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20 Oct


Understanding the Connected Home: Shared connected objects

October 20, 2015 | By |

This blog post is an excerpt from Understanding the Connected Home, an ongoing exploration on the implications of connectivity on our living spaces. (Show all posts on this blog.) The whole collection is available as a (free) ebook: Understanding the Connected Home: Thoughts on living in tomorrow’s connected home

As anyone who’s lived in a shared household can attest, there will be objects that you share with others.

Be it the TV remote, a book, the dining room table, or even the dishes, the connected home will not doubt be filled with objects that will be used by multiple people, sometimes simultaneously and sometimes even without the owner’s permission.

On the whole, you find wealth much more in use than in ownership. — Aristotle

Rival vs. non-rival goods

What will these shared, connected objects be like? What characteristics will define them?

Furthermore, when we imagine objects being shared, what if we think about them being used not only within one household, but with neighbors, friends and even the broader world? Even at the same time?

Normally, physical objects are “rival goods.” That means if one person has it, no one else can have it. For example, I’m reading a paperback book, and unless you’re comfortable reading over someone’s shoulder, it’s not possible for you to read the book at the same time.

However, digital things are often “non-rival goods.” That means if I’m reading a digital copy of this book, you can also have a copy on your device that you’re reading at the same time.

When we add connectivity to an object, could we start to use physical resources in a non-rival way?

This seems like an incredible opportunity for allocating resources and using them in a responsible and sustainable way. How can we build and use objects in the connected home so that others can use them as well?


If we’re going to be sharing connected objects, we may want to personalize them when we’re using them.

How can we design objects that support multiple users, for example managing different preferences or appearances depending on who’s using it.

Even if you have one person using a connected object, they may want to switch between different user personas. Today it’s common to see phones with two SIM cards. This allows the user to toggle the phone plan and operator, plus other preferences, that suit them.

Could we apply this kind of personalization to other devices and services, like household appliances, furniture and even environmental controls?

Trust management

If we have pseudo-non-rival goods being shared thanks to their connectivity, how do we facilitate trust among users?

It might be easy to trust your family living in the home with you, but what if you lend your connected drill to a friend of a friend, or offer it in a neighbor tool forum?

We’ll want to delineate who has permission to use your objects. There will be ways to protect those objects from spam and fraud, as well as monitoring usage so that you can ensure it’s been treated well.


Because shared connected objects will get a lot of usage (hopefully), they should be built in a way that makes it easy to repair them.

Fairphone is a great example of a device that uses **its modular design to enable repair and upgrades without having to toss out the whole thing. **

We should foster this kind of modular design, as it will help make more sustainable objects as well as objects that are more shareable.

Value added through usage.

**Could we make shared objects that don’t depreciate with use, but are instead improved by it? **

There are examples of this behavior in some traditional rival goods. Take for example the baseball mitt. When you first buy it, it’s very stiff and hard to catch a ball with. Over time, with use, it becomes more flexible and a better product.

When we make and use connected objects, how could they improve over time? How could sharing be encouraged, so that there’s not as much idling capacity and that objects are being put to full use?

Key takeaways

Shared connected objects offer a way to use physical good in a non-rivaling way. Through personalization and modularity, we can design and prepare for fuller shared usage, and with trust management better navigate who can use what object. In turn, we can imagine how shared objects gain value the more they are used, which could lead to a more sustainable appreciation of physical goods.

Further reading

Property and Ownership by Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Designing for collaborative consumption by Michelle Thorne

This blog post is licensed under Creative Commons (by-nc).