Technology journalists love to cover the Internet of Things. In case you’ve avoided this particular topic in the past, the Internet of Things discusses how everyday objects will eventually be connected to the Internet, from your car to your toaster, and the wealth of information awesomeness that will result. It even has a super cool acronym, the IoT, which is really annoying to type. And it has a lot of super sexy statistics, such as the ones from yesterday’s Business Insider article “Here’s Why ‘The Internet Of Things’ Will Be Huge, And Drive Tremendous Value For People And Businesses” (and you thought this blog title was long):
- $100 billion in revenue by 2020 for toll-taking and congestion penalties as your car lets you pay these fees without slowing down to deal with a person. (Yay?)
- A residential waste system in Cincinnati that implements “pay as you throw” using smart trash cans (although, how smart can they be if they’re working as a trash can?) that reduced overall waste by 17% and increased recycling by 49%.
- Smart electricity grids and meters that can save anywhere from $200 to $500 billion per year by 2025 by adjusting electricity rates.
And so on.
Yes, there is a lot of cool things we can do by broadcasting information from things in our homes and businesses to larger collection points. But to me, the thinking behind the Internet of Things is very similar to the thinking of the early days of the Internet and the Web. We are celebrating the notion of connected devices (1.9 billion today, 9 billion by 2018) just like we used to note the number of people who started getting Internet access in the 90s. Yes, that was a notable explosion, but after a time we realized that the value of having a new medium to get content broadcast at us was far less interesting than using technology for a greater benefit–enabling conversations via social media that magnified the impact of that content.
This idea started spinning in my head and connected with an experience I’ve had over the past few months becoming a Waze user. If you aren’t familiar with Waze it is a GPS navigation tool that also provides real-time traffic and road hazard information. That information, along with up-to-date maps, is powered by fellow Waze users who report traffic jams and stopped cars and even police speed traps. (And yes, you can use the app to alert other drivers without using your hands–safety first, people!) Google bought Waze for $1.1B back in June, so expect to see more of it in Google products down the road.
What struck me about using Waze was what makes social media so powerful in my view. Social media takes a solitary activity and turns it into a community activity. Web browsing becomes sharing. Photos become conversations. And with Waze, even driving by yourself or getting stuck in traffic becomes social. It was interesting to think that now while I’m stuck in traffic I’m actually a part of a community stuck in traffic and letting each other know (along with potential alternate routes). When I see a minor accident I can alert my community to avoid that road for a while or they can tell me if a traffic light is out on one of the main exits from my neighborhood. Using Waze showed me that there is still a wide ocean of opportunity for social communities to be built up around previously solitary experiences.
That’s where the Internet of Things comes into the picture. How many times have we purchased an item, brought it home, set it up, and then wondered “Now what?” Maybe we read the instruction manual (probably just me). Maybe there’s a particular use we had for the product and we do that before wondering what next. Maybe we just enjoy having the item, knowing it has potential but never taking advantage of it.
To me, that’s an opportunity. What if, instead of us implementing the Internet of Things, we implemented the Social Media of Things? When you set up that thing in your home you are instantly connected with a community of fellow users of that thing (or family of things). They can point out what they’re doing with it, some other items that may go well with it, recipes, techniques, programs you should download, hazards to avoid. It could convert that solitary activity (I now have this thing) into a community invitation (I am now part of a group that uses this thing).
Perhaps that’s where the technology is heading anyway. But I, for one, would rather we learn from how information technology has evolved and apply that to other spaces by leaping ahead rather than force those industries through the same process of evolution.