Lately, we've been seeing a lot of snark about the IoT. The Internet of Shit? I'll be first to admit that it's pretty bad right now, and it's worthy of the satire, but I can't help but think that many people jumping on this bandwagon are missing the big picture: This is only a phase.
WHY IS IT LIKE THIS?
Companies that make things have decided to make “Internet of Things” things and the product managers of those Things think putting the Internet in their Things means putting the current version of the Internet in their Things. And this is how you end up with a refrigerator that streams Pandora music or a cooktop that can give you Facebook updates. (These are real products, and I won’t even bother you with a link.) When you do this, you aren’t building smart things, you are building dumb things. You are building things that people laugh about behind your back.
The Right Thing...For Now
If you are one of those product managers, don’t worry, it’s not your fault. This is just a timing issue and you are actually doing the right thing. Forge ahead! You are early visionaries who are forcing the industry to evolve.
The problem is that the ecosystem required for the IoT hasn’t been fully built yet. We’ve seen this happen before with the dotcom boom and bust. The early days of the world wide web were marked by great enthusiasm for what was possible, which led to some early failures. While some of them were just bad ideas, a lot of them were good ideas ahead of their time because the infrastructure wasn’t robust enough to support them. Boo.com was a failed online clothing retailer, but today online clothing companies are doing great. Failed instant delivery company Webvan was much maligned, yet today we can get instant delivery from Amazon.com. Have you heard of Ritmoteca? Probably not. How about eMusic? Maybe. They both were trying to sell individual songs online, a business model that has made iTunes successful today.
The Missing Link
What was missing at the time was all the connective tissue that made web-based business models possible. Think about how the evolved internet ecosystem, that wasn’t exactly robust in 1997, has enabled the world wide web to flourish: Broadband, Content standards; Frictionless payment mechanisms; A critical mass of APIs that enable cross-pollination; An evolved HTML spec that enabled companies to focus on their business rather than having to invent web constructs; Shared code repositories of open-source libraries that enable rapid development; JSON, HTML5; CSS3; Bootstrap; Myriad developer tools. Git didn’t even exist until 2005, GitHub in 2008.
Yes, as an industry we have built some products of questionable value, but thematically, all of these products are important in that they identify the shortcomings of the underlying infrastructure supporting the IoT. This is where the real opportunity lies.
Just like with the internet, we have an IoT ecosystem to build to support the products and applications that sit on top of it all. Think about where we are today in the following areas: Device-optimized WAN; Proximal networking; Authentication; Device management; ID management; Security; Messaging protocols; Operating systems; IoT Analytics. Where is the connective tissue that enables devices to cross-pollinate? Where are the air interfaces that optimize for proximal networking? Where are the tools that enable developers to rapidly deploy products rather than inventing something new every time? They're all being developed and some of them won't be quite right the first time around.
Visionaries Wade Through it
It's not a stretch to say that all of this will get built and become stable over time. This is the domain of clever startups and savvy investors who will help build the next trillion-dollar industry. The amount of value to be unlocked is enormous. Yes, the IoT as an industry has a lot of evolution ahead of us, but anyone who refers to it as the Internet of Shit is simply showing their lack of vision.