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Forget internet fridges and Big Data. Where's my internet fish tank?

Trevor means an actual tank with fish, here

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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. ®

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