What is Content?

Sep 25, 2019 · 7 min read

An opinion piece from a startup who continues to argue vigorously over a 7 letter word.

30 minutes of every weekly meetings is spent arguing over a simple question: What is content?

Merriam Webster defines content as the following:

  • A : something contained — usually used in plural the jar’s contents the drawer’s contents
  • B : the topics or matter treated in a written work table of contents
  • c : the principal substance (such as written matter, illustrations, or music) offered by a website

On initial viewing, one can identify that the above definition does not describe content in 2019. How can this definition be applied to a poster? Is it content if a photo is taken of the said poster and posted online? What if someone shares that post and adds a personalized caption? Is it still content? If not, when does it stop being content?

Going beyond bashing an outdated dictionary definition, several questions still linger in the mind of our 1mpressions co-founders.

  • Is it only “content” if it’s human-made?
  • At what point is something not considered content?
  • What about non-recorded content?

No, these questions do not keep us up at night (OK maybe that one Saturday…), but they are fun and crucial to think about when you’re building a content platform. Throughout this blog, we’ll explore some of the 1mpressions team’s past definitions, and take a critical look at our favorite buzzword.

As a foreword, to keep this blog from being too abstract, we are going to set a few ground rules

  • We define the end consumer of content as Human Beings
  • Although content consumption is constantly evolving, we want to keep things general. In 2019 this would most likely be a consumer viewing an electronic device, so in most cases, these pieces of content are not being experienced first hand (e.g a concert itself will not be considered content, but a recording would)

We often take inspiration from the past, to define the future. Considering this, the 1mpressions team set out to define content by taking a look at its roots. The earliest forms of content existed in several mediums. Visually, content was created in the form of symbols, art, and written pieces. Verbally, content creators sang songs, recited poetry, and told stories. Considering this the 1mpressions team created our first flawed content definition:

“Content is any visual or audio medium (can be seen, touched, heard… experienced), made by someone for consumption by other person(s) for a purpose”

As we inputted the close quotation mark, an issue presented itself. What happens when a specific medium evolves to the point that it’s unrecognizable? We’re not making the cliche argument that “modern music isn’t even music, classical is the way to go.” However, could the sounds made by primates be considered music by modern standards: as an auditory content type?

Sure, certain content types can be contrasted to their ancestral origins such as a modern painting and cave drawings: both being categorized as art. However, what happens when a type of content evolves into something that did not exist previously? Consider the visual medium of an animated robot film, filled with colors and concepts that do not exist. Can these two mediums both be considered “visual content?"

One might stretch the definition and connect both mediums as content consumed visually. But this raises another question: what about the content of the future? Truly AR and VR which can be described as an experience, exceeds our current idea of visual consumption? Furthermore, we are unable to smell or taste content off our screens in 2019, but who is to say this would be impossible going forward? Taking these things into consideration, we decided on “content definition V2”

“Content is any medium (experience by any sense), made by someone for consumption by other person(s) for a purpose”

As you may expect, this definition was also quickly ripped to shreds. When considering content of old, we missed something important: Does content have to exist?

Let’s take a step back, we did promise a lack of abstract philosophy!

More properly put: is something still considered content if no human being can consume it? Are stories that are forgotten still considered content? Content exists in 2019. They are recorded digitally, saved on feeds, walls, and so on. Consumers can view content repeatedly and in their own time. They may even choose to download or save content on their own, allowing them to continue consuming even if the creator decides to erase the original piece. Whether it’s a song, photo, art, dance, poem, story, or any other form of visual/verbal content: content exists.

Within this line of thinking, it may be easy to dismiss folklore long forgotten or a dance only seen by dying eyes. However, this train of thinking is flawed. If we become attached to the idea that content must be recorded or exist physically or digitally, we are setting ourselves up for failure.

An excellent example of this would be Snap Chat. Most would consider a “snap story” as a piece of content. What happens if it disappears after its allotted time without being saved by another user? Sure you might say that these snaps may be saved on Snap Chat’s back-end and can always be dug up. But is that relevant to the average consumer? How many of you are emailing Snap Chat regarding the 3rd snap you made on August 14th?

Is then the video of you doing a kick flip not considered content? It was consumed by an audience, and it had to exist at one point to be consumed. With this, “Content definition V3” was born.

“Content is any medium (experience by a sense), made by someone for consumption by other person(s) in a given time frame for a purpose”

Just as we were ready to submit our definition to the dictionary, another issue reared its ugly head: what about content created not by “someone.”

No, we’re not talking about paintings made by apes or songs sang by animals (although that is some cool content). There simply isn’t enough instances of this to allot a seperate category. We’re talking about another buzz word: AI

Who better to give their opinion on this topic than our developer and creator of our “Boxi” AI: Toby!

“AI and content can be a whole separate discussion. Firstly, we are talking about the broader scope of AI here and not machine learning (although that plays a role too). AI content making systems are subject to human influence and bias. This notion will not change until the day AI creates its own genre or medium of content.

However, this alone is not enough to conclude that Ai does not make original content. Let’s take the scenario of a programmer creating an Ai to paint. The programmer sets the parameters in which the robot paints (the strokes allowed, various blending techniques etc). The programmer may even install a machine learning program, having the AI analyze historical paintings to gain inspiration and create. With these parameters, the AI produces a painting.

One might argue that this is still human-made content due to the various parameters set. However, was the content created by a human? The strokes certainly were not made by the programmer and neither was the resulting product. The painting is a unique piece of art made by the AI.”

With the above in mind and considering the future possibilities of AI we came to our working definition known as “content definition V4”

“Content is any medium (experience by a sense) created, for the purposes of consumption by an human audience within a specific time frame for a purpose”

And then, the 1mpressions team lived happily ever after

But you knew the story didn’t end there

If there's one thing you can gain from this blog, its that content is constantly evolving, and thus so will the definition.

“So what was the point of writing this blog in the first place?”

Sorry for the click bait, we will never be able to find a one size fits all definition. However, this blog did have a purpose.

“Content is any medium (our blog) created (by luke, the 1mpressions copy writer), for the purposes of consumption by an human audience (all of you) within a specific time frame (in 2019) for a purpose (your entertainment)

We love content, and if you like to read about it, stay with us while we explore other topics like:

  • what makes content good?
  • what can we expect in the future of content?

“Continue to create fearlessly, and consume indulgently”

The 1mpressions team

Check out our website! : 1mpressions.com


Written by

JUST CONTENT - no profiles — no metrics — no friend list. We’re a content platform aiming to disrupt the way we create and consume content,

More From Medium

Also tagged Social Media

Top on Medium

Ed Yong
Mar 25 · 22 min read


Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade