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11 May 2008

Next big thing = the internet for things

At the moment the internet is useful for finding information or for communicating - it does not readily link back to actual physical things in the real world and their geographical locations. Nor does it enable us to drill down deeper into such information while we are on the move.

What is coming soon is the ability to find things in real life using the internet. The capability is evolving and mashups of place information with Google maps is a good example. There is a great collection of 50 Things to do with Google Maps Mashups that shows the possibilities.

Today if you are in a store and want to know more information about a product there is no easy way to find out. Of course, that is apart from the helpful and attentive sales staff (who are probably hiding in the broom cupboard with the Easter Bunny). We cannot easily store information within the item about its provenance, and other rich information like its environmental footprint. But the internet is really good at storing information like that. What we need is a way to connect the physical item, including its locality, with rich information stored in a way that is accessible via the internet.

There are some incipient technical solutions to precisely this problem, however they are at very early stages now and there are likely to be several competitors seeking to define the platform.

But the work is happening and we will start to see offerings that couple modern mobile phones with cameras, high speed internet access and some kind of thing-markup-language/technology.

Due to cost constraints the successful solutions are likely to be passive, that is not require an active chip or similar to be on each item. Instead, it is more likely that there will be some kind of semantically rich identification mark that can be machine read and then passed via the internet to information bases.

One early contender for this space is the 'shotcode' (or the Wikipedia entry has some more information). BBC's Culture Shock program had a brief overview of shotcodes recently.

Although RFID costs have come down a lot in recent years, they remain high for B2C applications at the individual item level. It is likely is that RFID will not be part of this kind of solution at a consumer level. Instead, it will have its place in wholesale and commercial applications where usage and solutions continue to improve.

By Carruthers via Aide-mémoire

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