One of the biggest mistakes we as a society in general, and industry in specific make is that we mistake medium for the message. Those who can keep their eye on the message — Amazon and Netflix for example – profit handsomely. On the flip-side you have Flickr.


Earlier this week, I got a chance to go on Leo Laporte’s Twit.tv. We debated the much-discussed New York Times story, which essentially said blogging is dead. It has been more than 10 years since I started to blog, and still, the act of blogging is consistently misunderstood.

It (blogging) isn’t a tool. It isn’t a product. It isn’t a news outlet. Blogging is just that: blogging, a simple act of sharing a part of yourself. You can do that through emotional outbursts, news, links, opinion, photos or videos. You can do it through Twitter, Facebook or a traditional blogging service.

As I argued about this on Laporte’s show, I pointed out that the reason we often have misguided theories (such as blogging being on life support) is that we confuse the medium with the message. In doing so, we often forget that the message is what’s important – not the medium that the message is delivered through. The message — the act of sharing — is the real product, metaphorically speaking.

Let’s look at the example of the news coming out of the Middle East. Just because most of the news alerts are coming from average citizens (as I’ve said before)  and are coming over Twitter or Facebook doesn’t degrade its value as news. The new medium (Twitter, Facebook) has replaced the old medium (newspapers, television.)

For traditional media outlets, this is particularly hard, mostly because they have a business model built to support distribution via the old medium. It’s a big challenge, as illustrated by Frederic Filloux and Mathew Ingram in their respective posts on newspapers’ ability to make money their web sites. But just because traditional media outlets have issues with their legacy-heavy business models, doesn’t mean the demand for the “message” has gone down.

The importance of the message over the medium extends beyond just news. Look at the Kindle. On the surface, it may seem Amazon is selling Kindles. Actually, Amazon is selling books —  e-books, which incidentally make Amazon a lot of money. Again, the medium (the Kindle device) isn’t as important as the message (written word.)

Kevin Kelly, a well-known technology thinker, recently noted that the Kindle would be free by end of 2011. I would argue that it’s already free. Just download it on your iPad or Motorola Xoom, and within minutes, you’re busy reading. Netflix, too, has separated itself from the medium by streaming videos to a variety of devices as opposed to delivering DVDs (the medium) and profited from it.

When companies can’t really tell the difference between the medium and the message, they get in trouble. Let’s look at the much-hyped photo-sharing service Instagr.am and Flickr, the granddaddy of photo sharing services.

At their core, both these services are about social broadcasting and social validation, not storing photos. But today, Flickr gives an impression of being a staid photo-sharing product. Why? Because mobile has become key component of this sociability.

Instagr.am embraced the medium but focused on what was its core task: social broadcasting and social validation. At Yahoo, the mobile group made a Flickr mobile app, but they focused on the medium instead. The Flickr mobile app allows you to upload photos, but it barely acknowledges the community and sharing aspects of what makes Flickr tick. It has no way for you to engage with my pictures or even provide social validation by liking them. Furthermore, its user-experience is anti-social. Flickr’s own team would have focused almost entirely on what makes Flickr great. (Kellan Elliot-McCrea has outlined this in a Quora post.)

In all of these cases, the medium — a blog, Twitter, the Kindle, even the Internet itself — isn’t the important thing. It’s just a way of connecting people with things that matter to them, and with other people who matter to them. That is the real power, regardless of the medium.

What to read on the web:

Image courtesy Flickr user gbaku

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  1. I enjoyed your appearance on TWiT!

    I agree that the message is important. I also think it is important you choose the right medium for your message. It’s not blogging or Twitter, Facebook or Picplz. It’s knowing what to use when depending on what the message is and/or who you want to communicate it to.

    1. Indeed. I agree with you on that and knowing what to say, when is equally important.

      1. Since the medium has influence on the message. Written content is different from spoken, twitter is different from email ….

        To parse it a little different:
        We know when we don’t know pretty early on(3.5 -4 years according to new research), Prof. Smith @AAAS. When do we know what we know and when to use it and how influenced it by the medium we choose to distribute it? How will it change “conversation”?
        In other words medium might have a large impact on message.

        1. Of course medium has an impact on distribution of the message. but that doesn’t quite change the core proposition aka the message.

          Blogging in 140 characters is very different than say writing a traditional blog post or sharing a photo. But it doesn’t distract from the fact that it is “blogging” regardless of the medium and how it gets distributed.

      2. Text:

        Just saw a man shot

        other medium:

        Graphical picture of man shot

        Same message?

        Avatar reads news, monotone artificial voice, no facial emotions

        Human reads same news, pronunciation, body language

        Same message?

        It’s not only how the message is delivered it’s also how the message is received. Or blogging not equal micro blogging not equal social media conversation. News Article not equal blogging, that’s just the mistake old media makes. You might think you send the same message but what is received/processed might vary wildly.

        But what do I know.

  2. Santhosh Cheeniyil Tuesday, March 1, 2011

    The NY Times article talked about the “young” demographic drifting from blogging to sites such as Twitter and Facebook. The whole article was based on Pew Research Center’s study that showed that blogging among children ages 12 to 17 fell by 50%. (In 18-33 yr old group, blogging dropped just 2%). Seriously? Based on just this data, it is a fallacy to argue that blogging is dead! It is not about the message or the medium; the whole premise is wrong.

  3. Hi,
    Great article & very much agree. I do lot’s of training and when explaining (in this case) Twitter I try to get folks to understand that the medium and the message are different. If someone want’s to spend all day tweeting banalities then fine; but’s that is a message problem – NOT a medium one.


    1. Thanks Joel.

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  5. candace Locklear Wednesday, March 2, 2011

    Om, fantabulous post and well timed, too. What with tablets and other platforms coming out, this is really about helping the messages flow in the most current directions, right? Excellent example with Flickr as well. Thx!

  6. Arnold Waldstein Wednesday, March 2, 2011

    Your Flickr/Instagram example of focusing on value over format is perfect. I’ll share this with my clients.

    One nit though about formats. Sharing on Facebook and the level of sharing that occurs on let’s say, Fred Wilson’s blog, are strikingly different. For AVC.com, the comments are truly part of the content and where the true value lies. The medium, in this case Disqus, informs the content by making it uniquely possible while other mediums may not.

    On the light side, can’t think about your play on the “Medium is the message” without seeing this classic scene from Woody Allen:

  7. Great post Om. It’s true, we blog because we want to – it’s the act of sharing that matters – not the medium.

  8. Well said

  9. Excellent post!

  10. So, did something similar happen in the case of Border’s as well?

    1. Borders had one simple problem — real estate and they were chasing barnes and noble. simple. at least i think that was the problem.


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