Forget internet fridges and Big Data. Where's my internet fish tank?
Trevor means an actual tank with fish, here
Sysadmin blog The Cloud is a great new way to store and access data, and Big Data is all about leafing through this stuff so you can figure out how to "target your audience" more accurately, almost always with advertising. These are the buzzwords of the now. Lost in all the hype is why we advertise stuff in the first place: we have something to sell that we believe others wish to buy.
If people aren't buying your widget, there's a decent chance it is because your widget is terrible. A lot of the money and angst we are collectively spending on more and bigger analytics really could be better spent simply making a widget that people actually want to buy. Consider the "failed market" of home automation.
The most damning meme in the history of household technology is the internet-connected fridge. We keep trying this concept over and over and it never works. Worse still, it has poisoned consumers and entrepreneurs alike against the idea of "smart homes" and "smart businesses".
Delivering on the original dream of the 'net fridge would require getting far too many elements of the supply chain to cooperate.
The barcode thing was never going to work; in the real world, food producers would have to package their food with RFID chips. They would have to coordinate with some central body to register what the RFID tag means.
Your grocer has to ensure that food isn't sold tagless and your fancy fridge needs to speak whatever language the central food database speaks. Then we have to get competitors cooperating on this. It's not impossible, but it is close.
The potential addressable market for the internet fridge is too small; even if you can make the thing easy to use, most people just don't care. Unfortunately for us all, over the past decade we somehow got stuck on this fridge meme and lost sight of all the other useful possibilities that a "smart home" could provide.
Fishing for something better
When the filter on one of my fish tanks gave up the ghost, I replaced it with a new high-tech Fluval G3. The filter has a host of diagnostics to tell me what's wrong with it, when, where, why and what needs to be done to remedy the situation. The one thing it doesn't have is any form of network connectivity. All this fancy technology, and the one feature that I really need – the ability for it to email me when something is wrong – is the feature it doesn't have. This feature is worth a lot of money. When a fish filter stops working, you have a matter of hours to fix it before all your fish die. For most of us the window for hitting up the fish store is "on the way home".
There isn't much margin for error when a filter dies. An internet-connected fish filter would be a great thing. Here's a market totally missed by tech heads, and I've no idea why. Fish nerds are just one example of a massively underserved market and they have money to burn. The hobby is expensive, and there are many of us. My furnace and air conditioner could be added to this list. When was the last time I changed the filter? Is it one month for the furnace and three for the A/C, or vice versa? What size filter do I get? Who has them in stock?
There are all sorts of things I wish my house could tell me about its condition. It's 2012. The tech exists; we are just waiting for someone to assemble to pieces together into a coherent whole.
It's no different in business. My big sexy Xerox printers can order their own replacement parts and toner. Why can't the neon signs tell me when they need service, or the toiletries cabinet order itself new toilet paper?
It's not that we don't have the technology to do this, it is that in many cases the manufacturers just haven't realized that here is where they can make some margin. The potential of the internet really hasn't sunk in yet.
Consider Zigbee. If all our widgets had this, they could communicate with one another enough to pass along basic information. This information could eventually be picked up by an edge device and fired off to the internet. Sadly, even most sysadmins haven't yet heard of Zigbee, let alone the various competing protocols.
There's good money to be made here; but first we have to put that internet fridge behind us. All the Big Data number crunching in the world isn't going to make your advertising more effective if what you're selling me is just another version of the same stuff I already have. Create instead a product that delivers on the original promise of computers; a device that reduces or eliminates the need for a given complex or tedious task. ®
Re: Fish nerd + tech head = fish head?
A horror story from a friend with a Roomba comes to mind. Not great for with pets.
Freshly laid steaming runny dog poo in middle of living room carpet + roomba 90min floor sweap = not the best thing to come home.
If your fish die if the filter fails, should you not have more than one filter running in parallel?
Re: "Two words: Power consumption."
Patrick, buddy, you are wrong. Home automation tech is easy. It is simple to set up. At worst, you need to ensure that all your devices have the same logo on it.
"The market" isn't a bit of magic that automatically makes tech plentiful and cheap as soon as standards are settled and the basic ideas are sound. The problem is far - far - more basic than you seem to grasp: it is the problem of the chicken and the egg.
Home automation tech isn't everywhere because home automation tech isn't everywhere. It has nothing to do with easy of use, or even the standards. It has everything to do with lack of mind share amongst manufacturers and the fact that one piece of home automation tech is useless, where as a dozen or so starts to make for a smart home.
Home automation tech faces an uphill battle simply because – for it to work properly – you really need to have multiple bits of gear. I am not talking strictly about the technology involved, but the practical aspects of reaping the benefits of automation.
Not having to poke the fish filter doesn’t save me a huge amount of time. But not having to poke the fish filter, furnace, A/C, fridge, individual light bulbs, toilet paper stocks, security system, windows and all the other bits of maintenance that go with owning a home…that does add up to a great deal of time saved.
The problem is that for home automation tech to take off…home automation tech has to have already taken off. Hobbiests can only take it so far. For it to ever work it needs to not be a “selling feature” and start being “just another tickbox item.”
People may not buy a device because it has a home automation logo at first. But if you start building it into all your products now, soon enough people will choose not to buy any device that doesn’t have the home automation tech built in.
Look; you wouldn’t buy a car in Canada without a defrost setting on the HVAC. It’s lunacy. But the car dealerships don’t sell cars here advertising the existence of the defrost setting. It is simply expected. Not having that feature would simply mean no sale, regardless of however nice the car is otherwise.
This is where we need to get to for home automation; widespread manufacturer support. Get enough of the gadgets into the home, and you can start to tell people “you know, half your stuff already has this. Buy this widget, plug it into your home router and it suddenly all starts working!” (Home automation tech actually is that simple. Some of the widgety boxen even speak all three major protocols.)
At that point, they will buy the widget, play with it…
…and never buy another widget for the house without the automation tech again.
We don’t need to make it more simple. It’s simple enough. We need to make it more widespread.