over usability, Python versus JavaScript, knowing when to go open source, and contributing to Mercury.

Links:

Feb 19, 2019

A Creative Path to Find What's Next :  Harper Reed could have listed his many accomplishments on the historical monument he installed in his parents’ front yard. It could have said that he founded Modest, a mobile retail startup eventually acquired by Paypal, or that he was CTO of Threadless and the 2012 reelection campaign of Barack Obama. Instead, he and his brother Dylan chose to commemorate their exploration of Uranus.

It’s no wonder Rich often hears Paul say “I wonder what Harper Reed would think”. In this episode, we find out; the pair talk to Harper about his dad’s Apple IIc, coming of age during “the most rapid capital expansion in the history of the universe”, political tech, mobile commerce, and what comes next for the defiant technologist.

 

Links

Feb 12, 2019

Less is more: There’s nothing cool or sexy about a pitch deck. Business folk love them. They’re meant to convince the viewer of something. Some people have a talent for producing them, but most need a bit of guidance. Like them or not, pitch decks run the world— and making a good one may not be as straightforward as you think.

How do you make a purposeful, beautiful, even entertaining deck? Years of appealing to large clients has taught Paul and Rich a thing or two about creating a cogent presentation. In this episode, the two expound some of their knowledge; balancing words with images, the density of your information, understanding your audience and your message, and the power of great design.

 

Links:

Feb 5, 2019

It isn’t Glamorous, But it’s Critical. In this episode, Paul and Rich explore a time-consuming component of product development: Authentication.

You know the drill. You save time and having to memorize another pesky password by using Google or Facebook to log on to a website. But is the proliferation of external authentication providers on the web a good thing or not? Which companies should invest in setting up their own authentication system, and which ones should save their web developers and online visitors the hassle? (Spoiler: Banks should. Any group set growing an audience should not.)

The pair also discuss the merits of Facebook, the difference between being a free and a paying Google customer, and why password managers are a godsend.

Bonus: Rich discovers that his email has fallen foul to multiple data breaches, and is cool with it.

Links:

LastPass

1Password

Have I been pwned?

Jan 29, 2019

Behind Every Great Media Outlet Is Clever Analytics Software:This week Rich and Paul speak to Josh Schwartz, chief of product at Chartbeat, the content analytic ssoftware used by media heavy weights across the globe, including The New York Times, CNN and The Washington Post.

Which stories work and which ones tank? Do media organizations really need to pivot to video? Is the online quiz dead? Do numbers in a headline matter? Should analytics drive content? Josh talks to Rich and Paul about how Chartbeat’s real-time web traffic reports help editors entice and retain online readers. He also gives his take on operating in a post-GDPR world and on how effective pop-up data collection warnings are. The trio also muse on the future of the data dashboard.

Chartbeat

EU General Data Protection Regulation

What the GDPR Means For US Brands

Does journalism have a future?

Jan 22, 2019

Fear, Flattery and Word Salad: In this week’s episode, Paul and Rich spill (not-so-secret) insider secrets and discuss what businesses should be wary of when hiring a digital agency.

Analytics change, as does the in-house vision for a product. How can you ensure that your agency will accommodate the dynamic development process while staying within your budget? Why is it important to remain on equal ground with your agency–and what has that got to do with acronyms?

At what point is it important to worry about scaling? And why should businesses be wary of suggestions that are a little too on-trend? From demanding transparency, communicating clearly, sniffing out flattery, and ensuring that all proposals–no matter how shiny–are entrenched in your core business needs, Paul and Rich have got you covered.

Jan 15, 2019

Conversations are Terrible. Podcasts are Good: 2018 was a rough year for technology in the popular mind. We look at what went wrong to see how it can inform the future tech of 2019.

We could say that 2019 is about accepting the fact that we’re all doomed. Or, in keeping with our theme of optimism, we could look forward to things like 5G networks, better machine learning, and the continued success of Pinterest and Etsy. What does Etsy have that Facebook doesn’t? How can we all accept that community moderation is necessary? Will this years advancements in machine learning lead to better, cheaper, and faster hardware? How can we stay optimistic when competing with the giant platforms like Google and Facebook?

 

LINKS

Jan 8, 2019

Tradition and the Digital Age: On this episode of Track Changes, we sit down with Perry Hewitt, the former Chief Digital Officer of Harvard University (ever heard of it?) to break down the duties of her job. 

Perry talks about what it’s like stepping into that role in an institution that emphasizes history and tradition. When Harvard adapts to digital, what kind of problems need to be solved? How do you measure the health of their digital properties? How do you make Harvard look good? We discuss the difference between data informed versus data driven marketing, as well as the blurring lines between product development and marketing. Perry argues that so much of the marketing now is within the product itself — so which end involves deep customer engagement and which involves building a relationship? How does education play a role, and to what end? Why does Rich regard marketing with suspicion? Lastly, Perry sums up the role of CDO by identifying three major points: Building consensus, scoping appropriately, and delivering early. We can get behind that.

Curious about what Postlight can do for you? Hit us up at hello@postlight.com. 

Dec 18, 2018

Cultural Dialogue is The Person Of The Year: People, corporations, and governments expressed their hesitation and suspicion towards tech in 2018. Is Facebook demolishing the pillars of society? Is your child doing Fortnite dances? Where has blockchain landed among ordinary people? On this week's episode we talk about the tech that stood out in 2018 and look at what changed for us internally.

We had Postlight's third year anniversary and have continued growing. We have a little more process and a defined culture. We made a concerted effort to move beyond media into other sectors, and we learned that while relinquishing control feels counterintuitive to running a business, it’s crucial to the physics of growth. Oh yeah, we also released Upgrade!, our how-to for digital transformation.

All of us at Postlight wish you a very happy holiday and a great New Year. We’ll see you in 2019.

 

LINKS

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