The Weekly Review

by Chris Bowler

The Fragility of the IoT

I’ve been thinking a lot about the IoT (Internet of Things) of late. If this is a new term to you, it’s simply a reference to all the connections between the devices we now use. Wikipedia puts it this way:

The Internet of things (IoT) is the inter-networking of physical devices, vehicles (also referred to as "connected devices" and "smart devices"), buildings, and other items embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and network connectivity which enable these objects to collect and exchange data.

I expand my own definition to also include the software services we string together. And most of the time, I feel like the entire thing is a just a jumbled up, tangled ball of yarn that has no hope of staying together.

I know, I know … get of my lawn, right?

I haven’t gotten into home automation to this point. But where I see the fragility is in the area of personal analytics. Strava and Fitbit are great examples. I use the former to track my runs, the latter to track a whole lot more. But do you think I could get the two to talk to each other? Nuh uh.

And my end goal is to get everything into Gyroscope. Why? This type of service is almost like a journal, showing future me what the days, weeks, and months for past me were like. The problem is I have very little confidence that Gyroscope (or Strava or Fitbit) will be around in 10 years. Or even 3 years.

How often do photo management services shut down? How hard is it to sync all your favourite services together? And if you happen to kludge together a workflow using Zapier, IFTTT, or several iOS apps, how long does it last?

In 2011, Cameron Koczon shared how in the future, rather than us gravitating around the sites/services we used, the content we create and share will gravitate around us. He nicely outlined the way things have been:

Most online content today is stuck. It has roots firmly planted in one of the many sites and applications around the web. Because content is rooted, we are forced to spend precious time recording its location in the hopes of navigating back. We bookmark websites. We favorite tweets. We create lists in text files.

And he opined about how things would be different in the future, where your content would be liberated and open:

The result is a user-controlled collection of content that is free (as in speech), distilled, open, personal, and—most importantly—useful. You do the work to assemble a collection of content from disparate sources, and apps do the work to make those collections useful. These orbital collections will push users to be more self-reliant and applications to be more innovative.

It was a great piece of writing and a lovely vision of how things should be. He described the software equivalent of the Internet of Things quite well, long before the term came into the public consciousness. Six years later, while each of the major social networks are doing their best to create their ideal walled garden, I’m still waiting for Koczon’s prediction to come true.

Until it does, I’ll be over here with the other old guys, smoking my pipe on the front porch and reminiscing about simpler days.