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My Internet: Nilay Patel
The Verge editor-in-chief says media is in denial about the future of search.
Embedded is your essential guide to what’s good on the internet, written by Kate Lindsay and edited by Nick Catucci.
Most weeks, we quiz a “very online” person for their essential guide to what’s good on the internet.
Today we welcome Nilay Patel, editor-in-chief of The Verge, host of the podcast Decoder, and co-host of The Vergecast. He is co-hosting the Code Conference this year with Casey Newton and Julia Boorstin, and the Netflix show that he executive produced, The Future Of, was just nominated for an Emmy. Nilay says Twitter is dead, the entire media industry is hopelessly addicted to Google, and that in very short order we’re going to see a firehose of garbage pollute most of the spaces we occupy online. —Nick
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EMBEDDED: What’s a recent meme or other post that made you laugh?
NILAY PATEL: It’s very hard for me to have the sort of heavy, meaningful conversations about AI that people want to have because I just start thinking about AI Biden doing Ice Spice and saying “Folks, American music is good for the economy” and I’m out, I’m dead. It is so hilariously disrespectful to everyone, including the listener.
EMBEDDED: What shows up on your TikTok For You page?
NILAY PATEL: TikTok has me dead to rights—I get a lot of posts about music, making music, and the business of music, which has always been a deep obsession of mine. The all-powerful algorithm also knows I want to see videos of trucks jumping over things and people doing otherwise irresponsible things in cars, and it delivers.
EMBEDDED: Has your Twitter experience changed since Elon Musk took over? What would it take for you to quit?
NILAY PATEL: I’ve basically quit Twitter—I took the app off my phone, and I’ll check it idly on my laptop throughout the workday to retweet people posting Verge stories and send likes to podcast fans who tweet at me. I might reply here and there but like, whatever. It’s dead. I have never been interested in working for free, but Twitter has always seemed useful enough to justify it—it never sent any traffic to us, but the audience feedback loop was amazing. Now it’s just trash. I’d rather type my ideas into the text boxes that pay me money.
It’s also amazing how tiny and unimportant Twitter drama seems when you drop out of the platform and only check in once or twice a day—you can really see why Twitter was always the smallest and least lucrative social platform. It’s just not fun unless you’re committed to letting it eat your life.
Social media overall feels like when I used to go out four nights a week and drink Miller Lite until 3 am: It was cheap and fun and probably created a huge part of my personality, but, yeah, I’m too old to be doing that shit again.
EMBEDDED: Have you found any good alternatives to Twitter?
NILAY PATEL: I’ve tried almost all of them but I would like to fully reset my relationship to feed-based media before I commit to anything. The other day at my daughter Max’s fifth birthday party I said “oh my god should we invite Bella Hadid” to a group of children screaming about cake, which, I mean, come on. My brain is fully poisoned.
I do have the very nice Ivory Mastodon app on my phone—my account is @email@example.com—but I haven’t paid for it yet, so it’s just in the demo mode where you can read posts but can’t like them or write any posts yourself. It might be perfect, actually. I posted once on Bluesky just to tell people reckless.bsky.social is actually me; it seems like we’re going to have a full cycle of weirdness there and that’ll be fun, but I’m not ready to dive back in yet.
All that said, we have grand plans to plug The Verge into the burgeoning decentralized social ecosystem. There’s something there that’s way more important than replacing Twitter. I just want to start with a clear head, free of whatever habits and baggage I picked up by being a Twitter obsessive for over a decade.
EMBEDDED: What do you use Instagram for?
NILAY PATEL: If I use Instagram to do anything other than post photos and videos of Max, I get an immediate tsunami of negative feedback from her many stans. I’ve definitely stopped posting as much as she’s gotten older, though—now that she’s a small person with her own identity, it feels weird trading on it for likes. But I can’t always resist.
My way of splitting the difference is that I’ve defined Instagram Close Friends pretty broadly as “people I have hung out with in person,” so it’s nice to feel like I’m sharing with a larger group but one that’s still relatively intimate. It feels very much like a party just on the edge of being too big, which is my favorite kind.
EMBEDDED: What types of videos do you watch on YouTube?
NILAY PATEL: I watch a lot of YouTube at work since so many of our best competitors are on YouTube, but in my personal life this question really stumped me. I don’t know. Nothing unless it pops up in searches for music videos or DIY home repair situations? You can see why YouTube is terrified of TikTok; it’s still the best platform for creator monetization but as a viewer I just cannot be blowing time on videos padded out to 10 minutes to hit the midroll breaks anymore. TikTok is just more fun, and Shorts has no identity the way TikTok does.
Max watches a lot of YouTube Kids to my utter dismay; it is terrifying. On the flip side, she is a pandemic baby with a giant vocabulary and a deep love of building things because of it, so I can’t complain too much.
EMBEDDED: Have you had posts go viral? What is that experience like?
NILAY PATEL: Welcome To Hell, Elon went far more viral than any 1,100-word piece about content moderation should possibly go, and of course it is very nice for a bunch of people in your orbit to say nice things about something you’ve written. Then it got to the point where celebrities were emailing me to say how much they liked it, and that was completely strange. After that it entered a kind of right-wing funhouse mirror where people thought I was arguing … against free speech? By saying the biggest threat to the First Amendment was the government? I don’t know.
Then my sister called me cracking up because my mom was so upset about all the swear words and wouldn’t call and tell me about it, so I had to call her and sheepishly take my lumps. Sorry mom! I hope nothing I write ever goes so viral people send it to my mom because of swears ever again.
EMBEDDED: Who’s the coolest person who follows you?
NILAY PATEL: Every now and then I’ll get a Twitter like from Spencer Tweedy, Jeff Tweedy’s kid, and I want to tell everyone I went to college with about it.
EMBEDDED: Who’s someone more people should follow?
NILAY PATEL: Every music nerd should be following @luxxuryxx on TikTok. Dude is a producer who loves talking about how hits are assembled, and the drama around how they’re credited. And all the videos are so fun. It is so extremely up my alley.
EMBEDDED: Which big celebrity has your favorite internet presence, and why?
NILAY PATEL: I don’t really follow celebrities on social media? I prefer to keep my celebrities at a pleasant and mysterious distance, I think.
EMBEDDED: Where do you tend to get your news?
NILAY PATEL: In my quest to break away from Twitter I’ve been trying a few things—I refreshed my old-school RSS reader which is mostly delightful but so many sites are stuffed full of SEO spam it’s kind of a slog at times. I’ve been trying Artifact, which is amazing at surfacing minor stories from four days ago that I didn’t see and guaranteeing I embarrass myself in front of our news team which sees everything all the time. And then I keep looking at Apple News since I pay for it as part of my Apple services bundle and it’s nice to read a bunch of Conde publications and the WSJ through it. The Apple News homescreen programming is ridiculous, though. It’s like … for a boomer cosplaying as a politically active teen who didn’t do the reading? Rough.
EMBEDDED: What are your favorite Substack or other independent newsletters?
. by Ryan Broderick is also great. Stratechery by Ben Thompson is a daily read. , of course.
NILAY PATEL: Obviously I love Casey Newton’s
EMBEDDED: Do you have any favorite media company newsletters?
NILAY PATEL: The Verge’s own Command Line with Alex Heath is about as vital as it gets if you’re in tech. And Hot Pod, our podcast industry newsletter, is in good hands with Amrita Khalid while Ariel Shapiro is off to have a baby!
EMBEDDED: What’s one positive media trend? What’s one negative trend?
NILAY PATEL: I am going to ruthlessly steal this line from Casey, but almost anyone can get traffic—the real trick is building an audience. It feels like the traffic sugar rush is mercifully over? I hope we all stay this focused on building audiences that come to us directly.
On the negative side, the entire industry is still hopelessly addicted to Google and no one talks about it. Once Google takes the firehose away—and it inevitably will, with all this AI stuff—I’m not sure anyone knows what to do next.
EMBEDDED: Are you into any podcasts right now? How and when do you usually listen?
NILAY PATEL: I host two podcasts and listen to almost nothing regularly. I am horrible at this. Casey’s episode of This American Life with Yoel Roth was really good, listen to that.
EMBEDDED: How has using LinkedIn benefitted you, if at all?
NILAY PATEL: My LinkedIn inbox is full of the most brazen sponcon pitches anyone can get—if The Verge is ever overrun with wacky sponsored posts for crypto scams and B2B enterprise data solutions, you’ll know that I needed cash fast and I’m leaving the country on a boat.
EMBEDDED: Have you ever been heavily into Snapchat? Do you miss it?
NILAY PATEL: I never really use Snapchat as intended, but Max loves the filters and will ask to play with the “ghost button,” which is incredible. I can never say no.
EMBEDDED: When was the last time you browsed Pinterest? What for?
NILAY PATEL: Pinterest still exists? Do they know? Are they okay?
EMBEDDED: Do you have an opinion about Tumblr?
NILAY PATEL: Tumblr is like proof positive that online communities are real and meaningful things—so many people have tried to kill Tumblr but the community there keeps going. This is a group of weirdos that looked at Verizon trying to kill it and refused to die.
I really loved talking to CEO Matt Mullenweg about buying Tumblr on Decoder, and I think his plans to plug Tumblr into ActivityPub and decentralized social are just really smart.
EMBEDDED: Are you in any groups on Reddit, Discord, Slack, or Facebook? What’s the most useful or entertaining one?
NILAY PATEL: I really encourage you to look at r/smoking, which is just a group of (mostly) dudes telling each other everything will be okay when someone opens the smoker after 14 hours and discovers a $150 brisket is now a piece of shoe leather. It’s like the most wholesome situation online. There are also religious wars about pellet smokers.
I regularly check a bunch of old-school car forums, which are like a parallel universe of online community. vBulletin is still just doin’ it, you know? Pour one out for the open web.
EMBEDDED: Do you use Slack or another chat tool for work? What’s the best thing about that Slacking with your co-workers? What’s the worst thing?
NILAY PATEL: We started The Verge using IRC, on a server we ran ourselves, so we’ve always been a chat organization. We went through the great Campfire to Hipchat to Slack migration of the early 2010s like everyone, and now our whole company is all Slack, all the time. I can’t even remember the last time I sent a coworker an email for anything casual. I love Slack but it’s dangerous: no matter what, you come off like the world’s biggest asshole when you use it. I am constantly reminding my team to switch to at least a huddle or a phone call or something the second something gets slightly dicey, but I’m just as guilty of power-Slacking through a conversation as anyone.
EMBEDDED: Do you typically start searches on Google, Reddit, TikTok, or another source? Have you tried AI-powered search on Bing or elsewhere?
NILAY PATEL: I’m still a Google person but the SEO spam situation is getting out of control for sure, and I sort of dread the process of finding useful information after Googling. I’ve started using site:reddit.com on Google more, which definitely works. I haven’t yet started searching TikTok for anything other than TikTok drama; making the platform auto-populate searches for the drama you have been dropped into is such an incredible power move.
I think Bing AI search is very clever but I’m not trying to read some diary entry from a horny robot that’s just trying to keep it together when I’m looking for a movie trailer. Maybe if I end up in a situation where I am constantly needing to figure out how much lumber will fit into different cars I’ll use it more?
EMBEDDED: What most excites you about AI text and art generators? What most concerns you?
NILAY PATEL: I think people are making the funniest things I’ve ever seen online with the generators. It’s amazing, and I love that my kid is going to grow up expecting computers to be able to make beautiful things for her. That’s just incredible to think about.
The flipside is that all of these tools are very much making mediocre-to-average work—we see the best output filtered through social media, but most of it is pretty meh once you use it. It’s literally average—the models are averaging out human creativity and spitting it back out at you.
An absolute cannon of cheap mediocre content is a real problem for a lot of business models, and I think we’re going to see a firehose of garbage pollute most of the spaces we occupy online in very short order. There are already kids trying to make money by flooding YouTube with “faceless” channels of AI voices reading AI stories. It’s going to get even weirder out there.
EMBEDDED: Do you have any predictions for cryptocurrency, the metaverse, and/or Web3?
NILAY PATEL: All of it is hopelessly doomed. Sorry!
EMBEDDED: Are you currently playing any games on your computer or phone?
NILAY PATEL: I’ve been playing a lot of Gran Turismo VR on on the PS VR 2, complete with a little Logitech wheel and pedals. I love it. I wish I was playing right now. My wife came downstairs the other day and found me wearing the headset in my little racing chair and she was like “you’re grinning like a little boy.” It rules.
EMBEDDED: What’s your most-used messaging app?
NILAY PATEL: iMessage? It’s where the family is. All my tech and media friends use Signal.
EMBEDDED: What’s your go-to emoji, and what does it mean to you?
NILAY PATEL: I am a huge Packers fan, and the Aaron Rodgers drama means my friend Kyle and I have texted quite a lot about Jordan Love, the new starting quarterback for the team. iOS is always suggesting you replace “Jordan” with the Jordanian flag, and “Love” with a heart, so for a while we were just texting the flag and heart to each other, but then we just started calling him Flagheart. We’ve gotten so many people to call him Flagheart! Kyle’s dad calls him Flagheart! We can make this happen! Flagheart, baby! We are in our 40s!
EMBEDDED: Do you text people voice notes? If not, how do you feel about getting them?
NILAY PATEL: No. We did not come this far to bring back answering machines. Setec astronomy.
EMBEDDED: What’s a playlist, song, album, or style of music you’ve listened to a lot lately?
NILAY PATEL: Max only lets us listen to Taylor Swift, so we are in full Eras tour dress rehearsal in this house every day. We don’t hate it, but I’m working on getting her into The Clash so the TSA will recognize her as my daughter.
One thing I love about pop music right now is how much of it is built on the elements of the music I came up with. “Escapism” by Raye sounds like sluttier Portishead? “Unholy” by Sam Smith is like an evil Yaz track? Whatever’s going on there is pretty fun. Someone bring back New Order and I’ll be all set.
EMBEDDED: Do you pay for a music streaming service, and if so, which one? When was the last time you bought a music download or vinyl record, CD, or tape?
NILAY PATEL: I pay for Apple Music because I like that I can still use it just like iTunes and manage a library, and I like to pretend I can hear lossless. (I can’t.) My wife is a Spotify person and it seems like that works better with our various smart speakers, so we have that. I love vinyl and we have a huge record collection; our record player is connected to a cranky ’70s-era Kenwood amp and giant floorstanding heritage series Klipsch speakers, so it is a true all-analog system that feels like giving the middle finger to modernity whenever we use it.
Lately I’ve really switched from quantity to quality when it comes to vinyl and choosing to go after just a few vintage original pressings a year—I just got an original first-run copy of London Calling and actually playing a time capsule of a record like that is like slowing down time.
EMBEDDED: If you could only keep one streaming service for TV and/or movies, which would it be, and why?
NILAY PATEL: We just did a streaming services draft on The Vergecast, and I had the first pick, which maybe doesn’t count for this, but it was obvious for me: TikTok! Like really, what else do you need? Truck jumps AND I’m going to know everything I need to know about James Marsden in that Jury Duty show? I’m all set.
A more relevant answer here is HBO Max, I think. I really don’t watch a lot of TV, but I do seem to get sucked into whatever Sunday night HBO show everyone is talking about pretty easily, and the movie catalog there is easily the best in the game.
EMBEDDED: What’s your favorite non-social media app?
NILAY PATEL: I have this app on my phone called Magic Hour, which just figures out when the sun will be low in the sky and create the prettiest possible light based on your location. You open it and it just says MAGIC HOUR IS COMING with a countdown clock to that moment at either sunrise or sunset. It’s true! Magic hour is coming! Go outside and take really beautiful photos of the people you love.
EMBEDDED: What’s the most basic internet thing that you love?
NILAY PATEL: This thing just breaks every assumption about the economic nature of creativity, over and over again, because when people are given the chance they will absolutely destroy cultural scarcity. People love to post! And they will do it for free, relentlessly, forever. You look at the internet and right in the center of the storm it’s like, the most basic thing human beings want to do is make things and show them to each other, and often those things are absolutely hilarious. You have to love it.
EMBEDDED: Is there any content you want but can’t seem to find anywhere online?
NILAY PATEL: About half of my personality is a straight rip from Achewood, and the other half is the movie Pump Up the Volume, which is not available on any streaming services. There’s a scene in it where the FCC chases Christian Slater around the Arizona suburbs in little vans while he broadcasts a pirate radio station from a Jeep Wrangler; it is as clear a foundation for the editorial mission of The Verge as I can offer anyone.
EMBEDDED: Do you regularly use eBay, Depop, or other shopping platforms? What’s a recent thing you’ve bought or sold?
NILAY PATEL: I am not a regular eBay person but I will occasionally buy a vintage gadget on there, or a toy Max wants that’s gone out of stock. I buy most of my vinyl on Discogs, which is super fun.
EMBEDDED: Have you recently read an article, book, or social media post about the internet that you’ve found particularly insightful?
NILAY PATEL: I just read Ben Smith’s Traffic, which he described to me as being about “our childhoods” which, sigh, we’re old. I read as many end-of-the-social-web-era takes as anyone can possibly entertain; I thought Willy Staley had the best one about Twitter and Charlie Warzel had the best one about BuzzFeed News.
But … I have to be honest, I’m glad this era is over, and I’m glad the door shut as obviously and cleanly as it has. Chasing traffic sucked. Chasing video algorithms sucked. Chasing search continues to suck and will soon hit supernova levels of AI-powered suck. Fuck all that.
The internet is full of people. Go get ‘em. One person at a time. It’ll work. It has worked; The Verge is still here, still talking about how it’s pretty weird to use computers.
EMBEDDED: What’s the last thing that brought you joy online?
This Liz Lopatto post about skeets on Bluesky is like a purely perfect blog post. It’s 2023 and we still run a blog, which seems like an enormous victory.