Software Is Media

I've made this point in several talks I've given recently so for those of you who attended or watched the talks on video aren't new to this meme. But I thought I'd share it with the AVC community.

As software has moved from running on local machines to running in the browser a number of important things have happened. One of the most important changes is software has become media.

Here's a definition of media I pulled from TechTerms

"media" refers to various means of communication. For example,
television, radio, and the newspaper are different types of media. The
term can also be used as a collective noun for the press or news
reporting agencies.

Media are the tools that are used to communicate. And software that runs on the web is part of the media landscape. That has certainly been true for things like online publications and online video and they are accepted as part of the media landscape. But I think all software should be characterized and thought of as media.

Like other forms of media, software produces an emotional reaction when we use it. Software needs to have a "voice." It needs to be more than a simple utility. We need to feel something when we use software. The best software does this incredibly well.

Like media, the interfaces that present software to us need to be stylized, designed, and elegant. Software can be beautiful and the best software is beautiful.

And like media, the most important measurement for software today is the number of engaged users. The more engaged users a piece of software has, the more impactful it can be.

Many will read this and say "well that might be true for consumer software but not for enterprise software." I don't think so. This week we started using a web-based applicant tracking system for our hiring process. We have close to 400 applicants for the two jobs we posted and we need something to track all the applicants and help us run the process. We looked at a number of options and selected one of them. This is enterprise software, but I want the same experience with this software that I want with the best consumer software I use. I want it to be attractive, elegant, I want it to have a voice, I want it to be more than a simple utility.

Once we've begun to treat some of the software in our lives as media, we are going to treat all the software in our lives as media. And the software that is ugly, void of emotion and voice will not work as well for us. So I believe all software is media and will be seen as such by its users.

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#VC & Technology#Web/Tech

Comments (Archived):

  1. Mohamed Attahri

    Wikipedia defines media as the “tools used to store and deliver information or data”. Software is definitely a media.

  2. Farhan Lalji

    For enterprise software – 37Signals and seem to be doing a good job of this, we’re trying to do this with the company I’m launching soon as well. Fred, do you have any other examples of enterprise companies who’ve realised this too?

    1. fredwilson

      i will work on a list

      1. shafqat

        I’m not sure if you’ve used MailChimp (for email management) but they are are enterprise (Fortune 5M) company and have an amazing design, voice, personality etc. Some of it is a bit goofy, but it just works so damn well.In fact, they have a chimp on the top right of the screen that yells out different messages in a text bubble every time your refresh the page. I can’t tell you how minutes I’ve wasted refreshing the page and laughing. My favorite? When the Chimp says “You know why I’m smiling Shafqat? It’s cuz I’m not wearing any pants.”The fact that I’m publicly embarrassing myself to tell people what an incredibly fun experience email management can be says a lot about this company.

        1. fredwilson

          that’s a great example

        2. Mike O'Horo

          MailChimp has attitude, but its functional interface is a nightmare. Try repairing email addresses and incomplete names, etc. It’s beyond cumbersome, to the point where you have to export the list to Excel, do your editing, and re-import it. Otherwise, you’re up on the roof with the sniper rifle, making news.

      1. Farhan Lalji

        GetSatisfaction is a great example. Fred, have a feeling your community might be able to help with a list as well 🙂

        1. David Noël

          Not enterprise but needs to be on the list: Tumblr – team + actual product = the voice of Tumblr

          1. fredwilson

            tumblr is one of the inspirations for this post. our portfolio is the inspiration for this post actually.

          2. LIAD

            tumblr kicks ass big time in this regard, mailchimp is pretty strong too. “dressing” your software can be a key differentiator when it comes to the more commoditised type software.I’m sure tweetie won Ev’s affections for its UI, style and attention to detail – functionality wise it was comparable to 1-2 dozen other apps.

          3. David Noël

            And now Alex Rainert joins team Foursquare to add some special sauce 🙂 Nice one.

          4. fredwilson

            Yup. I was very pleased to see john and paul get back together and make music again

          5. Farhan Lalji

            That’s an important point about team. Having people who actually consume and create media behind the product probably helps make software that is media. With 37Signals the fact that the founders blog a lot probably has helped with their understanding of software as media.

          6. markslater

            Getsatisfaction for sure – we just integrated it in to getsms. Piece of P*ss on the way in and delightful to use.i have to hat tip I helped to found a soccer footwear company about 3 years ago – and one of our first challenges was to address both geography (we design in vietnam, manufacture in Indonesia, sell in the UK, and the USA) and we decided to use box for all our marketing and design needs for file storage and collaboration. Its absolutely brilliant.We even used it as the data room for a raise we just completed.

          7. kidmercury

            i second the vote for, totally awesome, idiot-proof

          8. David Noël


        2. fredwilson

          yes indeed, i’m looking forward to having my list done by evening today 🙂

  3. David Noël

    A recent example of a tool/software with a voice that I really liked is Carbonmade, a portfolio management tool for creative types: a unicorn on their front page, can it get more “voicy” than that.

    1. fredwilson

      i know the carbonmade team. they are smart and scrappy. a good combo.

  4. Dan Ramsden

    I wonder where the line between software and apps gets drawn… There are some beautiful apps out there, and the Apple distribution platform is making these even more so.

    1. David Noël

      Aren’t iPhone/iPad apps locked in with Apple’s voice/style guide?

    2. fredwilson

      apps are software and software is media so apps are media

      1. paramendra

        The beauty of thinking of software/apps as media is we are putting the onus on developers that if your software/app is not as easy to use as media, why is it even in the market? That sense of ease of use is respectful of the consumers, who are the only people who matter, or should. As the old saying goes, the customer is always right. Even when they are wrong.

  5. Ahad Bokhari

    Great thought! I like the term “new media” as well, acts as a perfect umbrella to it’s surrounding ecosystem.

  6. JimHirshfield

    Seems obvious to say, as I type this on my new nexus one, but gmail, Google docs, gcal, and their integration on this handset are examples of elegant enterprise software…er media ftw

    1. fredwilson

      yes indeed.hi jim, how are you?

      1. JimHirshfield

        Doing well and lovin’ it at Tynt. You should add the JS to your blog and publish the analytics. I know you like to do a post every so often on analytics. Could be cool. #OffTopic #Sorry

    2. paramendra

      Talk more about Nexus One.

  7. Laurent Boncenne

    Much of the new softwares coming out these days must have a pretty great UI at their core along with ease of use and getting the job done to have any chance of success imho.It’s the number one thing I look for when I search for a software. It’s the MVP i’m looking for at least.Many tools have helped ease the process of creating a great UI by now. I bet we’ll see more and more Wireframing Pros and UX teams in any software/app/webapp company in the future. If I were to chose the road of design, that would be one of the biggest provider of jobs in months and years to come.

  8. LIAD

    the word media doesn’t resonate overly well for me. it gets a bad press and comes across as fickle and on the other hand is akin to a living, breathing thing. it’s responsive, ever-evolving and has inherent personality and characteristics.whilst you cant really have a ‘relationship’ with a video or newspaper article, you cant really interact with them or mould them, you most definitely can with a piece of software (as too with games)the design, flow, language, colour, style all contribute to the overall package and developers should bear these in mind and consider them critical elements of their software development (are they part of a minimum viable product? I’m not sure)we’ve talked before about form over function and how even terrible software wins out if it performs a needed utility (think Craigslist), at the same time we know we’d all much rather use software which looks good and has personality over one which doesn’t. when it comes to software, regardless of what’s under the hood, first impressions count big-time.

    1. fredwilson

      some of the greatest products ever made are media. think of films you love and watch dozens of times, tv shows that you wait all week for, magazines you love to read, books that have changed the way you think about things, etc, etc

    2. raycote

      User controlled video simulations and games are kinda like having a relationship with a video. But I guess the relationship is really with the simulation software.How about that iPhone controlled AR helicopter drone thingy with it’s remote video camera. Surely that is coming close to having a relationship with live video?…Some forms of virtual reality must be touching on that definition?

    3. raycote

      Living, breathing(adaptive) software, like all other living system, organically merges form and function over time as it responds to it’s environment.Function over form as you point out is simply an embryonic phase.Form facilitates and accelerates function via good perceptual ergonomics

  9. Satish Mummareddy

    Software for me is an extension of myself: helps me communicate more effectively while representing my style, helps me work more effectively while highlighting my strengths, helps me nurture my relationships while dealing with my time commitments, helps me manage my life better while emphasizing on my real priorities. 🙂 Is that just media? Maybe. 🙂

  10. RAuguste

    Tim Berners Lee says, “Data is Relationships.” If media are the means to communication, then software is part of that experience & the face to those relationships. So it should be always be engaging & be media.

  11. Tereza

    To me, a software’s voice is a key factor in its ability to cross the chasm to regular folks like me.It’s voice should be a response to the User’s voice — what the user said they wanted.Start with that core user need, and work backward from there. And strip out everything else.Too many products are for the products’ sake. Especially in B2B. Uggh, the stories I could tell there.Identify the voices, get to know them very well…align them….and you have harmony.

    1. raycote

      Even the very worst of software has a voice, it is just the ugly voice of unintended consequences.

  12. John Gannon

    My thesis is that enterprise software UI and UX will improve dramatically over the next several years due to the revolution that’s happening at the lower layers of the stack (particularly I’m referring to IaaS and virtualization). Because those lower layers are becoming much simpler, that simplicity will bubble up to the software that’s touching/managing them. Think of how easy it is to deploy a server now in the cloud vs 10 years ago. You just don’t need to click that many buttons or turn that many knobs anymore to get the same result. Hopefully this shift will happen quickly because as you say, enterprise software UI/UX is typically awful.

    1. fredwilson

      yes, exactlyi should have been more clear that this is what is driving all of thisi said “software that runs in a browser” but that’s a poor proxy for what ireally mean, which is software that runs in the cloud

      1. paramendra

        Why is Facebook itself not doing Facebook Enterprise?

    2. niallsmart

      John, organizational factors are far more to blame for poor enterprise software UI/UX than cycles spent on server deployment. For a start, most enterprise apps are pretty boring compared to consumer web – which means it’s hard to attract the best and brightest designers/engineers, and the knock on effect is that the implementation team may not be as personally invested in the product aesthetics and experience versus a consumer product team. Secondly, many organizations that product enterprise software are stiflingly bureaucratic which stunts not just UX/UI quality but overall product innovation (check out the story about the homepage redesign for a good case study) . Enterprise products have much longer shelf life / lifespan so the issue of supporting legacy users and versions reduces the opportunity to start afresh with new thinking and design. Finally, despite all the lip service given to “best practices” there just isn’t a culture of quality software design & process in most enterprises – it’s lucky if the internal projects even ship at all, let alone have a decent UI/UX.Ultimately the above problems persist because the buyers and end-user of enterprise software are usually completely different groups. Enterprise UX/UI will improve when it becomes an important differentiator in the sales process.

      1. ShanaC

        And people wonder why I think enterprise software is a place ready for innovation….You get efficient when you focus on ease of use. (I was talking to someone about this just tonight…)

    3. BillSeitz

      I’m not sure I agree. I think a more significant factor behind the ugliness of enterprise software so far is the fact that the buyer isn’t the user. At best, the buyer tries to accomodate all possible users within the enterprise, and thus buys off checklists (and Forrester reports). In this mentality, a “voice” becomes a negative, like being “too unusual” for HR.

      1. fredwilson

        what a great insight bill. can that disconnect ever be fixed?

        1. BillSeitz

          If people stop working for enterprises, they won’t have to use enterprise software! 🙂

          1. Tereza

            Bill I’m not sure if you meant that tongue-in-cheek — but it is so true.Cloud computing + ever-increasing use of contractors — we reall should call them “cloud workers”.

        2. BillSeitz

          More seriously, perhaps if some parts of webapp ecosystem get standardized more (like OpenID maybe, and cross-tool search engines), it will reduce the arguments for standarization of tools across the enterprise.

  13. Deckerton

    Couldn’t agree more and launching a enterprise software company that takes this in to account.

  14. William Mougayar

    Can you expand on The meaning of “Has a voice”?

    1. Justin Singer

      I can’t speak for Fred, but when I read “voice” I think of it as a proxy for personality. Shafqat’s comment about Mailchimp above gives a great example involving an actual voice (of a chimp!), but the larger idea is that great software interacts with and speaks to the user in an authentic and playful way, as if it had a personality of its own (because it does).

    2. fredwilson

      An attitude, values, stands for something

      1. William Mougayar

        Ok Thanks. So, it’s figurative. I’m interpreting also as Authentic & original. The software is the message. Marshall McLuhan who coined “the medium is the message” is probably turning in his grave, happy 🙂

        1. ShanaC

          *sigh* Mcluhan can be read in the negative and he writes confusingly (and it can put you to sleep too!!!)The medium is also hot and cold!! It needs interpretation by the user!

          1. raycote

            The hot/cold thing has some real viscerally meaningful communications concept framing value but you are right this is where his pedantic, gregarious, language play really starts to run his train of everyone else’s track.The train really hits the brick wall when we enter the land of ACOUSTIC SPACE and VISUAL SPACE, here both his language and his underlying concepts are cross threaded with the neuro-perceptual issues at hand.OR maybe I just still don’t grasp the abstractions at a deep enough level to full get it?Then again McLuhan was standing on a ladder trying to gaze over an electronic communications event horizon from his vantage point back in the 50’s and 60’s. He was a real visionary. If he were here today, now that we have gone over that event horizon like it was Niagara Falls, I’m sure he would be busy revising. I mean extending!

        2. raycote

          I have resisted investing much of my time in the Mcluhan retrieval around new media that has surfaced over the last ten years.I would love to hear peoples take on this cliche probe, “the medium is the message”.About 15 to 20 years ago I heard a CBC interview with a group of communications professors from around North America on some such McLuhan anniversary. The first question right out of the gate was, what does that phrase mean. It was funny, no one really wanted to commit first, they all started dancing around like cats on a hot tin roof.I thing Wikipedia comes very close to reducing McLuhan’s poetic license into clear operational language:”The medium is the message” is a phrase coined by Marshall McLuhan meaning that the form of a medium embeds itself(AS A FORM OF METADATA) in the message, creating a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived.”OK… I added (AS A FORM OF METADATA) – could’t resist!This sound like a very convincing concept summary, but I get a nagging feeling that the concept of embedding the medium into the message is implausible, it seen inverted.SO MUCH RETRIEVINGSO LITTLE EXTENDINGANDEVEN LESS OBSOLESCINGMcluhan’s ideas are a gold mind for framing organic communications culture. But the cross threaded, train reck lexicon, connecting his concepts with their underlying neurological mechanics needs some serious cleanup before it can be easily shared as productive working memes.

  15. rah33ls

    media in this new mode are ‘programs’ to deliver value through interfaces and interaction and no longer the realm of of top-down symbols, slogans and empty promises, but instead, collaborative expressions that build value bottom-up. sounds like promoted tweets

  16. RichardF

    The iphone apps have really accelerated this thought process I think and the iPad will drive it even further. Users consume those apps more like media than traditional software.I know there’s not much love for Apple here for many reasons but you have to give it to them and the developers on the platform that the UI is second to none.

  17. jonathanmendez

    I think there is a clear line between that the tools to produce and create media (to communicate) and the output itself (the communication). We should not confuse the two.Yes, software is part of the media landscape and the creative arts regard tools as media. But what’s most interesting to me is that software can be bigger than “tools.” In fact, as the web has shown, software is can be the medium itself. That is far more remarkable.

    1. raycote

      There is an infinite regress of figure and ground at play here.One levels modulated message is the next levels medium. From particles all the way up to social network communities.

  18. Barrett

    Great point. We are struggling with going from the mindset of a publisher/content provider to a service provider. Not sure everyone gets it. Framing us as a media provider may be much more palatable. Unfortunately it is not only an internal matter but also one with our customers who are tied to Learning Management Systems which for the life of me I can’t see any value now that everything is in the browser and what you can do with analytic’s.

  19. akharris

    Fred, it seems you’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the way communication continues to evolve. From face to face, to email, social, and the software that itself makes something other than face to face communication possible. I’d even point out that software has allowed for a media like interaction between machines themselves, which doesn’t even have human consumption in mind (though people may ultimately benefit from that interaction). It’s no less media for all that, but it requires a shift in perspective on how we think about communicating, and why we need it all around us.

    1. fredwilson

      the machine to machine thing is interesting and are right that i’ve been thinking a lot about evolving communication but not so much about machine to machinei’ll have to fix that

  20. Harry DeMott

    I’d put a qualifier on it:Software is Interactive MediaMedia as we have traditionally defined it is a one way communication – someone decided what it was going to look like, what it was going to say, what it was going to convey etc…This blog, is clearly Interactive thanks to the comments section.Pull up a closed blog and it is media – read AVC and it is Interactive Media.

    1. paramendra

      A lot of us these days take it for granted that media will be inherently interactive. You could call it liquid water or just water.

      1. Harry DeMott

        Very true – but many media companies don’t think this way – and even quite a few software companies don’t fully get it. Look at the Yahoo front page – I can read a lot of articles – but there’s not a whole lot of interactivity. Look at the first GQ iPad app. Not interactive at all.

        1. paramendra

          I can’t help you with the GQ iPad app. I don’t have an iPad, I don’t plan on getting one. 🙂

  21. karen_e

    “And the software that is ugly, void of emotion and voice will not work as well for us. So I believe all software is media and will be seen as such by its users.”Yet for so many years, those of us who were passionate about Apple’s voice thought that its elegance and friendliness would naturally overtake the Microsoft/Windows platform at the office, but lo we waited for decades, and such was not the case.{- Karen, mother to Zachary, born 4/6/2010!}

    1. andyswan

      A masculine child, indeed.Congrats Karen :)p.s. I think your point on AAPL/MSFT is a great one. Ugly can, and often does, win.

      1. Mike O'Horo

        It also reminds us of the value of incumbency in risk-averse markets, where risk-aversion translates into high switching costs. MS’s hegemony in the corporate market is safe unless and until Office-type suites are rendered obsolete by something as-yet not revealed in the desktop market.

      2. paramendra

        Karen talking about Zachary takes the AVC community to a whole new level.

      3. raycote

        At this point being entrenched with numerous layers of financial, technical and learning curve inertia may not be the same thing as UGLY winning. It is more like UGLY can be a very sticky affair.Although that may not be as true anymore with windows 7 on the scene?

      4. kidmercury

        ugliness ftw!

    2. RichardF

      yes but it happened in mobile insteadcongratulations by the way, life changing (least it was for us!)

    3. Tereza

      Hey Karen that’s wonderful news! Congratulations and welcome Zachary!

      1. raycote

        When did we vote on that name?Congratulations!!!!!Great Name

    4. zackmansfield

      congrats Karen…and I might add – great name 🙂

    5. ShanaC

      Mazel Tov. May he be like the best of you and your husband.

    6. paramendra

      Welcome Zac!

    7. fredwilson

      Mazel Tov! I love the name zachary

    8. Donna Brewington White

      Congratulations, Karen! Never will bliss and exhaustion be so conjoined.

    9. kidmercury

      congratulations karen. may the infinite amount of doom and gloom i warn about never come true for you and little zachary.

  22. andyswan

    Agree 100% that software needs a voice (I’ve always used “personality” but I’m thinking they are one and the same….)But….I don’t think “ugly” necessarily has to be a negative. It really can be a compelling part of the “personality”. Drudge thrives on ugly. Craigslist, PlentyofFish and Bloomberg too. I think there is room in every niche for an ugly, “just the facts, ma’am”, player.Not everyone can be, or should be, Tumblr (I don’t think that’s what you were implying). But everyone can try to build software/media that has a personality that is compatible with their desired audience.

    1. Tereza

      So Andy….is what you’re saying — it’s OK if they’re ugly, as long as they’re thin?

      1. andyswan

        LOL…..well really as long as they do what I want….um….oh forget it.Side note: I know several software guys that have had a lot of success with “go ugly early” in all aspects of life.

        1. ShanaC

          ugly doesn’t mean personality. Including in art and media. Two very different things.

          1. Tereza

            Great point, Shana.I’d call it charm.Some sort of charm is a must-have.

        2. Tereza

          +1 for an ace comeback, Andy

        3. JLM

          An interesting point of view is — how elegant do you want your lawyer’s offices to be when you have to pay for them at $400 per hour?

          1. Matt A. Myers

            So you pay them $400 an hour and they don’t even decorate? 😉 So cheap! ;P

          2. Tereza

            If they’re bundling unlimited use of their conference room with their legal fees, then the answer is — very elegant.

    2. Justin Singer

      Agree that “ugly” can be intentional and useful. Here’s a really great blog post (not by me) about why some products’ users may actually want a terrible (or ugly) user interface: quote: “If your users reject an improved user interface, you need to start out by figuring out exactly what motivates them to prefer the more complex solution”

      1. andyswan

        Pretty sure Mick Jagger based a life on the theory…

        1. Justin Singer


    3. Joe Siewert

      I agree. I’m trying to figure out how you take enterprise software like SAP and give it a voice and make it fun and memorable (in a good way). Then again operating systems over the years shifted from something basic and utility driven to being much more elegant and attractive. What drove that change?

    4. paramendra

      Craig’s List is not ugly. If it is, then Google is ugly.

      1. raycote

        Google is ugly!But it is reasonably effective.So it gets used a lot.We all basically start to like what we get use to.Full circle – Google starts to look beautifully familiar?Same for Craig’s List

        1. paramendra

          I find to be so very beautiful.

    5. fredwilson

      Personality and voice are very similar conceptsGood point about ugly

  23. robertavila

    The term media was popularized by the advertising industry where media meant a advertising medium. Thus the telephone, though obviously a major means of communication was never thought of as part of “media.” Books, which once had a modest amount of advertising in them but, since they had a long shelf life their message dated, and books are now generally not thought of as part of media. I once tried to convince the USPS that a daily mail drop should be thought of a a “media event” filled with a mixture of desired content and advertising and that they should manage their pricing so as to assure a mix to make it a valued event and not a junk mail intervention. Obviously I failed on that point. iPhones et al are now succeeding in changing telephones into media. Taking a clue from advertising a media is a vector for conveying a message with is some what different from communicating. That said is software a media? If so what is its message? Perhaps as McLuhan said the medium is software’s message?

    1. Tereza


    2. paramendra

      Depends on what software you are talking about.

    3. raycote

      The term media has so many layers of meaning depending on the granularity of the definition used.Zoomed out definition of media =plural of mediumZoomed out definition of medium = and agency or means of doing somethingThat encompasses everything from sub-atonic particles on upI thing Fred is framing on the more common definitionMedia =the main means of mass communication (esp. television, radio, newspapers, and the Internet) regarded collectivelyYour comment, on phones not being defined as mass media, highlights the conversion of the definition from TRANSMITTER to CONVERSATION.

      1. robertavila

        Many forms of media tend to be very one sided forms of “conversation” as when the newsperson at the broadcast signs off saying “see you tomorrow night.” Most forms of media are about projecting a message to others be it a 19th century political party broadsheet newspaper diatribe or a twitter brain fart. Even asynchronous blob comments are (we each hope) only conversations in the narrowest sense in that we all hoe “other” will get our message. When we cease being relevant to “others” and start “discussing amongst ourselves” the common request is to “take it off line” Media is about messaging in general not about conversing in particular. It is this appeal to the general that makes it a viable medium for advertising.

  24. Kevin

    Your point about how with enterprise software you “want it to be attractive, elegant, I want it to have a voice” is a great one. Increasingly I find the consumer software companies to be really on point with this while other web sites – from enterprise to simple company sites – lag behind.Tumblr, for instance, is one of several sites that couldn’t be more straight-forward when you land on their home page. It is a clear call to action, but it is more than that. It is enticing and it speaks to the brand they are creating. They aren’t alone, many other companies have really gotten good at this – but I notice that most of them are in the consumer end of things.I think that many other web sites – in any number of fields – could and should copy this approach.: Simple, straight-forward, obvious, playful. When done right this makes you want to open the door.

  25. Chuck Reynolds

    I think the example you provide for enterprise software isn’t truly enterprise software, rather it is SMB software which is entirely different. SMB software shares more with consumer software than enterprise software.I agree 100% with your statement, if you say SMB rather than enterprise. We’ll see how this evolves as Salesforce and others continue to shift the perspective.Some of the examples (37 signals, MailChimp) are more focused on small business/focused teams that exist within an enterprise.

    1. Jared McKiernan

      yeah, 37signals is definitely not “enterprise”

    2. fredwilson

      i think this trend moves from consumer to smb and ends up in enterprise and even goverment/defense

  26. tedc

    This is not much of a revelation for media types but we’re glad whenever technology types get the word. Be it software, mechanical presses, smoke signals or cave drawings – “media” are tools for communication of human ideas. In my world what is now termed “content” is the thing and trust is key to investing in it. But in your world – the tech centric world – I would recommend keeping a watchful eye on current open database evolution. Terry Jones’s Fluidinfo comes to mind.

    1. fredwilson

      I am keeping an eye on terry. His vision is very compelling

    2. raycote

      WOW! a global form and function marriage.Hope this accelerates the appearance of easy to use, data driven, word processor like, social network assemblers for the rest of us!Or am I just dreaming?Anyway, I think it deserves a bookmark and a direct link for that, I’m not a developer, so I’m not really in that loop. I concentrate on discovering recombinant end user cloud services with, ease to use, minimalist UIs. But I am awaiting… waiting… waiting… for the moment when that electro-static barrier between social-web creator and user hits discharge. And things like NING don’t count.

  27. daryn

    Fred, I agree with everything in this post (the importance of voice, emotion, and ux in software), but I’m not convinced that this is the correct use of the term media, and that may be a distraction from your real message.Traditionally, a medium is the platform for communication, say the telephone (both the system and the phone itself), but not the phone call.The New York Times is a source, which publishes it’s content on to multiple media, but Friedman’s column itself is content.So, software, where does that fit? First of all, software is a tough word, because there are so many tiers of software involved in our everyday lives, but what we all seem to be talking about are the last few layers of applications and services. I believe media is multi-dimensional, and operating systems / browsers are one dimension, while platforms like the the web, or even as specific as Twitter, are another. Applications like tweetdeck or services like GetSatisfaction, however, don’t, in my mind, belong under that umbrella.That doesn’t make them less important by any means. In fact, most media becomes commoditized as it matures, and at that point, the content and value added tools and services are what really matters.p.s. I was a media studies major in college. My research project was on the potential of “the web” as an education medium 🙂

    1. ShanaC

      Depends on how you use the term- you are definitely using a newer version of the term that starts with Mcluhan.If he is using the term media and medium as an art based term (mixed media, what is your medium of choice?) then he is correct.

      1. daryn

        Good point, like I said, I was a communications major 😉

    2. Joe Siewert

      That’s a pretty good point about the different tiers of software. The point where software has the most obvious emotional impact or “voice” is when a user is interacting with it. Most users are going to be making that connection at the top of the stack with the exception of developers/admins who will hit lower levels as well.

    3. fredwilson

      Can media mean both the content and the container?

      1. Tereza


      2. daryn

        Yes, for our purposes here that’s totally reasonable.I definitely follow the school of thought that the medium has as much of an effect as the content being presented, and that they are in fact symbiotic, but the more interesting idea is about what value is held by each tier of the media stack (to use @joesiewert’s term), and how that changes as a medium reaches maturity.

        1. ShanaC

          I disagree with this- as receivers there is content that comes from cultural artifacts. medium will be interpreted differently based on in cultural context. It is not as positivistic as Mcluhan would like.

          1. raycote

            There is a fine line between the externally modulated message content and the internal cultural decode bias, inner and outer messages.

      3. ShanaC

        the medium is the message, which is why it can be hot and/or cold. the content is supposed to be the container because the further back you go is to idea- human thought, it just is a matter of how much interpretation you have to do as receiver of said message to get to that point.(Short version of Mcluhan)

        1. raycote

          Is the full sensory jacket of real life sensory input messages hot , cold or the neutral point or does only transcoded modulated sensory data count as a message?

          1. ShanaC

            Neither- it had to do with modulated levels of interpretation of the message by the audience vis a vis method of transmission.Also there was no such thing as a neutral point of hot/cold since every medium was in relationship to every other medium- if you take a Mcluhan-esque approach to the web, it works out that it is neither hot nor cold because of the modulatory nature of how message is transmitted through the medium itself (is it text, sound, tv-ish?)Though I remind you, at the end of the day, all message in the Mchluhan world boils down to thought- so in a sense- so do all medium.

          2. raycote

            What follows is a form of obsessive compulsive disorder.An obsessive need for reductionism.So feel free to save yourself an just ignore it!I’m really just thinking out loud here.——————“Neither- it had to do with modulated levels of interpretation of the message by the audience vis a vis method of transmission.”——————What exactly, about the technical method of transmission, modulates the interpretations?When I perceive directly with my eyes and ears, is that a modulated message for McLuhan’s purposes, that direct sensory input is, of course, biologically modulated with all the interpretative biases inherent in human physiological evolution then further interpretatively modulated by the biased precepts of my personal life experience but these surely fall into a distinctly different category than the spectrum of interpretive bias effects caused by different types of technically modulated messages that McLuhan was on about?I visualize it this way. The mechanism by which different communication medium impose their own unique interpretative modulation bias on human neurological interpretation, the mix of hot and cold media effects, is through the shift, the mismatch between the nervous system’s biological predisposition to process that artificial sensory stream as if it were the full sensory jacket of real life sensory input but that artificial sensory data stream has many neurological juxtapositional shifts vis a vis the direct real life sensory input stream. A key example of this interruptive juxtapositional shift, this mismatch of running the artificial sensory input through the real time, real life, experiential interruptive processing mechanisms is the fact that direct experience includes the dominant characteristic and expectation of real time adaptive behavior targeted at managing and optimizing the utility of the sensory input stream, interactive response.The artificial sensory data streams of old media are completely lacking this feature and the more complex artificial sensory data streams generated by new software driven media will afford all manner of unnatural extensions and distortions to this interactive perceptual feedback loop. Basicallywhen humans receive technology mediated messages our perceptual apparatus tries running that square technology mediated message modulation through nature’s round hole of every day perceptional decoding machinery, thus generating a perceptual heterodyning, interpretative perceptual artifacts of the cross threaded decoding process.———————-“Also there was no such thing as a neutral point of hot/cold since every medium was in relationship to every other medium”———————-The neutral point was my attempt to playful extend McLuhan. My suggesting was that one can think of hot and cold media as pivoting around a neutral point. A theoretical medium would be absolutely neutral when it’s artificial sensory data stream was so indistinguishable for real life that it created no interpretive artifacts. Kinda like Star Trek’s Holodeck. Every other medium would have varying degrees of hot and cold depending on how far and in what way it varied form the full sensory jacket of first hand real life perceptions. In other word, the neutral point around which to measure hot and cold media effects is their variance from direct real life sensory data perceptions.———————“Mcluhan-esque approach to the web, it works out that it is neither hot nor cold because of the modulatory nature of how message is transmitted through the medium itself (is it text, sound, tv-ish?)”———————The web subsumes all previous forms of media and makes it easy and convenient to make and match any recombinant mix of hot and cold media. Is it not fair to think of the web as a laboratory for mixing up novel massages of hot and cold running media experimentation? If the universe is a novelty engine then the web is surely one of it’s main cylinders

      4. Donna Brewington White

        Technically, medium = messenger but in common use I think we use it to also mean message. Either way, your point is well taken. It seems to tie in with the trend of not only rejecting impersonal messages, but rejecting impersonal messengers as well. We want our technology to have personality…and more and more we seem to be requiring this of the people who create it. Such a correlation here with the rise of social media, don’t you think?

    4. raycote

      Agreed, everything is a layered regression of medium and content. Content delivered via some form of modulating the underlying medium layer. New digital media’s potential for organic, level mixed, interplay between software layers, medium/content layers, makes them much harder to delineate than previous more linear, static, medium/content layering.With an organic medium, the bleed between medium and content layers really starts to take on a life of it’s own.The hallmark features of an older communications medium, it’s constrained static content and it’s bandwidth limited resolution/context, manifest themselves as full sensory jacket incompleteness characteristics, these characteristics heterodyne against the MORE ROBUST in situ, visceral, biological processing power that normally demodulates the direct first hand human sensory experience, this slightly reshapes the transmitted message’s perceptual effects and/or sensory ratio impacts, but much more importantly, with the emergence of software based, multi-layered medium/content communications stacks, with their potential for organically intense level-mixing, across multiple medium/content layers all the way up and down the communications stack, there emerges a whole new transcendent level of mismatch heterodyning between the NOW LESS ROBUST, real time, in situ, visceral, sensory processing power of the human nervous system, and the new digital media landscape’s overwhelming ability to completely flood our sensory processing power. Add to this mismatch, new media’s propensity to vastly amplify and multiply the effects of unnatural sensory juxtaposition. Now proceed to add in an organically infinite, many to many access array to communication exchange and services, many of which themselves are capable of filtered, aggregated, sub-feeds, then replicate all that across multiple browser windows. There we go, just scratching the iceberg on the possibilities for insane sensory processing overload and distortion.The poor puny human nervous system!OH… the humanity…All this moves us from Mcluhan territory into James G. Miller / Hofstadter territory.Jumping the Quantitative/Qualitative barrier into a strange loop where self-referential media becomes a self-inventing, self-perceiving organically nested living system.It’s alive, oh noooo…. it looks like Frankenstein, quick put it back in the bottle.Daisy, Daisy,Give me your answer do!I’m half crazy,All for the love of you!It won’t be a stylish marriage,I can’t afford a carriageBut you’ll look sweet upon the seatOf a bicycle made for two.

  28. ShanaC

    Actually when I think of media I think of “tools + technique” (this may be because I am an art student and we have a bunch of confusing definitions around this term)Technique is often very individualized. You can tell the presence of the hand (the person, that is). And through the awareness of the hand, you mediate, you communicate. It doesn’t have to be obvious though, or elegant, or beautiful, or stylized.Really- much like art, software needs to be a path towards both deep and/or clear communication (this is very community dependent). You should give paths for either very clear uses, or multiplicity of uses than you don’t know as the person creating the stuff. No one says out there (just like in art) that your interpretation, as creator, is the right one. You just are the guide with the voice you have the tools you use.

  29. Kevin Vogelsang

    A user desires elegance in all things.Users also wants a unique experience. “Interestingness” is value. A special experience is something worth talking about.

    1. raycote

      Yes a very important ingredient for making something sticky.

  30. Satish Mummareddy

    Is software a means to create, and interact with media in an intuitive/native manner?

  31. Scott Carleton

    I would say software being media is just a result of good design. If they’re product is well thought out from the beginning then you can add the aspects that make it media. I think Tumblr is a very relevant example of a service that incorporates clever features that become more a media interaction then just functional, utility software. I believe this is also the basis to establishing a brand because when it has media aspects, the software becomes memorable.

  32. William Mougayar

    “Software is beautiful” I love that I’d like the t-shirt , twibon, badge, license plate frame, website seal, etc could have Software Is Beautiful Movement or Association

    1. paramendra

      They had that Black Is Beautiful thing going in apartheid era South Africa. I hope we are not feeling t-h-a-t marginalized. 🙂

  33. wfjackson3

    I agree, but I would like to offer a slightly different course to the same conclusion. Look at the definition of the root word, singular medium.From http://dictionary.reference…an intervening substance, as air, through which a force acts or an effect is produced.In this definition, software has always been media. It is the force through which a human produces computing effect. Without recognizing this link is like trying to listen to an opera in a vacuum. Perhaps still interesting, but not nearly as impactful.

  34. Sahil Parikh

    Well said. With more and more apps launching, software will be differentiated by the emotion (and not on features etc.) it invokes within you.

  35. Jeff Lu

    I still think that the UX/UI of enterprise cloud software lags behind that of consumer software. It’s frustrating how cumbersome and time consuming it can be to customize SalesForce and how slow it can be when I’m used to the speed and the pleasant UX/UI experience of tumblr, wordpress, gmail, picnik, etc. Another frustrating enterprise software that comes to mind is CapIQ.”Once we’ve begun to treat some of the software in our lives as media, we are going to treat all the software in our lives as media.” What you said here really resonated me. I think I find the enterprise software experience unsatisfactory because I’ve experienced how great cloud-based software can be.There’s certainly a need for faster, more stylish, and easier to use enterprise software.

    1. paramendra

      “There’s certainly a need for faster, more stylish, and easier to use enterprise software.”I don’t think Fred is differentiating between consumer and enterprise software. When he says software should be as easy to use as media, he is hinting at both types. I think.

      1. Jeff Lu

        Yep agreed. My point is enterprise software is lagging behind their consumer counterparts in speed and UX/UI. Some of that has to do with security, which I understand.

  36. Mike O'Horo

    Having finally figured out what I want to do next, I’ve been away from this forum for awhile getting that new venture started, but I seem to have picked a great day to return. Your post today articulates what we’ve been trying to do for the past month or so, i.e., imbue our virtual training sessions with a voice and emotion: “Like other forms of media, software produces an emotional reaction when we use it. Software needs to have a ‘voice.’ It needs to be more than a simple utility. We need to feel something when we use software. “We’ve interviewed people in the entertainment and game worlds to try to understand how they engage audiences so reliably. Fred’s post today simplifies the concept. Thanks.As I get reconnected with this forum and regain context, I hope I’ll be able to solicit advice from this knowledgeable community.

  37. andyidsinga

    I don’t think software is media.Software is about more than facilitating communications.Software facilitates display of data, control of data, utility and control of the physical things in the real world.Software facilitates additional flexibility in our human attempts to live in a physical world in similar ways to the ways other tools do (hammers, circular saws, microwave ovens).Brilliant app developers have a keen understanding of the interface required by their user and the craftsmanship required to make it real.Brilliant and beautiful apps often facilitate communication/display of other brilliant and beautiful content that is separate from the app – but may appear to be part of the software when it isn’t.:)

  38. jefftala

    What’s the “voice” of Microsoft Office? I have trouble conceptualizing that.

    1. paramendra

      I don’t blame you.

    2. Jared McKiernan

      Ask the paperclip, it will help clarify the concept.

      1. jefftala

        Maybe the paperclip *is* the voice of Office.

    3. fredwilson

      that’s why it is toast (eventually) and why it is gone from my computing experience

  39. Andy Gadiel

    I love this quote: “the most important measurement for software today is the number of engaged users”Thanks Fred.

  40. alpinematt

    Fred- Thanks for the interesting post. A few thoughts.First, only some software has moved from running on local machines to running in the browser/cloud. I still spend a lot of my computing time using local apps running on local machines and I believe that is true for a lot of us. While there are certain technology vendors that would like to see everything running in the cloud with all our data, applications and preferences living in the cloud, we aren’t there yet and we won’t have a knife-edge rollover to that environment – if we ever fully end up there at all. My bet is that people will not give up the power and convenience of a thick client with locally installed and running apps for many years to come but that instead we’ll continue to see a mixed environment where the cloud is used for certain apps/data in those cases where the cloud model is superior.Second, I believe that software is not like media in some important ways. Here are a couple: typically, when we consume media (television, radio, books, magazines) it is a one way process. Information is transmitted through the media to us. Some software looks like that but a lot of software involves a more complex process with information flowing both directions and often it’s a tool that we are using to accomplish specific tasks which include the creation of some kind of new output. That’s not media to me.Finally, why do you want people to think of software as media anyway? You don’t need to believe in that equivalency to make the argument that enterprise software needs to follow consumer software and embrace the principles of an elegant UI and a great user experience, etc. (which, btw, I completely agree with). So is there something else that believing in this equivalency buys that you feel is important? Thanks.

    1. fredwilson

      good questions/comments alpinemattfirst, i have moved most of my computing to the browser/cloud model and i believe it is vastly superior. and i think we all will do that over the next five to ten years.second, most media is not one way anymore. we engage with media now like we engage with software is becoming media and media is becoming software

  41. gordonmattey

    it’s interesting to see other areas like Retail becoming media – see http://www.theopenskyprojec… for a great example.

    1. fredwilson


  42. paramendra

    Agreed. Software is media. Of course. The question I am asking is are there people who disagree? And what do they say?”We have close to 400 applicants for the two jobs we posted…”This is of interest to me. Because I am one of the 400. Fingers crossed. 🙂

  43. Prokofy

    I go further with this idea. Software isn’t just media, which can merely be one-way, or one-to-many broadcasting; *social media* software must enable users to shape it. No longer can coders alone and the proprietary companies OR opensource project groups that support these coders be allowed solely to determine what the software does. User input is no longer optional, add-on, merely “a nice thing to do” but must be incorporated. If it’s not democratic, it fails, just like the Soviet Union or any non-democratic system *fails*.Socialware is web 3.0, the next stage!http://secondthoughts.typep…So you can’t just talk airily of “engaged users” like they’re you’re property. They are equal-rights bearing partners in the project of making the software. If that “applicants managing software” doesn’t serve the applicants, too, and if you as a user of this enterprise software can’t change it or adapt it or get the company to listen to your concerns, you have failed software, as failed as if it had a bug in it, or as if it became obsolete.

    1. paramendra

      Great comment.Software (the engineering part) + the user interface (software as media) + People (the most important component). But the software as media part also extends to box 1, the engineering part. And you make a very important part that people are not just users of software. They are part of software. Take all the people away and how exciting is Facebook as a product?

      1. raycote

        “Take all the people away and how exciting is Facebook as a product?”You must have more interesting family and friend than I do.Just kidding!

        1. paramendra


    2. raycote

      Yes exactly, like any living language it needs to evolve organically, a resonant interval of continuous mutual reshaping between the process and the participants.

    3. fredwilson

      i did not say engaged users were propertyit could be the other way around, the software could be the property of the engaged users

  44. disqus_IVC0oVSuSb

    when you’re talking about software having a voice; that rings a bell with me because software with a clear purpose and a future plan is comforting

  45. Rob Freeborn

    Fred -I’m giving myself a headache trying to understanding the reasoning that you’ve applied here.First:How – exactly – has the move of software from being thick to thin client based had anything to do with it becoming media – especially when you state it as “all software should be characterized and thought of as media”?? Your definition of from TechTerms does nothing to confirm it. Case in point = RSS readers. The applicability of your media definition doesn’t have anything to do with the difference between using something FeedDemon or it’s online version – NewsGator.Second:There is no causal relationship between thin/broswer based and thick/client based and your desire for a stylized, designed and elegant interface. There are plenty of other reasons – many brought out in the comments here – but they have nothing to do with browser vs. thick client.Third:Your definition of “most important” only (in my opinion) fits the definition of companies you tend to invest in….not SW in general. There is plenty of SW that end users don’t engage with that is VERY impactful (How about MS Exchange/mail servers as I’d argue an end user engages with Outlook/mail client. Also, there is an entire market segment called middleware)- you may just not invest in it.In closing…you actually help me prove my point in stating “apps are software and software is media so apps are media” in the context of the Apple iPhone app environment……I don’t think there are any requirements for a browser to use iPhone apps. While small, iPhone apps are thick client SW. In addition, many of them require no cloud connection either.r.

    1. fredwilson

      i’ll try to articulate this better next time

  46. John Lynn

    A great example of this that I’ve seen first hand lately is the WordPress community versus every other blogger software community. The community behind WordPress just has a great voice and personality that I love. Hard to explain, but when I compare it to other blogger or even CMS development communities there’s a very different feel and there’s a reason that I want to use WordPress instead of other similar open source software.

  47. cindygallop

    Couldn’t agree more. Have been very pleased to see that the word most often-used on Twitter and in blog commentary to describe the UI/UX of my own venture has been ‘beautiful’ – and used as descriptor by everyone from ‘normals’ to the hard-core commenters on us in Hacker News.

  48. Alex Stanhope

    If software is media, is the future for software as bleak as for many of the Creative Industries? The record industry is struggling to monetise its digital assets in the face of illegal filesharing and other free-at-the-point-of-consumption alternatives. The same is on the horizon for Film. A downturn in conventional ad spend and a drift of revenues overseas is making it harder for commercial TV and Radio channels here in the UK.I’m developing a browser-based collaboration tool (…. Increasingly I’m marketing it as a service because software seems to be heading in the same direction as all browser content experiences. I would argue that user perception of value in a browser rarely exceeds 0. What advice would you (all) give to a startup like mine please?

    1. andyidsinga

      I think the future is great for creatives and makers of all sorts 🙂 The tools available to make things and share things are better and cheaper than ever! That is good for folks making things in their garages (things can be software, hardware, cabinets etc).One of the problems of sharing being so cheap and easy is that it can turn into a huge distraction to the maker. My advice to myself is constantly focus on making, practicing and listening to the intended user / customer / audience.Oh crap I just got distracted 🙂

    2. fredwilson

      the future is great for creatives but not for the vultures who used to prey on them

  49. David Carlick

    A semantic and perhaps coastal difference of opinion. For over 15 years, I have seen it the other way around. Media delivered digitally is software first, content second. The content is merely the fodder for the interaction. 15 years ago we ( used to call our websites ‘branding applications,’ as they were interactive platforms to deliver a valuable brand experience, not brochures. All this time, the gamers, the application builders, the social networks have been the creators that provided the most interesting media experience. So I maintain that software doesn’t want to behave like media, but that media wants to behave like great software. But then, I am from Silicon Valley, a software place, and less so from NYC, a media place.

    1. fredwilson

      i see it as a merging david, software becomes media and media becomes software

  50. Paul Cimino

    I agree Fred, but think you need to take a 3rd constituent into consideration – the audience. The audience is also going to become software. Think of all the trial and error personalization software. If viewers are represented by their own software or some super (safe) profile that helps the media and advertising software know them better and anticipate their needs better, then maybe, just maybe that old Internet prophecy (see/get what you want, when you want it, where you want it) will come true.

    1. fredwilson

      wow. the audience is going to become software. i need to grok that.

  51. Tom Turnbull

    All software is media. True. (Remember, not all media need be advertising supported.)

  52. karolisk

    Fred, what software did you use to screen applicants?

  53. Salwar Kameez

    Wow..greate post. An interesting point of view. thanks for sharing.

  54. fvogelstein

    Fred – This is a critical point. I’ve been making it for a while myself. Few seem to get it even today. So I will join you in shouting it from the rafters. Click the link for more. http://opinionator.blogs.ny

  55. Steve

    I am a user of (small) enterprise software and occasionally develop special-purpose custom applications. The idea that these should be “elegant” or “beautiful” because that’s what someone “wants” strikes me as ludicrous and bizarre. The purpose of applications in the workplace is to be *useful*, to get the job done well and efficiently – not to entertain the user. Entertainment is traditionally done on one’s own time, not on company time. You pay to be entertained – your employer does not pay you to be entertained.Guess I’m just old school,-Steve

    1. fredwilson

      yes you are old schoolsoftware that is beautiful is more useful

      1. Steve

        “software that is beautiful is more useful”Fred, I must disagree empahtically. Not sure if you yourself have done programming, but I can assure you what I’m anput to state is how I have seen it work.Software features which are non-essential for the program to perform its utilitarian function are a problem for a number of reasons.(1) Any feature represents a potential failure point that can break the program. Useless features put in to “look nice” are useless potential failure points. They are a drain on the developer’s productivity twice. Once to develop the useless feature and again to surround it with necessary safeguards to prevent it breaking. Somebody ends up having to pay for the esthetic whims of the end user. It makes about as much sense as putting consumer automotive frippery on earthmoving equipment.(2) Ditto for system resources. Is there some part of “bloatware” you don’t understand? There’s a reason why both operating systems and applications constantly require greater hardware specs with each new iteration of the product. Esthetics isn’t the only driver of feature bloat, but it’s right up there.(3) This last is personal and generational, but I have a hard time relating to those who thing that they deserve to be pampered and have their butts coddled in the workp[lace environment. Your job is paying yoou – you are not paying them. Not that I’m totally against workplace esthetics. If you want beauty on the job, get a plant for your cubicle. Don’t demand that developers and IT managers screw up the computer systems just so you can enjoy your screen time more.Old school with no shame in my game,-Steve

  56. kidmercury

    droppin’ it like it’s hot charlie. spot on.

  57. fredwilson

    that’s certainly true today but i think we are moving to a browser/cloud model once the connectivity and reliability issues get solvedi’ve dropped outlook, excel, and soon blackberry and i so much prefer interacting with software that is not running locally