15 Minutes of Fame

By Kevin Ashton

Journalists at CES in search of the next big thing turn the spotlight on the Internet of Things.

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This year started with a flurry of headlines announcing that this will be the “Year of the Internet of Things.” Writers and bloggers for Forbes, The Washington Post, Time and other mass- media and technology sites heralded the Internet of Things (IoT), the network that promises automatic and ubiquitous connectivity. Suddenly, the technologies the RFID industry has been developing and selling for decades to build the IoT were fashionable.

What was behind the headlines was an annual event called the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which takes place in Las Vegas each January. CES has become one of the biggest trade shows in the world—roughly 140,000 people attend. In previous years, attendees have witnessed some historic moments in technology: The videocassette recorder, the compact disc, Microsoft‘s Xbox and the plasma television all made their first public appearances at CES. As a result, a fair proportion of those 140,000 annual attendees are journalists, there to report on the next big thing, and they need a good story to tell.

But in the world of the Internet, smartphones and social media, news travels faster and farther than any plane to Vegas ever could. And breakthrough technologies are not like birthdays; they do not come around every year, whether you like it or not. On display at this January’s CES were bigger-than-ever TVs and thinner-than-ever laptops—but large TVs and slim laptops have been covered before.

Many companies (full disclosure: including my own) demonstrated new technologies for managing Internet-connected appliances—from coffee machines to thermostats—often taking advantage of the now global infrastructure of Wi-Fi and smartphones. Suddenly, everyone was talking about smart devices and the Internet of Things. While the IoT was not completely new, it hadn’t made headlines for a while, so some writers and bloggers declared it was news. Once the IoT became headline news in a few places, it became headline news in many places, as journalists picked up on the fact that others were reporting on the IoT.

We should be happy about the brief media sensation surrounding the IoT. All the stories help RFID get more attention from executives and investors. But I say brief, because what happens next is predictable. The IoT is not going to be built in a day, a year or even a decade.

In a few weeks or months, the snake will eat its own tail (2013 is also the Chinese Year of the Snake, by the way). When the IoT does not appear everywhere instantly, the headlines will change. Look for something like: “Whatever Happened to the Internet of Things?” or “Why the Internet of Things Will Never Happen.” Those writers and bloggers will move on. But journalists in the know will continue to report on IoT developments and applications, because the Internet of Things truly is the next big thing.

Kevin Ashton was cofounder and executive director of the Auto-ID Center.