The last few days at Le Web in Paris has been pretty interesting, with a lot of different takes on what the Internet of Things actually is and the various opportunities arising. Nest founder & CEO Tony Fadell stirred things up a bit with a comment that he believed the Internet of Things would take 10 years to realise itself (see coverage here).
Tony’s right in the sense of a vision of the world where the vast majority of objects in our homes, offices and public spaces are directly connected, active and able to be actuated digitally. Anyone expecting an instant revolution where everything from our door locks to Coke cans are connected to the Internet in the next couple of years is likely to face some disappointment.
But perhaps that’s not how we need to define the Internet of Things. The vast majority of objects in this world are going to remain unconnected for quite a long time to come, but that doesn’t mean they can’t become part of the Web. Defining the Internet of Things by requiring every object to be directly connected is a flawed perspective. Connectivity is an infrastructure issue. The real value driver is the information that flows across networks. Information from and about objects can power applications.
To use a metaphor, the social web is now a massive ecosystem. It’s driven by a flow of information from and about human beings, identified through their social web identities – Facebook profiles, Linkedin profiles, Twitter profiles, G+ profiles. As human beings we don’t need an antenna implanted in our heads to be part of the Internet. We do it by proxy, using the keypads on our laptops and mobile devices to connect us with our social web profiles.
The same is true for physical things, and for products in particular. The priority is to create identities for physical things on the Web, so that information from and about those things can become accessible to applications. Objects can be scanned or tagged, using mobile devices as proxies, to connect them to their web identities.
Of course objects can be directly connected, and many should be, but achieving connectivity doesn’t need to be the qualifier to create the Internet of Things, achieving web presence is what does – and that can happen very rapidly for a very large number of products and other objects in the world.
10 years to the Internet of Things? I think not.