August 29, 2014

Access over Ownership and the Bag of Holding

As a part of my Content as a Service talk, which I debuted at Content Camp and will be posting soon, I go into the idea that, as an audience, we’re opting for access over ownership more and more. To the point where a guy with money actually said, “We just don’t think that ownership will be around in the future.”

Why? Well, access is just better user experience. With access, things magically appear when we want them instead of just sitting around our house or on our person taking up space until we decide to use them.

To put it in concrete-yet-fantastical terms, it’s kind of like the bag of holding. The bag of holding is a magical item into which you can put an essentially infinite number of things without the bag getting any bigger or heavier than, well, a bag, and then pull out anything you’ve put in when you need it.

If you think about how we use content, this makes a lot of sense. When we want to watch/read/listen to something, would we rather go to where that something is, or just start consuming it where we are? With the few exceptions where the destination is a part of the experience (e.g. a movie theater or your big-ass tv and comfy sofa) we just want to start watching it/consuming it where we are. TV/books/etc. everywhere. It magically appears when we want it to.

Same, increasingly, with physical objects. When we want to go somewhere, would we rather have a car that sits around in one place that we have to go to (and maintain the car while we’re at it) or would we rather have the car magically appear, or at least be close by wherever we are, only when we need it? Think Zipcar, Uber, or, more mundanely, public transportation.

These are the benefits of access over ownership. It’s like paying a subscription fee to have that bag keep holding stuff.

But there’s a slight difference. The bag of holding only holds what you put in it. With something like Netflix streaming or Spotify, other people have put stuff in the bag. So you don’t even have to worry about acquiring the thing you’re going to put in the bag. It’s just there when you need it. This starts to resemble a slightly different, if less portable, magical item. The Room of Requirement.

The Room of Requirement itself appears when you need it, containing, in that moment, whatever you need (albeit only within Hogwarts). And that’s where the cloud is going. Technology is moving away from (or perhaps parallel to) the bag of holding, which is a little more like an iPod, just holding music you’ve uploaded to it locally, and more toward the Room of Requirement, which is more like the cloud, appearing in one form or another anywhere (let’s pretend it’s not limited to Hogwarts for this example) providing information, content, or whatever else you might, you know, require, whenever and wherever you are, through some essentially invisible interface (think Google Glass). If you thrown in the predictive algorithms Google is playing with, you really do get to a scenario where the room appears without you even needing to ask.

This is, ultimately, human-centered design for content, but we’ll get more into that later. For now, are there any other magical items we’re building without realizing it?


  1. Mawnck says:

    Trust my stuff to a “Room of Requirement” that can be taken away from me on the whim of a copyright holder, court, or ISP? Eh, no thanks. I’ll stick with my physical copies.

  2. David says:

    So this is the dirty little not so secret of access, right? That the thing you want to access you do not own and therefore do not control. Access is only access when you can *always* access it. On your whim. Not the gatekeeper’s. Room of requirement ain’t much if it doesn’t have what you require.

    To wit, there’s an entire Twitter feed (not from Netflix, mind you) devoted to letting you know which Netflix streaming titles are about to expire. I think the market differentiator among access grantors in the future (along with UX) will be reliability. If I see you’ve got “Primer” today, will it still be there a month from now? A year? A decade?

    So when I really care, yeah, I buy the damn thing on Blu-ray.

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