Joakim Formo is Senior Researcher at the User Experience Lab at the research department of the global telecommunications company Ericsson. The text is taken from our publication “Internet of Things”, about how the media industries can benefit from a network of connected things. Also watch Joakims presentation at last years The Conference.
Have you tried to surf the Internet of Things? Have you seen the new user interface they made for it? Me neither. Or perhaps we have but didn’t realise it?
We have had ’things’ for ages, and recently almost everyone have gotten used to the Internet, but it’s a bit difficult to pinpoint exactly what they become when mixed together. Not to mention how to actually use it? Would you ”browse” it? Will there be ”apps”?
There is a built-in pedagogical design challenge in the Internet of Things. At Ericsson’s User Experience Lab we interviewed people about their understanding of networked technology and found that most people seem to have a very weak understanding of the “networkedness” of networked devices, meaning the invisible intangible interrelationships between everything that is networked.
Understanding with design
It seems like people understand the concept of “the network” as something that is a medium for many a-to-b connections and this is why they didn’t have any intuitive feeling for the network as a structure of simultaneous many-to-many interconnections. This puts the whole point, it’s relevance, meaning and potential value of an Internet of Things in a mental blind spot for the big masses of “normal” internet and things users.
How can we then make people “get” the Internet of Things, from a user perspective? To make them see beyond all the single connections and give them a natural understanding of the sum of all the interconnections, i.e. the Network as such. Not to mention that they should also intuitively understand how to use it.
We got the idea that the key could be to substitute the mental model of the network as connections with a mental model borrowed from social networking. Sociality as a core metaphor for the user interaction could solve the problem since social relations is something that virtually all humans have an intuitive understanding of, and thus could be a way to make users naturally aware of the ”networkedness” itself.
Social Web of Things
So we designed and built something that basically is a social network for connected objects and we called it the Social Web of Things. We tested it on people in different parts of the world and listened to what they said about it. What we found was that it really did help them to ”see” the network, intuitively and in a much more holistic way.
Immediately and almost without any explanation it became apparent to people that many very different things would be able to literally talk to each other, and to cooperate in order to for example be more cost efficient and energy aware. The key seems to be using the familiar and very human notion of ”friendship” rather than the much more technical ”connection”. Presenting the Internet of Things as if it is a social network proved to be very effective for making people understand the ”networkedness” which we believe is the true power of an Internet of Things.