Networked Objects & The Internet of Things

Networked Objects

photo background cc by benlo (

Here are slides from my keynote at the Cross Media Week “Internet of Things” session. The talk itself was more extemporaneously authored from an outline and notes than written, but the slides capture the major conceptual beats.

Keynote Outline:

From a Social Web to a Internet of Things: What happens when 1st Life & 2nd Life mash up?

Main Points
a. the digital communications network known as the Internet is an instrument of social engagement & exchange, and its instrumentalities (devices, databases, routers, web servers) are part of that social engagement & exchange. When other kinds of objects are “hooked-into” that network, they are caught up in the messy imbroglio of the social life of the internet.

If this is the case, then we should consider these objects as not inert objects, but social actors that shape and inform the kind of discourse that happens on these networks. So, i will refer to the various and diverse social actors amongst these networks (internet, intranet, whatever) variously as “participants”, social actors, social objects, and so forth. The reason is to emphasize that anything and anyone within the network has a role to play in the creation of social life of various kinds.

1st Life is (imprecise, but convenient) shorthand for the world we occupy when we are ostensibly disengaged from the realm of digital networks. 2nd Life is (imprecise, but convenient) shorthand for the social place made through digitally networked publics “online.”

b. The Internet of Social Beings
If we think about the Internet as a place that has exerted a good deal of influence on the way social beings interact, and has transformed digital, instrumented networks into networks in which culture is made and creativity is circulated, what will happen when that network also encompasses other kinds of interaction partners that previously were bound exclusively to 1st Life, as we once were?

If the Internet of Social Beings has significantly altered how power is asserted, how politics are enacted, and what gets to count as play and entertainment, what will happen when it is not just social beings participating as digitally networked publics?

c. The 1st Internet of Things
ITU Report on the Internet of Things for strategy & policy professionals in the telecommunications trade, stakes the terrain for networked devices designed specifically for operational efficiency, inventory management, process controls, etc. Largest practice is knowing where all your stuff is, for large distributed 1st Life enterprises. The goal is to create linkages between digital representations of inventory items and the inventory items themselves — in other words, between databases and the things the database represents. The assumption is that if you can make a bridge that represents a 1 to 1 correspondence between digital and physical instances, you’ll have arrived at operational nirvana.

This requires that many difficult and possibly intractable problems be considered, such as figuring out where something is, and how you know something is what it appears to be. So, tagging enters the problem space, and with RFID you have a way to tag objects and create that hypothetical bridge in that an RFID tag can be made to correspond to, on the one hand, an entry in a database and, on the other hand, a box on a shelf in the back of a delivery vehicle. 1st Life / 2nd Life bridges.

d. What happens when 1st Life Things Participate in the Network?
When a previously inert “thing” is made to digitally participate, alongside of the already-there inhabitants of 2nd Life networks “thing”, it becomes something else — a social actor able to exert influential and asserts itself by shaping the social practices that surround it.

* Cisco routers that can block network traffic incites political and social debate over freedom of speech
* RFID and operations control over the movement of inventory changes retail practices
* FBOWeb, tracking aircraft

What do we know about other social beings, other than humans, on the Internet? What is the precedent for other species, objects, artifacts on the network?

* Experiments in Galvinism (Garnet Hertz)
* Fly (with implanted webserver) (Garnet Hertz)

What are some early signals that objects participate in a distinctive way in the social web? “Blogjects”, which are? Does social practice really inflect because things participate in the social web?

* Pigeon Blog
* Hedgehog Blog (we laughed at home pages, but now we have MySpace)
* Critter Cams
* Video surveillance blogs

e. A New Episteme — Transformations.
Operational efficiency and optimization shape the 1st Internet of Things, what is the 2.0 Internet of Things? What is the distinctive shift that marks a boundary between an instrumented Internet of Things and an Internet of Things that asserts social practice over the instrumentalities of technical things like RFIDs and machine-to-machine sensor networks? What are the systemic, epistemic transformations that occurred in the social web? And will these transformations be exempt from a web of things? And given these transformations, what might we want from an Internet of Things?

f. 5 Transformations
* means and mechanisms for asserting power and engaging in political processes are now recognized to have been transformed
* reconfigured meanings of leisure, entertainment & play
* apparatus and the way we engage it changes (terminals all over, rather than the fixed, single PC)
* DIY practices from the fringe shape the kinds of engagements we have with media, with community practices, with social life online (i.e. what we do online is shaped by a vanguard of digital craftspeople operating without the burden of age & wisdom — they take risks and do it because it feels right)
* the linkages amongst social agents shapes the digital public sphere, we can know lots about everyone and everything. privacy is made public.

g. The 2nd Internet of Things — 1st Life & 2nd Life Meet
Once you’ve started working through this problem of bridging 1st Life and 2nd Life, you’ve opened up a whole new set of possibilities for what you can do with digital networks. Those networks need not be constrained to terminate at data terminals, LCD screens, laptops or even our mobile phones. The network can reach other kinds of objects entirely — not just ones designed for direct human interaction, like computers.

What is a social web that includes not just teenagers on MySpace, but trees equipped with sensors that verbally complain to the noise abatement authorities when audio levels in their park grow too loud?

When things are linked into the digital network they can’t help but become engaged in the social practices that are already in full swing therein. The weak signals indicate that the linkage is bidirectional — into 1st Life from 2nd Life as well as 2nd Life into 1st Life.

* Nike+
* AiR project
* Tripwire
* Crossroads Game
* Pigeon Blog
* Animal Crossing
* Insectopia Game

h. Summary and Conclusions

Technorati Tags: , , ,


Last year, the best conference I attended was Lift06. There was a diversity of perspectives, attendees and topics that was pretty much inspirational. This year, Lift07 stands to be even better. Geneva, February 7-9. If you can be there, I highly recommend it!

The Lift blog follows the build-up to the conference.

Join us this February to hear talks about the Web (Stephanie Hannon of Google, Pierre Chappaz, Sampo Karjalainen of Habbo Hotel, Lee Bryant, Colin Henderson or Daniel Kaplan), ubiquitous computing and the Internet of Things (Adam Greenfield, Anne Galloway, Daniela Cerqui, Julian Bleecker, Frédéric Kaplan), mobile technologies (Nathan Eagle, Jan Chipchase), interactive arts and design (Jan-Christoph Zoels, Régine Débatty, Christophe Guignard), entrepreneurship (Bernino Lind), Fair Economy (Paola Ghillani), Ethics (Beth Krasna), and many more topics like education, religion, the digital divide or technological overload.

Registration is available here.

Mediamatic Workshop — RFID & The Internet of Things

Timo Arnall, Arie Altena, Rob van Kranenburg and I will be participating in the Mediamatic workshop on RFID & The Internet of Things, November 14-16. It’ll be a mix of discussion, lectures and hands-on prototyping. Should be lots of fun! I encourage you to sign up while there are still slots!

Call for participation:

A workshop for a maximum of 16 designers and artists who want to learn more about RFID and its possible (cultural) effects and uses.
In this workshop you’ll make your own prototype where the virtual and the real world come together by using rfid tools. You can try out the rfid technology and develop first layouts of possible applications, alternative uses and hacks.
RFID plays a pivotal role in joining the physical world with the digital. An object tagged with an RFID chip has a unique digital identity. Any kind of online data can be linked to these unique ID’s. Here is where the real world and the internet become two faces of the same reality. Things go online, in other words, an internet of things evolves.

During the workshop participants can mould their ideas into working prototypes, allowing them to partake in the whole process; from ‘idea’ to (potential) ‘product’. Workshop projects may range from new ways to personalize objects, to funny new locative applications or world-wide new sustainability scenario’s.
Mediamatics’ RFID powered Symbolic Table as well as the Nokia 3220 RFID phone will be amongst the available tools for participants to use, test and play their ideas on.

The morning sessions are dedicated to lectures on current technology, theory and implementations of RFID and Internet-of-Things concepts. In the afternoons participants will develop their own projects. Experienced staff will be present for technical and conceptual assistance. The workshop ends with an informal presentation.

Confirmed lecturers and trainers
Julian Bleecker is a Research Fellow at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Center for Communication and an Assistant Professor in the Interactive Media Division, part of the University of Southern California’s School of Cinema-Television.
In his lecture he’ll speak about the internet of things and the current role of ‘ blogjects’ in the hybrid fusion of the real world and the internet.

Arie Altena is literature scientist, publisher and teacher. He writes about new media, art and culture. He teaches at the Frank Mohr Instituut Interactive Media and Environments, CMD Breda and other art academies. In his lecture Arie will speak about social tagging and the usability of dataclouds in the context of RFID-tagged places and things.

Rob van Kranenburg is senior lecturer Ambient Experience Design (HKU, KMT) and program manager at the Virtueel Platform.. He will explain the basic set-up of RFID, discuss the ways in which old and new stakeholders deal with the most important issues, and deduct a prediction about ‘where it’s going’.

How much?
Discount of € 50!
The participation fee is now reduced to €300 per person, excluding VAT !! (€357 incl.VAT). Lunches, technical equipment and assistance are included.
If you want to participate in this workshop, please register at
You may cancel your registration until 10 days before the beginning of the workshop. In that case we will charge you € 45,= to compensate for administration costs.
For more information about our RFID and the Internet of Things workshop, mail to or call Klaas Kuitenbrouwer: +31 20 6389901.

Libby's Lost

Day of the Figurines

Silvia and I sent Libby to Day of the Figurines last Thursday evening. She’s about 4’2″, wearing a light blue bathing suit, with arm floaties. If you know what’s become of her, please let us know. We’re worried sick about her. Here’s what we know.

09:05pm, welcome to Day OF The Figurines. LIBBY has been dropped by a truck at the edge of town. You are feeling run down. Where do you want to go?

09:11pm, a jeep rolls past packed with laughing soldiers. One is adjusting the sattelite disch on the bonnet. Beneath the rough camo paint the word ‘Sky’.

09:15pm, you´ve arrived at Kath´s Cafe, the door is locked & windows are steamed up. A powerful waft of boiling chicken rolls from under the door.

09:18pm, nearby soldiers turn east south east, unroll their prayer mats and kneel, touching their heads onto the green turf.

09:21pm, carrier bags are scattered, a Walls Vienetta has broken open and melts on the road. A lady in a head scarf is pressed to the wall by a soldier.

09:25pm, you´ve arrived at the YMCA, the squatters took their toll on this place. Even now the outside is ragged.

09:52pm, across the street, an estate cruises past towards the Cop Shop: 4 male passengers stare blankly at you.

09:53pm, a truck slowly curises past with a megaphone on the cab. A flicked cigarette butt lands at your feet. “Stay calm. Everbody stay calm.”

09:57pm, you´ve arrived at Kath´s Cafe, chicken smells waft under door. CLOUDYSUNNY, FLOHMARKT and DAGMAR KLARA are here.

10:03pm, You´re at Kath´s Cafe. You are feeling run down. CLOUDSUNNY, FLOHMARKT and DAGMAR KLARA are here.

10:04pm, troops are spreading, the band are soon due on stage at the Locarno, a storm is forecast. You´re at Kath´s Cafe. You are feeling run down.

10:51pbm, the smell of cheap perfume wafts from a ventilation pipe close by. CLOUDSUNNY, FLOHMRAKT, DAGMAR KLARA and SNAPPER are here.

11:05pm, a helicopter has been spotted iin the east, the pubs are clearing out, many people are sick. You´re at Kath´s Cafe. You are feeling run down.

11:21pm, CLOUDSUNNY said: “hallo ich komme aus tanzania”

11:22pm, FLOHMARKT said: “najaa ich komme aus estland.”

11:22pm, CLOUDSUNNY said: “was ist die seltsamste Sache in estland?”

11:26pm, FLOHMARKT said: “im estland das jugurt ist dicter als here.”

11:29pm, CLOUDSUNNY said: “im wald von zanzibar gibt es frösche kleiner als einen kleinen fingernagel. schwierig auf denen nicht zu treten”

11:31pm, the pavement is glossy with rain. An insistent buzz filters down from the darkness.

Near Field Interaction and the Internets of Things: Workshop Notes

In the middle of the second and final day of the workshop Timo, Nicolas and I organized, and the four working groups are quietly working in groups. Most of the first day was spent with a “5-Minute Madness” introductions from everyone — presenting, with three slides, their POV or perspective on “Touch” semantics as it pertains to tangible networked interaction design. The “Touch” idiom is deliberately loose — we’re not focusing on an instrumentality like RFID, but rather things that could be imagined to have some proximity, swipey, near-field interaction syntax.

Parenthetically, I am now officially a bigger fan of small, hands-on workshops than large, hands-off professional society conferences. I recognize the purpose of the professional conferences as ways to disseminate research, but my (naive? unfounded? newbie?) perspective is that they are now pretty much for funded research projects and corporate labs, of which I am neither. I enjoy going to meet friends and colleagues, but as far as a forum for triggering new perspectives on the research vectors that make me excited, they work pretty much like an expertly applied sleeper hold.

The workshop here, “Touch”, was organized pretty much to foster knotting up a diversity of perspectives on what Touch means as an interaction syntax. There was no specific goal — we didn’t set out with a problem that needed a solution, if such a think exists. We also didn’t set out to define the “Touch” idiom, or what is or isn’t Touch. The perspectives ranged from RFID projects to (my favorite of the weekend) investing “Positive History” into design.

Our approach to running workshops has been different for each workshop we’ve done in this series. In the first at Lift 06, we took a hands-off approach to defining topic areas to work through, and several interesting scenarios were derived. Here you can find a link to the final report. There were ideas revolving largely around the notion that objects can participate in networked social formations in meaningful ways — what are some ways that feel compelling and how are they connected to particular kinds of social practices.

In the second workshop held at EPFL shortly before Reboot, we continued some of the project themes — these were basically offered as silos into which people could divide into group-work. It worked somewhat. Some interesting ideas and and concepts evolved, including MySpaceOfThings and, my own favorite from the “Flickr Camera Blogject” group — Sascha Pohflepp started thinking about his awesome Blind Camera project.

Post-It Refrigerator Magnet Poetry

This time, Nicolas, Timo and I pondered how to get group work going. We came up with a rather ad-hoc randomizer. First, we had people fill in post-it notes to fill in four little idioms that we hoped would develop into a conceptual stew for possible group “topics”: Things, Groups, Activities, Contexts — sort of like a Mad Lib approach to coming up with conceptual starting points. A few people then went up to the post-it white board and pulled out one post-it from each silo and put them in a line on another white board. This spelled out some sort of sentence-like brief for the groups.

Configured Scenario Semantics

Wand affordances, grumpy old men, blinking beeping shaking, ???

Cell phone, people with few resources, dating, street

Balloons, Drunk People, Play, Suburbs

These were the little conceptual sentences chosen by the three groups, who then spent the first afternoon and second morning + a little time after lunch creating conceptual prototypes that sort of mapped around these sentences. Some groups spent lots of time swirling in dialogue, whereas others went fairly quickly to physical prototyping. Generally, Timo, Nicolas and I were encouraging conceptualization through physical prototyping as opposed to writing specifications or something like that. I think we’re all fairly keen on the ability to think through making, or sketching in physical form and, as a meta topic, wanted to consider how this could help the workshops.

Project Presentation

Balloon (Peer-to-Beer) Network

Moving from there, we had presentations from each group, showing the work they did and how they developed the sentences to concepts. One project showed their project as a theatrical diorama, made from cleverly cut-up polystyrene stuff made to look like a small village and pub and clay people. Another, made a RFID embedded styrofoam shoe to show how paths could be created using near-field interaction, specifically for visually impaired people. The third group created a scenario though a video prototype, explicating how their project would work through a combination of business case description and interactions.

We’ll be collaborating to summarize the workshop more completely in the near future.

Relationship amongst Things & Touch & Blogjects?
The relationship to “things”, networked interactions through circulating conversations and communication, and proximity, touch and near-field is fairly clear to me, but let me just jot it down to help remind myself. It is basically thinking through the kinds of action and ways of circulating meaning that take into account what it is we seem to do in 2nd life worlds anyway, with what is specifically characteristic of 1st life activity — movement, proximity, physical touch, mobility, the ability to generate geographic and physical semantics. Take these characteristics and the meaning-making possibilities for existing social practices that happen in 1st life and laminate that with 2nd life activities, you have a large, messy knot of possibility for near-future kinds of networked, hybrid social practices. Things, I think of as having representations in 1st life that I can Touch and that are Touching, semantically, and Touch the networks by disseminating meaningful data that can become conversational or generators of conversations. 2nd life circulates conversations very well in comparison to older ways of doing such, such as movable type, telegraphs, television, entertainment culture, etc. And the hopeful, aspirational motivation is that when 1st life and 2nd life meet, productive, life-enhancing, sustainable near-future worlds will evolve.

The submissions for the workshop participants is available here. The original call is here.

Positive History

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

My Brother's A Musician

Continuing his creative legacy, my brother, father to my awesome nephew, has just released a new album with John Popper, DJ Logic and Tad Kinchla. If their touring schedule stops in your town, I highly recommend checking them out. Tracks are available on, um..their myspace page. The musical diversity is broad and will appeal to a range of earballs!

Amazon has the album — “The John Popper Project Featuring DJ Logic” and read the review at Earvolution Magazine.