Experiences without boundaries: Strengthening the web of human interactions

  • Posted on March 1, 2021
  • Estimated reading time 4 minutes
Experiences without boundaries

In 1989 Tim Berners-Lee described his vision of a network connecting people all over the world, freely sharing information.

“We should work toward a universal linked information system, in which generality and portability are more important than fancy graphics techniques and complex extra facilities. The aim would be to allow a place to be found for any information or reference which one felt was important, and a way of finding it afterwards … [it will be] accelerated by allowing large existing databases to be linked together and with new ones.”

In the 30-plus years since then, the World Wide Web has changed everything about our lives – business, education, politics, play. Computing devices evolved with it, becoming smaller and more ubiquitous; now almost everything can be part of the IoT (the internet of things), from your car to your faucet to your refrigerator.

Over the past two years, we’ve been tracking a trend that we call “experiences without boundaries” – we’ve seen how the physical and virtual are blending, how a person can be both a customer and a seller, how former competitors are joining together to create new offerings for consumers. We’ve seen experiences that break down boundaries and connect us more. The ongoing pandemic accelerated and heightened this, as technology became one of the safest ways to be human.

Blending the physical and the virtual
In September ZDNet reported on Microsoft’s approach to what it’s calling the “MetaOS,” a single platform offering services spanning work and home use cases. Among Microsoft’s other products, AltSpaceVR and Minecraft became popular meeting places for kids and businesspeople alike when actual in-person gatherings weren’t possible.

At the same time, livestream shopping in China exploded. It had been available for several years, but the ability to connect farmers and other merchants directly with customers during the pandemic in a socially distanced way kept revenue flowing in what would otherwise have been a total shutdown for those small businesses. The “shopatainment” bug isn’t limited to China. In December Walmart teamed with the popular short-form video app TikTok to offer livestream shopping to purchasers in the U.S.

The ability to safely process data is a key enabler of these experiences that span devices and contexts. Confidential computing is starting to allow for processing of data while it’s still encrypted. This opens the door to opportunities for companies to partner on innovative new products and services that are at the same time privacy-compliant for consumers.

With great power (and great experiences) comes great responsibility
As we consider the interconnected system of human, device and environment, we also need to consider unintended consequences and take an ethical approach to ubiquitous computing. Privacy laws are not keeping up with the pace of technological advancement. Companies need to ensure they’re approaching privacy as a human right afforded to all the people who are affected by their products. They need to consider potential consequences to vulnerable populations as technology is being developed, rather than after it’s released. Teams that are as diverse as possible, while making transparency and oversight key priorities, will also help organizations build experiences that are more inclusive and fair.

4 ways to win in this new world
The companies that win in this new world of experiences will embrace several key considerations.

First, they’ll approach their products and services from a systems-thinking perspective. This means expanding “user-centered” design to also include the entire world of the user’s needs, intents and interactions, and other devices they may want to use – regardless of which tech ecosystem they’re in. And this thinking can’t be limited to the design team; strategy, business processes, engineering decisions will all need to adjust to this more holistic approach.

Which means that, secondly, organizations need to ensure they have a deep understanding of their customer. Using an integrated customer data platform can bring together the different views of the customer from around your organization into one cohesive whole, giving a systems-level view of the user and their behavior.

Thirdly, now is the right time to use the capabilities that cloud and edge architecture can deliver.

And, finally, recognize that multi-party contracts with outside partners (even those once considered competition) can be used to drive innovation, not just cost savings.

Say hello to “ConnectedMe”
We see this culminating in the creation of what we call “ConnectedMe” – an operating system (OS) designed to deliver the experiences people crave wherever they are, whenever they need them. If done successfully, the vast array of devices and infrastructure underpinning these experiences will melt into the background, allowing the human to focus their attention on what matters most – meeting our human needs for social connection and communication, meaningful work and exciting play.

You can read more about what makes up this new OS and how we see technology building a bridge to the future of experiences in our new Trendlines report, “Experiences without boundaries.” And we’ll continue to publish additional thoughts over the next few months as we dive more deeply into specific aspects of this new age of experiences.

After all, again in the words of the inimitable Sir Tim Berners-Lee, “The ultimate goal of the Web is to support and improve our weblike existence in the world.”

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