Preparing products for the next stage of the web revolution
A view from Russell Davies

Preparing products for the next stage of the web revolution

I've spent the past two weeks writing about the idea of "the Internet of Things", in perhaps more detail than is warranted for a publication that isn't, after all, about that kind of thing.

But, thankfully, this week, all that mulling has finally helped me realise why this stuff is so important. So, this is the final column in the Internet of X series, but it might be the one worth reading. It's going to be about an Internet of Products.

When you start to think about the implications of more and more everyday things having intelligence and connectivity squeezed into them, it's quickly overwhelming - you don't know where to start.

So you realise that Mike Kuniavsky's LAN of Things is a good constraint, a good place to start because it's relatively buildable and imaginable: you only have to invent local solutions, not global ones.

Thinking about Products rather than Things might be similarly useful because Products are a smaller set, they're something we know how to think about and they're bounded by commerce and logistics and existing relationships in the world.

Products are how we make money - we've got an incentive to do something new and interesting with them.

And you think about that for a while and you suddenly realise that we're only at the beginning of the internet revolution. Cheap distributed connectivity and intelligence have overturned marketing, communications and media but, thus far, it's left the actual products we sell relatively unchanged.

Cereal, deodorants, shoes and beer are pretty much what they were like before the web was born. Invented, made, sold and consumed in the same ways they ever were - all that's changed is the marketing. But if you examine the fringes of product development, you see interesting things.

Nike+ is a shoe that knows how far it's run. Tickle Me Elmo uses cheap motors and cheap intelligence to give personality to an ordinary plush toy and create a perennial bestseller.

The new Ford Mustang changes its personality based on what key you use to start it. These are small things, beginning things, but they're pointing at something important - intelligence is migrating into the product, the connectivity will follow.

Then every product we're marketing will have a communications channel built in, it will be able to talk to its audience itself, and to its retailers and distributors, aftercare people and recyclers.

When the comms, the product and the service are manifest in a single item, the silos we still live in will really have to go, and the chaos of "who does digital marketing" will seem like a storm in a latte.

Maybe you thought you were starting to get your digital strategy sorted out? Batten down the hatches. Here we go again.