The Internet of Stuff


Try as I might I can’t muster any enthusiasm for the whole ‘internet of things’ movement. I can acknowledge that there are likely benefits in it somewhere but most of the ‘smart home’ stuff I’ve read about to date sends me straight to snooze mode.

On the other hand I find myself increasingly excited by what seems to be a growing amount of small businesses that seem to be based on spawning physical artifacts from digital beginnings – frequently personalised or unique and with a ‘long tail’ audience they use the thinking and tools of the Silicon Valley start-up world, the inventitive nature of the ‘maker’ community and take advantage of new flexbilities (and capacity) in manufacturing/production to create a new kind of market.

It is like parts of the novel ‘Makers’ come to life (my favourite book by Cory Doctorow).

I was fascinated to read about ‘Wood 2.0‘ in the Guardian. Now once you get beyond the HORRIBLE naming (Tim O’Reilly has a lot to answer for) the stories of things like Opendesk (which CX Partners used in their new offices) and WikiHouse are really interesting to me. Maybe it is because I am the geek with zero practical skills in a family of builders and engineers but I love the convergence of digital and the physical.

The continuing success of Newspaper Club, the embodiment of what Warren Ellis called the ‘papernet’, is always a joy to observe. I was disappointed when PaperLater didn’t make the grade – clearly there is a ceiling on the scalability of these models but I loved getting my personal newspaper – and create a couple for others.

Something like Brewbot – home brewing for the iPhone generation – is so zeitgeist it is crazy. Craft beer. Native app. Crowdfunding. You are paying a bit of a premium for a beautifully designed product where usability and aesthetics are part of the USP. The fact a wonderful UX designer like Adam joined to lead their Product team from fffunction just reinforces their commitment to getting the little details right.

I love what ‘I Can Make‘ are trying to do with 3D printing. Creating the resources, tools and training to support 3D printers being used in schools. There are so many opportunities for these printers to make learning interesting and give students important skills for the future (design, coding..) and an independent, passionate team getting in there early can only be good for the future.

Makies – letting people creating customisable dolls that look like them – is on the surface a fun little custom toy company but it is also doing something quite important by providing a more ethnically & cultural diverse range of options for children (and parents) than is usually offered by the big manufacturers.

Things like Kickstarter seem to be a factor in getting these companies off the ground – a mix of business models that probably don’t impress investors initially, a need for start-up cash but with a physical end product means these sorts of undertakings are, on the surface, a nice fit for crowd-funding. Not easy by any stretch of the imagination though.

Anyway I’m sure I’ve missed loads of companies and someone, somewhere has probably given this ‘movement’ a nice name – for me though it is the ‘internet of stuff’. 🙂

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