June 6, 2013

Content vs. Technology — Which Comes First?

To say that technology has changed the way we consume media would be a massive understatement; technology has revolutionized the very way we think of content. iTunes changed the music industry for good, physical books are steadily losing ground to e-books, and Netflix has condemned the video store to complete obsolescence.

Technology and media consumption inarguably go hand in hand, but what comes first? Does technology spur the content, or does our desire to create innovative and personal content drive us to conceptualize appropriate technologies that can best relay it to a wide audience?

In a recent blog post, Geoffrey Moore describes the disciplines of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) as enablers of the digital universe, while the liberal arts are what activate it. STEM provides the infrastructure, while the arts provide the content. Both are crucial in creating the digital fabric that makes up such a big part of our lives, but again, does technology drive the content, or does the content inspire the technology?

In our experience, content drives technology, and that’s always been the case. Human ingenuity and curiosity stem from problem solving, which means that we’re usually creating technology to address a certain need, especially communication. Why build a piece of software or hardware if it’s not meant to play a certain role in changing or facilitating the way we do things? When Louis Le Prince patented his motion picture film camera back in 1888, it was because he had a desire to engage and communicate with audiences in a revolutionary way. He didn’t build a device to later figure out it could be used to make films; he had a clear vision.

While referencing literary stories, Geoffrey Moore makes a great point by saying that “we give them permission to take over our minds, much the way that software takes over a computer, to construct imagined experiences out of our personal data and feelings. It is hard to imagine a more intimate engagement. You would be very cautious about letting a person get this close, but you are willing to allow a song or a film or a story to do so.” Moore’s statements imply how much more receptive people are to art, like stories, music or films, and that a successful marriage between content and technology has the potential to move us in a way that verbal communication can’t compete with.

It’s also not just about tailoring technology for artistic content, but for any project or service that stirs passions and is born out of appreciation for a certain industry. Quirky and Spotify are examples of companies founded by individuals who are genuinely passionate about their respective industries, as Mary Meeker from Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers pointed out in her always anticipated Internet Trends presentation.

It also helps that information-based platforms have been growing exponentially in recent years. Yelp, for example, has experienced a 43% year-over-year increase in monthly unique visitors, while Waze, a map and directions service, more than tripled its user base from 10 million at the start of 2011 to 34 million at the end of 2012. The success of companies like Yelp and Waze is a testament to technology properly serving content, providing the necessary infrastructure for the content to shine and find as wide an audience as possible.

The market’s overall hunger for content and services offered via technology is steadily increasing. For the content to be relevant, poignant, and effective, it’s imperative that the technology be designed to best serve the content, and not the other way around.