The Internet of Things: What It Is and What It Means for Online Businesses

Posted / 03 September, 2014

Author / Enginess

The Internet of Things is about extending the web into the real world. It’s a different type of connectivity – one that blends the gap between online and offline and is helping to disrupt not just how businesses and platforms on web browsers function, but off of them as well.

The Internet of Things has become a bit of a buzzword in recent years, like Web 2.0 before it. Whereas Web 2.0 was used to describe the rise of social connectivity, collaboration and user-focused and user-made content, the Internet of Things is about extending the web into the real world. It’s a different type of connectivity – one that blends the gap between online and offline and is helping to disrupt not just how businesses and platforms on web browsers function, but off of them as well. The Internet of Things refers to the interconnectivity of physical objects to send and receive information to and from other internet-connected devices. Because of smart functionality and the decreasing cost and increasing processing power of information technology, nearly everything you own has a computer inside of it. Your microwave has one, your car has one – in the not-too-distant future, even your stapler or toothbrush could have one. And these can be connected to the internet, and to each other, over a network to send and receive information. Imagine receiving a notification to check your brake pads or tire stability from your car, or being able to turn your lights on and off via your smartphone, or your toothbrush detecting your brushing patterns and alerting you of cavity-prone areas. One example of this technology in application is The Tessel, a microcontroller that runs JavaScript code and allows developers to extend the reach of the programmable web to physical things. SmartThings is a company that connects various home appliances via a smartphone app to outsource tasks such as locking your doors and turning lightswitches on and off. And now the online service If This Then That (IFTTT) is becoming the "plumbing" of the Internet of Things by allowing disconnected services to communicate with each other by triggers that don't have to be initiated by the user. More subtly, this trend of physical devices connected to the web is already taking root in something less radical: wearable technology like Google Glass or smartwatches. What does this have to do with online businesses? A lot of things.  

Easier/Instant Engagement and Understanding of Userbase

We’ve previously talked about the importance of user engagement and leveraging technologies such as push notifications and apps. With the Internet of Things, you can get instantaneous data sent to and fro as your users engage with your platform. Like analytics, but extending beyond the browser. This gives businesses the potential to know their users’ needs and interactions with their product or platform like never before, providing instant actionable steps regarding their user bases. Sales data, for example, could be monitored and sent back from interconnected devices with no middleman in between.  

Social Media Automation

There are already many tools to improve productivity for your business with social media, including a CMS for multi-channel publishing and automated Twitter and Facebook update tools. However, in the future we can see devices that make context-dependent social media status updates and reshares themselves based on the user's actions. These tweets, hashtags and status updates can then be curated to form new communities based on particular device users. This will create entirely new ways for online business and platform owners to be connected to the type of people using their products and services on different devices.  

Smarter User-Centric Ads

Let’s face it, browser ads are usually invasive, annoying moreso than useful, and basically ineffective. Internet-connected devices can be smarter and more discrete, only alerting the user when the device detects that a particular product is called for or needed. For instance, a dead lightbulb in your bedroom could be detected, and automatically display a notification for nearby lightbulb sales on your smartphone. This creates a non-invasive arena for both businesses and consumers to help each other out with offers, purchases and sales data that utilize real world metrics as opposed to murky guesses based on cookies and internet search history. And this is just scratching the surface; the Internet of Things is ultimately blurring the line between what is online and what is offline. Suddenly, data and information can be exchanged whether a user is actively engaged with a traditional computing device or not. Businesses and online platforms will be able to extend their reach, engagement, user analysis and advertisements to be truer to reality, and to better react to user needs based on their actions in the real world. We can’t wait to see what develops with it in the future. So the next time somebody brushes it off as just a buzzword, you can tell them that no, the Internet of Things is in fact, actually a thing.

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