Transcript: NPM Funding, Editorially, and Comcast

by Tim Wright

This is the transcript to The Dirt episode: “Transcript: NPM Funding, Editorially, and Comcast

Steve: Yeah. Let’s do news.

Tim: I can’t believe how much stuff has happened this week and this cloud
of ridiculousness.

Steve: Well, let’s talk about it on the show.

Tim: That was me starting the show, Steve.

Steve: Seriously?

Tim: Let’s start it. We’ll do a real start.

Steve: Yeah. You got to warn me there.

Tim: Hello, and welcome to The Dirt. I am your host, Tim Wright. Today,
I’m here with Steve Hickey.

Steve: Hello.

Tim: And via Skype, Mark Grambau. Mark, hello.

Mark: Good morning, Tim.

Tim: Welcome to the show, Mark.

Mark: Thank you.

Tim: I’m glad to have you. Mark is snowed in. Mark is either snowed in, or
he just doesn’t want to come to work on Valentine’s Day because
he’s a sweetheart. We are also not sure he’s wearing pants. He
claims he is, but he’s not proven. Don’t stand up.

Mark: No way to know.

Steve: No. There’s no way to know it. There was an unusually high
amount of weird buy-out and money related and company-merging
news this week.

Tim: Yeah. A lot of bad shit happened.

Steve: Well, I don’t mean, not a lot of bad…

Tim: Some of it’s bad.

Steve: Okay. We’re going to go through a few of them. I think maybe
one of them is bad. Okay. Whatever. Maybe two of them are bad.

Tim: You can judge for yourselves.

Steve: Okay. So, the first thing. There was a big sale and a big weird
funding that happened this week. NPM got funded. I don’t know
how much. How much did they get? Like a few million?

Tim: It’s 2.6.

Steve: $2.6 million to NPM, which doesn’t even make sense to me.

Tim: For anyone who doesn’t know, NPM is Node Package Manager. It’s an
open source thing.

Steve: Yeah. Like Ruby Gem.

Tim: Yeah. So, it just provides chunks of code for people who are running
node stuff to be able to use.

Steve: I’m really happy for them. I think open source projects do need
funding. I think that’s awesome. [Zillow] started out with a
small open source project in 2000 whatever, one or something.

Tim: The thing I’m just wondering is what the fuck do they do with that
money. And also, the announcement talked about being excited
about looking for funding or for monetization opportunities or
monetizing their current user base. I’m like, “What does that
mean?”

Steve: Yeah. I didn’t much care for that.

Tim: That makes me nervous.

Steve: I mean, the user base is somebody on a terminal saying, “NPM
install.” Grunt.

Tim: Yeah. And I get that the resource they’re running is something that
requires some money to keep going. But at the same time, if the
alternative was to either pay for the node packages or build
them yourself, I think a lot of people would just build them
themselves. Then, they would have another offshoot that would
end up being a different node package manager.

Steve: Does it require money, though, to keep running?

Tim: Servers are expensive.

Steve: What are they…

Mark: So, they wrote in this blog post, “What are we doing with the
money?” They are hiring a bunch of folks. They are making the
website less prone to falling over, as they say. They are
hosting the NPM registry, bringing back the download counts.
Perhaps this is a reference to a human being or a thing in code
that I don’t know, but they are [nagiosing] all the things,
which sounds really internet.

Tim: It sounds like a person.

Steve: Yeah. I don’t know. Like Grambau-ing something. Steve Hickey-
ing a conversation, something like that. I don’t really like the
way that the open source stuff is heading right now. NPM is an
open source project. I’m happy they got funding and everything,
but they’re trying to productize it and turn it into a startup.
They’re going to do the whole lean-startup thing to it, and
maybe it will succeed. Maybe it won’t, but the second you start
taking funding, you need an exit strategy of some kind. I
reference all the way back to the Linux operating system, which
just was a bunch of guys in basements hacking away.

Tim: Yeah. I thought it was kind of funny after the announcement. I know
the guy who started Ruby Gems, and he was tweeting very proudly
that they had never taken any money of any sort and that they
were entirely just run by the community. It seemed like a whole
lot of Rubyists were getting bent out of shape after NPM
announced this. So, it was kind of amusing.

Mark: Yeah. There was also some of the other big news was Clout.
Remember Clout? Or the rumor of Clout being sold for some
obnoxious number.

Tim: So, the obnoxious number was $100 million, I believe.

Mark: Well, it was said to be low-nine digits. And again, reported,
this is via re-code.

Tim: Yeah. So, here’s the thing. I don’t normally like to aggressively
knock down things people build. Like sometimes, stuff has
problems, and I’m not shy about pointing out problems. I always
understand people are building the stuff at the end of the day.
Clout is not one of those things I feel is worth being that
dignified about. I don’t fucking understand Clout.

Steve: Well, there was a lot of stuff. We didn’t understand Snapchat
before it got out.

Tim: Yeah, but Clout is a number that tells you how important you are in
the internet, the least important place.

Steve: The Internet is the least important place.

Tim: For your ego.

Steve: Okay.

Tim: Here’s a number that tells you how awesome you are. How can I like
that? That’s so dumb.

Mark: You are 10 awesome, Steve. 10.

Tim: Apparently, if your Cloud score is 10, you suck.

Steve: Oh. I don’t even know. I’ve never checked my Clout.

Mark: It’s out of 100, Tim. Please.

Tim: Yeah. Oh, yeah. So, I signed up for it about a year ago to see if
there was literally anything else to it other than a number that
tells you how awesome you are, and there isn’t. What was
ridiculous is there is no way to cancel your Clout account once
you’ve signed up for it. I still have an account in existence
somewhere. I just had to shut off all the notifications and
pretend it doesn’t exist.

Steve: Okay.

Tim: I don’t like not being able to delete accounts. It’s ridiculous.

Steve: Okay. I think there’s just something weird going on in the
startup world right now, where these small companies are getting
scooped up for ridiculous prices. I mean, I don’t know what
Lithium is going to do with Clout, but…

Tim: Oh, no.

Steve: It’s $100 million.

Tim: Yeah. I don’t get it.

Steve: Like, why can’t we… I would like to sell this podcast for
$100 million.

Tim: It’s a product that allows…

Steve: Then, let’s start up another one called, “The Mud.”

Mark: What I would like to see, because we’re obviously clueless into
the actual value beyond the social network circle jerk power of
your Clout score, we would like you, the listeners, to tell us
what in the world makes Clout worth $100 million. What is the
true value of Clout? So, let us know. At the end of the show,
Tim will tell you all the myriad ways you can tell us your
thoughts.

Tim: Oh. I did think of one thing that Clout is valuable for. People who
care about their Clout score, it lets me know that I’m not going
to like them.

Mark: Hey, hey. All right. Filter.

Steve: So, you have places like NPM getting a very large amount of
funding, Clout being sold, and then you have legitimately good
services, like Editorially, shutting down. This news came out. I
saw it yesterday.

Tim: It’s very sad, and there’s a lot of Internet sadness. There’s also a
lot of internet anger, oddly, flowing under the surface. People
are sitting there going, “Why the fuck couldn’t they make money?
They obviously weren’t doing any business stuff.” I’m like,
“Were you guys inside the product? Do you have any idea what
they were doing? No. Shut your mouth. We’re all sad that they’re
shutting down because they built something awesome, and you need
to shit all over them?”

Steve: I’m not sad because it’s a product, and I’m not going to get
sad about a product going away.

Tim: I legitimately liked it. It was really good for writing. It was very
elegant.

Steve: So, for those that aren’t familiar, it’s collaborative writing.
Right?

Tim: Well, I mean, yeah. I guess the tying together feature is the
collaborative nature of it, but as far as just being a writing
environment, even without having to collaborate with people, I
find it vastly superior to the other stuff I’ve used.

Mark: Yeah. It uses plain text for writing. Any formatting you do in
it is done using Mark Down. So, it’s really clean to get the
text in and out. It’ll export things out to Dropbox, and it
has…

Tim: You can export to different formats seamlessly too, which is really
nice.

Mark: Yeah. Yeah, and preview an HTML, the marked down writing. The
collaborative features were outstanding, as were just a really
good saving engine and seeing progress on your documents. It was
just a really nice focused-on-writing tool. In a way, they stand
to me as a really good example of a company focusing on one
really core piece of work of how to write and get good feedback
without fussing on lots of other things, and being focused on
that. I think companies like this. There’s always going to be
room for a specialist, but it’s going to be harder and harder
for them to make money and make a business as the companies like
Apple and Google and Microsoft and Yahoo grow and acquire and
become bigger generalists.

As long as Google Docs is there and good enough… It’s not all that
great for writing because it’s funky and, like Word, it gets
caught down on its own features and the poor formatting issues.
But as long as it’s good enough, why use another thing? Why pay
for another thing?

Tim: Yeah. It’s not awesome, but it’s already integrated into the tools
that many of these companies are using.

Mark: Yeah. Exactly. And it’s harder for a web service, for example,
to make money versus perhaps a native app or something where the
payment infrastructure is built into the way in which you’re
using it. Here, if they were going to be getting users, it would
be a sign-up. They could be doing it through advertising. I
don’t know. They said in their post, “Look. We looked at a lot
of avenues from Kickstarting to introducing a fee and tiered
service. It just wasn’t going to add up.” I think the economies
of making a successful web business in 2014, I think we’re
running into a really scary time a little bit now. We’ve had
this whole shift of the tools getting democratized and getting
easier and cheaper to build these companies.

Tim: But unless you immediately experience explosive growth, you’re just
going to be supplanted by the existing companies doing the same
thing as you but more shitty.

Mark: Yeah. The tools are getting easier, but the market is getting
worse.

Steve: You should dispel some of these myths here that it costs a lot
of money to run a service like that, because it does not. The
Amazon is going to be based on traffic. So, if you’re successful
there, you’re going to pay a lot more. I would never pull down
gearing the market, because it doesn’t cost me any money to have
up.

Mark: Well, they’re not talking about just posting it up there versus
maintaining it. The other issue is maintaining it. You’re trying
to get something that works, that grows. You’re hiring a group
of people. This is the difference between your personal
project… They’re not just talking about infrastructural costs.
They’re talking about if you want to make this a company, if you
want to make it a product and sell.

Steve: Yeah, but maintaining a side project doesn’t really have… It
has your time.

Tim: As long as it remains, in philosophy, a side project for you.

Steve: Yeah.

Tim: When something becomes your main project, you have a lot of other
things to worry about, like [inaudible 10:43].

Steve: Yeah. You just leave it a side project. You say, “This is a
free product. Here it is.” Just be right upfront, like, “Look.
We don’t have a ton of time. We have a feature list. We’re going
to add them as we can, but that’s how it is.” Then, you just
leave it up. There’s not a real significant cost, even if it’s a
few thousand dollars a year…

Tim: There’s a guy who…

Steve: …To split between, I don’t know how many people there were,
like eight people?

Mark: 13? Something like that.

Tim: I think they were trying to make a go of it as a job.

Mark: Yeah.

Steve: Right. But then, I disagree with shutting it down. I hope they
open source it at least.

Tim: Somebody already has a clone of it up, basically.

Steve: Okay.

Tim: I don’t know if… I don’t think they consider it a clone, but
functionally, it is identical.

Mark: I think this gets…

Steve: It’s not like they’re losing hundreds of thousands of dollars a
year.

Mark: But this gets to the heart of what we do for a living. Yeah.
You can put up the tool, and you can let it sit there, or you
can make something that’s a functional clone, but it’s different
than that, versus having a group of people who are actively
designing and developing, who are focused on user experience.
User experience design and develop professionals making a strong
product, versus a functional thing. It’s like that hacker news
post that someone unearthed a little while ago on Twitter,
regarding when Drop Box first came out. It was a post on hacker
news from like 2007. It’s saying, “Oh, well, any Linux user can
make their own Dropbox using XYZ, 10,000 steps of crazy open
source, etc.” So, I’m just saying. It’s not one or the other.
It’s not to say that simply putting it up there is a solution.

Steve: There was a shift. You could just package it up like WordPress
does and say, “Here. Install this yourself.”

Mark: Yeah.

Steve: You can just do that. Just leave it up on a $10 a year domain,
and just offer it to people.

Tim: I think the result of it is that they wanted to make a go of it as
their main product. When they discovered they couldn’t, they
probably all decided they wanted to move onto other stuff that
they could give their full attention to.

Steve: Take their ball, and they’re going home.

Tim: Sure. Anyways, it’s sad.

Steve: It is sad to see it go away. I hope it open sources again. The
last kind of bit of news that we wanted to discuss, well, some
of us want to discuss, is Comcast buying Time Warner. I saw a
write-up about this. It was a Q&A, or a FAQ rather, like a
Comcast employee answering some questions. I couldn’t tell if it
was a satire or not. It was all really serious. Did you guys
read this? I’ll try and dig it up.

Tim: No. No, I didn’t.

Steve: They were all legitimate questions like, “Who do I call for my
questions?” They listed out some of the information. “I’ve been
on hold for this amount of time,” and they say like, “Oh. Well,
our call volume has increased due to the merger.” Then, the last
line says, “Eat me.”

Mark: That one might be satire.

Steve: Like, the whole article was very serious, and then the last
line was, “Eat me.”

Tim: They haven’t merged. So, none of the preceding information will be
useful. Of course, you would still call Time Warner for your
Time Warner cable account.

Mark: So, let’s talk about what happened. Comcast has announced their
intentions to purchase Time Warner cable for $45.2 billion.

Tim: Huh? With a B?

Mark: With a B.

Tim: For everything I’ve heard about Time Warner Cable, it indicates to me
that they’re not worth in the B range, despite what their
balance sheets say.

Steve: Well, I don’t think Clout is worth nine digits.

Tim: Anyways, I don’t think any cable company is worth that kind of money.

Mark: If you think of them as infrastructure…

Tim: Yeah, I know.

Mark: And this is the largest cable company buying the second largest
cable company.

Tim: I was just taking a cheap dig at them.

Mark: Yeah. So, combined, they would have over 30% of the cable
subscribers in the United States. They said that as part of this
deal, to make themselves like, “Oh, no. Competition is still
great and alive,” they would divest. They would give away
basically 3 million subscribers, whatever the number is, to
get…

Tim: How does that work?

Mark: They want to get themselves down to 30%. I guess they give them
to local markets or competitors. I don’t understand.

Tim: Do you just get a letter from Comcast saying, “Sorry. You can’t have
internet from us anymore”?

Steve: You have RCN now.

Mark: That’s a great question.

Tim: Like, what the fuck?

Mark: In any case, they’re doing that to say, “Oh, hey, no.
Competition is alive and well.” By the way, lots of people have
FiOS, and lots of people can have Google Fiber. But this whole
thing, it’s just the latest in decades and decades and decades
of the grouping and the conglomerating of the cable telecom
industry.

Tim: So, on the NBC Nightly News last night, they were leading into their
Olympics coverage. They took about five seconds to tell this
story. It was kind of funny because every anchor that was doing
any talking, I think there were three of them total, started by
saying, “Our parent company,” but then kept on saying, “Our
parent company.” It went beyond full disclosure, to the point of
being like an advertisement almost. It was news. It was an
advertisement masquerading as news. They were only saying good
things about what was going to happen and didn’t cover any bit
of why there would be a controversy about them buying another
cable company.

Steve: I’m sure it’s no surprise to anyone, but this doesn’t bother
me.

Tim: I know it doesn’t bother you because you’re free market blah, blah,
blah.

Steve: Not even that.

Tim: But this is not free market. This is the increasing of a monopoly.

Steve: It’s not even that. The free market thing doesn’t bother me at
all. It doesn’t bother me because we have services like Aereo,
and I’ve been watching Netflix more than regular TV lately. A
lot of us here have been trying to cut ties with cable for a
while. The link seems to be live sports.

Tim: Yeah.

Steve: That’s it.

Tim: People can’t get live sports without cable.

Steve: They’re streaming the Super Bowl now. They have MLB TV.

Tim: If you have cable. All of this…

Steve: [inaudible 16:16] what case, if somebody had an account here.

Tim: The Olympics were live streamed, but you have to enter your
credentials for a cable provider. They are holding on
tenaciously.

Steve: But basically, we have options to where we can say, “You know
what? You’re going to raise the price on me again because you’re
a cable company. You do that. Fine. I’m just going to forget
it.”

Tim: We have options, but most people don’t. It’s entirely coincidence
that I can get two different providers at my house.

Steve: No.

Mark: I’ve got three.

Steve: I’m not even saying like switching to FiOS. I’m saying dropping
it and picking up Aereo and using Netflix.

Tim: Yeah. We’re talking about internet here, though.

Steve: Oh, Internet.

Tim: Your cable provider is also your Internet provider.

Steve: Yes.

Mark: There’s a great chart. Quartz.com, qz.com, had a great article
called “One Sentence in Six Charts” to explain why Comcast is
buying Time Warner Cable. They’ve got these great charts showing
Comcast and Time Warner’s just constant shedding of video
subscribers, let’s say TV, cable TV subscribers over time. But,
they increased in Internet subscribers. They are becoming more
of an internet pipe. However, they are doing everything they can
to be more than that. Tim, I’m glad you brought up Aereo,
because this whole thing…

Tim: You’re welcome.

Mark: … just smacks of something that happened a year ago now. When
C-Net, which is owned by parent company CBS, they banned…
Okay. So, C-Net’s ban on Aereo reviews. C-Net wanted to do a
review on Aereo, and they were told they couldn’t because there
was a… CBS owns Dish, or Dish owns CBS. There was a whole big
conglomerate of media company can’t review a technology company
because of conflict of interest.

You’re looking now at Comcast would own Time Warner, where there’s no
competition for companies to be able to sign on. On top of that,
Comcast owns NBC. You’re going to have more instances where
someone like an NBC anchor has to be constantly disclosing, “Our
parent company, our parent company.” The cable infrastructure
news content industry has become this awful little mass of
conflicts of interest, and this is really not…

Tim: And we, as consumers, don’t trust them to play by the rules, because
mega companies like this throughout history have shown a
complete willingness to flaunt the rules once it becomes
convenient to them.

Steve: That’s the business cycle. I mean, big companies get together,
and then little companies come up and take market share. Then,
they merge, and they get bigger. It happens over and over again.
We are currently in a cycle where the big companies are buying
everything.

Mark: The problem with this one is this one is really a huge
infrastructure one. This is not one where a small player can
come in and disrupt the Internet service point of view. The
thing that can most likely disrupt cable/internet distribution
is probably wireless Internet distribution. That’s also going to
be handled by large conglomerates that can handle the kind of
infrastructure billing they have. I really do hope the FCC, and
who knows, maybe the DOJ, I don’t know, whatever government
bodies can step in and have some regulation on this.

Tim: Well, don’t worry guys. The FCC is currently chaired by a former
cable industry lobbyist, so I think we’re safe.

Steve: Jack Donaghy.

Tim: He’s got our trust at heart. Not Jack Donaghy, but I would welcome
that actually.

Steve: Well, let us know what you think about this, if you care, or if
you don’t care. Let us know if you don’t care. I don’t want you
to tell us.

Mark: Please disclose if you’re a stockholder of the Sheinhardt Wig
company.

Tim: So, we have an event coming up at Fresh Tilled Soil. It’s
called “Experience Dev”, on February 27. I think it’s in a
couple weeks. That’s two weeks from now. Right? Ish. Yep.

Steve: Yep.

Tim: Here at the Watertown office. I think there’s one ticket left
to the show. Yesterday, there was one ticket, so get it.

Steve: It will be a show. I assure you.

Tim: Oh. It will be a show. You can get more information at
freshtilledsoil.com/experience/dev. As usual, you can get us on
Twitter, @TheDirtShow. Please review us on iTunes. That’s all we
have for now. Thank you for listening, and we will try to do
better next time.

Steve: Say something.

Mark: Okay. Here I am, reading a monologue from a story. Here I am,
reading the service agreements for a Lowe’s Appliance.

Steve: Oh. I so regret asking you to say something.

About Fresh Tilled Soil

Fresh Tilled Soil is a Boston-based user interface and experience design firm focused on human centered digital design