Moving beyond subnets of things?

iot walled gardensMachina Research’s concept of Subnets of Things  to describe closed Internet of Things (IoT) systems where the information generated by the “things” is only accessible to one party and possibly its partners is a good description of where we are now with the IoT. This describes many of the Machine-to-Machine (M2M) systems currently operating in industrial processes to help improve efficiencies across a range of functions. While these systems make sense for their owners, they typically do not represent the vision many hold for an open IoT where information is shared (freely or commercially) across the internet.

So is this bigger vision likely to be realised? At the moment I think it is unlikely, at least in the next five years.

Parallels are often drawn with the mass adoption of the internet and World Wide Web (WWW) in the 1990s and, while direct comparisons are inherently flawed, I do think we can learn something by looking back 20 years.

An early key driver of internet adoption amongst businesses and consumers was email. Being able to communicate for free across an open, non-proprietary network with anyone else on that network was an appealing prospect even though we may curse our overflowing in-boxes now. Closed networks such as Compuserve, Prodigy and AOL had allowed email communications for their subscribers but these were limited to being able to email only other subscribers on the same network. Being able to break free of this walled garden started the inevitable decline of those networks.

Similarly, the WWW broke down the barriers to accessing content that was not solely from network-approved suppliers.

Google encouraged further use of the WWW by both content producers and suppliers because it provided an efficient way to find content which more closely met the needs of searchers than previous search engines had been able to.

The launch of Google Adwords in 2000 and then Adsense in 2003 provided a way for content producers to generate revenue from their websites as well as a highly profitable revenue stream for Google to invest further in their search platform.

This combination of an open communications network with a freely accessible content layer and a service which allowed information discovery and revenue opportunities for third parties goes a long way to explaining why the internet and WWW are so central to our lives today.

Currently, the IoT is at the Compuserve/AOL stage of the internet, around 1990. Technically, we have a range of hardware, platforms, standards and protocols which, in theory, could deliver a true IoT but there are some crucial components missing: an equivalent of the WWW to act as an open platform for data sharing and an equivalent of Google to offer discovery and revenue opportunities.

Missing links in Internet of Things platforms

A succinct and useful summary of the functionality and technologies behind a range of IoT platforms is presented in a paper by Mineraud et al. (2015). A couple of comments in the paper caught my eye:

As data is the core of the wealth produced by the IoT,
mechanisms must be available to ensure the sharing and fusion
of data streams from local and external data sources. Today’s
IoT solutions do not support, or support in a limited fashion,
the fusion and sharing of data streams. Yet, it remains possible
to combine multiple streams into a single application if one
knows the URI to the desired sources of information, but
this represents a technical challenge for application developers.

…The principle of data fusion has already been applied to RSS
feeds by the web service Yahoo! pipes, which enables the
aggregation, manipulation, mashup and fusion of RSS feeds
into one. Hence, such mechanisms support the creation of
innovative and enriched web content. We suggest that such
mechanisms should be integrated to IoT middleware systems
to perform similar operations on data streams.

This seems like a reasonable suggestion but my experience of Yahoo! pipes from years ago is that it is not the most robust system and did not really catch on with mashup developers in the way expected. Things may have changed since I played around with the service about 5 years ago but I suspect not.

Additionally,efficient search engines for data streams must be developed
to maximize the quality of services of IoT applications.

Perhaps someone will be able to do what Google did for the WWW all those years ago.

Below is their table of the IoT platforms they surveyed. It is not clear how they measured what the user expectations of these platforms were – this would be very difficult as users are likely to have a range of expectations.

internet of things platforms