The new world of 'blogjects'

With "Why Things Matter," Julian Bleecker, a researcher at the University of Southern California, has written a "Manifesto for Networked Objects" where he describes "blogjects" or "objects that blog." These blogjects, which are now emerging, may lead to a platform for World 2.0 where "things" have as much social impact as people.

With "Why Things Matter," Julian Bleecker, a researcher at the University of Southern California, has written a "Manifesto for Networked Objects" (PDF format, 17 pages, 939 KB). In this document, he describes what he calls "blogjects" or "objects that blog." The three major characteristics of a blogject are its sense of space combined with its ability to track where it has been, its knowledge of its encounters and previous experiences, and more importantly, its ability to participate in an assertive way to social networks. "In its most basic form, a blogject is not dissimilar to people that blog -- it is an artifact that can disseminate a record of its experiences to the web." These blogjects, which are now emerging, may -- or not -- lead to a platform for World 2.0 where "things" have as much social impact as people.

Here is the introduction of Julian Bleecker's paper.

The Internet of Things has evolved into a nascent conceptual framework for understanding how physical objects, once networked and imbued with informatic capabilities, will occupy space and occupy themselves in a world in which things were once quite passive. This paper describes the Internet of Things as more than a world of RFID tags and networked sensors.
Once "Things" are connected to the Internet, they can only but become enrolled as active, worldly participants by knitting together, facilitating and contributing to networks of social exchange and discourse, and rearranging the rules of occupancy and patterns of mobility within the physical world.
"Things" in the pervasive Internet, will become first-class citizens with which we will interact and communicate. Things will have to be taken into account as they assume the role of socially relevant actors and strong-willed agents that create social capital and reconfigure the ways in which we live within and move about physical space.

And this is why Bleecker has forged the neologism "blogject" (for "objects that blog") to introduce a difference between "things" connected to the Internet from "things" participating within the Internet of social networks. " But he didn't want to simply introduce objects that blog, as we now understand blogging. He also meant that these objects can work like human bloggers, using conversation, syndication, network creation or trackback.

Here is an example using real pigeons carrying some electronic devices.

Take the Pigeon that Blogs, for example -- an early protozoa on the the Blogject species evolutionary chain. The Pigeon that Blogs is a project by Beatriz da Costa. It’s a pigeon, or more precisely, a flock of pigeons that are equipped with some telematics to communicate on the Internet wirelessly, a GPS device for tracing where its been flying, and an environmental sensor that records the levels of toxins and pollutants in the air through which they fly. These are the bits of data that the flocks "blog." They disseminate their flight paths, probably viewable on a Google Map, together with information about the current toxic state of the local atmosphere. The Pigeon that Blogs is a mash-up of GPS, GSM communications technology and pollution sensors represents a full-order species evolution. It’s a pigeon pollution Google Maps mash-up.

About the utility of such a mash-up, Bleecker uses this analogy: "Pigeons that tell us about the quality of the air we breath are the Web 2.0 progeny of the Canary in the Coal Mine." Brilliant!

As I don't want to be too long, here are the essential attributes of blogjects.

  • Blogjects track and trace where they are and where they’ve been;
  • Blogjects have self-contained (embedded) histories of their encounters and experiences;
  • Blogjects always have some form of agency — they can foment action and participate; they have an assertive voice within the social web.
  • And these blogjects can lead to a new world where "things" matter for co-habitation or co-participation. Here is a last example.

    Just like the motivation of the "alpha" blogger, the character of the motivated Blogject is to make, disseminate and enhance meaning, to draw attention and to be assertive. Like the alpha blogger, the Blogject enters into conversations that yield consequences. It's not at all interesting to have my car "blog" routine things such as the routes I’ve driven, its time-average fuel consumption, or the street address of a restaurant I’ve just passed that has a menu that would appeal to my palette based on previous restaurant experiences. It is much more consequential, and much more assertive of a first-class participant in the network of social discourse for flocks of vehicles to provide macro-scale insights into how much fuel is consumed hourly on Interstate 405 in the Los Angeles basin, or how many tons of pollutants are exhausted into the atmosphere every hour.

    So will these blogjects succeed to transform "the Internet of Things into a platform for World 2.0"? Will they help to create a better world? We'll see.

    Source: Julian Bleecker, a researcher at the University of Southern California, February 28, 2006

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