The Four Stages of the Internet of Things

Further to comments in my piece about that Web 2.0 session, I’ve stumbled across Kevin Kelly’s explanation of The Four Stages in the Internet of Things, riffing of an essay by Tim Berners-Lee (i.e. the bloke what invented the web).

I can summarise the four stages like this:

  1. Connect all the computers together (i.e. the Internet)
  2. Connect and share pages of data (i.e. the World Wide Web)
  3. Connect and share individual data elements (Web 2.0 through Web 3.0?)
  4. Connect and share things themselves, not just the data about things

So where are we now?

Kelly reckons we’re at the end of the beginning of the third stage.

What happens here is that after linking and sharing computers, then linking and sharing documents, we are linking and sharing data in those documents. We are sharing and linking the subjects and meaning of what those documents are about… The data is unbundled and in a form that can be read by any device on the web. Indeed, when done correctly it can be comprehended by the web itself since it is not rendered in English but in a general semantic form. That universal form is something that will live in a database. In fact, you could think of this stage as the World Wide Database.

Kevin Kelly, former editor of Wired, is a techno-optimist. However we does finish his essay with some observations about implications of all this.

If the web knows you are always you, who are you? If the price of total personal service is total personal transparency, is that any different than total personal surveillance?

The smartness of this thing will unnerve many people. Even though it will be miles from anything human, the fact that it will know anything at all, and know anything about them, will make many folks jump back. And push back. I’m counting on the fact that kids will love it.

I must admit, I’m sometimes one of the “unnerved”. But I’m afraid of what we’re doing. I’m afraid of how it could all go terribly wrong if the social, legal and political aspects don’t receive the same level of attention as the technical and business aspects.