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The Dotted-Line World: How Ubicomp Can Make Everything into a Subscription

City Tech, Mobile and The Web
Location: Valley Room Level: Novice
Average rating: ***..
(3.22, 9 ratings)

Things have long had identifying marks, from silversmiths’ hallmarks to barcodes, but mating machine-readable identification with pervasive networking greatly increases the value of the marks.

For example, when a machine-readable identification method such as an RFID or a high-density visual code is combined with the wireless networking of a mobile phone, a new way of interacting with everyday objects is created. Once you have the capability uniquely identify anything immediately, you can attach meta information to it. Any meta-information. How much is this worth on eBay? Which of my friends has one? Will this go with my Mom’s china? Will it make me sick if I eat it? Was it made by children?

I call this digital representation as accessed through a unique ID, an object’s "information shadow” and I now see them attached to just about everything. Beyond getting meta information, however, lies an even more powerful concept: changing the physical object to a service, for which the thing you’re looking at is but a single instantiation of that agreement. It’s already happened to media, and to car-shared cars and shared bicycles in urban areas.

When this happens, the objects have to change at a fundamental level. They have to be designed differently and they have to be described and discussed differently. The “owner’s” relationship to the object changes. The very idea of ownership changes. The solid object grows a dotted line that is filled-in as-needed, when-needed, and with the features that are needed. This is not the same thing as renting or co-ownership, its anytime/anywhere nature-enabled by the underlying technology makes these new service objects fundamentally new.

This talk will discuss the implications of the social and design changes created by these technologies and give multiple examples of services that already exist.

Photo of Mike Kuniavsky

Mike Kuniavsky

ThingM Corporation

Mike Kuniavsky is a writer, designer and researcher exploring the intersections of high technology and everyday life. People around the world use his 2003 book, “Observing the User Experience,” to understand the relationship between people and products. He is a cofounder of ThingM, a ubiquitous computing development studio and was a founding partner of Adaptive Path, a San Francisco internet consultancy. He founded Wired Digital’s User Experience Lab. His next book, “Smart Things,” expected in 2009 from Elsevier, will discuss ubiquitous computing user experience design. He blogs at

  • Sun Microsystems
  • Yahoo! Inc.
  • IEEE
  • Make magazine
  • Orange Labs