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2x2: Information Consumption
Aug 11, 2003 :: Michael Sippey

The piece on the iPod a couple of weeks back prompted one popular weblogger to scream in horror at the prospect of Apple integrating marketing messages into his playlist. "I'm an iPod owner. Owner. I own it. It's mine. It's not Apple's, BMG's, or Universal's. It's mine. I can put whatever I want on it, be it music or anything else that I can fit into its 15 gigabytes," he wrote.

Well, sure. It's yours -- for now. Until Apple releases a new version of OS X that you'll want for stability, compatibility and some slick visual effects, and then updates iTunes, and then starts driving the Music Store service down into your device. But I digress.

What this led me to was an evaluation of the information products and services I use, and mapping them into a standard 2x2. "Product" v. "service" lives on one axis, and a notion of "utility" lives on the other ("critical" v. "non-critical").


The quadrants speak for themselves, but a few things to note...

The PC (especially the Dell variety PC that I use) is about as "product" as it gets for me. Generic hardware, easy to swap out, etc. This is a "good thing" from my perspective, given the rate of change in technology, and the software that's running on it. But is there an opportunity for PC manufacturers to shift the commodity PC to a service business? Leased machines and a guaranteed TCO are one step in that direction, but to me that seems to be more of a financial service than a functional service...

Windows / office is clearly attempting a shift to the right-hand side of the chart. The sheer size of the licensed base and the purchasing habits of IT managers are creating natural inertia that MSFT will have the patience to overcome. The WinXP registration experience is just the beginning.

If they're ever going to be anything more than a secondary personal email account, and actually drive significant revenue, Yahoo Mail is going to need to push into the upper half of the chart. The switching costs of personal email addresses are declining (thanks to cheap domain name and email forwarding services), so they need to make it up in functional utility.

There's no one in the newsreader / RSS aggregation space that's even made a dent in the "service" quadrant. They'd have to provide plenty of value from the network to beat out the high-quality free or cheap products that seem to spring up every ten minutes.

Tivo's Home Media Option is an attempt to increase the utility of the device by extending its reach into other media types (music, pictures, etc.). While this might confuse the sales pitch, it could help increase the lifetime value of their customers, who would be less likely to jump ship if their trusty Tivo is mediating everything they watch and listen to at home.

If I were a more adept information designer, I'd want to turn this 2x2 into a 2x2x2, with a third dimension of "lock-in." Hosting has low lock-in, as does connectivity. Cellphone lock-in will decrease dramatically come November, thanks to local number portability. The Wall Street Journal, individual magazine titles and individual books, CDs and DVDs have very high lock-in due to their extreme product differentiation.



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