Last week, the European Commission published the results of last year’s public consultation on the Internet of Things.

The whole consultation boils down to this:

There is no consensus on the need for and the scope of public intervention in the field of IoT.

Surprising, isn’t it? As far as public consultations go, this report nonetheless offers a good perspective on the broad range of opinions that exist with different stakeholders on IoT matters. The two major positions, predictably between industry and consumer protection entities, are well captured:

A large part of industry – backed by several individual respondents and academics – questioned the legitimacy of public intervention in a sector which is still in its infancy. They claim that IoT technologies and applications should develop further before appropriate policy measures can be devised. The existing legal framework including data protection and competition rules, as well as safety and environmental legislation are already protecting the end-user. In their view, ongoing standardisation work on identification, IoT architecture or security will foster a competitive and safe development of IoT applications.


They also stressed that inappropriate governance will raise barriers to investment and innovation, or would be useless in case the market developed in a way different than foreseen. […]


By contrast, many individual respondents backed by civil society and consumer associations claimed that economic considerations are secondary when fundamental rights like privacy, security, and other ethical issues are at stake. End-users’ rights and autonomy should receive full protection in an IoT context. They underlined the risk that the IoT market would not develop in a competitive way and that consumers may get locked in certain technologies and / or by certain players. In their view, IoT specific rules should be developed and enforced to control the development of IoT technologies and markets. They conclude that a multi-stakeholder platform, securing appropriate representation of civil society, is needed to address IoT governance issues.

I’m still in the process of developing an opinion about the consultation, as there are some obvious blind spots in even how the consultation was designed. For instance, there’s still no mention of how to deal with data derived from the public (arguably, that’s an Internet-wide point. What is A Public on the Internet? But it’s even more pressing when talking distributed sensor arrays) or the sheer insanity of thinking current ToS and license regimens in conjunction with traditional object purchases.1 And that is not even beginning to work on the weird scenarios we are bound to witness.


  1. On that note: does a purchase of a Tesla car come with Terms of Service and a Privacy Policy? 

In a sense what Clay Shirky was saying is that communication technologies don’t become socially interesting until they become platforms.  That is until they become pervasive and stable enough for other people to rely upon them and build upon them.

So what would it mean for people to rely upon renewable energy?

Keeping An Eye On Boring Technology | OnTheSpiral

Make sure to click through, the argument is worth following through. But the key question, where it get’s really interesting, is indeed when something is not technical novelty, but pervasive, normal, mundane in the truest sense of the word.

Lately, there is a lot of attention being spent on the Internet of Things. It was the headline of last year’s Le Web, and the perceived main theme of this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

And there are many names springing up. Cisco brands it the “Internet of Everything”, for Samsung, it all rides under the “Connected Living” banner, and on the larger scale, it’s GE’s “Industrial Internet” and IBM’s “Smarter Planet”.

Looking at some actual products, what strikes me are some quite obvious patterns.

What we’re increasingly confronted with is a world of images under glass mimicking functionality and acting upon the real-world.

You can’t set up a Belkin WeMo (which is one of the more integration-forward players, in that it partnered up with IFTTT) without a smart-phone, you can’t control the Philips Hue without another gateway box and their companion smartphone app. Samsung’s “Connected Living” line is hugely predicated on their smartphone line, and now there’s even a thing where you can open your front door with a smartphone app.

This might be just the experimentation phase; trying to figure out how to make use of cheap sensors and communications to drive some new, interesting applications. What I increasingly suspect, though, is that we as an industry are more focussed on making objects, the Things in the Internet of Things, behave in ways that we know from the Internet. If the only tool you know is Xcode, every problem looks like an iPhone app.

What we haven’t figured out, really, is how to make the internet native to Things. How do services, web-services, really, work in a screen-less environment? There’s approaches that I find hugely endearing. The Good Night Lamp1 explores how ambient intimacy could work over longer distances. Little Printer, for all the hype around it, is really an interesting case-study on alternative forms of web-delivered content.

There ought to be more of these projects: not trying to force an internet-based stereotype of interaction onto objects, but trying to figure out how we can make the web native to things.

It’s in the mundane that the Internet of Things will be the most interesting.


  1. Full Disclosure: Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino, the founder of Good Night Lamp, is a good friend of mine, and one of my co-founders at Internet of People

Bruce Schneier, on the recent Tesla / New York Times kerfuffle:

[…] it gives you an idea of the sort of things that will be collected once automobile black boxes become the norm. We’re used to airplane black boxes, which only collected a small amount of data from the minutes just before an incident. But that was back when data was expensive. Now that it’s cheap, expect black boxes to collect everything all the time. And once it’s collected, it’ll be used. By auto manufacturers, by insurance companies, by car rental companies, by marketers.

Schneier on Security: Automobile Data Surveillance and the Future of Black Boxes

That future is not that far off. There are already plenty of car insurers out there (with a predominant focus on the USA, given the privacy and legal implications in Europe) that utilise either smart phone data or flat out install black boxes and adjust the premiums you pay to how well — and crucially: where — you drive.

But this is clearly going to be a major trend, especially in insurance.

However, also Schneier:

But as we’re learning from this particular back-and-forth between Broder and Tesla Motors, even intense electronic surveillance of the actions of a person in an enclosed space did not succeed in providing an unambiguous record of what happened. […]

This will increasingly be a problem as we are judged by our data. And in most cases, neither side will spend this sort of effort trying to figure out what really happened.

[…] Startups and even larger companies are now looking to crowdfunding sites to serve other business functions, from market research and product design to customer relations and manufacturing negotiations.

“Crowdfunding is the ultimate form of consumer research,” says Scott Popma, an intellectual-property lawyer who advises companies about crowdfunding. “You are not just asking people’s opinions—you are getting opinions with their money.”

MIT Technology Review

This squares quite nicely with a lot of conversations I have had with friends recently.

It’s my opinion that Kickstarter will increasingly work less for acquiring funds for complete funding of endeavours, but instead will be used to indicate pent-up market demand to justify larger down-stream investments from more conventional capital sources. The importance of Kickstarter lies in giving numbers to the classic VC questions of: “Who would use this?” and “How many of them are there?”.

Instead of the smart city, perhaps we should be more preoccupied with smart citizens. The smart city vision tends to focus on infrastructure, buildings, vehicles, looking for a client amidst the city governments that procure or plan such things.


But the city is something else.


The city is its people.


Dan Hill – Essay: On the smart city; Or, a ‘manifesto’ for smart citizens instead

Classic Dan Hill, a solid critique of the “Smart City” as it’s currently practised. I love his writing ever since “The Street As A Platform” moved my thinking beyond screens and the “web”, and this piece continues the line of critical thought that so often is lacking in the general discourse around future and present technologies.

My main work tools are text and graphics. Graphics for use in presentations, and text to get all the information input for processing and thinking about.

I read a lot. Partly because it’s my job, and partly because I just enjoy it. But most of the time, when I read, I don’t just read, and I suspect most of you don’t, as well. It turns out it’s surprisingly hard to only focus on the text, and not to have thoughts wander off on a tangent.

Because that’s what we usually do best. Associations, memories, context. When I read, I work up on the context and the associations of what I read. I read about changes to the German Feed-In Tariffs, I’m mentally calculating potential upsides and downsides. I read about a new IoT-project, I look for similarities and differences to related projects. That’s how I work, and I’m beginning to suspect I’m not the only one.

Last week, at a conference called FinHTML5 I was lucky enough to be the opening speaker, and thus not be nervous and mentally going through my slide-deck and presentation all over again for the day, but be present. And so I could watch the impressive Andrew Betts talk about the work he’s done for the FT. He made a lot of valid points about how the reading experience on the web is in many ways suboptimal, especially on devices that have no reliable and persistent connectivity. And then he said the following:

“…the web was built for a publishing use case, and if it can’t do that well, that’s a pretty bad indictment of the web”

@stephanierieger

While I don’t necessarily agree that the web was built for the publishing use case, Andy has a point here.

Interacting with digital text is incredibly cumbersome.

We haven’t yet managed to get anywhere the ease of use that traditional printed text gives us, and we haven’t yet begun to explore the advantages of digital that expand beyond immediacy and ‘weightlessness’. Simple stuff that for me is absolutely essential, stuff like highlighting and annotating, still remain essentially unsolved. As Fabian, a good friend of mine, quipped over coffee the other day: for highlighting, there’s still nothing that beats paper and markers.

Highlight markers “Screw Digital” by Fabian Mürmann

There’s a couple of apps that try to solve this. I use Readmill quite religiously. They have a beautiful iPad app and so far seem to be the most convenient and easiest to use way to highlight and annotate text in ebooks. That is, unless the ebook you want to read is only available from Amazon, which provides its format, or non-Adobe DRM-ed epub. Talking of Amazon: I have a Kindle3, which I loved because for just quick reading it’s amazing. But highlighting? Forget about it. Also forget about consuming any content on that device that is not bought from Amazon. Even with the bad UX design that comes with highlighting on the device itself, for non-Amazon titles, you don’t even get a central repository of your highlights. And that’s just books we’re talking about.

Moving onto the web, it’s only getting more bizarre. There’s Quote.FM which I loved to use, but recently lost me because I feel the software is too opinionated. Only sharing one highlight out of a piece of text is simply not my use case. Often I need to highlight multiple passages. Also, it doesn’t integrate easily with another service I rely on heavily, which is Instapaper. That’s where the majority of news items, analysis, blog posts and other assorted text reside and wait for the next free 30 mins to be worked through. Highlights there get shared to Tumblr, because unfortunately that seems to be the only location that Instapaper let’s me reliably push text to.

These are the pains I have, working with books and online text. I do not even want to start imagining the pains academics and specialty professions have to go through.

Felix Salmon recently had an interesting piece up. Coming out of DLD13 he asked: “Are annotations the new comments?” and it seems to me that it slowly seeps into our collective conciousnesses that the way we work with digital text is a complete mess.

It’s 2012 and digital text still isn’t solved. Can someone fix that, please?

It’s that time of the year where everybody publishes their accounts of what happened last year. Victories and defeats, achievements and and the way there, wrapped up and nicely tinted by the holidays which after all gave some time for consideration and thought. So here goes mine:

2012 has been one hell of a ride. This time last year I was longing for some change, but little did I know it would come crashing down on me. 2012 has been a turbulent year of losses, falling-downs and getting-back-ups, soul-searching, reinvention and pushing forward.

I lost my Granddad in 2012 who died after a quick illness in his hospital bed one early morning, and to this day I am glad to have visited him one last time a week before he passed away. I also lost a dear friend and mentor to cancer this summer. A good-humoured friend who essentially talked me into moving to Berlin and encouraged me to take on more risks. He always told me to not become “middle-aged before my time” and he was right. Phil, you will be missed.

2012 also marks the biggest change in my professional life so far. After having been made redundant late February and some soul-searching afterwards (I haven’t not had a job since I turned 14. Being without one was unknown territory) and turned freelance consultant later this year. So far, it’s working out alright.

Getting Up

There’s a proverb, saying that “failure is not in falling down, failure is in not getting up again.” I’m extremely grateful for my friends who helped me to get up after being let go. I don’t think I would have dared to go freelance if it wasn’t for all the wonderful people in Berlin who encouraged me to do so. If anyone is looking for for reasons why Berlin is so hot and trending right now, it is those people: People who’ve been around the block, who’ve done the one odd thing or other, and can help with experience and encouragement. The worst thing that could’ve happened to me would’ve been to still be in Heidelberg, where the losing of ones job would’ve spelled disaster in the eyes of friends and family.

Taking on Challenges

And so I’m now running my own business. Which is challenging in its own right, as anyone who runs their own business can attest. You have to learn all the little things. How does setting it all up even work, how to invoice and tax correctly, how to get clients.

And you have to decide which jobs to work on. I like to take on jobs that venture into something new. I’m a consultant helping clients making sense of the Internet of Things, so that’s a natural. But nobody prepares you for the dread of doing things for the first time.

Everybody is doing things for the first time all the time, or so one would hope. But it leads to a sense of constant uneasiness. What if I’m not as good as I think I am. What if the client doesn’t like the work. What if I overstretch on this assignment. It takes a certain attitude to cope with this. In jargon you would probably call it a risk-profile. But the truth is: if you’re constantly pushing outwards of your comfort zone to pursue interesting projects and clients, well, you just won’t be comfortable a lot of time.

And that has been the biggest learning for me in 2012. Learning to live with the uneasiness, trusting that I’m oftentimes more capable than I think I am, taking on the interesting projects which I’m not 100% comfortable with.

So here comes 2013. And this one’s going to be a doozie.


PS: The media is hysterical about 2013 being the year of the Internet of Things. If you actually want to make it so, maybe we should talk.

Katie Fehrenbacher writing for GigaOm:

Nest’s learning thermostats have collectively saved over 200 million kilowatt hours of energy since they were launched back in October 2011, says the startup. That’s about the equivalent amount of energy to power the Empire State building for four years, and which Nest says is a figure that blew their minds when they calculated it. […]

In comparison software energy leader Opower, which processes data from more than 50 million homes, says it’s saved over 1.6 billion kilowatt hours of energy, or enough energy to power the Empire State Building for more than 33 years. But Opower saves much smaller energy percentages per home — or on average about 1.5 to 3.5 percent reduction on an energy bill.

GigaOm

The numbers are interesting for the low roll-out that both services have achieved yet. Further, both services are just first iterations of a larger trend that will increasingly apply data-driven insights to questions of efficiencies.

We’re only just starting to see what connected devices truly mean for energy.

I’m reading a very interesting book at the moment, which is called “Thinking, Fast and Slow” and is written by psychologist Daniel Kahnemann, which deals with the persistent biases in our thinking (others would say: mental models) because we just have no intuitive feel for complexity, randomness and statistics in general, but try, automatically, to generate a good story which makes causal sense.

Back in Heidelberg, I did two terms of Introductory Psychology and Statistics for Psychologists, and although I wasn’t very good at psych 101, stats for psychologists left me with a very good understanding of there almost never being causalities in anything we research, and to always look for artefacts that could artificially inflate correlation coefficients.

I’m enjoying Kahnemann’s book quite a bit, as it allows me to refresh fundamental stats knowledge and re-experience the how stats and intuition so often clash. Also, it’s a tremendously good read. How can you not love writing like this?

We are pattern seekers, believers in a coherent world, in which regularities (such as a sequence of six girls) appear not by accident but as a result of mechanical causality or of someone’s intention. We do not expect to see regularity produced by a random process, and when we detect what appears to be a rule, we quickly reject the idea that the process is truly random.

I’m quite glad that with Kahnemann and Nate Silver, stats is getting back into “pop science” if such a thing exists, and people tend to give numbers and probabilities a bit more weight over “intuition.”

And then I’m reading a post called “How to get Startup Ideas” by Y Combinator founder Paul Graham, and I’m baffled, as I see my timelines swelling with people recommending the piece.

Empirically, the way to have good startup ideas is to become the sort of person who has them.

What? How would you even test that, empirically?

I’m baffled because the people gushing over this piece which is riddled with confirmation bias and 20/20 hindsight is that it’s the same people who regularly pronounce to love Nate Silver and hate the election-cycle punditry. But this is exactly the same, albeit in a slightly different arena.

The idea that the future is unpredictable is undermined every day by the ease with which the past is explained. Kahnemann

Yes, we all love startups which solve a problem that exists, and which have some kind of organic discovery behind them. But the question then not only becomes whether that organic discovery actually happened or whether it just makes a good story. The bigger point is: where’s the data? Is there any indication that startups in general perform better when conceived this way?

The amount of evidence and its quality do not count for much, because poor evidence can make a very good story. Kahnemann

Yes, Apple, Microsoft, Google, they all were break-out successes, that did not originally start as a company. So it’s obvious that we look for patterns they might share. However, I’m not sure this has a lot of predictive value, not only because circumstances change, but because we tend to discount all those cases that essentially shared the same patterns but did not become breakout successes.

I’m as much a critic of the startup fad as Paul is in his piece. I’m annoyed by what I call the MBA-driven startup scene in Berlin, who are going for what they think might target a good market rather than build a product they genuinely are excited about. However, I readily acknowledge that this is an investments thesis which so far has failed here, where the runaway successes have been rehashes of proven business models.

An organically conceived startup certainly makes a good story. I wouldn’t be sure it makes the better investment.