The internet of things and Web Directions

Over the last few weeks, with our just completed What Do You Know series, along with my involvement in Nodebots Sydney, and the Apps4Broadband competition the ACBI recently completed, that I was involved with as well, I’ve started to make the connection between what’s happening with technology today, and what was happening when I was in my early and middle teens that really drove my interest in technology, as well as what was happening in the early days of my professional life, at the beginning of the 1990s.

Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, particularly before the dominance of the IBM PC and MS-​​DOS, the personal computer landscape (which was really more the “hobbyist computer” landscape) was a patchwork of all kinds of different systems. The TRS-​​80, Sinclair ZX-​​80, Apricot, Commodore, Atari, and many others vied with of course Apple (pre Macintosh days), each having passionate supporters who’d gather for regular user group meetings. I sometimes tagged along with friends of parents, or parents of friends, and looking back, what now is most apparent was that no one seemed to have the slightest interest in making money from these things (which were by today’s standards incredibly expensive, many thousands of dollars in today’s terms). It was passion, and an interest in technology in and of itself which brought these men (and from recollection this was an almost entirely male world) to school halls, libraries and other places to discuss these strange new devices.
Professional computer folk, those who worked with Mainframe and Mini computers largely considered these things toys, and indeed, the people I remember most clearly as passionate, well, we didn’t have a name for people interested in computers back then, let’s all them early PC geeks, were doctors, and accountants, and other well paid, but non traditional IT people.

But this was the beginning of a revolution, that has shaped the modern world, and laid the foundation for the mainstream World Wide Web. I cannot emphasise enough though how strange these people (and that included me I guess) seemed at the time.

I’ve been privileged to see the early days of the next wave of this long revolution, the birth of the popular internet (I’d in fact used Internet (originally, there was no ‘the’) in the 1980s at University) with the World Wide Web. Once again, Hypertext experts (myself sadly included) considered the Web underpowered, a bit of a toy. But it prevailed, for reasons I considered a few weeks back in this post.

The feelings of seeing something exciting, and new, and somewhat indefinable (perhaps that’s why it was so exciting) that I felt at those earlier times, I’m increasingly feeling about what is generally called “the internet of things”, the intersection of hardware, and software, and sensors, and the environment and people. And as luck would have it, at Web Directions South this year, I’m sure this will come up in many of the presentations, but a couple in particular are focussed specifically on this area.

  • In the Developer track, Patrick Catanzariti is speaking on JavaScript Beyond The Webpage, and how increasingly JavaScript is a first class citizen on hardware platforms, where once C ruled the roost. See what people are doing with JavaScript, and learn about the tools, frameworks and libraries to get started
  • In the Design track, we’re privileged to have Alexandra Deschamps-​​Sonsino, Designer of the Goodnight Lamp, talking about the impact of the internet of things on how we design. A true groundbreaker in this field, if you’re in any way interested in this area, you won’t want to miss this.
  • And keynote speaker Scott Jenson, a genuine legend in the field of User Experience design, with many many years of experience at Apple (in the 1980s he prototyped the Newton), Symbian (Director of Product Design), and Frog Design (Creative Director) among others, has spent recent years thinking hard about the Web and computing beyond its current appcentric “local maximum”.

Couple this with sessions like Karl Fast on Deep Interaction, and how “Interaction is more than clicking pixels and sliding fingers over glass”, and Golden Krishna, who started something of a firestorm with his post advocating the best UI is no UI, and you’ll leave with a head ready to explode (in a good way).

Meanwhile, here in Australia, there are individuals and companies definitely doing some very interesting work.

  • NinjaBlocks, a really successful Kickstarter project that kicked on, design and manufacture a family of devices and sensors, that can be very simply hooked up to their back end service (think of it a little like Twitter for devices), that you can also use with other devices. Based in Sydney, they’re really worth checking out
  • Freetronics, based in Melbourne, design, and manufacture Arduino compatible parts, and kits. A great place to get started, or find parts for your next project
  • Little Bird Electronics, founded by one of the co-​​founders of NinjaBlocks, Marcus Schappi, have been importing everything you need to work on these sorts of project for years (and I hear they might have some interesting projects of their own underway as well)
  • Fundawear, a proof of concept for Durex, from Sydney based digital design agency Snepo, gained headlines around the world. Not 110% safe for work viewing, (hint, Durex + fundawear should give away the purpose of this wearable), but interesting, impressive work, that gained headlines around the world

Through the Apps4Broadband competition, I came across some new projects in this space happening locally, including

  • Senograph, real time monitoring and visualisation of sensor data, who have also designed and are manufacturing air quality sensors to hook up to the network
  • The Bopp Smoke Alarm, from the near ubiquitous Marcus Schappi (he also spoke at Web Directions South last year), a smart “smoke alarm as a service”

And some of the people doing interesting things in this place locally include

  • Emma Chee, who works on prototypes for wearable computing devices (like the Urban Nav smart jacket she developed). Emma recently spoke on Wearable Computing at our What Do You Know event in Sydney
  • Martin Tomitsch is the Director of the Design Computing program at the University of Sydney, and also teaches in the Interaction Design and Electronic Arts Masters program. Both these programs have a focus on the internet of things (Emma Chee is a graduate)
  • Anna Gerber, at the University of Queensland gave a fantastic introduction to the internet of things ecosystem at our recent Brisbane What Do You Know Event.

Know of any projects, products, people, or teams we’ve left out? Please let us know!

And if you’re keen to connect with others interested in the internet of things, and hear from some amazing experts in related fields, you know where to be October 24 and 25!

One response to “The internet of things and Web Directions”:

  1. The world of internet and word wide web has truly set new norms for communication. Thanks John for sharing adding your insights & remembrances to the topic!