Early next year, all the disparate connected devices measuring and recording conditions in tiny areas around the world – the “Internet of Things” – will be searchable thanks to a Google-like engine called Thingful. You can get an idea of the size of this network by looking at Thingful’s world map, which is gorgeous but will probably be too small to be legible in most areas before long. Though the benefit of this Search Engine of Things to the average individual may not immediately be palpable, the idea is that the data will simply become available to anyone – not necessarily what conclusions will immediately be drawn from it.
At the GigaOM San Francisco Internet of Things Meetup, Usman Haque of Cosm outlined this philosophy of more active involvement in the information generated about one’s environment. He pointed out the scorn directed at automatic devices like a refrigerator that automatically reorders groceries based on how often you use them, saying that all Information Age developments don’t have to be consumerism. The mission of his company, Umbrellium, hopes to produce “participatory products and services that empower people to transform their cities,” and this project, by allowing people to express their interest in such wide-ranging subjects as “health, environment, home, transport, energy and flora & fauna,” allows people to connect on an interpersonal level as well as a quantitative one. And don’t think it’s a pipe dream: people have done it already. His Pachube service, for example, became useful to people after the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster, allowing people to share hyperlocal information about pollution and radiation.
Though it may not be as easy a money-making path for investors as more consumerist devices, the Internet of Things has a clear ability to make people more aware of their environments and each other, and hopefully Thingful, by organizing it further, will bolster its educational uses.