In my previous post, I went on at length about my disenchantment with the direction the Web has taken—the advertising-driven business models promoting mindless consumption, the depressing shortsightedness of entrepreneurs and investors alike, and the epidemic of knock-offs among new startups. Click here if you’d care to read the entire rant, because this post is devoted to creating the next Web and how it can become the platform for solving the very real problems of today.
These problems, as I mentioned in my last post, include climate change, peak oil, food and water shortages, rising commodity costs, and the drive behind them all—a growing, aging, rapidly expanding global population that expects to live as well as Americans do now. To meet these challenges, we will have to do more with less, meaning we need breakthroughs in energy efficiency, resource allocation, and managing all kinds of network traffic. In other words, we need an operating system for the world.
But before we can build a real-world OS, we first need to be able to interact with the “Things” (objects, items, processes, systems, and so on) controlling resource usage. These are Things like vehicles, appliances, factory equipment, building systems, water works, the power grid, and so on. Much like today’s Web enables people to interact with each other through social networks and with processes through enterprise systems, the next iteration of the Web (and the Internet as whole) will be one in which we interact directly with Things while they also communicate with each other through the cloud. This is what we mean when we talk about the “Internet of Things.”
Now, the Internet of Things isn’t new. As I discussed in a previous post, the Internet of Things (1.0 version) earned a bad reputation in its early incarnation of RFID tags and readers. For a variety of reasons, that version fizzled out—the investment required was high, the results modest, and the success rate low. Incrementally improved efficiency wasn’t enough to justify the shortcomings.
Once again, there is a lot of buzz around the Internet of Things, this time as the means to creating “a smarter planet,” as IBM has flogged it ad nauseam. While I sympathize with Big Blue’s aims, its rhetoric (“With this knowledge, we can reduce costs, cut waste, and improve the efficiency, productivity and quality of everything from companies to cities.”) falls into the same trap as the original Internet of Things. You can’t solve unprecedented problems with incremental improvements. We need an Internet of Things 2.0.
Fortunately, we already have the building blocks. As jaded as I am about the current direction of Web 2.0, it’s spawned several technologies and approaches that, if applied correctly, might prove to be the foundations of a real world operating system. My premise: creating solutions with the necessary scope, scale, and speed requires a fundamentally open, massively parallel development effort requiring more input and eyeballs than any traditional IT effort. What capabilities do we need to make this a reality?
· Search. Instead of obsessing over click-through rates, imagine a search platform in which large numbers of users could sift through structured and unstructured information from real world processes looking for patterns and opportunities.
· Mashability. I’m talking about software, not music. Monolithic applications are dead; services rule. And the swiftest path to creating solutions is to mash up new combinations of old services. The trick is to make it easy for non-technical users by giving them the tools to do it in a tenth or a hundredth of the time it takes now. If there’s one thing Web 2.0 has taught us, it’s that lowering the barriers to participation inevitably leads to exponential increases in contributions.
· Composability. In a similar vein, Web 2.0 technologies have also underscored the benefits of highly adaptable, reusable code. Building the solutions we so desperately need will require a model-driven development platform with more flexible collection and storage schemas than anything enterprise software offers today.
· Crowdsourcing. If the rise of social networking enabled millions of people to fritter away billions of the most productive hours of their lives playing Farmville, it also created a worldwide platform for organizing people and rapidly disseminating information. Crowdsourcing is barely in its infancy.
By combining these technologies with what we learned from the original Internet of Things, we can create the platform for building the Internet of Things 2.0. And this, in turn, will be the redemption of the Web.