What is content, then?

In the discussion about the iPad, much has been made of its nature as a content consumption — versus creation — device. I lament its limitations as a tool of creation. Howard Owens, speaking for many, tells me that most people don’t want to create content.

But what’s content?

We in media have a bad habit of viewing the world in our image. We think the internet is a medium (I say instead it’s a place; this Cisco post says it is a language). We in media also think we get to define what content is: It’s what we make.

But Google, for one, doesn’t define content that way. It sees content everywhere, in everyone’s words and actions and it gains signals, knowledge, and value from that. We in media are blind to that value because we can’t see the content in that.

When we email a link to a friend, that act creates content. When we comment on content, we create content. When we mention a movie in Twitter — that’s just useless chatter, right? — our tweets add up to valuable content: a predictor of movie box office that’s 97.3% accurate. When we take a picture and load it up to Flickr — 4 billion times — that’s content. When we say something about those photos — tagging them or captioning them or saying where they were taken — that’s content. When we do these things on Facebook, which can see our social graph, that creates a meta layer that adds more value to our content. On Foursquare, our actions become content (the fact that this bar is more popular than that bar is information worth having). When we file a health complaint about a restaurant, that’s content. Our movements on highways, tracked through our cellphones, creates content: traffic reports. Our search queries are content (that awareness — that new ability to listen to the public’s questions — led Demand Media to a big business).

Do we all make content? Absolutely.

So when I complain about the iPad hampering our ability to create content, I mean that it makes it harder to share links and thoughts and images when I wish it had made it easier. And the apps media companies are making also make it hard to share our views and link into or out of their closed worlds. When they do that, they are shutting themselves off from the content people create every day and the value it holds.

There is content everywhere. You just have to be able to see it. And respect it.

  • http://www.siliconvalleywatcher.com/ Tom Foremski

    Yes, the iPad is not designed as a content creating platform but it wasn’t billed as such. Why is that a problem when you have your laptop and your desktop and whatever else you use to create content: video cameras, digital tape recorders, etc.

    • http://www.jmcl.org Zhang

      I personally believe Ipad is going to be a great success in market for its visual effects. The massive acceptance is a concrete fact that deserves attention and respect, or even causes jealousy in the industry. that is called influential high weight primary content.

  • http://randulo.posterous.com randulo

    Jeff, what if a new generation of people thrives on and flourishes in the kind of content creation you cite, sending links and commenting using the iPad as easily as you and I use our PC/Mac laptops and desktops?

    Considering the shrinking length and depth of content “bites”, i.e., comments and links that may make up a larger whole, it seems perfectly possible that the iPad and phones can create that kind of content very easily with neither keyboard or multi-tasking.

  • http://www.thingsinlife.co.uk/ John

    The people who wish to create content and find the iPad lacking will turn to their laptop or desktop. The ones who really just want to consume content and can deal with the limits of content creation the iPad gives will be happy with the device.

    The iPad and the paywalls will not brainwash the people who want to create content and share.

  • http://flavors.me/howard Howard Weaver

    Jeff is 100% correct when he says “we all make content.” Nieman Labs just linked to a report that 70% of what <40 people read was written by someone they know.

    But while this is manifestly true, it seems more semantic than meaningful to me.

    The fact is, "content" created by peers and others on social networks is not the same as the "content" created by bloggers, commentators, reporters and others specifically aimed at general audiences. There's an important social/societal role played by that kind of content, and we don't get it by listening only (or even 70 of the time) only to people like us.

  • http://www.thegeekologist.com Jorge Valentin

    How is it exactly harder to share content and thoughts? I’m finding difficult to conceptualize this, since, IMHO, this type of computer would make it easier.

    You see, technical people, we have understood the difference since forever but non-tech people thought that the Internet is this single thing. And that everything on the web is a website. And that is quite incorrect, there are websites and there are web services.

    Facebook, Twitter, FlickR, Gowalla, etc, are all web services. The best thing about web services is that you are not limited to a web browser to access your content within the service. As long as you have internet connectivity, developers can create 10 different apps that do this in different ways. I think this is actually better for everyone.

    What I’m trying to say is that people will be creating the same content, only through a different medium.

    And this is precisely why I really believe that Internet Tablets, NetPads, or whatever name the industry gives it will aid and be better platforms for content creation.

  • http://www.stevenberlinjohnson.com Steven Johnson

    Jeff, can we figure out some kind of Long Bet on content creation and the iPad? I 100% agree that walled media apps are a big step backwards, but that’s only a small part of what the iPad represents.

    Have you tried it with a wireless keyboard yet? Even without a keyboard, it’s already a great platform for Twitter and Facebook, and it’s only four days old. Editing and remixing photos and video are going to be incredible in multitouch; same for building presentation decks. (Keynote is already a gem of an app.) Check out all the music creation apps already optimized for iPad. Music — both recording via consoles or playing an instrument — has always been an intrinsically multitouch experience that the mouse-driven interface restricts dramatically. A mixing board or virtual turntable on an iPad makes much more sense. Sketching out ideas and images; re-arranging index cards on a virtual corkboard — all these things will go much better with multitouch than they ever did with a mouse-driven GUI.

    I am really not being an uncritical fanboy here — I have lots of questions and problems with the lack of a file navigation system, the need for more cloud integration, the lack of copy-and-paste in iBooks, etc. But I have no doubt in my mind that the iPad will be a rich platform for making things. I’m so confident that I’d be wiling to wager some money on it, if we can figure out the right metrics…

    Steven

    • Banjoman0

      I think this comment pretty much represents my thinking on the subject. People are now quite used to non-walled media, and I don’t think they will go back willingly. The iPad may be overhyped, but it definitely points in the direction of the future, the first signpost of many.

    • Tom

      I agree with this post. Thanks Steven! (this content, sorry comment (or is it content, Jef?) is typed on an iPad)

  • Adrian Cockcroft

    I’m using my iPad as my primary system to see how well it works. One content creation problem i have run into is that YouTube defaults to a playback oriented mode, and when i force it into desktop mode it doesn’t render properly and i can’t pick up the embed code to cut and paste into a blog posting on

    I’m also being over-corrected on what i type, which is good in parts, but i have to proof read what i type more carefully than usual…

  • http://www.frogblog.biz Fred H Schlegel

    While it may hamper creation today, it is a huge step in the direction of simplifying the process. When I got my hands on my first pc back in the stone age it was of marginal use in content creation. It allowed me to write. Layout, design, photos, video all followed.

    The folks who push the device past it’s limitations will lead the way to simplified creation the same way web 2.0 did.

  • http://Cardonadesigns.com/wordpress Carlos Cardona

    Jeff,
    I love your work and listen to TWIG every week. FWIW I downloaded What Would Goole Do last night from Audible and plan on listening to it on my iPad.

    :)

  • http://Www.themotherhoodblog.com Lisa Duggan

    Hmmm, when I see the phrase “we all create content” and I read through your infinite descriptions of what content is, I can’t help but think of the popular children’s book “Everbody Poops.”

    Isn’t the answer to “what is content” necessarily defined by how it’s deployed- who is benefitting from it? Are we, as consumers and accidental content providers (via our endless feedback), satisfied to continue supplying to multiple bottom lines & revenue streams, none our own? In fact, to pay to contribute our free content to those streams?

    I liken the web to Jung’s idea of the collective unconscious but he never explained it’s ultimate value either, only proposed it’s existence.

    • Andy Freeman

      > Are we, as consumers and accidental content providers (via our endless feedback), satisfied to continue supplying to multiple bottom lines & revenue streams, none our own?

      We’re “satisfied” when doing so produces benefits to us that exceed the costs to us.

      Lots of biz have tried to make money from user-contributed content. Most failed because the benefits didn’t exceed the costs (or couildn’t be provided for the received revenue, which isn’t the same as the end-user’s costs).

      Users don’t actually care how much money a biz makes, just as they don’t care about a biz’ expenses. They care about their own bottom line – do the benefits that they receive exceed the costs that they incur? If not, they go elsewhere.

      • Lisa Duggan

        Andy,

        I’d wager folk will care how much a biz makes if they start trafficking our personal photos & ephemera ala FB.

        LD

      • Andy Freeman

        I’ll take that bet because we’ve seen this before.

        People are happy to have their information disclosed when they benefit from said disclosure. They get mad when they don’t.

        Their reaction has nothing to do with whether someone else is making money.

        At least that’s how it’s been up to now. Why will the next time be any different?

        Yes, I know that some privacy advocates try to get people excited by talking about profits. My point is that such agitation doesn’t get any traction.

  • Michael Whitehouse

    I agree, Jeff. There’s a hermetic quality to an app that simply isn’t there with a website, particularly when it comes to offerings from the media co’s. Your quote from a prior post about turning us back into an audience is not far off.

    Take the example of ads. When I see ads on NYTimes.com, I know that those ads link out to somewhere on the web; I know that when I click on them, a new tab will pop in my browser and I’ll be directed to a landing page for Old Spice or Sheraton or whatever.

    But apps are designed to be immersive and self-contained, and they certainly aren’t designed to launch new windows, tabs, or apps. That’s why click-through rates on mobile ads served on the iPhone & iPod Touch are declining (http://www.realwire.com/release_detail.asp?ReleaseID=17376). As they get more and more sophisticated, apps become worlds unto themselves, and fewer and fewer people have reason for egress from the app.

    • David R.

      Seems like Apple just addressed that with iAd in iPhone 4.0.

      • Michael Whitehouse

        Indeed, and iAd reinforces the self-contained nature of the app. From Apple’s Developer website:

        “When users click on mobile ads they are almost always taken out of their app to a web browser, which loads the advertiser’s webpage. Users must then navigate back to their app, and it is often difficult or impossible to return to exactly where they left. iAd solves this problem by displaying full-screen video and interactive ad content without ever leaving the app, and letting users return to their app anytime they choose. “

  • Dan Sinker

    But Jeff, with the exception of taking a photo, every single bit of that “content” you describe is possible on the iPad. It’s possible on the web browser (which is stunning) and it’s also entirely possible for app developers to bake all that stuff (and much more) into their apps. Because Big Media companies decide not to doesn’t make the iPad itself anti-content. Just–here’s a shock–Big Media companies.

    • http://www.BottropLive.Blogspot.com Martin Radespiel

      Yes, Dan Sinker,

      Big Player goes to small Players.

      Martin

      • Dan Sinker

        I will be shocked if the handful of big media companies on the iPad today have a single one of their “innovations” copied by small media companies as they build for the platform. What will they copy? WSJ’s overpriced subscription model? Time’s ham-fisted requirement that you download a new app for every issue? The New York Times not letting you copy & paste? None of these are features and, as Jeff rightly points out, they are user-hostile. Any right-thinking small development company isn’t going to emulate any of it and, as has been the case for a decade now, the big media companies will be left in their dust once again.

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  • http://www.tyndallreport.com Andrew Tyndall

    When a person’s contribution has minimal meaning standing alone but is invaluable as an incremental addition to an aggregated database it is a stretch to glorify it with the word content. Let’s call it a datum, the singular of data.

  • http://www.sunvalleyonline.com Dave Chase

    Listening to TWiG last weekend, your comments led me to my little tweet of a couple days ago “#Google – Universal Apps; #Apple – Unicorn Apps. Getting tired of Apple’s control freak platform.” Subsequently I spent some time using an iPad and continued use of my iPhone. The more time I spend within the Apple “world”, the more it reminds me of Disney’s “Celebration” master planned community (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celebration,_Florida) and their theme parks. It’s all pleasant upon first blush but this Apple “world” feels increasingly like Disneyland meets Pleasantville (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pleasantville_%28film%29).

    I trust Google’s direction a lot more than Apple’s. Apple has done nothing to engender my trust. If Google (or Microsoft for that matter) can sprinkle more of the elegance of Apple with their utility, they’ll have me.

    • Dave Martin

      Why would you trust Google more? Because they’re “open,” whatever that even means? How open is Google, really? Just because they have a cool-seeming corporate identity does not make them open. Where do they publish their search algorithms?
      Google doesn’t view our locales and blog posts and music choices as content so much as they view these things as ways to build advertising profiles, and then advertise to them. Being able to use a google map to find a Starbucks feels altruistic, but that Starbucks location on a map, our location on a map, is just an ad, or a method of advertising. It’s just another coin in the coffers. And while I don’t begrudge Google their coffers of coins, I hardly see how it’s good and open and kumbaya-song simply turning over our lives so that Google (and only Google) makes money from this knowledge.

  • Shawn Petriw

    Not everything is content, Jeff, just like not all information is knowledge.

    There is a level of organization where information becomes knowledge; I’d say there is something similar for “stuff” to become content.

    I don’t know what to call it, and I don’t know where it crosses the line, but “stuff” is not necessarily content. (Maybe it’s “datum” as Andrew Tyndall points out above.)

    • Dave Martin

      Content, as Jeff refers to our digital sweat, in the Google view is a potential source of revenue. And Jeff just feels to me like someone who has been brainwashed by Google to spout this ridiculousness about content, when Google is just looking for more data to build an advertising profile that they will either use for their own good or start selling.

      • http://ericaglasier.com Erica

        Thanks Shawn for making the point I wanted to make, and Dave for answering it.

        The meta layer that Facebook ads to our actions is being created for only one thing: to make money. See how Pete Warden’s recent attempt to use seemingly public data from Facebook to create something a little more meta–and how quickly he was nearly sued into oblivion by the Web Giant.

        I’m reading Jaron Lanier’s “You Are Not a Gadget” right now, and the ‘not all information is knowledge’ comment is right on.

        The “content” that really matters is people’s heartfelt creative contributions to the world (the sort that are tough to make without a mouse, right now), not what brands they ‘like’.

      • Andy Freeman

        > The meta layer that Facebook ads to our actions is being created for only one thing: to make money.

        You write “to make money” like it’s a bad thing. Unless you work for free, people who live in a glass house and all that.

        Yes, FB created that service for the same reason anyone creates a service or product. They hope that the revenue that they can get from it exceeds their costs.

        One way to do that is to provide sufficient value to their customers. If they’re wrong, they fail.

        I’ll guess that you do exactly the same thing.

  • http://jeremyjenum.com/ Jeremy Jenum

    The percentage of people that fall into Jeff’s “content creator” definition is really a function of your typical circle of friends. I’m in my late 30’s and know of only a small handful of people who are my age or older that also contribute information back into the internet. Their entire online experience (outside of person-to-person email exchanges) is passive. I believe it’s due to growing up as consumers of media that was always generated by someone else (television, movies, newspapers, books, magazines, etc). They have been conditioned to simply sit idle and watch.

    If you move away from this older group and into circles of people who are either actively engaged in modern technology or are young enough to have grown up with it, the content creation swings the other way.

    I equate it to modern US food culture. The success of suburban, bland, low-quality restaurants (I’m thinking Applebees, TGI Fridays, and the like) aren’t catering to a majority of people who are passionate about food. They cater to a large portion of the population who want a safe, predictable eating experience with little involvement. This same mentality carries over to the internet – where most people (in today’s population) are not actively part of creating content.

    • Andy Freeman

      > The success of suburban, bland, low-quality restaurants (I’m thinking Applebees, TGI Fridays, and the like) aren’t catering to a majority of people who are passionate about food.

      low-quality relative to what? The fact is that the national chains have seriously increased the quality of food available. It used to be possible for lesser places to survive – now they can’t.

      For example, Starbucks is now the minimum. No, it’s not Peet’s, but that’s a big improvement over the previous status quo.

      > They cater to a large portion of the population who want a safe, predictable eating experience with little involvement.

      Translation – they have lives outside of food, or, often, telling other people about what they ate. Oh the horror.

  • http://sputnik.pl/ Michal Tatarynowicz

    In the long term the only attractive quality of the internet is that it allows us to connect with each other. No matter how shiny Apple products are, if they prevent us from connecting to each other, we will not use them.

    Then again, as long as the iPad has a keyboard and a browser, it’s enough for my needs. Apps are mostly for entertainment or to work around issues relating to the device being very limited by hardware. The iPad and the iPhone are, at heart, entertainment devices.

  • Jeff Hubert

    Hmmm. I had no trouble at all commenting on this story using safari on a ipad.

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  • josh

    “So when I complain about the iPad hampering our ability to create content, I mean that it makes it harder to share links and thoughts and images when I wish it had made it easier.”

    Jeff, the device itself doesn’t make it “harder to share links and thoughts and images”, the developers of the applications you’re (rightly) complaining about did. Similar restrictions are available to developers on the wide-open web, but that doesn’t mean the web makes it “harder to share links and thoughts and images”.

    To complain that the device stops you creating is provably false, as many people here demonstrate. In fact, if the device makes it easier for someone to use a computer, then it’s enabling content creation.

    I fear your iPad hysteria is merely an attention-grabbing ploy that you don’t truly believe in. Everything that irks you about the iPad was well-known before it went on sale, yet you still went out and bought one only to wail a few days later that you must, alas, return it for it is anti-freedom.

    It smacks of a Jason Calacanis-style attention whore hissy fit.

    Not that you’re an attention whore, Jeff.

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  • http://gravitationalpull.net/wp/ Aaron Pressman

    Jeff, I think you’re too focused on ease of “linking” and you’re therefore missing the forest for the trees.

    First of all, there will be plenty of social media apps to let us easily create content via Twitter, Facebook, blogging, etc.

    Second, while the iPad is certainly more limited in some ways than a PC, it is open to far, far more content than, say, a television set in your living room or the radio in your car. Once upon a time, a novelist who couldn’t get his or her work into Barnes & Noble couldn’t sell a book, radio was reserved for a few professional folks and forget about television. Today, I read self-published ebooks and ezines, listen to all manner of niche podcasts and watch fantastic amateur stop-motion videos on Youtube.

    The proliferation of slick, OPEN media-consumption platforms not limited to your desk is a great development for supporters of non-traditional, small-scale and niche media of all kinds. A couple of people in their garage can have the same reach as Rupert Murdoch, James Cameron or John Grisham. And, yes, yes, you may need iTunes to put content directly on an iPad, but you can put just about whatever kind of content into iTunes yourself without buying anything from Apple, including self-created and indie stuff.

    Finally, just because a bunch of old media companies have put some locked-down apps in the iPad app store says nothing about whether consumers will embrace their expensive, walled garden approach. If they all fail, as I and others (see for example http://blogs.hbr.org/hbr/hbreditors/2010/04/screw_the_consumer_the_ipad_wi.html ) expect, isn’t that another triumph for the values you favor?

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  • Michael

    Jeff,

    In my humble opinion, it is very early in the game to decide if the iPad is a crippled device or not. Give it 3 to 6 months for app developers to dream up ingenious ways to utilize this platform.

    Only then can you really decide if the iPad is crippled as you say.

  • Roberto Salermo

    Hi Jeff,

    When will you release yourself from the old media chain and make your book available in an open format so we can download, copy, and share?

  • http://shore.com John Blossom

    Thanks for this, Jeff, I created the definition for content on Wikipedia back in 2004 and refined it in my book Content Nation: “content is information and experiences in contexts that may provide value to audiences.” Search engines crawling the Web in a source-neutral fashion enabled people to understand that good content is where you find it – that is, if something creates a context where you understand the value of information and experiences, that something created content, regardless of its source. The counter-Web – or, dare we say, anti-Web – movement being speared by the iPad seems to defy the major trends in the content industry, both in consumer markets and in enterprise markets.

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  • http://www.woip.blogspot.com Patrizia

    Personal content was what made the Internet a success.
    We could read a newspaper, a book, see a movie, or watch TV, also before the Internet.
    What makes the net special is the possibility to actually “exchange” our thoughts, ideas, pictures, movies.
    It is a “democratic” way to make new content, because it is cheap, so cheap that almost everyone can be a consumer and a producer.
    The people who do not see it are people who do not see the future (or do not want to).
    And I am not talking about quality.
    I am talking about a new kind of entertainment, so entertaining that the young generation forgot TV.
    Ask a young guy what he likes to do and he will answer he likes the NET, he spends most of his time on the Net.
    So much that we have the new kind of “addiction”.
    In a very near future we will have good journalist, good movie producers and may be they will be someone who began on the Internet, with the first movie on Youtube.
    Who cares if 99% is crap?
    The 1% will be anyway a number like a thousand, or many thousands.
    Be prepare people of today, the future will be all another thing.

    • Eric Gauvin

      Sounds like you’re saying there’s a quality threshold and that somewhere within a vast pile of crap there is something “good.”

      I think Jarvis is saying ALL crap is content equally. In a certain sense it is in that everything on the internet is interconnected.

      I think that’s true. We all make content. But I think there are different kinds of content, and some by professional writers can be copyrighted. That’s fine. It tends to be the “good” stuff that consumers may prefer.

      I don’t think the crux of iPad content is creation vs. consumption. Content creation and consumption are inextricable. I think it’s amateur vs. professional.

      • EnviroChuck

        Or maybe: profit vs. not for profit.

      • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

        Show me where the hell I am saying that.

        I am saying there is content to be found in many places, not just where we and media place it.

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  • Mikiane (Michel Levy Provencal)

    The iPad as tool for audience and not for contributors?
    Don’t you think it’s a matter of time?
    Application for link sharing, camera(s), video, text, image, multimedia editing tools, blogging apps,…every thing will go to the ipadS. Sony’s, HP, Archos, even Google will help to push in that way.

    Written from an IPad

  • Waz (no, not that Waz)

    I’ve just had a vision of the future, bear with me while I elaborate.

    Imagine using an iPad (or iPhone or iPod touch).

    You launch the NYT (or the WSJ, or the Times or the whatever) application for your daily dose of news. By this time all that news is coming to you from behind a pay-walled garden (in this future the Guardian has finally bled its trust dry and gone bust via its broken business model).

    You find an article you like and the app allows you – as a subscriber – to share it, via Facebook.

    An ad pops up, it’s served from iAds.

    You launch Safari and tap the search bar, it takes you to Bing.

    In essence, it’s possible that your entire online experience – on one of the iThingys – could be a completely Google-free zone, and all the data you’re consuming would be invisible to Google.

    I think I see why Jeff has the fear.

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  • tz

    They are in the middle of a rainforest and can’t see a garden. Well, a jungle isn’t a garden because it isn’t walled and the plants aren’t carefully maintained, and come from a greenhouse, and would die out if not maintained and controlled.

    The large but walled and controlled botanical garden v.s. the world wide ecosystems. Apple v.s. Google.

  • gutterboy

    Words, pictures, videos, etc. have limited appeal as content anymore. They are becoming a gateway to the real content, which is relationship. The more valuable content of this blog post is not the words of the post itself, but the conversation which has followed. So in this light, how can the iPad be a media consumption device? One of the hopes I heard a lot, that really cuts to the point, was the ability to write notes in a book and share them with friends. What is that except a relationship-deepening experience? Would the book be as rich an experience without those notes? Why were people so excited about the prospect in the first place? We’ve been continually moving in this direction for at least ten years, and content will continue to be more and more relationship-driven for quite some time now. The devices that thrive in this climate will be the ones that facilitate these deeper relationships.

    • gutterboy

      Another case in point: I never watch live tv. I tivo or bittorrent everything. But I make a point to do everything I can to watch This Week in Google live. Why? Chat room. Same with The 404 and BOL over at CNET.

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  • http://gitweekly.com Davey Whale

    I agree that content is being made with nearly all of our actions online – but – when does content become noise?

    By having a “content consumption centric” device like the iPad I find it refreshing, in a way, that when I sit down with it I’m in consumption mode.

    Hey – it’s a zen thing.

  • jujumcfizzzzz

    The iPad is a total piece of jackoff fucktard shit. You people jack off to some little device like it’s going to save the world. Guess what, shit-for-brains: YOU are what’s killing the world. NATURE is what is NATURAL, you fucking dumbasses! If you were so fucking smart about what would make life so much fucking better we’d all live in a blissful utopia right now. But no, the world is full of materialistic antisocial pieces of shit like all of you. Apple, Mac, WinWhatever, Linux Lick-This and all of it is nothing but a bunch of toxic-material-loaded machines sucking up electricity (mostly made from burning coal in power plants) in buildings that should have never been built (by clear-cutting a pristine forest or filling in a productive wetland).
    We don’t need another i-This or i-That. We need a leader who isn’t yet another lying piece of shit like every other one who’s come along in the last few centuries (OBAMA.BUSH.CLINTON.BUSH…). We need no iPad, we need an iWe. Fuck the stupid phones and computers.
    Let’s just let LIFE go back to HAPPENING. Instead of Making It Do What Makes Me Feel Better About Myself.

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