Access Trumps Ownership - and Other Things We Learned In 2011

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[SPOILER ALERT!]

If you haven't yet seen Season 4 of Breaking Bad (seriously, what are you doing with your life?), then the image above may not make much sense to you. In an effort to clarify our point, let us quickly recap: an intricate battle of wills plays out across 13 beautifully constructed episodes. A single winner emerges. This individual arrives at victory's doorstep by embracing his true self, and in doing so, the experience of becoming a born-in-blood kingpin. And herein lies this story's pertinence to what we've learned this year in media and technology: it's all about the experience, and that experience is a reflection of our own ideals.

In 2011 we saw a fundamental return to thoughtful, unique, quality products that enable elegant, singular experiences reflective of our desire to do more with less. Auspicious greed, clutter, content farms, plastic "made in China" crap are so 2010. This year was all about enabling access, creating forms that follow (and even enhance) function, and using curated experiences with a point of view to provide value to consumers.

With this in mind, here's the first of a two-part series about 10 things that got us thinking in 2011 - and what to expect in 2012.

1. Access Trumps Ownership In the wake of Steve Jobs' passing and our subsequent obsession with quantifying his impact on society, one thing became clear: a new generation has emerged that is wholly influenced by the device-driven access Apple products provide. They're called the iGeneration and they are redefining the reigns of ownership in startling new ways. This newest generation is detaching itself from the identity-defining sense of ownership their forebears embraced and converting to an almost pure consumption model. What they're teaching us is that it's all about the experience and the interface: the ability to access, share, discuss and move on.

2. Death of the Daily Deal We loved that daily deals like Gilt made online shopping sporting … for a while. Then lots of people did it. And we realized that we weren't always getting that great of a deal and that being a slave to the deal was more a hassle than anything else. Turns out, what we really value in modern retail – taste and curation – is not the stuff that fills our mailboxes with reminders of an empty addiction to stuff.

3. It's All About the Device This year everyone is joining Apple in the hardware business – Amazon, Google, B&N, and soon Facebook. When the world goes mobile, just having a site or app is not enough. The only reliable way to guarantee access to the consumer now is to control the whole stack. See the battle take shape when Siri moves in front of search on all Apple products, or the new Bing lead navigation experiences on the xBox.

4. Social Networks Can Thrive Outside of Facebook While the Like button is ubiquitous and Facebook dominates world-wide time on site metrics, 2011 demonstrated that social applications can survive—and even thrive—outside of Facebook. Instagram, the iPhone-only photo sharing application, went from zero to 10 million users in under a year. Path pivoted with version 2.0 of their service, and ignited user growth even while ostensibly competing with Facebook on the core "use cases" of status updates, photo sharing and location check-ins. The key to success for these apps? First, focus on the user experience. And then don't fight Facebook directly, but leverage it: connect to help users find their friends, and then post from the app back to Facebook to help drive awareness with the later adopters.

5. The Return of Editorial Design HTML was the worst thing to happen to the art of editorial design. And it's taken 15 years to turn the ship around. Thanks to HTML 5, the iPad and the Apple SDK, 2011 was a year of real progress. Just check out The Verge. Or Fast Company's Co Design. We love the craft in the Path iPhone app. And BusinessWeek makes the magazine tablet experience a joy. We can't wait to show you our latest when the new Remodelista debuts in January.

What did you learn in 2011?