So, Netflix has essentially got me. Why? Not because they’ve created exclusive content. Not because their service is better or their prices are lower. Not because their Web application provides a killer user experience. They’ve got my personal data, my history, my preferences, and my viewing plans for the future. Netflix is essentially plugged into me, taking what is inside my head and using that information to help me enjoy a more robust movie-viewing experience. The content—the movies themselves—has become commodified. The value and differentiation is in the ownership of my personal data.
But this lesson goes so much further and applies in many different contexts.
Thanks to enormous, inexpensive digital-storage capacities, there is no longer any reason for digital media to exist in a physical form. The notion of people physically possessing software applications, video games, or other digital media on compact discs, videotapes, DVDs, cartridges, or other media will become quaint—if not an indulgence. A single device—perhaps the size of a Mac mini or smaller—could hold all of it. And since broadband connections and even wireless connections to centralized networks are becoming faster and more ubiquitous every day, we don’t need physical media to conveniently deliver software or content to people. There is no need to store digital media locally. It can reside on remote storage devices.
Virtual digital media represents a fundamental shift in people’s conceptual model of possessions. We are accustomed to our possessions existing in some tangible way. Now, all we need is a user interface and the right to use or access software or content—a license or user account—not to possess them on physical media. However, from the standpoint of usability, there may still be a preference for certain types of media to continue to exist in a physical form, particularly written content like books or periodicals.
Following the opening plenary, a reception sponsored by BayDUX and its participating organizations concluded the events of World Usability Day around the world and provided a great opportunity for everyone attending DUX to get together and talk. The hall in which the reception took place was too small to accommodate everyone, so the overflow crowd was in a tent, shown in Figure 1, that was buffeted by a chill wind carrying a spray of raindrops. (Thanks Yahoo! for those umbrellas all attendees received! They came in handy.) The great company made up for being a bit cold, and it was wonderful to be part of this World Usability Day celebration.
The opening plenary set a standard of creativity that was difficult to uphold. The conference sessions on Days 2 and 3 of DUX comprised panels of speakers, each of whom had only five or six minutes to present papers covering often disparate topics. The emphasis was more on ethnography than design and on the practical techniques with which most people are already familiar rather than on envisioning new paradigms. Presentations ranged from great to ho-hum. Some speakers were very engaging and used their minutes effectively, making one wish they had more time; others were boring and seemed to go on interminably. The organizers of this event tried to cram too much content into too little time. As a consequence, coverage of topics was generally superficial, and there were few insights or revelations that might have stimulated thinking among the cognoscenti. I would have preferred to have heard the best speakers—for instance, the very amusing Jared Spool—talk for half an hour and read the rest of the papers on the “Proceedings” CD-ROM. Discussions with many other attendees both during and following DUX echoed this viewpoint.