The democratization of content


Benedict Evans has two thoughtful articles out about content creation versus consumption (and how mobile versus PC relates to the two) and the end of “Content is King.” If you follow Evans on Twitter (and you must if you are at all interested in macro-tech trends, Amazon, Google, Facebook, Apple, etc.), you’ll find both of these articles put lots of words behind ideas he’s been brooding on for some time.

Mobile for creation.

I took two major takeaways from Evans’ articles. The first is that the argument that PCs are for creation whereas Mobile devices for consumption is incorrect. Relevant quote (emphasis mine):

So, 100m or so people are doing things on PCs now that can’t be done on tablets or smartphones. Some portion of those tasks will change and become possible on mobile, and some portion of them will remain restricted to PCs for a long time. But there are another 3bn people who were using PCs (but mostly sharing them) but who weren’t doing any of those things with them, and are now doing on mobile almost all of the stuff that they actually did do on PCs, plus a lot more. And, there’s another 2bn or so people whose first computer of any kind is or will be a smartphone. ‘Creation on PC, consumption on mobile’ seems like a singularly bad way to describe this: vastly more is being created on mobile now by vastly more people than was ever created on PCs.

The logic of the above is irrefutable. I think Evans is correct.

Why does it matter? Because Mobile is about both creation and consumption. And on the creation side, Mobile has made it incredibly cheap to create content. A quick spin through Instagram or Snapchat and you’ll be inundated with a massive pile of content that was created on Mobile phones. Most of the use of Twitter or Facebook is on Mobile and while much of that is consumption, a large portion of it is also creation. Sharing ideas is content. And it all happens on Mobile.

Unfettered access to content.

The second article by Evans — Content isn’t King — explains how content, which Evans explicitly refers to as music, books, and TV, has ceased being important for the tech industry. Evans writes, “Content and access to content was a strategic lever for technology. I’m not sure how much this is true anymore.” A few thousand words of thoughtful explanation later, he concludes:

The tech industry has been trying to get onto the TV and into the living room since before the consumer internet – the ‘information superhighway’ of the early 1990s was really about interactive TV, not the web. Yet after a couple of decades of trying, the tech industry now dominates the living room, and is transforming what ‘video’ means, but with the phone, not the TV. The reason Apple TV, Chromecast, FireTV and everything else feel so anti-climactic is that getting onto the TV was a red herring – the device is the phone and the network is the internet.

Put differently, the Internet provides ubiquitous access to content and doesn’t play well with owned models of distribution (e.g. traditional channels like TV networks, cable, music labels, book publishers, etc.).

What does this mean? Expanding on Evans’ analysis.

Both of the macro trends Evans discusses are intimately related. It’s the interplay between these two trends where things get interesting.

Too much content.

Mobile has resulted in massive piles of content being created. Photos, video, tweets, sharing (sharing is derivative creation) — it’s all content created on Mobile devices. The supply of this “amatuer” form of content is growing every second.

On the other side of the content spectrum is “professional” content. Professional content is almost always the kind of stuff that you can’t create easily on Mobile. Like amateur content, the supply of professional content is growing, as well, but at a somewhat slower rate — likely because it’s growing from a much smaller base of creators. Regardless, professionally created music is cheap and plentiful. As far as long-form content, there’s far too much to read, whether books, news, or blog posts. Any number of streaming services exist to supply you with endless video—from YouTube to Netflix, HBO to Hulu. Or use Kodi. Professional content may not be cheap to produce (like amateur content), but it’s now (relative to the past) cheap to consume — just like amateur content.

I lack a fancy stat, but it seems self-apparent that we live in a time — right now — when there has never been more content to consume. There’s too much content, and really, of the content to which we have access, much of it (so more than we can possibly consume) is very, very good.

The supply of content has affected how much we are willing to pay for it. We can only watch so many shows, swipe so many photos, read so many books, and listen to so much whatever.

Content isn’t king because it’s been democratized by the Internet. “The device is the phone and the network is the Internet.”

Is there a place for PC-created content?

While creation of content on Mobile is growing and the quality is improving, PC-based content creation still matters. Why?

Evans writes at length about how little creation happens only on PCs. And he’s right. However, what I think is missing from his discussion is consideration for the kind of content created on PCs. PCs (still) allow for a certain quality of creation that Mobile devices can’t (yet) match. What more, the use of PCs selects for content creators who are more likely to be experts and are more likely to create higher caliber content.

How many books have been written on a Mobile device? What percentage of the most-watched vloggers are exclusively using their Mobile devices to edit their videos? What device did Evans use to write his articles?

So while the democratization of content creation matters, it does not mean all content that is created is of equal quality. The highest-caliber creators will still gravitate toward tools that allow them to do more nuanced things or more complicated tasks — the demands of their craft require more capable tools. That matters — at least for now.

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