Bull Session

100th Episode Celebration!

April 23, 2015          

Episode Summary

In this episode of The Digital Life, we recount our favorite episodes of the past five years; With guests like Luke W, Soren Johnson, Brenda Brathwaite, David Gray, and a host of others, the ride has been a fun one so far. We'll continue our coverage of UX, design, tech and culture and look forward to the next 100.

Welcome to episode 100 of The Digital Life, a show about our adventures in the world of design and technology. I’m your host Jon Follett and with me is founder and co-host, Dirk Knemeyer.

Hidey-ho, Jon.

One hundred episodes into The Digital Life and I’m still pretty excited about what is to come. Frankly, we’ve had a lot of different iterations of the show, and there were times when I didn’t think we would hit triple digits, but here we are now. To celebrate a little bit in this show, Dirk and I are going to take a look back at some of our favorite episodes of the previous five years or so. We’ll include links to all of those within the text on the transcript of the show, so our listeners can click through and check out some of the historical archives of The Digital Life. Dirk, what are your feelings on making it to episode 100?

Well, it’s pretty cool. I think when we started it … I can’t remember what my hopes for the show were … but we had a lot of optimism about interesting people we could bring on, about the things that we could think about, share about, learn about, and the show’s changed a lot. In the early days, it was all interviews. Every show in the early going, we had outside guests on. After that for a time, it was shows just with my news segment, which has been going for a long time now. Then I stepped away from the show for a while. EriK Dahl joined you, and you guys were recording about once a month, and then more recently, it’s been you and me, babe. We’re just banging out the news and current events every week for … I don’t know, what is it, six months, nine months, something like that?

Yeah, that’s right. I think as we look back at the history of the show, we’ve always covered user experience, design and technology, so that’s been a thread throughout. It’s also interesting to look back and see what the attitude was towards each of those topics in 2010. Certainly since 2010, user experience has turned into … I wouldn’t say a kitchen table word, but certainly around the business round table, it’s a common and popular area of focus.

Apple has become the biggest and perhaps best company in the world, at least by market cap, and the design field has seen an influx of job creation and new people and energy on a level that I probably never would have expected when we first began. Do you recall that transformation from when we started the show to now, and what are your take-aways from that?

Yeah, when we started the show, we knew that what we were doing was user experience work, but we were militant about not calling ourselves user experience. That was before user experience became very popular because we knew it was becoming popular and we wanted to rise above that fray. More recently, it’s become so popular that we’ve broken down and we use user experience for ourselves as well. It’s interesting that we didn’t use it to try and stay ahead and away from the emerging market, but the emerging market became so vast that we felt like we had no choice but to get a little dirty in the mud here.

Yeah, that’s certainly a topic we’ll come back to as user experience grows, changes, becomes more or less popular. Who knows, but that’s going to be an ongoing theme of discussion on the show for sure. When I took a look at the archives this morning, we went through all 100 episodes in preparation for our show today. There were some episodes that brought back really good memories for me, so I’m going to start off with … My favorite episode has to be the future of digital music where it had the drummer of the band, They Might Be Giants, on along with one of my friends from Berklee School of Music as well. We discussed a lot of things that have basically torn up the music industry and really made it … I don’t know, probably one of the industries that’s been most disrupted by the digital revolution is music. Our friend, Ian Dorsch was on that show as well, if I recall correctly. Ian was the composer for the music that we hear throughout the show and has been with us from the very start, so shout out to him.

The reason that the digital music show was my favorite is because, as listeners may or may not know, I’m also a musician and at one point thought I was going to do that professionally. That was a little naively coming out of college, and having a design background but really wanting to take a shot at the music industry, which I did for about a year and then decided there was no way I was ever going to have luck doing that, but it’s always been near and dear to my heart.

Seeing the advances that independent musicians can make on the digital life side of things, being able to interact directly with fans, being able to have music heard despite the fact that they don’t have the marketing backing of a major label, I think these are all massively good things that have come out of the digitization of music.

We can argue whether or not the income that they can receive from that is better or worse than what it would have been in the past, but for me, that episode stands out. I have a couple more that I want to mention, but I want to go back to you, Dirk, and see what episode or episodes really were the ultimate for you.

I’d have a hard time picking an ultimate. You went right to something that dealt with your personal interests and passions. Certainly we had a couple of episodes having to do with game design, which is what I spend a lot of my free time doing. We had Soren Johnson on twice, who is the lead designer of Civilization IV. He was one of the key designers on Spore and some other important projects, and is really someone who I admire in the digital game space. We also had Brenda Brathwaite on, who has designed a bunch of things on the digital side, from Wizardry back in the ’80s to more recent things, and designed … She calls it a game, it’s called a game. I consider it more of an art exhibit, art experiment called Train, which uses game mechanics in clever ways to make a point about a political/historical topic. Having those guests on was something, from a personal interest perspective, that was meaningful and enjoyable for me.

Yeah, I enjoyed those episodes as well because frankly, those two guests that you mentioned are heavy-hitters in the game industry. They are people … no pun intended … at the top of their game, so it was a real honor to have them involved. I must say, another episode worth checking out if you’re an East Coaster or a Bostonian like myself, was our take on the innovation industry in the Boston area. Boston has a tremendous history with being on the forefront of technological innovation all the way back to the mill towns that made Boston what it was up until now where there are more infrastructure, biotech, robotics, those things happening in this city that’s second to none.

Now that being said, there’s not all that much on the consumer side in relation to what you see out in Silicon Valley, San Francisco area, but Boston has its unique strengths. For that episode, we talked to Tom Hopcroft from the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council, Mike Fitzgerald who is an independent journalist who has done work for the Boston Globe, and Greg Raiz, the CEO of Raizlabs, which is a prominent mobile design and development firm in the Boston area.

We had those three people on and had a lively discussion about Boston growing as an innovative city. From a historical perspective, it’s a couple of years old, but I think a lot of the things we discussed still hold weight. It’s a topic that’s, once again, near and dear to my heart because it talks about creative economies that are built up around cities and place, and the idea that we’re all coming together in one area to collaborate. I find that thesis very interesting. You can see other cities where similar things happen, but we’re obviously most familiar with Boston. I’d say that episode sure was a highlight for me.

Yeah, one of our early episodes, we had on two guys I used to run with in Silicon Valley — Luke Wroblewski (LukeW), and Jim Leftwich. The three of us, along with Bob Baxley, who couldn’t appear for … He was with Apple at the time and they have really draconian policies about PR stuff. The four of us used to run in Silicon Valley and call ourselves the Design Silverbacks.

We would be out there pontificating on high level design topics and trying to set the global leadership for digital design. We’d meet every few months in some bar or restaurant in Palo Alto or in the city or Mountain View or wherever, and just plan and plot the future of the world of design. Having moved away from Silicon Valley, away from those guys and out here to Boston, bringing them on the show and having the chance again to be running, running with the boys, and talking about all that stuff, that was good times. That meant a lot and was definitely a memorable one for me.

Those guys, along with Bob, they’re just so bright and brilliant. We all spent time with different people, and there’s times, I think, we all can look at and say, “Gosh, I just feel really fortunate to be with these people and to be a peer among these folks.” It’s just humbling and you feel blessed, and that’s definitely how I felt with those guys. It’s always nice to get back in their space, and having them on the show for some of those hijinks was really nice.

There’s been an international thread to the show which I’ve appreciated, because we’ve not simply been U.S. focused, but also looked at the impact of technology abroad. Recently, with your trip across Asia, of course we’ve had both your reports from the field as well as a show on some of your thoughts on your tour of China. Additionally, I believe we had Niti Bhan on the show. Do you recall that episode and the things that you talked with Niti about?

Yeah, Niti was on with another friend of mine, Joshua Kaufman, and talking about emerging markets, technology to emerging markets. Those were a few years ago now, and so the themes and threads were different than the things I think we’d be talking about today, but I think a lot of it is still very timely and topical. That’s a show actually I’d like to relisten to now. I haven’t listened to it in a couple years. It’s definitely one I would recommend our listeners take a listen to as well, because those are two very worldly, very smart and experienced individuals with very broad views and deep understandings and a lot of good things to say. Those are two guests I’d love to have back on the show actually.

I guess everyone we’re mentioning now and to some degree would be nice to have back as guests on the show, but those two I’d really like to have back, because my head and thought space is more into the topics and the areas they were talking about then, and it really wasn’t at the time. I was focused on different things. Now that I have a different perspective and different interests, I’d love to engage both of them in some different conversations.

Right. I think that’s fully possible as we look to the next 100 episodes, right, and continue to explore those topics that are so interesting to us. There’s been a focus on technology, and especially emerging technology, throughout the show. One of the major areas that we’ve talked a lot about is about the convergence of digital and hardware design around the Internet of Things, which is increasingly becoming the hot topic du jour of the tech press. Episodes where we had some fantastic editors from O’Reilly Media on, Jon Bruner was one of those editors and discussed those things with them. Additionally, our friend, Scott Sullivan, who is currently over at Adaptive Path, came on and talked with us a bit about prototyping for interactive objects, which is one of his favorite topics to discuss. If you’re interested in the Internet of Things, we have a number of episodes to point you to. What I’m going to do with our SoundCloud page is put together a playlist that includes all of our favorite episodes of the past 100, so I’ll make sure that you can check out those favorites from the top 100 on the SoundCloud page for The Digital Life.

I’m glad you mentioned Scott Sullivan. I’ve been doing this company as an entrepreneur for 11 years. I’ve probably been hiring designers for 15 years. One of the fun things is watching people grow and mature and blossom into really exciting and interesting things, and boy, has Scott ever done that. He left us, I don’t know, not that much over a year ago, but moved to San Francisco from Columbus, Ohio, where Scott was located with us, and has just blossomed and bloomed in really remarkable ways. He’s really found himself in that community, in that environment.

To watch him mature from this young, unbridled talent with a lot of passion and some direction, but not necessarily restraint, into someone with a real perspective and a real maturity to go with that unbridled enthusiasm is so cool. I’m glad that he’s been part of the history of The Digital Life. I’d love to have him be part of the future of it, but he’s written some interesting things in Wired magazine. Scott Sullivan is just someone who’s a young guy who’s really coming into his own. Talking about him makes me happy.

Yeah, other people who we really should mention both within the scope of that Internet of Things discussion and generally for the show, their two-year stint co-hosting with Erik Dahl, who’s a fantastic designer and was a really good compatriot on the show, and asked a lot more thoughtful questions and deep questions and was a very good facilitator. I don’t think there are many people who can match his artful facilitation and active listening. I think Erik’s a rock star at that. Other Internet of Things guests that we had on, Nathan Martin, who’s been doing some real interesting stuff with robotics with his firm, Deeplocal in Pittsburgh, I believe, and then also Jenn Webb who is the editor of the Radar blog at O’Reilly was a fun guest to have on. For the future, we’re plotting and planning around having a diversity of voices on the show. That’s something that listeners can look forward to in the coming months, having more voices, more variety of voices like we have in the past, but still keeping up the weekly rhythm that has formed the basis of the show for the past six months or so.

The topics will continue to be user experience, technology, health and healthcare and culture and all things digital. Those are the areas we’ll remain focused on, but if you’ve enjoyed the ride and if you’ve joined us for a few episodes or the entire 100, we encourage you to keep listening because we have some great things in store.

Yeah, I think recently we’ve really tightened the format where the show is shorter. It has for a while now just been Jon and myself, but it’s been nice digestible chunks. I think it’s been pretty timely. We’ve gotten some good feedback on that, but we do want to bring back some guests, not go back to the hour-long format, but get some different voices involved. It was just today, as we were looking through the history of the show, we were like, “Wow.” There was a lot of richness with these wonderful people joining in the chorus. It’s just a matter of figuring out what’s the right way to do that and keep the show lean and regular. We’re pretty optimistic about what we’re going to be able to do there.

Fantastic. So listeners, remember that while you’re listening to the show, you can follow along with the things we’re mentioning here in real time. Just head over the thedigitalife.com, that’s just one L in thedigitalife, and go the page for this episode. We’ve included links to pretty much everything mentioned by everybody, so it’s a rich information resource to take advantage of while you’re listening, or afterward if you’re trying to remember something that you liked. One last shout out, I think, Michael Hermes, who is our audio engineer, we couldn’t do it without you, because there’s just no way we could ever get the show out on time.

You and I must be having a Vulcan mind meld, because literally as you were going through your bio, I was thinking to myself, “Before I do mine, I’m going to have a shout out to Michael Hermes.”

Right. Yeah, definitely worth it. If you want to follow us outside of the show, you can follow me on Twitter at jonfollett, that’s J-O-N-F-O-L-L-E-T-T. Of course, the whole show’s brought to you by Involution Studios, which you can check out at goinvo.com, that’s G-O-I-N-V-O, dot com. Dirk?

You can follow me on Twitter at dknemeyer, or email me dirk@goinvo.com.

So that’s it for episode 100 of The Digital Life. For Dirk Knemeyer, I’m Jon Follett, and we’ll see you next time.

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Jon Follett

Dirk Knemeyer


Co-Host & Producer

Jonathan Follett @jonfollett

Co-Host & Founder

Dirk Knemeyer @dknemeyer

Minister of Agit-Prop

Juhan Sonin @jsonin

Audio Engineer

Michael Hermes

Technical Support

Eric Benoit@ebenoit

Original Music

Ian Dorsch @iandorsch

It's News To Me

Farewell Internet Explorer

March 26, 2015          

Episode Summary

Last week Microsoft announced that its legendary Internet Explorer browser would be riding off into the sunset. The browser, in its heyday, dominated the Web so thoroughly that it reached over 90% market share, raised the ire of the U.S. Department of Justice, and nearly led to the breakup of Microsoft.

What is the legacy of IE and what does its demise mean for Microsoft? Are the browser wars finally over? In this episode of The Digital Life, we discuss the end of the IE era and get a first report from Dirk Knemeyer from his trip to Asia to research technology and culture.