Wouldn’t it be great if more people really understood the Internet of Things?

Nick Booth Nick Booth

Maybe we should turn it into a drama.

One of the obstacles faced by this industry is that hardly anyone understands it. If Joe and Josephine Public do not quite get it, how can they buy into it?

It never inspires confidence when you ask a technology ‘evangelist’ what they do and they can’t explain it in meaningful terms. If anyone asks what a technology offering does, all they really want to know is one thing: how will it give me more of what I want?, says Nick Booth

They might want more clean air, if they are a green technology buyer. Social media consumers, broadly speaking, want more love. Business technology buyers want technology to save them more time or create them more money. Or to give them more time to make more money.

When people ask a Big Data expert, for example, what their company does, they are asking the money questions. How will this save me time? How will this make me more money? That’s what they want to know. Not some baffling sentence about ‘totally unique’ Hadoop distributions of Apache Spark built on open source frameworks. Since the first two words of that explanation are meaningless, as there are no degrees of uniqueness, anyone hearing that phrase will stop listening. Many technology companies don’t make it any easier to understand what they do, how they do it and why – even for people like me who have to know in order to write about them.

This may not be a very scientific study, but from personal experience I’d say 90 per cent of technology companies cannot answer the basic question every inquirer will ask: what’s in this for us?

This is tragic, because as we all know machine to machine (M2M) technology and the Internet of things (IoT) could deliver some wonderful benefits. We, as an industry, could give people more time, more money, more clean air and more beautiful environments to live in. We just have to show them more love, by taking the trouble to explain things in their language and on their terms.

How do we capture the public’s imagination though?

The consumer side of mobile telcos offers a good example. Having allowed the revenue streams running across their networks to be colonised by the likes of Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter, they are recruiting the public to help them fight back. Telecom Italia and Telefonica, are tirelessly scouring Europe for recruits to go ‘over the top’ for them, in their battle to win the revenue streams they forgot. To entice these foot soldier to train in their ‘boot camps’, they are running competitions aimed at popularising B2B development. I doubt whether any student could have come up with Quidini, one of O2/Telefonica’s successes, if it wasn’t for the lure of these talent competitions.

Surely, this is an initiative the M2M industry could emulate. Why not invite the public to create games, applications and videos which show how great M2M can be? Why not invite, say, the public to think of how M2M technology could reward people who recycle more? If people had a chance of winning more money or credits on their Galaxies and iPhones, I’m sure they could be galvanised into making more effort to save more cans and bottles from the landfill site, and save more time for councils and save money for the council tax payers. There must be a way that M2M technology can achieve this. (I speak as one who has been writing and re-writing proposals for weeks).

What about a drama competition, which asks the question: if machines could talk to each other, what would they be saying. If a camera could talk, it would sound like a tabloid journalist. Whereas, in my imagination, a security management system would talk like a news editor, constantly making judgements on what the big stories are and deciding which ones to report on. I’m sure here are compelling dramas in their, to help us understand smart machines. Writing competitions are cheap to organise, but they may inspire the public.

Even if no useful ‘content’ comes of it, the exercise would be worth it, as you’d capture the imagination of the public and get them to willingly research the Internet of Things. We need to do that if we are going to get the public to buy into it.

The author of this blog is Nick Booth.

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