The internet has made a lot possible. But one of the biggest new possibilities is access to information and data. Wikipedia made encyclopedic knowledge available for free to anyone. No longer did you have to buy a set of encyclopedia’s that were big, heavy and often out of date. Newspapers began putting their news online making subscriptions to paper copies somewhat obsolete.
The same started happening to music with Napster and continues now with Pandora, Spotify, Google Music or Beats Music. You don’t own all of the songs but you can listen to whatever you want. Ownership limits how much you have access to because it costs A LOT to have a complete music collection (assuming you don’t spend your days on torrents).
This concept also carries over to databases. Want to know everything about the real estate market? Subscribe to the CoStar, Hoovers, ESRI, or other datasets that are kept up to date. You don’t own the data but you can access anything you need when you need.
Ownership vs Access is a rising business model made possible by accessibility to both large quantities of data online as well as access to markets/audiences that the internet makes available. You can sell a set of encyclopedias to 1,000 customers for $1,000 apiece and make $1,000,000. Or you can make that data you have freely available to grow an audience that you can sell to advertisers (or an audience that you seek donations from for support). Grow to an audience of 1,000,000 and suddenly you have lots of options for making money (theoretically).
As more and more organizations realize this potential it will become more common. This is in part because demand for unique data is seemingly unquenchable but often people aren’t willing to pay the cost to own it – but they are willing to rent access to it.