It’s best not to think about what might happen if everyday objects could Tweet. The few examples that already exist — diapers that Tweet parents when their wearers need to be changed, toilets and toasters that broadcast their use — are horrifying enough without imagining how they might interact with other devices able to share anything at any time. Nobody likes a tattle-tale tabletop.
Still, it seems that Twitter is starting to provide the barest of minimums required for a physical object to count as a member of the Internet of Things. Some devices, like those mentioned above, use Twitter to communicate; others, like a lightbulb that shines when a Twitter account is mentioned and a cuckoo clock that animates small wooden puppets based on specific Twitter actions. This is our connected future, formed one Tweet at a time.
Or, at least, it’s the beginning of that future. Right now we’re mostly tinkering at the hobbyist level, says SmartThings CEO Alex Hawkinson, where people can be excited by a lightbulb flashing every time someone interacts with them on Twitter. Many people are developing what he calls a “device of one” that appeals to them and, probably, nobody else.
Twitter works as a makeshift hub for connected devices because of its ubiquity and the sheer number of services that can interact with a Tweet. A lightbulb plugged into a Belkin WeMo (an Internet-connected power outlet) and equipped with a simple IFTTT recipe is what some might call a gateway device — nifty, but significant only because it offers a taste of what’s possible when everyday objects are connected to the Internet.
Devices that Tweet under certain circumstances or interact with a simple Tweet-based action are “showing the possibility” of connected devices but are “not necessarily solving a meaningful human problem,” Hawkinson says. (A sentiment that could probably be applied to Twitter itself, but that’s neither here nor there.) A diaper that broadcasts every time an infant wets itself is not — and I write this with a mixture of relief and sarcasm — the future.
“When we look back on this era, we’ll be amazed that the Internet was ever trapped behind glass,” Berg CEO Matt Webb, whose company co-developed that cuckoo clock with Twitter, told MIT’s Technology Review. “In the same way we’re amazed now that to use a phone, you once had to be tied to the wall.”
Eventually the same might be said about connected devices tied to a Tweet.
[Image courtesy opensourceway]