Today I gave somebody a book. Not an eBook, or any other sort of virtual thing, but a good old fashioned book, printed on paper, with a binding and a cover and everything.

Except that the book was printed today. I went to the bookstore and ordered a book-on-demand. There was a book printing machine right there in the store (which includes a machine to bind the book), and they printed out exactly one copy for me.

There is nothing radically new about this. Such machines have been around for years. But I confess that I chose this particular book partly because I wanted to give my friend something that was interesting and, in its way, unique — a printing run of one, given the same day it was printed.

When we use computers we are used to things being customized just for us. For example, you and I may visit the same page on the Web, yet our respective browser preferences can give us very different experiences of reading that page. To use the parlance of computers, the contents of the page were created “server-side”, but the graphics that we see to look at that page were created “client-side”.

Here in the physical world, we are used to books being made “server-side”. Somewhere there is a big factory — a book server, if you will — and then a delivery system to bring us the finished object.

But newer technologies are allowing more and more things to be made “client-side”, like that book I just got for my friend. This is also true, for example, of the electric vertical hydroponic farm I discussed the other day.

And self-driving cars (once we get those pesky and dangerous human drivers off the road) will similarly enable a client-side technology. Right now we have a model of “one owner, one car”. But once cars function more like packets in a large packet switching network, it will make far more economic sense for any given car to serve many different people.

Future technologies will allow you to choose the interior and exterior color, lighting, interior airflow, and other options that you prefer. By the time you enter a car, it will feel just like your car. But it will only be “your” car from the moment you get into it until the moment you get out of it.

When the next person enters the same physical vehicle, it will feel to them just like their car. The automotive experience will be created client-side, rather than server-side.

As I mentioned a few months ago, this will eventually happen with hotel rooms as well. I wonder how many other experiences in life that we now think of as being created “server-side” will one day become “client-side”?

One Response to “Client-side”

  1. J. Peterson says:

    I recall seeing book-printing machines at trade shows a couple decades ago. I couldn’t fathom back then why they weren’t a common fixture at large chain bookstores (“Hmm, we don’t have that book in stock, but we can print one for you by 6pm”).

    What was the turn-around time for producing your friend’s book? Is it a unique feature of that bookstore, or is it easy to find POD books in NYC?

    Along similar news, it was a mild thrill to drop off a thumb drive with a 3D model at the UPS Store and pick up plastic parts the next day.

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