Internet of Things about a year ago. Now it's bubbling up in the mainstream press and we're also beginning to see web apps that are attempting to reach, if not quite a mainstream audience yet, then certainly the iPhone and Android-toting geek community. We've moved beyond the cutesy Internet-connected bunny rabbits and we're now onto barcodes to stick on everyday objects.I first began writing regularly about the
A new web service called tales of things just launched, which aims to attach stories to objects. It follows on from a similar service that got a good amount of press at SXSW this year, StickyBits. Both services want to get people to 'tag' real world objects, by sticking barcodes onto them and adding information about the object onto the Web (often via mobile phone). The idea is that this will make the objects 'social.' However, I think this is doomed to fail and here's why...
Tales of things asks on its homepage: "Wouldn't it be great to link any object directly to a 'video memory' or an article of text describing its history or background? Tales of Things allows just that with a quick and easy way to link any media to any object via small printable tags known as QR codes."
Both Tales of Things and StickyBits are going to struggle to get mainstream adoption. And it's not because people just won't stick barcodes onto objects - although that is a short-term pain point that both of these companies will likely fail to overcome. No, they won't get mainstream adoption simply because the Internet of Things isn't going to be just another social network platform.
What's unique about the Internet of Things is that it adds a huge amount of new data to the Web and allows real-world objects to become part of the cloud network. For example, sensors on a busy road communicate with your car to tell you of impending heavy traffic. Or when you walk into a shop, the store messages your phone to tell you that an item you've been looking for is in stock and on special.
I met StickyBits founder Seth Goldstein at SXSW and he told me that his company aims to create a "social object network." Trouble is, I just don't think that Internet-connected everyday objects have much social value.
Say I tag a book that I bought and attach the following 'memory' to it: "I read this book in the summer of 2010, it was a great read. I'd give it a 4/5." Even if I wrote a much more in-depth review, what value does that have on a single object? If I uploaded that review to Amazon.com, then it's put into context and gets aggregated with other reviews to form ratings and other 'wisdom of the crowd' intelligence.
But on the object itself - my copy of the book - the review has limited value. If a friend of mine happened to scan my book with their phone, they'd see my review...and then probably head straight to Amazon.com to see what other people thought. Or perhaps check out what their own social network thought, via an app like Glue (a social network based on the media you consume - see our most recent review).
Objects aren't social, they never were and they never will be. The real value of Internet-connected objects is that they can become part of the network, which means they can connect to one another and they add more data to the giant computer we call The Cloud. But social networks aren't going to form around single objects, other than perhaps public ones - like the Eiffel Tower, for example. But then you are just talking about a location, which the likes of FourSquare and BrightKite can take care of.
The Internet of Things is about utility, not social networking. Neither Tales of Things nor StickyBits offers much in the way of utility, that we can't already get from sites like Amazon.com or existing social networks.
Let me know if you agree, or not!