[iDC] World 2.0 — Why Things, not RFIDs, Matter [Was: The Lure of Internet2]

Julian Bleecker julian at techkwondo.com
Sat Feb 18 23:18:07 EST 2006

The ITU Internet of Things thing missed an important vector. I'm a  
bit baffled by the RFID becoming the poster child of Things, frankly.  
It's easy to fetishize RFID tags and interconnected devices. RFIDs  
are cool — they're small, cheap, hackable, fun to play with, you can  
insert them subcutaneously and call yourself a cyborg. But, goodness  
— there are so many more important candidate networked Things

The stakes for an Internet of Things is so much more than RFID  
hacking. We should be much more interested in how our occupancy in  
the world changes when we enroll Things (with RFIDs or without) into  
the social web. How will the rules of tenancy within the physical  
world adjust when our Things are informatic and networked? And why  
just Things? What about the other worldly cohabitants that will now  
have the ability to get on the network? Critter cams that disseminate  
a realtime video stream from a Kapok tree in the Amazonian rain  
forest or a feed from a school of migrating whales showing all kinds  
of meaningful environmental data would definitely make it into my RSS  
aggregator. What difference would that make to how we understand how  
the world works, or how we work to change the world?

Michael Naimark's Kundi project is a great example of a project that  
anticipates how the Internet of Things might become a platform for  
social-web style change, with life and death stakes. The Kundi  
framework is deceptively simple, and just because it was spec'd  
_before_ people ever uttered "Internet of Things" is only a testament  
to the foresight of the development team. With Kundi, Connected  
Things (they were, in this case, webcams capturing images of the real  
world) could have their content tagged as "hot" and draw in attention  
from anyone on the Internet. There are ludic scenarios, of course, so  
as to attract the venture capital folks — it wouldn't be a web  
project if there weren't. But think of one scenario I've heard Mike  
mention more than once — a Kundi Cam placed in a refugee camp where  
rape and murder is routine. Now imagine that the Kundi Cam has a  
visible indicator showing how many tens of thousands of people around  
the world are watching. Behaviors change, threatening space edges  
towards safe space because Things are part of the social web.


Forget about Web 2.0 and networked Barcaloungers, how can we make the  
Internet of Things into a platform for World 2.0? How can the  
Internet of Things become a framework for creating more habitable  
worlds, rather than a technical framework for a television talking to  
my refrigerator? Now that we've shown that the Internet (version 2,  
version 3, lambdas — who cares which one?) can become a place where  
social formations can accrete and where worldly change has at least a  
hint of possibility, what can we do to move that possibility out into  
the world that we all have to occupy?

What happens when Pigeons are geared up with wireless networking  
gear, GPS rigs and environmental sensors and become, well..Spimey?  
RFIDs are glorified anti-theft tags when thought of in the context of  
the Pigeon that Blog about the state of the environment.


How about flocks of vehicles that provide a real-time, aggregate RSS  
feed indicating the number of kilos of pollutants they exhaust every  
hour across just one kilometer of the 405 freeway in Los Angeles? Or  
gallons of gasoline they consume during that same period? I could go  
on about Things I'd like to see share space with me in the Internet.  
(Parenthetically, we'll have to begin choosing our prepositions with  
care — we are now in an era of pervasive networks and are thus more  
properly "in", not "on" the network. Careful choice of prepositions  
that help us orient matters deeply, and it helps think more clearly  
about not only the stakes of co-habitating with Things within the  
networked world, but also for creating designed experiences for this  
very different mode of occupancy.)

It's not the RFID that is of consequence. It's the chance to take  
what has been learned in the "online" ("tethered" networks) world to  
the pervasively networked world. The promising, exciting news around  
the Internet of Things can't possibly be the “cool” factor of having  
my toothbrush connected to the network (so the Proctor & Gamble  
people knew when I was low on toothpaste? what?) Design agents who  
want to contribute more than "whimsy" are way smarter than that, and  
way more provocative. Whimsy is great. But I'd like to think we can  
get some World 2.0 along with the whimsy.

Julian Bleecker

On Feb 18, 2006, at 3:36 PST, Rob van Kranenburg wrote:

> Hi,
> This is my first post too. But yes I too wonder about what's  
> interesting abount internet 2 or 3, as
> It is now official. The ITU Internet Reports 2005: The Internet of  
> Things claims:
>  “…the next step in "always on" communications, in which new  
> technologies like RFID and smart computing promise a world of  
> networked and interconnected devices that provide relevant content  
> and information whatever the location of the user. Everything from  
> tires to toothbrushes will be in communications range, heralding  
> the dawn of a new era, one in which today’s Internet (of data and  
> people) gives way to tomorrow’s Internet of Things […]. We are  
> heading towards what can be termed a “ubiquitous network society”,  
> one in which networks and networked devices are omnipresent. […]  
> The use of electronic tags (e.g. RFID) and sensors will serve to  
> extend the communication and monitoring potential of the network of  
> networks, as will the introduction of computing power in everyday  
> items such as razors, shoes and packaging.’ [1]
> http://www.itu.int/osg/spu/publications/internetofthings
> maybe this has or is already being discussed here but I think the  
> agency of expert users in hobby electronics, wireless, on the one  
> hand and the need to be aware of new alliances between hardware,  
> software and legislation (rfid protocols, standards) on the other  
> hand (Microsoft buying Otto as a safe testbed for RFID and no  
> privacy problems) is vital now as we are in a transition period  
> where there is space to manoeuvre,
> greetings, rob
> On Feb 18, 2006, at 12:56 AM, Christian Sandvig wrote:
>> Hi this is my first post.  Here is my suggestion:  Let's get  
>> excited about something more current.
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