by Tom Coates
Why people are the most important part of a world of smart things…
A couple of weeks ago we announced what we’d been working on for the last couple of years: Thington,
a concierge to help you get the most out of smart connected devices in
your home or office. In this piece I’m going to try and explain why we
think people are the most important part of the Internet of Things and
the design decisions we’ve made…
a way, these two devices—Romkey’s toaster and the Trojan Room Coffee
Machine—are the founding examples, the Adam and Eve, of the Internet of
controllable over the Internet, one reports to the Internet. Between
them they show off the area in all its mundane ridiculousness—who really
needs an internet toaster—and also in some of its brilliance. They
gesture towards a world of tomorrow where every device in the world
could be part of one connected network, billions of tiny nodes on the
edge of a greater whole that bring pleasure and utility to the people
who use them.
much like the first webpages (that had little to link to and no one to
read them), these early experiments were mostly exploratory fun, but
somehow they also contained the seeds of a much more powerful and
exciting world to come.
there is a really significant difference between the two projects and
it’s one that is profoundly important to how we’re going about
connecting the physical world to the network today. And it’s to do with
how they understand their relationship to the people around them.
toaster was clever, a technical triumph that took something analogue
and made it digital and widely connected. But the Trojan Room Coffee Pot
was useful. It was useful because it understood that all physical spaces and almost all appliances and devices in the world are social, are shared and that fundamentally, above everything else, they have to operate in a world full of humans.
for a moment about where you live. I would guess for the vast majority
of you that you either live with other people or other people visit on
occasion. Maybe you have kids, a partner or maybe your parents come to
stay. You get a visit from a friend from college every few months, or
have some friends around to watch TV with you.
world is a thing through which people move; almost every space is a
shared space. The same goes for offices, public transit, shops, airports
and city streets. Every object in those places is shared too at one
time or other — the sofas are used by multiple people, the kitchen
equipment, the lights in your home, the cars we drive. One way or
another, almost every thing in the world is used by more than one person
at one time at another.
yet almost no current Internet of Things devices really think about
what it means for a device to be shared, or to exist in a social
context, and this causes all kinds of weird problems.
problem is that most of these devices treat the first person to set
them up as the ‘owner’ of the device and no one else. Only the initial
person who purchased the thing gets to control it, set it up, make it
work for everyone else. In technology circles, we call these people the
SysAdmin — the person responsible for the upkeep, configuration, and
reliable operation of computer systems. No one really wants to be the
SysAdmin of their own home.
if you generally want some lights to turn on when you arrive home, but
not when one of you is in the living room watching TV with the lights
off? How do you do that when you can’t tell the difference between
happens when you have a visitor coming to stay? You want to give them
control over the temperature and lights and stuff but not let them screw
up your complicated rules or get access to all of your account
information. For most devices today this is simply impossible.
someone comes to your house if you want to give them control over
things, you again have to login on their phones, giving them full access
and control over everything. In fact, sometimes just them being in your
home gives them that level of control! And it’s control they keep
having way after they leave.
Stafford-Fraser’s Coffee Pot knew about its context, and understood
that the value came from how it was shared. Unfortunately this is not true of many of the devices we buy today.
I believe that understanding this social context is crucial to building an Internet of Things that actually works for people. And it’s something we’re trying really hard to fix with Thington….