Social Web of Things


LG introduced a line of new smart appliances at CES that you can text and chat with. The idea is to allow people to communicate with their home appliances in natural language through well-established and understood communication channels.

While my initial gut-reaction was to dismiss the idea as silly internet fridges for the social media age, the more I think about it I can’t shake the feeling there might just be something there. Lots of people seem to really like text messaging as a means of communication and I don’t see why that predilection wouldn’t translate from communicating with people to communicating with machines.

While natural language interaction is still a bit of a novelty, it’s gaining traction in recent years (in no small part thanks to Siri). We still don’t have a very good idea of how we’re supposed to control and interact with a growing number of smart, connected devices in our homes. For a long time it appeared to me that both researchers and developers favored the intelligent, autonomous agent model, where smart devices adapt to their owners needs on their own, as if they could somehow magically read their mind. I never really bought into this particular vision because these autonomous software agents generally cause more trouble than they’re worth as soon as anything goes wrong, and things inevitably do go wrong from time to time.

In addition, most existing approaches are limited in interoperability, isolated in their respective manufacturers service silo (what Jean-Louis Gassée just recently called the basket of remotes problem). Using a reasonably open and widespread communication channel (such as text messages), with natural language interaction substituting for rigid, proprietary and undocumented protocols could solve this problem.

The lowly text message of yesteryear as the glue of tomorrow’s Internet of Things, quite a thought.

Anyways, I would be amiss not to mention that Ericsson has been doing some interesting research in this area for the past few years on what they call a social web of things.