While there are clearly lots of important issues to solve in how products and other objects get connected, ultimately the opportunity to create new value is in what we do with the data flowing from and about those physical things once they are connected.
This data flowing from and about objects is the life-blood of applications, and applications are where the real value gets created. Yes apps can have their own direct business models, but unless there is an effective way to pass part of that value along the chain to the providers of data, it stops a wider ecosystem developing. So when we think about how the Internet of Things is going to make money beyond silicon and data connectivity, we have to solve how the data flowing from and about connected objects can get monetized.
Some may argue that all information should be shared freely. But the reality is that connected objects need to operate in a managed environment online. Apart from any commercial considerations, privacy and regulatory requirements need to be respected. Connected objects have to know who they belong to, to make sure they’re being controlled by the right parties – you wouldn’t want just anyone being able to connect with and control your car. And connected things need to know who they are allowed to share information with, and indeed what kind of information they’re allowed to share. To extend the car example, most people wouldn’t want anyone on the Web being able to access their driving history.
The sheer diversity of object information coming online is exciting, and potentially creates a whole new economy of data networking powering all sorts of different applications. Making this information as flexible for developers as any other data on the Web to apply, link and integrate will be critical in turning a connected object ecosystem into an economy, and with that the creation of a real value chain. The Web of Things, where objects appear online as Web resources which can be interacted with using RESTful Web protocols, is a way to do exactly this.
We have identified the five most critical success factors:
• Accessibility: Web protocols provide a simple and powerful way to make information from and about connected objects as easy to access as possible for applications. The technology is well understood by developers, robust, scalable across the diversity of object types, and abstracts the specifics of object connectivity from how they interact with applications.
• Authenticity: Verifying the ownership of a physical object is vital to trusting their online identity, as is verifying the originator of the information. Linking online object identities with identities of individuals or organizations that can be authenticated makes this possible.
• Understandability: It’s all very well having information flowing, but unless a common framework of semantics exists to interrogate and interact with connected objects, applications can’t effectively exploit them. It’s important for us and stakeholders in the emerging Internet of Things data ecosystem to ensure that consistent semantics for objects emerge, and that we build upon existing standards and formats of data exchange.
• Traceability: For any transaction to be monetized, the identity of both the buyer and the seller have to be linked to the event, and the event itself recorded as a transaction. This can be achieved where a transaction with an object and its information is handled through a gateway trusted by both parties. In the Web of Things, that role falls to service providers like us, in the same way as payment gateways solve the problem for online purchase transactions.
• Mashability: Linked closely with Accessibility, serving up physical things as Web resources makes them accessible and leverageable for application developers. Why should mashing up information from a car and a building be any different to mashing together photos from Flickr?
At the heart of the solution is finding a way to bring a layer of metadata to our object information. If we can tag every piece of information and every transactional event to link them with the objects, applications and end-users they are associated with, we will have created the means to measure, monitor and monetize the Internet of Things.