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The internet of things is coming, but few normal people want to be the intermediary between dozens or the hundreds of connected devices they will encounter each day. So devices must talk to each other but how that will play out is up in the air. Startups and big vendors all have their ideas, and Tuesday night, a new startup made its pitch.
The Wireless Registry has built a service that lets people register a unique name for their connected devices. The startup explains that it is like a DNS for the internet of things, but what it really sounds like is a way to associate your identity, needs and desires with your devices without going out to the internet. The idea is that then, when you enter a place that can read your device, it can share info such as,”don’t track me” or “I’m allergic to peanuts.”
It works by letting a consumer register the SSID or (Service Set Identifier) on a device. You can use the one that comes on each device you own, or select your own and then match it up manually. The service suggests you should use a naming convention that:
…reflects your identity in the wireless world of 10 billion devices, similar to how a domain name may represent your brand on the Internet. How do you want to be perceived by the thousands of wireless devices – and their owners – that you bump into every day?
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The IoT address scheme
Domain name servers are a crucial part of the internet; they contain the IP address of the domain names (like gigaom.com) that you type into a browser. When a user types in a URL, the computer sends the request to a DNS server, which then tells your computer the site’s IP address.
But unlike an IP address, which is also a unique identifier for a device, the Wireless Registery’s SSIDs can talk directly to each other without going back to the public internet. Registering your first device is free for a limited time, and then users pay $4.99 each year for all subsequent names.
That’s a model taken directly from the domain name industry, where a registrar charges users an annual fee to register a domain for a year. However, unlike the domain name industry, which has a ton of companies built around supporting the infrastructure, the Wireless Registry is relying on an app installed on Mozilla and Chrome browsers to detect its SSIDs. Without ubiquitous coverage on the receiving side, your devices will be “shouting” their SSID but nothing will hear or understand them.
As ideas go, this isn’t a new one. Companies ranging from Reely Active (which has built this sort of system inside offices) to Apple (which is supporting iBeacons in its handsets) are trying to get your devices to communicate with other devices in the connected world. The challenge is laying out what your devices can say and how that communication happens. There’s a related challenge about how people and devices will understand and claim identities in a connected world.
How else might you do this?
But let’s focus on the first challenge, which is less philosophical and easier to solve, and let’s use a retail store as an example. In the case of iBeacons, which use Bluetooth, the radios are talking but the system requires an app on the consumer side and a service or app on the store’s side to turn the radio signals into information about the products on offer in that store. With Wireless Registry’s system, anything detecting the signal from my device would have to be able to check the registry for the information my device is trying to share.
The company calls this a “proximal browser” and it’s available to anyone as a plug-in to the Mozilla Firefox browser or as a download from the Google Play store. An iOS app is coming soon. So your device would be sharing that information with a browser or to an API that The Wireless Registry offers.
And this is the challenge that The Wireless Registry faces. It has to build up both sides of the market, working with users and people interested in reading the information from those users in a relatively short amount of time, to convince users to keep re-registering their SSIDs. It has to do this in a relatively nascent market and while trying to educate consumers.
Making ID sexy
It’s one thing to explain to smartphone users that when they enter their favorite restaurant, the chefs and waiters will now know if they have a peanut allergy because their phones let the restaurant access that information. But it’s a completely different thing to build that without a lot of marketing muscle or laying it on top of existing infrastructure.
To help consumers get excited about this, the Wireless Registry is working with the Future of Privacy Forum to let people who register their devices attach rules about what an establishment can or cannot know about them. This is a great partnership, but I think it will have to pay quick dividends to get people pumped about using it.
Still, this is yet another response to a vexing question about connected devices: It’s not enough to track things more accurately, to run predictive analytics against a single stream of sensor data or automate our homes. The real benefits from connecting our world will come from the interactions that spark when those devices can communicate.
So how will we make that happen? Through protocols like MQTT or AllJoyn? Through an app and services ecosystem built out on Bluetooth beacons? Or through a domain name system for the internet of things?