Om Malik talks future tech, social networks, creator platforms on the AppleInsider Podcast...

in General Discussion edited June 2021
On a special episode of the AppleInsider podcast we interview Om Malik, founder of technology news site Gigaom, to discuss social media networks, the future of creator platforms, broadband access in the US, plus Apple's announcements from WWDC.

Om Malik began covering technology news by delivering an email newsletter to just a few hundred subscribers. He went on to create Gigaom, an influential website with 6.5 million monthly unique visitors that ran for over nine years.

Since that time, Om has continued to write for media outlets and make appearances on TV and radio commenting on the tech industry, media platforms, and broadband infrastructure. He is also a venture capitalist and amateur photographer.

On the podcast we discuss the future of synchronous experiences over the internet, including Apple's new SharePlay feature announced at WWDC. What the future may hold for media platforms like Facebook, and how creators should build their platforms to retain complete access to their audience.

Om goes on to praise the new M1 iPad Pro which he uses as his main device, although he also has some critiques for the new version of Safari in iPadOS 15. We go on to discuss broadband access in the US, net neutrality legislation, and what future technology Om is excited about.

If you have questions or comments on the show, tweet at @stephenrobles or email us here. Find us in your favorite podcast player by searching for "AppleInsider" and support the show by leaving a 5-Star rating and comment in Apple Podcasts.

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Platforms and future tech with Om Malik - interview transcript

Stephen Robles: Welcome to the AppleInsider podcast. This is your host, Steven Robles. And joining me today, a very special guest. I was going to say his full name, but he has informed me that it is much like Bono and Cher. Just one name, Om founded the website back in 2001, and he's appeared in many publications in New Yorker, Fast Company, Wired and on many TV news and radio shows.

Om, thanks for joining me today.

Om Malik: Nice to be here. Thank you for having me. It's been an interesting journey so far this life and wherever it's brought me.

Stephen Robles: When you started Gigaom on your website, I believe it treats it as a technology blog. You were kind of just writing about consumer technology and what was coming out at the time. Right?

Om Malik: I think back in like early, during the early days of the internet, like the nineties, Post Netscape, IPO, people might've forgotten there was a company called and I used to publish a webpage on it, like a side web page on it, essentially writing about, you know, all the cool infrastructure technologies involved in the internet, there was chips and routers and switches.

The kind of stuff no one cared about. In fact then they still don't care about it now, but I did, I would have a little bit of gossip from my day job and I decided that it was easier to do an email. The website was just a normal, you know, it was like part of a big company.

So I ended up turning that into a small email newsletter. And that was like, had about 500 people reading it in 2000 or so. I had discovered the blogger tool. This is just easier to publish on the web. So I kind of took the newsletter away and started publishing on the web, but wasn't really a blog per se.

It was more like, it had all the links to my articles and occasionally I would write like something special, but it wasn't like the blog as we came to know what blogging was. But that in 2001 is when it actually became a full blog in which I wrote about everything I was interested in which was telecom and, you know, networks and all the scandals in the networks and all scandals.

A lot of it was reporting based. So I was actually posting original reporting right on my blog. Like I was talking to people. What had happened was I had worked most of my life in a daily publication.

And I went to go work for Red Herring, which was like a monthly magazine. And I didn't, I did not know how to react to it. I had so much information. I'm writing big feature stories for the magazine and all of this information is basically dying in my inbox and in my like notebooks.

And it's like, no, I'm just going to post it. And, you know, I wasn't thinking about anything special. It was just my own problem I wanted to solve, which was, you know, I had all these scoops and information is like, yeah, that's also, I don't know if, I mean, you're too young to remember this because in 2001, 2002 timeframe, there was a certain dislike and skepticism of internet and technology because the bubble had burst and you know, that everybody thought that the party was over.

The way I wrote about it was, for me, I'm a true believer in this thing from the early nineties, I thought this was going to be a really big opportunity and it was going to be like a, I called it the story of my life, internet, the story of my life, like the pun as a reporter.

Stephen Robles: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.

Om Malik: I could not believe that people were being so skeptical of it.

And when it was pretty clear that, you know, the financial shenanigans were over. You know, the internet itself was not slowing down. More people were signing up, more people were buying services so I couldn't understand any of those things. It was like 20 years later, you see the pattern repeat itself, like that is a lot of skepticism of technology and success of technology and stuff like that.

And, you know, so you see these cycles happen, but you know, I have belief that the internet in itself is a force of, you know, massive change in our society. And we always underestimate it. On both on the good side and the bad side, right? That's our far not the, the networks for all the problems we talk associated with technology.

It's, they're all about our limitations and not technology's limitations because we lack the imagination to control what it can be or imagine what it can be

Stephen Robles: That's what I love following you on Twitter for is kind of these pontifications of what technology will mean for the future. And this was a small feature that Apple announced a WWDC, but I'll be curious how you feel it will impact the future.

They announced SharePlay. Which was the ability to share your watching experience or listening experience, whether you're watching a movie TV show or listening to music with someone that you're FaceTime video calling, and you can have that synchronized experience. This is something other streaming services have done like Netflix and Hulu, but Apple is doing it, which is going to bring it to a much wider audience.

And you tweeted about it saying that this is a small but important step towards that synchronous real-time internet experience. Do you feel like as we go into the future, that kind of synchronous entertainment or synchronous experience is going to be a big role in people's lives?

Om Malik: The reason I keep going back to real-time and synchronous internet is mostly because all great conversations happen in real time.

Even the phone calls are synchronous, right? When I was younger and you want to talk to a girl, you called her and there was an emotion involved in the whole thing. You were nervous to call her. And like, I didn't know what she was going to say, will she you go out with me or not?

And like fast forward to today. Video should be doing exactly the same thing. I mean, we, as friends liked to watch TV together. I remember going to my friend's house to watch a cricket game or watching MTV and talking about it. And it's like, it was a communal experience. Communication's more impactful when they're communal and, and they create a sense of collaboration, which is why anything which results in more togetherness excites me.

And I think we've had like, you know, almost 30 years of a network, which is asynchronous, right? It hasn't had the ability to create synchronized experiences. But when you have a synchronous internet, real-time internet experience, you don't need a lot of people for internet to work. You need a few, a handful. The whole idea of the internet is now based on scale.

It's still a broadcast network, but when you have a SharePlay like thing, It becomes more intimate. It becomes more personal. It becomes about you and I and the friendships and the family. So I think that's why I look at SharePlay, and I just say, wow, this is pretty cool. And I'm already compared to all the other people, right?

Like who are actually grown up native on face-time. There's a whole generation, we forget there is a whole generation which has had FaceTime for most of their life. Like a decade. I have, I have two goddaughters who just natively FaceTime me all the time. They are like four and three, right? Like just kind of it's their default mode of communication.

So what Apple is doing is just basically keeping up with the times in many ways for the future audience.

Stephen Robles: Yeah. So I have three kids. My oldest is 12. My youngest just turned five. They do not know what a landline is. They don't know what any corded phone or cordless phone. We've never had a home phone, you know, our entire lives.

So, and they FaceTime. That's their natural deal. They FaceTime friends and play a video game at the same time and that synchronous experience. And so my next question for you is, you've Tweeted about social networks and things like that. And social networks, I think have been more of the asynchronous experience.

You tweet. You post on Facebook, on Instagram. Comments come in later. It's not a shared experience. Overall do you feel like social networking in those arenas, like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, has that had a negative effect? And do you think that those kinds of social networking will continue in the future like 40 years from now?

Are we going to have a Facebook or Twitter?

Om Malik: It can be hard to predict what we will have in like 10 years or 15 years, but, you know, we still have, Yahoo. And Yahoo was really dead for like 10 years, I think.

Stephen Robles: Or Yahoo might argue that they're dead, but I can take your point.

Om Malik: Yeah. Or do you know where my point is, right?

No one kind of wakes up to think like, "I'm going to go to" I mean, I go there because my fantasy baseball team is in there, otherwise I would never use that service. And it's the same thing with all these social networks. I think Facebook's reality is that, you know, I wrote a piece about this, as I said, eventually all of us get Yahoo-ed in life.

Whether you're a tech company or an individual, an artist, or a creator, everybody has a time and place and then they're just gone. I feel that the next generation of media is going to be very different. Next generation of social platforms are going to be very different.

The reason I think those are two separate things, Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and YouTube, they are social media platforms. There is very little sociability there, right? They started out being very social, but they eventually became media platforms. You use the social dynamics to essentially intensify our feelings about whether it was content or images are towards politics or sports. They became social media platforms whose core competency is to intensify and amplify feelings and messages. That's what they do. They never are about communication. All great social networking still happened inside small intimate groups.

I have a group on WhatsApp with my college friends. I have one with my childhood friends on Telegram. I have other group with a few of my technology friends on a Telegram. So there is a lot of intimacy in that but it's very communication based. So yes, we do share photos and we share links and we say stupid things, but they're all about communicating with each other. But they're not, they're not 500 people or 5,000 people. It's just like five people or seven people.

Stephen Robles: Yeah. So I recently heard from the Patreon CEO, he was on a podcast with Nilay Patel, Decoder is the podcast, and he was talking about creators and what the next season for creators and income and interacting with their fan base, what that will look like in the future. And he argued that creators now, when they live on YouTube and Facebook and Twitter, they're really building the social network's platform. They're really building YouTube's platform or Twitter's platform.

Because at any time, those networks like YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, they could change the algorithm. They could change how much of the posts from a creator are surfaced to their audience. They kind of have all the keys. And so the Patreon CEO is saying, we need more places where creators can have full access to the fans that want to see their work and not so much this algorithmic gatekeepers like these other networks. How, what do you think about that and creators?

Om Malik: Well, I think he's a little bit self-serving right? Like he wants more people to post their content on Patreon and it'll help Patreon become bigger. So that said, I think there is an element of truth to the fact that we've helped make these platforms become big, right?

But is it a one-way street? I don't think so. I mean, if they want a billion people on YouTube can run Rene Ritchie or MKPD, do you think they will have like millions of followers like the way they have? Trying to build an audience of millions of people isn't that easy.

Stephen Robles: No.

Om Malik: So yes, you know, these platforms have benefited from all the efforts of the creators and, you know, they have an outsized control on what creators, you know, reality is and how they get exposed. How their content gets exposed to others. Like, you know, censorship is being a topic of conversation about when it comes to social platforms, but a lot of us won't have the audience either.

I know myself, had it not been for Facebook-- I would not deny that these companies are now being very autocratic. And I guess, you know, when you're a business, you just, it's a businessman. It's not about you, you know. It's about them. If they need to make a lot of money to justify their market cap and all those kinds of things, I think we often get caught up in the emotional part of it, but also maybe because I'm older now I can look past that and just say, well, there's a lot of us, we may hate Google, or we may hate Facebook, or we may hate Apple, but all those stocks are in our 401k plans and other retirement plans. Then we're all benefiting from it while publicly hating on them.

Stephen Robles: Yeah, I guess the argument comes more from the smaller creator who maybe they've built 10,000 fans on their Facebook page and they see that when they post to their Facebook page, Facebook will say, "You've reached 1.5% of your audience pay to boost your post and reach more." And that's when it feels, you know, did I build an audience that is actually following me or, or have I built a way for Facebook to monetize my access to them?

Om Malik: Well, definitely like you helped created the monster.

We've created the monster, right? But the thing is, it's not like we did not get anything out of it. Trying to build an audience of millions of people, you need to start with billions of people. Right. It's a circular argument. It's like the chicken and the egg.

We don't know what came first, but the fact is that yes, now they have an outsized control on what we see, how we see, when we see, and where we see it. Like that is definitely an issue. But like, we cannot also deny the fact that they did bring something to the table.

Stephen Robles: For sure. So as we talk about maybe legislation, you said a lot of them operate autocratically.

When we look to Apple, they've been in the news a lot with their App Store and the policies, the 30% cut. And you were Tweeting recently about it. If Apple is big enough now for developers who make less than a million dollars, maybe Apple should just take no more cut. They just give those smaller developers a hundred percent of their revenue.

Om Malik: Yeah, I think my view is like the money they make from the App Store is probably as much as the money they make from a couple weeks of profit from the iPhone sales, right? My point is like, if you took, basically, if anyone is making up to a million dollars, you basically make the service free for them, anyone above that, you have a tiered structure, 15%.

And that's it, end of the story. Like you have caution all with people. Like if making a million dollars or less, you know, you can charge 5% because that is your actual cost of doing business. But the point being, do you really need the money? Because your business is selling iPhones and iPads with like 60% plus in a net margin or gross margin.

So why would you want to let more people buy more apps, more people live on your, in your it's not like, you know, there are states which don't charge you income tax and use sales tax as a way to boost their revenues. So if they took that approach and then saying, if you're bigger than that, you get 15 percent.

So it's a pretty easy solution for them.

Stephen Robles: Do you think with the whole Epic Games and Apple court case, and now even the US Government getting more involved in sideloading and such and Apple released a white paper recently all about sideloading and talking about why it would be a bad idea. What do you think?

Do you think that's something Apple should consider allowing?

Om Malik: No, no. I'm in the camp where if the legislators want to force them to take less money and less cart. And I just think the whole, the legislators are not understanding the implications of all that. The sheer lack of privacy options right now we have makes it impossible.

The privacy is a feature for Apple and any changes to that would be a problem. I don't want to sound as an Apple apologist, just to be clear. I think there is a lot of issues with the company, but the core point here is that if any core changes are made to how the environment works, It's going to have an impact on privacy.

This is why I have a problem with politicians trying to get involved in technology with very limited understanding of long-term impact. They're just trying to get elected in next four years. Right? That's what it really is. Problem with politics, not just in the US, but worldwide is, everybody is just trying to get elected again.

That's it, that's all, they think just like the stock market is all about getting the next three months. Whereas everything worth making and doing has to be taught in long-term, which is how the, you know, the Apple approach to policy and a privacy and policy has been, you know, people complain about Apple in China, our last Chinese jurisdiction, you don't live in China.

You want to go to China, then you're going to have to live like how the Chinese live. And so at least in the US, we have certain rights which come with the Apple products. So I kind of fear that we're gonna throw the baby out with the bath water. It's like just too much populist thinking around technology, the media has happily talked about being much more like, "Let's do this! The big tech is evil."

Yes, it is, why are we talking about it now, long after the horse has bolted the bond? What can they do in the future? Things like this App Store thing, it's like, yo, reduce the fees. Great, you know, they should be doing that.

Stephen Robles: Okay. Well, let's get off to something maybe a little more fun.

You've been tweeting about the M1 iPad and iPad OS15. What do you think about the new device? The new operating system?

Om Malik: I love the iPad. You know, I work on iPad, iPad Pro. The only time I'm using the Apple Mac is right now, mostly to do this call with you. I mean, I would not use it like the other time I use it when I'm using Photoshop, that's it.

I live on my iPad. I probably use it 14 out of 15 hours in front of a computer.

Stephen Robles: So we've talked a lot about iPad at Apple insider, and I use it a lot too. I added podcasts on it in Ferrite the app. It's a great, awesome device. Do you wish that Apple would add any more power features or utility to the iPad Pro. So you'd have some more flexibility. So you could do something like the zoom call and record it on your iPad rather than your Mac?

Om Malik: I mean, I do everything on it. Like every app I need to use is on iPad. Like family Otter, I use Lightroom CC.

Stephen Robles: What do you think of the new Safari on the iPad OS15?

Om Malik: Oh God, I hate the design of that product. It just is like, you know. They have too many, too many designers at Apple. They just enforced this change on it. That's like a change for the sake of change.

Stephen Robles: Because it just obscures controls that were just readily available.

Om Malik: Oh my God. It is so poor. It's just the digressive product. Like product wise it's much better, but the UI is just not ready for it.

Stephen Robles: When you hide functions that you use often like to refresh a webpage, you know, when you have to add two to three steps to do that, it's not great. You know, it's not a great experience.

So, so you're into photography. You do that on the side a little bit. What do you shoot with your 12 Pro Max? What do you think of that camera? Or do you shoot with a different camera?

Om Malik: I have a normal camera, which I use for my landscapes, but for my casual, everyday photography, or like making like architectural photographs, I use the iPhone Pro in protocol format. Yeah. I have found that between that and then when you do super resolution from Adobe, you got like such really crisp negatives to play with. 80% of my photos are on the iPhone now.

Stephen Robles: So one of the other things you write about is emerging technologies and infrastructure for internet access.

What do you think of Starlink and what Elon Musk is doing there?

Om Malik: I wish I could get one, man. I haven't tried it. I can't really speak from personal experience but it seems like a pretty good way to get access to people who've been basically, you know, screwed over by phone companies who being like promising good internet and they don't deliver on it.

You know, clearly like Tesla, you know, it's going to start with rich people and then it's just going to have a trickle down impact. And yeah, why not? Like, I mean, other people have talked about it. That is a lot of negative connotations around Starlink constellation and how it ruins the art astronomy and stuff.

So I, you know, I can't address those things, but purely on connecting people, who've not been connected so far, I would say it's a plus plus, you know? Yeah, for sure. I mean the phone companies have taken so much tax dollars and done nothing with it. This is why we need people like Elon or back in the day, like, you know, Steve or, you know, Larry in Survey to do crazy things, which eventually become like mega company. And then we hate them.

Stephen Robles: Well, you were talking about hearing politicians, talk about technology and they don't have knowledge of it. Hearing them talk about net neutrality and trying to address like broadband companies. That also can be a frustrating experience cause it's like they don't, I don't think they understand the implications of it.

And whether you are for more government regulation or not, if me as a consumer have one option for broadband internet, like that's not a good experience for anybody. And if that company is not regulated, they can throttle, they could do whatever. And me as a consumer, I have no recourse.

Om Malik: Plus, you know, like the other option, like, look what happens now, right?

With the broadband is that if you live in the region where like Frontier is a carrier or, you know, companies like that, they basically are selling you like 20 year old technology and you have to compete in a global workforce. Right? How do you do that? How's it in 21st century, in a country, which basically pioneered the idea of consumer internet, there are kids sitting in McDonald's parking lots, doing homework or attending school on zoom?

We should be shamed of ourselves. Instead of trying to figure that thing out, the politicians want to say, "Let's just kill the companies which are actually bringing in the dollars." Right? "Just destroy the technology giants first."

Instead of saying, why aren't we regulating and going after these telcos, because you know why? Because they are getting paid, they got a lot of lobbying dollars and they've been getting it for a long time. And I think the enemies of American innovation are the phone companies, the cable companies.

Stephen Robles: There's a key to everything. All right. Well, tell me, what are you excited about for the future? You know, Apple's, there's rumors that they're going to go into augmented reality and VR. Other companies are trying to do that as well. What technology or area are you most excited about to see in the next 10 years?

Om Malik: I'm excited about it the internet still, you know, AR, VR, whatever you want to call it, the driving forces, the network. People still don't understand. The network is what makes our technologies go around from, from, you know, whether it's the road network, the railway network, the airplane network, the logistics network, the internetwork, the phone network.

Everything is on the network and I am still so excited about what future holds for us. Like the fact is that you and I are having this conversation on Zoom in like, hi-def right. Like that just is the gift of the network. And I think all AR, VR, everything, the sooner we realize how much has the network is crucial to us, the better we are as a nation, the better we are as a society, because we got to start looking at things in a more correct fashion.

It's not about Apple or Google. Google did not become Google in isolation. It became Google because there was the network. Facebook is Facebook because of the network.

Same goes for Twitter. Same goes for Tesla, believe it or not. In few years from now, the internet will be as important to the cars. Cars are essentially programmable computers in five years fro now. So we gotta be excited about the network and the possibilities of what's out there.

So every individual technology, which is in there, um, you know, it's gonna be exciting to me. So, but one overarching thing, at least till I die, the network is going to be the center stage for me in my life. Internet is the story of my life. I'm telling you.

Stephen Robles: That's good. Well, Om, thank you so much for joining us.

You can follow Om. You probably have the coolest Twitter handle on Twitter is just at O M, @OM. And is there anything else that you would want to point people to from your work?

Om Malik: Come to my blog, I occasionally still write. I did not sign up for, you know, sub stack or any of those things, mostly because I still believe in independence of my platform.

I want to control my place. I call it my homestead on the internet and more people should do that. You know, you were asking me about people complaining about big platforms. I'm a rebel. I do not want to be part of somebody else's island. I want to be my own.

And I think that is what I will say people should try and do, you know, keep their own presence, be fiercely independent. Don't let everyone else think for you or make you do things you don't want to do. I think that is why we need the internet. You know, so we can actually have a lot of intellectual freedom is my blog.

And you can come. I don't write as much, maybe once every two days, three days. Sometimes it's about tax. Sometimes it's about climate. Sometimes it's about baseball because I love baseball. I do share my photographs on my blog. Yeah. So that's about it, man. I just want people to understand How Much opportunity is still ahead of us.

This network is still under-tapped. There are so many young kids who have just grown up on the network. They will do amazing things. You know, there is so many, Zuckerberg's-- not the evil Zuckerberg part, but the innovative aspect.

Stephen Robles: The innovative Zuckerberg part. Yes.

Om Malik: So many interesting things are going to come.

I'm excited to see all of them. Every day I wake up more excited about the network and technology than I did, you know, like 10 years ago, 20 years ago. I think we have to maintain that positivity an innocence about the opportunities.

Stephen Robles: That's awesome. Well, and add OM on Twitter. Om, thanks again for joining us on Apple Insider.

Om Malik: Thank you, my friend. Thank you for having me.

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