On REST for devices

One things that I don’t understand, is that most people in our field do not really like our approach, or maybe they simply don’t get it. Indeed, we’re kind of stuck between several worlds: wireless sensor networks (WSN) people that find our approach too esoteric, and HCI people that find it not enough sexy. It is a bit annoying, as people don’t take us very seriously, especially not WSN researcher. I overheard comments like “What? You want to use the Web to connect devices? hahaha! I can’t stop laughing, haha it hurts me! Come on, be serious dude! Using the Web for that!! Man, you’re great, I gotta call my colleagues to tell them your idea, they’re gonna *love* it“.

Jeez!

The Web technologies are still so under-exploited, so few projects out there have really used them even though they are good enough for what non-geeks (i.e. over 99% of population) will do with networked devices. But no. We keep being laughed at when we submit papers, and comments are like “Sorry guys, but connecting devices to the web is nothing new. Next.” Sure, we keep pushing our work, so that people can see it working in live. We are at a point where we can finally show researchers that our stuff is working well and can certainly compare in terms of performance with what’s out there, but more importantly it is much more sexy than anything out there in the academia, especially it’s much easier to use and program, and unarguably more flexible. It’s just very small yet and we’re just down the mountain, but we can see the road clearly. We can even see tons of gold shining up there on the top, and we keep finding huge nuggets on our trip, so it’s totally worth it!

WSN people got certainly a point because of course fundamental research is important, but I also think that too many people in WSN are only focused on “let’s get this protocol 2% faster” or “how about a 3% cheaper computational costs of this algorithm”, or “how to locate eastern eggs in burning bushes with WSN” which of course is interesting, but the people out there on the streets (as opposed to the coke-drinking geeks) don’t really care about that. They want to see stuff that works well and they can buy (and if it’s sexy even better). As a consequence, embedded systems remain some NASA-lab/US-Army kind of research, feared by the public who doesn’t want to deal with it (but they do so daily anyway).

Let’s do something concrete with WSN, that works, and that’s usable, and that people will really need.

There’s a huge lack of the “let’s do something concrete with WSN, that works, and that’s usable, and that people will really need” kind of mentality in this area. I find it’s about time people start building toys and real products with WSN, that are easy to use, and do live up to peoples’ requirements. The technology is young and not perfect, for sure. But come on, it’s sufficient for most needs. We just need to empower people to build their own applications and to innovate, and that’s exactly our target at Web of Things. Just like the Arduino enabled tons of designers and other people to access and use digital circuits within their work, we want to push this idea further. I’ve had a huge debate recently on linkedin, where a guy was like “hey, why the hell do you want to connect things? My customers don’t care about that, and I don’t see why you’d do that anyway.” Maybe his customers don’t need it yet (which I doubt), but they will soon. The point the guy was making is that he doesn’t see the reason behind connecting a dog to a fridge. I don’t see why either, but I’m sure that there’s somebody out there who does. And that’s what matters to me! If somebody has an idea a business model behind, then great let’s give him the tools to do it. I think this point is essential, and that’s why

Networked devices have an amazing implicit value for so many disciplines, and I’ve seen fantastic ideas out there (like everything on Yanko design, my daily fix of inspiration), many of which are realistic and feasible today. Still, I don’t see any products like that on the market, and the ones I see simply suck, or are just made for extravagant billionaires. Why is that so? Maybe, because simply don’t know how to (re)use it. More importantly I see the problem being that if you buy two objects that are not from the same company, they just won’t work together. Companies don’t really care. Of course they want to push their own standards, but if a product is based on a closed standard which makes people not wanting to buy it, is that attitude worth it? Even worse, most researchers in WSN don’t care at all about reusing what’s there and they just come up with yet another soon-to-be-dead solution on their own that fails to reach a broader acceptance. Indeed, I’ve seen so many standards that only a few people use drying in the desert of general indifference. So why not just help us reusing the most of what’s there on the Web, instead of reinventing the wheel (and a square one, moreover)? Let’s just stop inventing new standards, and just exploit and explore the ones we have before doing so! Join us today! I guess, I’ve pissed off most WSN researchers – which is really exciting – and I invite you to join the discussion, please send criticism in the comments!

Vlad Trifa

  • SpaceTimeContinuum

    Vlad, I agree 100% !

    I dont know nothing about the technical aspects of electronics, WSN and web apps, but I know that in terms of “user-centered applications”, there are lots of innovative products/services to design!

    The “Webof Things” field is the fruit of 2 differents fields that are not used to work together:
    – the internet field which only deal with “virtual” applications, improving the internet platform
    – the WSN, hardware field, which only deal with wireless protocols like Wifi, ZigBee, and all these awful words!

    Mixing two worlds is very difficult. That recalls me a discussion I had with Christian Vollaire (http://www.ampere-lab.fr/IMG/pdf/Micro-ondes_pdf-2.pdf) who worked on a system that provides energy through microwaves. He told me that he managed to do so by making discuss “the people from the low-frequencies” field and “the people from the high-frequencies”(I can’t tell you why exactly)!

    Innovation comes out of mixing fields that are not connected yet! This is the cas in the brain when an good idea emerges (the insight!): it can be explained by the fact taht the 2 different neural systems suddenly are connected! It’s also the case in the “medici effect” that is used in creativity sessions (http://www.themedicieffect.com/speaking/speaking_topics.html).

    I wish we can maintain this “cross-cultural” discussion!!

    Edouard SIEKIERSKI

  • http://www.vladounet.com Vlad Trifa

    thanks for your thoughts! Indeed, innovation for me just comes when bringing two things together that are not used to be linked. The best times of my research is when I was at UCLA working at the department of biology and computer science at the same time, I was kind of the link between both! You can see discussions that start and both sides learn from each other, and that’s how great and meaningful things really emerge. For me “real” innovation and great products rarely happen in isolation. Especially for research, how can you create something new if you don’t know what is there already?

    Technology is just a tool, and to solve problems with it, you need to ask the people in the field what their problem really is. I’ve so often a bunch of engineers trying to come up with a solution for a totally different field, making a great product to solve what they thought the problem is, but it was different.

    I would especially add a 3rd field to your list which is designers & interaction people, basically all the people in this field that aren’t engineers. They are people in the outside world, who don’t know tech but still use it!

    Finally, I find so sad that academia is so hermetic to everything that happens in parralell, but is not directly in academia. I mean, almost nobody in academia knows what processing, nabaztags, or arduinos are. Worse, there is just no dialogue between these two groups and that makes me sad? Why do engineers not look at what artists or hackers or designers do? At least for inspiration, coz I have the feeling these people get really cool things done (not often as products, true), while we struggle with boring discussions that prevent progress.

    As an example, just look at pachube.com, for me what Usman and his team did is so much better, useful, modern, and meaningful than what researchers have tried to do for years (senseweb @ msr, GSN @ epfl, …). It just works, it’s sexy, and it feels good and right!

    We have so much to learn from outside academia, but we just don’t value enough the ideas of people that do not have a phd and big name in the community… it’s just too bad.

  • http://tshwi.blogspot.com Lynn Marentette

    What a great blog! I came across it today and wrote about it on a recent blog post.

    Thanks!

  • http://tshwi.blogspot.com Lynn Marentette

    I forgot to ask. Is there anyone working on a web browser for the Web of Things?

  • http://tshwi.blogspot.com Lynn Marentette

    A user-friendly one that really works?

    • http://www.vladounet.com Vlad Trifa

      thanks for the kind words. We don’t have a browser so to say, but have firefox plugins hat get the job done. I think it’s much easier to have people install a plugin and keep using firefox, than making them use a brand new browser done just for that (especially it will take some time before these devices become omnipresent), but in the long such browsers will become omnipresent I’m quite sure! Let us know more about your work, we’re looking forward to hear about it!!!

  • SpaceTimeContinuum

    Vlad and Lynn,

    what you are saying about user-friendly applications / engineers’ work (I’m a part of this community!) is a general problem of over-investment on the resolutions of the problem, on the – sometimes useless – willing to do very complex things for the fun of it, thinking that the user is also an expert, and not seing what’s going on out of your office or what the users are waiting for… and finally not answering the right question!!!

    It reminds me a television programme I saw today, in which a famous chef Gordon Ramsey is trying to give a “new life” to some restaurants with high potentialities but not going on the good way (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramsay%27s_Kitchen_Nightmares).
    One of these restaurants was the Riviera in Scotland was in a bad situation (no clients!) although the cook team was composed by very talented french chefs… coming from France.

    The issue was that the team just wanted to make to most exquisite meals, with the most complexe tastes, with 3 lines description of the meals! The “more and more” problem some people are living in some scientific fields.
    Their mistake: they didn’t see that the clients couldn’t understand their propositions, in terms of taste but most of all even in terms of the words used in the menu!!!
    All the team was highly experimented, taughts in big restaurants, but they forget to think that the clients are not experts!!

    You can read some descriptions on this post:
    http://www.britannia.org/TVArchives/episodedetails/00002511/
    I like this sentence: “What’s the BEST RECIPE for a successful restaurant? Top French chefs, the finest ingredients, food fit for a king… Fine dining restaurant La Riviera in Inverness has it all and more. All except one teeny weeny thing… CUSTOMERS. Without them, you don’t stand a CHANCE.”

    Now, after trying to “rethink” his work, the french chef managed to set a new menu and new indoor environment and now the restaurant is known as the best restaurant in Scotland!!
    http://gordonramsayskitchen.com/ramsays-kitchen-nightmares/season-2/la-riviera/ … and gained a Michelin Star!

    There is also a concept which is very interesting and maybe which can be applied in different fields : they set “chefs table” which is installed in the kitchen!
    http://www.abstractrestaurant.com/chefs.aspx

    I think it’s a good example of how you can try to integrate the customer in the center of your “philosophy” of designing simply by “putting him in the kitchen”!!!
    A kind of “restaurant 2.0″!! :)
    The other aspect in this example: the user-experience!!!
    I had once the occasion to eat in the kitchen of a good restaurant (not enough places in the main room) and it was the most exquisite experience in my “eater’s life”!!

    I don’t know if this post is directly related to the topics but as Vlad said, sometimes the solutions of our engineers’ problem solution is in another field!

    The keywords: user-centric approach (more widely people-centric as Fabio Sergio said in LIFT09 conference) / user-experience / less is more (Mies Van der Rohe) / Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication (Leonardo da Vinci) / etc.

    Finally, what Usman Haque set is a user-centered approach to design “products/systems” dedicated to designers not for electronicians.

    Now we have to design “products/services” on the base of webofthings / hardware and software open sources / … / dedicated to “people” that are not either designers nor engineers. This is our “Holy Grail” !

    Edouard SIEKIERSKI

    • http://www.vladounet.com Vlad Trifa

      Yes, your post is quite related, but I think that the user experience, from a “that feels good” point of view is the next stage. I’m referring to what’s under it, just something that is usable and simple enough to not piss people off when they use it. An awesome design and unique experience is the cherry on top I think. It’s just that there so much tech and products out there which are just wrong! I mean not just neutral, but really suck!

      The idea of the Web of Things, as Lynn mentioned on her blog, is about doing something that people can use and is intuitive. Something that just “works” and is plug and play, not just something that is supposed to be. I just don’t get why there are no products like that out there, and the ones that exist just don’t blend well with others…

      What we’re really trying to do, is to reuse as much as possible of easy to use things, and for me the browser is maybe the most understood application out there… And I don’t see why using devices should be much more complex than checking gmail… The “it just works” for everybody has been just neglected. And I think (good) designers are not just enough “used” when it should…

  • SpaceTimeContinuum

    Vlad I agree. In some way the “intuitive / easy use” is a part of the usability of the product or the service, which is a part of “user experience” according to me.

    Here is an introduction on User Experience:
    http://abcofdesign.com/2008/07/user-experience-introduction.html
    or more detailed aspects: http://www.montparnas.com/articles/what-is-user-experience-design/

    “User experience design is a complex field that is not exactly discrete from all the others mentioned. In essence, user experience draws from each of these fields in order to address the various aspects of a user’s experience. If the user experience is meant to describe the user’s satisfaction with a product, there are a few key elements which need to be addressed. Some of these elements include:
    * The fluidity of interactions
    o The ability to easily input information
    o A quick response time from the system
    o An intuitive workflow
    * The comprehensibility of the information and features
    * A quick and easy progression to feeling comfortable with the system (short learning curve)
    * The accuracy of the information presented (correct computational output and proper conveyance)
    * The pleasing appearance of the interface

    Each of these elements makes up a large part of the user experience. Each is made effective due to the design contributions from each of the following fields:
    1. Interaction design
    2. Information architecture
    3. Usability
    4. Human computer interaction
    5. Human factors engineering
    6. User interface design

    User experience is the culmination of all of these parts into one field. Although, user experience design does not wholly contain these fields (that is to say, some research and practices in each of these fields falls outside the realm of the user experience) it does serve to unite many of the principles so as to improve each of the facets of the user experience.”

    Another aspect comes into my mind.
    The human being is sometimes paradoxal (not to say everytime!).
    One wants one thing and the contrary in a next minute.
    Some people want to have simple things to use but sometimes they want complex products to manage so that they can “offer” a good image of themselves to the audience, developing specific skills and expertise. It’s the social value of any functionality of a product/service.
    I discuss about Home Joule with David Rose last week and he told me that people wanted simple and intuitive things to deal with, especially in energy monitoring (these “enchanted objects”!)..
    But on the other side, I recently learnt that in a focus group the same product was not assessed as technical enough in relation of the values of the company which had technical innovation, technical expertise is its brand DNA!

    ease of use and intuitivity is another context-influenced aspect.
    First it’s a question of space/time influence. We don’t want to be bothered by complex things in the morning when you wake up! You can be more flexible when it happens at the workplace.
    Second among other context aspects, the way the product/service is designed is highly influenced by the values of the company that sells it. You cannot imagine a “simple thing” sold my Microsoft (LOL!) or a very un-intuitive service sold by Apple (please no!!!).

    Life is neither black nor white, it’s the yin and the yang! :)

    But to conclude, yes, I do agree, if the “web of things” takes its DNA in the internet world, it has to be as simple and intuitive as a browser!! The IPSO
    Unfortunately there is a second current of thinking coming from WSN which is not known as being an “human centered field”, especially with all these awful names of protocols!!!

    We will see what the future is preparing for the people!

    Edouard