Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Internet of Missing-Some-Things: Open Standards

Can't believe my last post was over a month and a half ago. Where did all the time go? Of course, I know exactly where the last six weeks have gone, but I'm still amazed by how quickly they disappeared.

Insert all the usual cliches here about how life has been a crazy lately, and so on. But it has been fantastic, really. Customers are building neat-o devices that are going to change the world, and we're helping them do it. In particular, I have to give FeedLogic a little plug. They're building a whole new range of products which will revolutionize the livestock industry, and I just held the first pre-production device in my hands. I must say it is really cool. They've also been invited to present at the first ever MinneDemo to be held outside of the Twin Cities, and they're one of only a few non-software companies that has ever been invited to present. This one will be in St. Cloud, MN, and I'm really excited for them. Go check it out, and cheer 'em on.

But back to the topic at hand: The Internet of Missing-Some-Things. We continue our coverage with a discussion about open standards.

This is a brand-new market, and companies like TelemetryWeb seem to be springing from the ground faster than the green shoots of grass in my lawn. But it is still very much the Wild West. There are no standards in this market that meet both the necessary criteria. They must be both OPEN, and USABLE.

It is probably too early to expect that there would be, but just like the lack of semantics that we covered last time, there's no way we'll ever get to the ultimate potential of this technology without them. Sure, Pachube has published EEML as an open spec. I'm happy that they feel it works for them, but it is a long way from being really useful in my humble opinion. If publishing semantics can be summed up with a single tag called "private" that is set to "true" and "false", they must be dealing with a very different usage scenario than TelemetryWeb has encountered.

But on the flip-side, you have the Open Geospatial Initiative. This group has solved every problem known to humanity with sensor platforms, going back to NASA missions that launched 20+ years ago. There's no doubt that lots of smart people have contributed to this standard. We're talking about rocket scientists here, and I'm not even exaggerating. But the end result is that it is completely unusable...it is only usable by rocket scientists.

I'm not just talking about data here. I'm talking about devices, too. The ZigBee protocol has some promise, but the licensing is not open, so everyone who wants to make a device that implements the protocol stack has to "become a member". This feels like my first experience of going to a bar in a dry county. "Wait...you mean you CAN get a beer in this town?" Sure, but only "members" can buy it. Digi has some great stuff in their XBee devices, and they're a clear home-town favorite. But they're another layer on top ZigBee, so you start with a non-open platform and then add more proprietary stuff on top of that.

There's a reason HTTP has become so widely adopted. It was both OPEN and USABLE. If devices are powerful and smart enough, they can simply use HTTP. But most of the "things" in the Internet of Things world are not that powerful...

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