January 10, 2013

Basic Networking is Fast Becoming a Literacy Skill

Internet of Things

Basic networking skills will be a literacy skill for the near future. This shouldn’t be shocking news to most considering the current state of mobile, portable, and networked devices. Many of us already connect to a networks at work, at home, and many places in between on our smart phones. Even though we may not understand the nuances of the latest wireless standards or network protocols, we do have a basic understanding of how to connect, how to troubleshoot, and how to get help when the issues are beyond our understanding. The need to understand basic network connectivity is becoming an integral part of our lives – very quickly. Thank the emerging commercialization of the Internet of Things, the popularity of app-enabled computing, and the ever growing momentum of the DIV computing movement.

For a number of years conversations around ubiquitous computing and the Internet of Things have been taking place, but in 2006 we started seeing many new network-enabled devices enter the consumer market at reasonable and accessible price points for a broad range of age groups. Remember the Nabaztag Bunnies or the ambient Aduki lights from Mathmos? The extent that these devices have become increasingly available really hit home while I was traveling over the holidays. Just in time for the 2012 holiday season, in the (normally) unsurprising world of the Apple Store, I came across WeMo Switches, Phillips Hue Connected app-controlled light bulbs, iBaby Monitor cameras, GPS-enabled collars for lost pets, wire-free video monitoring systems, and more. On the same trip I came also across a Wifi sensor for the Lego Mindstorm systems, in a toy store. In Lowes, or all the mundane places, I came across the Nest controller for home thermostats. Each of these devices connects to a network and they can be app-enabled in one way or another.

The Lego sensor mentioned above crosses over into the realm of the DIV computing movement. DIY computing platforms such as Arduino, Raspberry Pi, Ninja Blocks, and Twine represent only a small sample of the range of hackable hardware/software environments available today. The Internet overflows with articles from novices to experts exploring what these platforms can do. They are testing, tweaking and pushing the boundaries of what was once thought to be the realm of professional programmers and developers. Most importantly, what they are doing is increasing expectations – the expectations that devices can be modified, that they can be app-enabled, and that they can be networked. These expectations will help fuel the growth of network-enabled device market.

Who doesn’t want to be able to control the thermostat in their home from their office, or have the ability to turn lights on and off while on vacation? New network-enabled camera systems even make it possible for the “average” consumer to set up their own video monitoring system in their homes. The more pervasive these types of devices become, the more need people will have for understanding their home network environments. Those who don’t feel the need to learn will be dependent on paying others who have learned to set up or troubleshoot issues on their networks. This isn’t anything new, but it seems as if there is a broader market opening up for those inclined understand how to connect these new network-enabled devices as design consultants for comprehensive home/business/municipal connectivity solutions.

As the Internet of Things grows an understanding of basic networking will be a required skill for anyone interested in creating solutions in a world where devices are increasingly more connected.

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