Mar 20

Tim O'Reilly

Tim O'Reilly

Twittering your Home

I had no sooner got finished writing "don't discount twitter. I'll lay odds that it gets hacked into a really useful service before long" in the comments on Nat's twittervision post, in response to the various people saying that twitter was drivel, and who cares, when I saw that the Mac Dev Center on oreillynet.com had published a blog post on twittering your home. Gordon Meyer reports on how he's using twitter as a mechanism for having his home automation system send him messages. He writes:

First, Twitter supports several methods of delivering messages (which are called "tweets" in Twitter-speak). A tweet can be received via SMS to your cell phone, via several instant messaging services, by visiting a web page, or by using specialized apps such as the terrific Twitteriffic.

The best thing about this flexibility is that the recipient chooses how they want to receive their tweets, and changing this setting is easily done "on the fly." The sender of the message doesn't need to know which delivery mechanism is currently active, it's all handled by Twitter. This simplicity is a boon for home notifications which typically either take a shotgun approach and send notifications to several places at once (home, office, and cell phone email), or try to guess (based on time of day or other data) what the best destination might be. Letting the recipient determine where they want to receive messages, at any given moment, makes delivery much simpler and more reliable.

Finally, Twitter has a simple HTTP-based interface for sending messages. Instead of having to script an email program, or an SMS utility, sending a tweet is as easy as having your home automation system open a URL.

Ars Technica picked up on the idea and wrote about it (referencing Gordon's post but not linking to it -- bad form), pointing also to our Smart Home Hacks book. That book hasn't done as well as we hoped, but we are still big believers in the future of "smart stuff," of which home automation is only one small aspect.

In a similar vein, check out botanicalls, Kate Hartman, Kati London, Rebecca Bray, and Rob Faludi's sensor+asterisk-hack that allows plants to call you when they need to be watered. (botanicalls was featured at Etel and will also be at the Maker Faire in May.) You should also follow Matt Webb for more on this subject -- he's speaking about the design implications of smart stuff at Etech next week.

In addition to the smart stuff meme, pay attention to the idea of apps like twitter that are really communications multiplexers. The theme of being able to reroute communications, whether web, email, sms, IM, or voice, to the device of your choice, is a major one. For example, I'm seeing lots of new services (including Rael Dornfest's stikkit) (in which I am an investor)) that apply the idea of cc'ing a bot on an email, and having it do something smart with it.

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Comments: 12

  BillyG [03.20.07 12:01 PM]

Personally, I haven't looked into twitter (or a thousand other new things over the past few months) but you did hit the nail on the head with Ars T.

Before their latest UI update, I would frequently have to View Source to see their links since the font color so closely matched the rest of the story.

Now, they just leave links out completely a lot of the times (although one (new?) guy actually includes his links)!

Luckily for all of us, there's a definite difference between them and all the O'Reilly sites.

  bre [03.20.07 01:37 PM]

My friend Kosso came up with a cool hack to route rss through twitter, we've got make, craft and hackszine twitterbots running as of yesterday!


  Dice [03.20.07 01:37 PM]

I think it's a little hasty to bash Ars because they forogt a link. I wrote the author and asked her what's up, and she said it was a mistake. It was fixed in 5 minutes. She had already linked to your book and several other sites, so it's not like it's some conspiracy.

Ars Technica is one of the most credible and honest tech publications out there, IMO. The move to red links wasn't such a great idea, I agree.

  Joaquim [03.20.07 01:37 PM]

BillG: leave links out? I've not noticed that! they've always been really good about linking to source material and such as far as I could tell.

Tim: From the looks of the article and comments in their comments thread it looks like the writer just fudged the cut&paste. No need to go overboard, maybe send an email to the writer next time!

  Joaquim [03.20.07 01:41 PM]

Bre, I love that!

I find that most of my twitter usage is getting updates from the sites I like (BBC, CNN, etc...). since we're all such ArsT fans (lol) looks like they've got a twitter too: http://twitter.com/arstechnica

  Tim O'Reilly [03.20.07 02:44 PM]

Joaquim -- good point about contacting them before criticizing. I've given that advice myself many a time. Jacqui did write to me after the blog post, and said the lack of link was inadvertent. So Jacqui, my apologies.

  Simon [03.20.07 04:56 PM]

I believe I'm come up with the killer use for Twitter.

My girlfriend and I are always looking for ways to improve our communication and relationship, and something we highlighted a while back was that I need to learn to communicate more about how things are going - what I've been doing with my day and how I felt about it all. But like many men, my summary of the day would go something like "Went to work, wrote code, came home." I simply couldn't remember any more details than that.

We read (since this is apparently a common problem) that one way to mitigate this was to keep a little notebook and write a list of how things were going as they happened, to help me later comment on how I felt about that. Well, it worked for a while, and we had really good communication, but then I forgot to carry the notebook around with me, or to update it, or whatever.

Twitter gives me a timestamped log of what I've been up to for later recall. I can share my joys and frustrations more easily, now I can remember what they are.

Twitter - it improves your love life. :)

  Simon [03.20.07 05:11 PM]

On a slightly more serious note, I think if Web 2.0 was all about user-provided information, then Web 3.0 is going to be all about information convergence. Yes, I know everyone is going to have their own ideas of what Web 3.0 means.

But smart stuff, rerouting communications, application interactivity, the things you're talking about here, all of these things are going to be coming together more and more soon; particularly as we see things like Highrise, which does web-based contact management: contacts are a data source that sit uneasily between your mail client, your calendar application and your address book client, and now, your web browser. Convergence of data between the different applications is going to be an important feature in software design in the near future. At least, I hope so.

Because I think what I'm expecting to see as the Next Big Thing is the web application of the Don't Repeat Yourself principle of programming. For instance, currently we have a large number of social networking sites which require me to write the same profile every time I sign up, and connect to the same people every time; someone's going to come up with a meta-network which links all the networks you subscribe to together. Similarly, I have a "status" on Skype, Twitter, AIM, and probably other stuff too; we're already seeing applications which apply Don't Repeat Yourself and provide a mass-update to all of these protocols at once, and as more things like Twitter appear, the need for such convergence will increase.

In this sense I think OpenID is the first Web 3.0 application. It's an application of Don't Repeat Yourself to the general problem of creating user accounts on web sites. I hope we see more things like that, it's something I've been crying out for for years.

  Keith Fletcher [03.20.07 08:49 PM]

It is interesting to see the many uses for twitter. I have found a site www.celebritytwitter.com that follows the life of hollywood celebrities online. Is this a sign that twitter is going mainstream? I have also noticed that you can't hardly register with anything with twitter in the name. I give it 2 months before it gets bought by yahoo or google.

  Emory [03.21.07 01:43 PM]

Wait, so Twitter can be almost as useful as Email?


  Mike [03.22.07 10:21 AM]

I'm sitting next to Botanicalls right now!

  J.O. From Urban MVP [10.11.07 10:25 AM]

I just happen to stumble upon this post after making a comment defending Twitter. Again I think the potential is huge. I don't understand how people are overlooking what this technology can enable with further development.

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