If you wait long enough for M2M, you'll be disappointed

18 January 2014 by Steve Blum
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Don’t wait for orders from headquarters! Mount up, and ride to the sound of the guns!
Cavalry maxim, attributed variously to Napoleon, JEB Stuart and Pat Buchanan.

An industry committee could have prevented this.

“Machine to machine” – M2M – is a clear way of describing a rapidly growing high tech sector. It involves two (or more) devices directly interacting with each other, without the necessity of a human or higher level system reprocessing data or interjecting commands. It’s also a deeply unsexy term.

So we’re now calling it the “Internet of things” – IoT. I guess that has more marketing zing, but unfortunately it misses the point and steers attention away from the critical task at hand, which is making machine to machine communication over the Internet as ubiquitous and interoperable as people to machine interactions have been for the past 20 years.

We already have the Internet, and things can already use it at least as well as people do. What we don’t have is the World Wide Web of things: a (more or less) universally accepted device-level equivalent of hypertext transfer protocol. The M2M sector is still in its BBS era, with oases of functionality appearing here and there in the desert, sometimes linked by tenuous caravan routes of connectivity, sometimes not. We’re still waiting for a WWW-magnitude flood of interoperability.

Unhelpfully, groups of manufacturers and service providers are forming around semi-proprietary projects. Ponderous standards setting bodies, like IEEE, are lagging behind. We need an M2M equivalent of Tim Berners-Lee and his HTTP Working Group. Which seems to be where Google is headed right now. Build something simple, functional and unthreatening, then toss it out and hope that the people who want M2M to just work outnumber the people who want to own and control it. Leaving it in the hands of the latter will only disappoint. Imagine what the world would be like if we had left the colonisation of cyberspace to AOL and CompuServe?