scaling the internet of things with ifttt

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Scaling the Internet of Things with IFTTT

What would it mean to have "IoT at Civilization Scale"? According to Jim Heising, Head of Platform at IFTTT, we'll have achieved this turning point when our connected and smart devices can save us: 

  • an hour a day
  • a percent of our income a month 
  • a life.

Those are the kind of savings that will help move connected devices from toys for the wealthy to utilities that make every home function better. But as modest as those goals seem, they're pretty ambitious - as is the entire IoT sector. Heising spoke on "IoT at Civilization Scale" at API Days SF, FABERNOVEL's annual conference hosted at PARISOMA. A concern voiced by a number of speakers at the conference was the problem of adoption in the Internet of Things (IoT). As Heising pointed out, most consumers don't understand IoT. Altimeter Group's Jessica Groopman observed in her closing keynote on IoT security that "the number one reason most consumers give for not owning a connected device isn't security - it's that they don't understand the point."

That's where Heising's metrics come in: it's pretty easy to see the point in technology that can actually find me the extra-hour-in-the-day of legend. But that's not really what smart devices are set up to do - yet. When we take a step back from Silicon Valley technophilia, it's easy to understand what most consumers find lacking. As Rob Zazueta, Director of Platform Strategy at Intel's Mashery, put it, IoT isn't all that exciting at a basic level: "who needs an app to turn on a light?" But, as Zazueta suggested, if a connected bulb were connected not just to your smart phone, but to all of your other connected devices, you could rig the bulb to flash when the laundry is done and the baby is sleeping.

That is to say, something like "Civilization Scale" requires that your Nest thermostat connects not just to your smartphone, but to your Philips Hue lightbulb, your Pebble watch, and all the other Things that are being connected each day. While much of the discussion at API Days SF centered around the need for standards, Heising pointed out that the kind of interoperability necessary for meaningful adoption is much nearer to hand, and can come in forms as simple as a REST API.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but the sooner IoT developers take this to heart and start prioritizing open REST APIs over human interface development in their product roadmaps, the sooner we'll see adoption of IoT at Civilization Scale.

Jim Heising, Head of Platform at IFTTT, speaks on "IoT at Civilization Scale" at API Days SF 2015.

IFTTT is a service that connects a wide variety of internet-enabled devices and applications, from smart home devices and wearables to social media accounts and RSS feeds. Pronounced "IF'd," the company was named for a basic logical function: "If This, Then That." Their platform enables users to link up any of their accounts on 213 channels to any of their other accounts - so you can get a text message when someone tags you in a photo on Facebook, or automatically turn on your Nest thermostat when your Dash (a connected car service) account sees that you're driving through your neighborhood on your way home. IFTTT is helping IoT get to Civilization Scale by helping our devices talk to each other, instead of just to us.

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