Functionality and Flexibility Trump Quality

I just read Fred Wilson’s Texting Home post. Fred details the shortcomings of landline phones versus what is now possible with mobile phones. Despite the dropped connections and inferior voice quality, he is ready to abandon his landline because, as he says, “all I really want is increased functionality”. Me too, as soon as I move away from my home in Portola Valley where I have no cellphone coverage.

There are other examples of trading quality (which might have an obsolete definition in a new technological context) for functionality in the digital (and networked) realm. Cell phones are much better than land lines because of PIM integration, ability to text/email and (obviously) their mobility.

Convenience also beats “quality” for print, photos, music and video in the internet age. Visually, photos and text in print media are higher resolution and easier on the eyes, yet I consume 99% of my news online, and I cannot think of the last time I sat down and looked through somebody’s 4×6 photos from a recently developed roll of film.

I’m a musician and an audiophile (with a very high-end system in my recording studio) and I can definitely hear the shortcomings in MP3 and other lossy compression formats, yet I am more than happy to trade the loss in audio quality for the convenience of carrying around thousands of albums on my iPod, having rich meta data to go with my tunes and the ability to download music and stream music from any number of giant jukeboxes in the sky.

And this holds true for video as well. Videos from the iTunes Music Store are pretty lo-res, but I’ve still bought some of them. I can’t stream high-def signals from my Slingbox (yet), but the ability to watch my TiVo from my office, my excercise room at home, or at some hotel when I am on the road more than makes up for the less-than-perfect video quality.

I’m sure the publishers of commercial encyclopedias have plenty of arguments why Wikipedia is of lower quality than their product, but I’ll take Wikipedia over old-school encyclopedias any day.

I’ve touched on the obvious media types here, yet I’m sure there are other good examples of applications where users are more than happy to trade lesser quality (as defined in a pre-digital, pre-networked analog context) for additional functionality enabled by networked digital media. I’d love to hear other examples if people have them.