The Project on Virtual Possessions investigates how people make sense of and construct value with their ever-increasing collections of virtual things. These include items that were formerly material (i.e. books, music, video, money, tickets); items that never had a lasting material form (i.e., SMS and email archives, video game avatars, Foursquare badges); and the digital traces people create when they interact with their devices or with online services (i.e., Google search history, Netflix viewing history and ratings, iPod music play history). People experience their digital things as less valuable. Our research investigates how changes to the form and behavior of virtual possessions can increase their value. The project has identified three critical features that provide virtual things with immediate utility, but that undermines their lasting value. Virtual things are placeless (can be accessed anywhere, but don't reside in a specific place); they are spaceless (collections do not intrude on physical space and force curation as they grow); and they are formless (can be infinitely reproduced with no distinction between an original and copy and can be mashed up with out harming the original). In addition, the work has demonstrated that the addition of metadata to virtual things that document people's activities can increase the value people perceive for this things.
John Zimmerman, Will Odom, Jodi Forlizzi