Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Medium is the Medium

Generally speaking, when a media executive tells you they are going to "repurpose" content from one medium to the next, be skeptical. Very skeptical.

This issue is on my mind as we refine our mobile strategy. On one hand, mobile is not an entirely new medium, as it leverages underlying internet infrastructure and content. On the other hand, mobile is very different in terms of operating protocols, form factors, and occasion-based usage. (For a compelling read on why mobile is an entirely new medium see this blog post.)

History is on the side of thinking of mobile as radically different. And hence the treachery of that word: "repurpose".

For instance:

Newspapers who thought Classified ads would be successfully repurposed to the internet were wrong. The new medium spawned new and better formats.

TV Broadcasters who thought their programs would dominate on-line were also wrong. (See YouTube.)

Alas, even Gutenberg was mostly wrong (in this context). While repurposed books were popular (such as the bible), the much bigger business was newspaper publishing, which leveraged his invention more than 150 years later into the first mass medium.

So "repurposing" is tricky business.

But history shows that media companies themselves tend to successfully operate in more than one medium. In fact, medium ambidexterity is common (News Corp, Disney, Viacom, Bertelsman, etc). While content isn't easily repurposed, core competencies can be.

And that's how we are thinking of mobile. Entirely new, but entirely aligned with what we do.


  1. Hey Bob, I was just looking at the course for iPhone SDK basic training:

    I realize there's way more mobile out there than iPhone, but this looks like a good overview of "mobile-think", including evolving UI guidelines.

  2. great references. the history of repurpose seems consistent enough to beware of its potential pit falls. thanks.