When Web 2.0 first appeared on the scene and the 'wisdom of crowds' surfaced, a new world of 'user-generated content,' and the voice of the people took control of brand messaging. 'Push' was replaced by 'Pull' marketing and recommendations that were vetted by trusted followers attracted our attention. As a variation on that theme, now its time for our 'things' to have a similar say in the matter.
Like automated time capsules there are APIs, software, Web sites, bar coding, tracking devices, and other forms of Semantic technology that are now focused on giving 'voice' and meaning to the 'things' on the planet we find important.
The Internet of Things may not be moving as fast in the States, as other parts of the world such as China, but it is beginning to see some early adoption. "Social objects" and "things-generated content" have attracted the attention of several new start-ups, including Itizen, TalesofThings and StickyBits.
The Best Things In Life Are Free
Itzen is a free service based in Minneapolis that uses custom bar codes to allow users to share and follow the 'life stories' of keepsakes, gifts and other treasured items in one's life. According to their Web site, the founders believe that as stories are attached to things, and as these things are passed along from one person to the next, the 'things-generated content' will grow and become more interesting and valuable over time.
Dori Graff, one of the co-founders believes that brands can use bar codes in creative ways. "Our big superlofty goal would be to influence a shift in how people view their possessions,” Graff says, "because a thing’s story makes it more valuable and less disposable."
Things Have A Voice Too
In a NY Times report, they researched a project called UK project called Totem which also focuses on the narratives of thing-owners. The basic concept is that users can compose a record that pertains to say all the things found in an old chest in the attic. Then applying a bar code to these items, anyone with a smartphone can scan the objects in the chest and learn the history that is attached to them. The Web site TalesofThings.com is a place users can register and store the history of these items online for posterity.
In May, Totem researchers worked with an Oxfam thrift store in Manchester, recording stories by things-donors, for a spinoff project called RememberMe. Shoppers could actually hear short back-stories pertaining to 60 pieces from this secondhand merchandise collection.
The Secret Lives Of Things
Like the lives of humans, everything in the physical world has a secret past associated with it, and Stickybits is a start-up that is attracting some attention, having just closed a $300,000 round of funding from Polaris Venture Partners and Mitch Kapor.
The app is free, but 'stickybits' sell packs of 20 vinyl barcode stickers for $10. You also can download and print your own barcodes for free, or scan an existing one on a physical product like a can of Coke.
According to a TechCrunch report, "each barcode is programmable by the first person who scans it and leaves a photo, video, audio or text message." And then the next time somebody scans that barcode, the previous input will become a read-out. Additionally, the app lets you follow users. Instead of following one's Twitterstream or updated status stream on Facebook, folks will now be able to follow one's "object-stream."
Stickybits also allows you to toggle between stream and map views. Supported by Facebook Connect, users can scan and broadcast out to Facebook and Twitter. And with Foursquare, Stickybitters can actually check-in to the location where you are scanning the bar code.
So, as these start-ups begin to ramp-up, I think like how location-based social networks became so popular this past year, we will all become more and more comfortable with the idea of communicating with our things. This is a logical next step in the evolutionary process of the Web, so I suspect you will be hearing a lot more from all the early adaptors out there who are bar-coding the things that mean the most to all of us.
Your thoughts? Does this paradigm smack too much of science fiction? A frivolous enterprise? Or a truly valuable service for the general populace? With China investing billions in the 'Internet of Things' initiatives this year, I would suspect the latter. And don't be too surprised if the first social network to embrace 'social things' in very big way isn't Facebook. And soon.