Social Internet of Things – Alessandro Soro

The Internet of Things is here to stay. Looking backwards, it is hard to retrace the steps that led to its creation, as it embodies ideas that have been simmering for decades. The name ‘Internet of Things’ is generally credited to Ashton, and his original idea of an intelligent supply chain in which ‘things’ can identify themselves and communicate using networking protocols.

For example, in this vision, a yogurt pot is capable of sensing its environment and monitor its location, from when it leaves the dairy, into the delivery truck, down to the shelf of the supermarket, into our shopping bag, fridge, bin and ultimately all the way to the waste facilities. During its journey, the yogurt pot would speak to intelligent devices to check that the chain of cold wasn’t broken, the product is not past expiry date, the empty jar is going to the proper recycling bin and so on.

This initial scenario is but a fraction of the current, broader vision. Today’s IoT takes inspiration and borrows concepts from a variety of research initiatives, including ubiquitous computing, ambient intelligence, tangible user interfaces, mobile and ad-hoc sensor networks, wearable computing, while maintaining some important differences with each of these. One key aspect that sets the current scenario apart from the fields above is the attention that the IoT is focusing, both from industry and the general public: previous waves of research on pervasive and ubiquitous computing never seemed to particularly capture the imagination of industry and everyday users, and the Ubicomp vision always remained somehow trapped into a perpetual ‘proximate future’, promising but never quite ripe yet.

When looking forward to the market estimates about the IoT, however, the figures dance considerably depending on who makes the forecast, but everyone seems to agree that they will be in excess of the hundreds of billions of dollars per year. The first movers among big industries are attracted by the promise of traceability, reduced waste, improved safety, and real-time monitoring and optimisation, and these applications are driving 10-digit investments by big actors in, e.g. health care, food supply chain, mining and logistics. Although key actors are still to emerge, the enabling technology is still evolving and services and protocols are still fragmented, industry has invested so much that it will deliver an IoT: there is an overall sense of having passed the point of no return.

Under this broad umbrella, the IoT is expanding from the initial vision (today sometimes referred to as Industrial Internet of Things , IIoT) to explore the opportunities of interconnecting things of all sorts, making them capable of reasoning about the data they collect and talking to other things. Almost everything, be it a kettle, a fire hydrant, or a motorbike, can be enhanced with sensors, computing and connectivity. Perhaps, it is the tangibility of things, as they are moved around, manufactured, sold, used every day and the possibility of their connection and tracking that makes them irresistible. It is, in fact, when looking closer to the everyday users, at the mundane applications, that the IoT can potentially have the bigger impact, for better or worse. Scattered across the home, embedded in people’s cars, even worn as clothes or ornaments, IoT devices can empower or become the instrument of surveillance, engage or deskill, help us to socialise or isolate us even further into our own technological bubble, depending on what standpoint we take in design.


Part I. Social IoT Vision
Beautifying IoT: The Internet of Things as a Cultural Agenda
The Internet of Places
From the Internet of Things to an Internet of Practices
Part II. Social IoT Interaction Design
The Needfinding Machine
Exploring Interaction Design for the Social Internet of Things
Designing Places for Reflection
Part III. Social IoT Applications
Sensing Home: Participatory Exploration of Smart Sensors in the Home
Direct End-User Interaction with and Through IoT Devices
Engaging Children with Neurodevelopmental Disorder Through Multisensory Interactive Experiences in a Smart Space
From Social to Civic: Public Engagement with IoT in Places and Communities

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