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Outside Unveils An AI Chatbot And All It Cost Was Their Soul


If you're an outdoor enthusiast of a certain age, it is likely that Outside has played an important role in your life of outdoor adventure.


There was a time when they were the outdoor community's authority, our leader. Outside Magazine provided destinations, products, and knowledge for an outdoorsy lifestyle better than anyone.


But that was a long time ago. Over the past few years, Outside has struggled to maintain their relevance in our space so their recent announcement (via an episode of their podcast) of the development of Scout, an AI Chatbot, to help enthusiasts plan their adventures feels like the ultimate grasping of straws.


Today on THE ROCK FIGHT Colin runs through what Outside is promising with Scout, why they've missed the mark, and ponders if the old Outside can ever comeback.


Have a question or comment for a future mailbag episode? Send it to myrockfight@gmail.com or send a message on Instagram or Threads.

FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

this transcript was automatically produced and may contain typos and errors from the original audio

Colin (00:00):

Welcome to the Rock Fight where we speak our truth, slay sacred cows, and sometimes agree to disagree. I'm Colin True, and today I'm picking a fight with Outside Ink who recently released an episode of the Outside podcast to promote their new AI chatbot. I'm going to get into my view on outside's recent struggles and how using their podcast to promote this initiative is kind of gross. It makes me wonder, does outside still have a soul? Before we get into it, just a quick reminder about gear Gear trade.com, who since 1999 has been your go-to home for a new outdoor gear and apparel. I know you got that jacket packer tent that's been left out of your past few adventures. Put it all in a box. Let Gear Trade, sell it for you, Eck. They'll even send you a box and a free shipping label. Head to gear trade.com, click on the sell your gear tab to learn more. All right, let's get going. Welcome

Chris DeMakes (00:54):

You in Rat Rat.

Colin (00:59):

So this is episode number 88 of the Rock Fight. And at certain points during our run, I've taken some shots at outside, but for the most part I've been more understanding of the position outside has found themselves in as a legacy media company trying to figure out the path forward in 2023. There was a time when I looked at outside as kind of the authority. The leader of our community each month outside would provide through their magazine a discovery of cool outdoor locations and products. And several times a year we get some amazing pieces of journalism that would give heft to the outdoor community. But anyone who's being honest has to be able to admit that what outside is today is a shell of what it used to be, which is ironic given how much bigger it is as an entity. Over the past few years outside has done their best to become an outdoor media empire gobbling up by iconic titles like Climbing and Trail Runner websites and apps like Pink Bike and Gaia, and even trying to become the hub for industry news by acquiring Snooze.

(01:58) And then they turn their attention to tech with outside.io where they tried to own the N F T market for the Outdoors, which was inspired according to that website by their core belief that outside's audience want us to leverage technology to inspire and enable more outdoor participation. Yeah, maybe do a better job of reading the room on that one outside. But look, I don't have all the details and I typically applaud anyone willing to take big swings, but acquiring all of those titles has seemingly weakened many of them, and outside.io hasn't been updated in a long, long time. So many of those big swings seem to have been big whiffs. Now, the one constant in all of this has been their podcast where the content is consistently good. And so while I sadly don't engage with outside when it comes to their magazine titles anymore, their podcast is something I like quite a bit, which brings me to the point of today's rock fight.

(02:57) Recently on an entire episode, their podcast outside featured their plans to again attempt a blend of tech in the outdoors. And much like what happened with outside.io, it doesn't look promising. The tech that outside is getting into is an AI chatbot that will be powered according to them by chat. G p t outside is calling their AI scout and they say that it's a chatbot like chat g p t, but that it pulls its answers to your questions specifically from outside's network of titles. And as I was listening to this episode of the outside podcast, I got really pissed off because this new initiative flies straight in the face of everything that used to be wonderful about outside. Let me start with the premise that outside is making here. Okay. The big reason that they're creating scouts is that they believe people are so exhausted from their busy lives that they're opting to not make Adventurey plans at all.

(03:53) Here's a direct quote from the episode I'm talking about. So there are two narrators for this episode, and the first one says long trips are really hard to fit into a busy schedule and even harder to plan. Over the past few years, I've really embraced the micro adventure, easy overnights and day trips at fill my cup and still get me home at a reasonable hour. But even quick, local adventures can be exhausting to plan. And then the second narrator chime in and says, I know what you mean. At the start of the summer, we shifted to a four day work week at Outside with the hope that the extra day off will give us all more opportunities to get outside, but at the end of a long work week, the last thing I want to do is spend a few hours planning. So when I was listening to this, my blood began to boil.

(04:40) I was actually on a bike ride and anyone I may have passed at the time probably thinks that I am insane because I guarantee you I was swearing loudly at the notion that the outdoor community struggles with planning our adventures. Let me give you an example. Recently I spoke with Will Grant, who's been a contributor to outside in the past about his new book, the Last Ride of The Pony Express. Go check out that episode. Will is a great guy, you should definitely read his book and listen to him here on the Rock fight. But in that conversation will talks about the next adventure that he's planning, which is still over a year away, and we talk about how the planning part of any adventure is the best part of any adventure. So here's a clip from that episode so you can see what I'm talking about. So are you in the fun part right now of imagining what this is going to look like and exactly, this is the best part of any adventure, right? When anything seems possible

Will Grant (05:34):

And you hit the nail on the head, the best part of any adventure is dreaming about it at home because nothing's gone wrong. It's all like it is lofty idea in your head and it's great. I read about it all the time. I look at maps all the time

Colin (05:52):

In the outdoor community. We all sit around and plan our trips all of the time. We're all busy. But don't you in the middle of a jam packed day, pop open that Mountain Project app, check out where you want to head this afternoon or this weekend or in three months. I mean, I know I'm not alone in this. I know that this is what our community does. I mean shit, I look at maps and trip reports of the trails I go out on all of the time because I'm a nerd for what's happening in my own backyard and then I start looking at places I've never been to before because maybe I will soon and I want to see what's going on there. So that's my first point to open with your premise being that people who like to play outside are too whooped to figure out how to plan their playtime makes me question if you are in touch with your audience.

(06:40) Next in the episode, they start talking about the product itself. Now Scout is not available to the world at large yet, but I feel very comfortable telling you that Scout is bullshit. It can't not be. So during the episode, the narrator describes her experience using Scout where she asks Scout to plan a hike for her feeding it prompts to recommend a hike in North Cascades National Park between seven and 12 miles, and then adding follow-ups to try and find trail conditions on the trail. That's Scout recommended. As it turns out, scout is limited and how much real-time information you can find, and that's because it's built on the back of chat G P T I went on chat G P T and using the same prompts. I had the exact same experience, got the same responses. And look, I fully admit to not being a tech guy, but in my rudimentary understanding of how chatbots and chat G p t work, it's that they're basically search engines with an interface that is able to handle more conversational prompts.

(07:37) So that means the chat G P T has already scrubbed everything on the internet, including outside's content and contains all of the same information that Scout could contain. So I don't really understand what they're trying to accomplish here. And all they tell us during the episode is that outside plus subscribers should keep an eye out for Scout on their platforms later this year. Now outside plus costs money, which then begs the question, why would I pay for something built on top of chat G P T when I can access plain old chat g p t for free? Which brings me to my last point and the thing that grossed me out the most outside, put this on their podcast, a bullshit narrative advertisement crafted to appear like real content. If you want to use your pod as a way to promote outside products, I get it.

(08:22) But a 20 minute ad about your fake AI chatbot on the one thing you've done reasonably well over the past few years, if you're going to do that, at least put a disclaimer at the beginning that it's sponsored content. Don't pass it off as something you think your listeners want because we don't. So let me recap all of this succinctly for you. The most legendary outdoor media entity of all time is positing that outdoor enthusiasts are just too darn tired to think about making plans to go play outside. So they're going to follow up their first failed foray into tech via aforementioned N F T initiative with an AI chatbot. That's a total ripoff of chat G P T and will likely cost you money to use and also cost you 20 minutes of your time listening to Spawn Con passed off as an actual podcast episode.

(09:11) All to help you save your precious time and conceivably go out on more adventures. Folks, I'm not hating for the sake of hate, but this isn't even a half-baked idea. It's like a quarter baked idea at this point. I'm just flummoxed. I mean, where's the parental oversight over there? And I haven't even touched on the possible implications of a media company teaming up with ai. There's a larger conversation to be had here about the role of ai, how it impacts writers and creativity. It may have been shortsighted to announce your branded AI chatbot while the W G A writer strike is still going on. But I want to save that conversation for the next time. Justin Hausman, our resident journalist, is on the show. So to wrap it up, if I could, I'd like to address outside specifically, just take a breather, man, take a step back because you're out of touch with the community that built you outdoorsy.

(10:04) People like to plan their adventures. It may seem like a small insignificant thing that I'm harping on, but I feel like what you're describing as a reason for Scout to even exist is one of the things our community enjoys the most and misses like this kind of help to demonstrate why you are no longer as relevant as you once were. And also, please do the right thing. Tag that episode as sponsored content because it's not an episode of your podcast. Look, I'm not going to make any predictions here. I have a forum and I'm choosing to use it to express my thoughts. You could tell me that an early grave is what is in store for Scout, that it never even comes to market, or maybe when it launches I was completely wrong. And there are some features the final product will have that makes it different from other chatbots or internet resources.

(10:50) My quibble isn't really with the product, it's with outside. And that's because I remember what outside used to be and used to mean to our community. And maybe it's because of my memories, but I want that d n a to still exist even through the missteps. I want to believe there's a chance for outside to return to form, but man, I just don't know if there's any soul left in Santa Fe. I hope I'm wrong, but it's been a long time and I just don't think that I am. That's all I have for you today. Please let me know what you think by sending your feedback to my rock fight@gmail.com. And hey, I recognize I've thrown the First Rock here. So if anyone from Outside Inc or the outside podcast or the team making Scout, any of you want to come on the show to talk about this particular episode of the Outside podcast, you are welcome to join in. You can also reach out to my rock fight@gmail.com to get in touch with me. I'm Colin True. Thanks for listening, the Rock Fights of production of Rock Fight llc. And now the moment I know you've been waiting for. Let's Let Krista makes, take us out with the rock fight fight song. Here

Chris DeMakes (11:54):

We go. Rock fight, rock fight, rock fight, rock fight, rock fight, fight. Here we go into the rock fight where we speak our truth, stay sacred cows and sometimes agree to disagree. We talk about human power and outdoor activities and pick bites about topics that we find interesting. Black by culture. Music, the latest movie reviews, ideas that aim for the, this is where we speak our truth. This is where we speak to. Welcome to the.

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