Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Make IoT data fun

The Internet of Things has the potential to overwhelm us with notifications. We are all already bombarded with a variety of usually minor, inconsequential notifications from apps on our phones. Once everyday devices in our homes, offices, cars, and elsewhere begin streaming sensor data to the net this problem could become amplified by orders of magnitude.

Solutions proposed for the coming tidal wave of sensor data often take the form of different types of filters: from simple rules governing what types of notifications should be forwarded on to the user to more complex agents that learn patterns and attempt to detect the importance of notifications. Other solutions rely on displays (e.g., peripheral displays) to tailor the intensity of the notification to the importance of its information.

I propose that outside of absolute catastrophes (e.g., your house is on fire), notifications are simply the wrong model because, in short, people don't like them. There have been many studies of notifications, and most show that users ignore almost all of them (one study showed that they interact with just 6% of push notifications).

A better model for IoT should be apps that people actually like. I would design an IoT app for "down times" that people currently fill with games and social media. When you launch your "Home" app on your phone, instead of seeing a laundry list of notifications to deal with, just show cards. Maybe one card is about water, another power, another food, etc. Swiping away the card dismisses it and sends a small signal to the machine learning system in your app that that topic is less important to you. Tapping on a card opens up more details, or another stack of cards specific to that topic. The app could also learns not only what is or is not important to you, but in some cases also what a good or bad reading is. For competitive people, you could enter local competitions with your neighbors (e.g., who is using the highest % of renewable energy this week). Or, more importantly, show how much money you're saving, or could save, with various changes to your habits. I would show these monetary savings through interactive graphs, a la Brett Victor's explorable explanations.

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