Pachube – Turning on the World of Sensors and the Internet of Things

November 10, 2010

Since learning about Pachube last week, I’ve been spending some time on the site. Pachube (pronounced “Patch Bay”) is a place where you can send your data, program it, and share it. Thousands of people are already using Pachube to build a connected web of smart devices and environments. Here’s their animated introduction, which should have narration and show examples, but instead it’s a low-budget text tour. Still, it’s worth watching as these are early days.

Thinking about Pachube has me thinking about APIs.

On the one hand, we don’t need a new API every time we want to share data. This is what we did back in the 1990s. We called it EDI (Electronic Data Interface) and it was great fun for the consultants but not so much for the clients. If you have one set of data to share with n subscribers, an API is perfect. If you have many sets of data to share among many subscribers, you can still scale up and be okay. But as soon as data starts flowing both ways, as soon as data needs to be redirected or mashed up, the more APIs there are, the worse things get. So we should apply Occam’s Razor of APIs:

There should be just enough APIs to facilitate communication among interested parties, but no more. APIs that do similar things, even with different data sets, make the world more complicated to program.

Pachube is 21st century thinking, an excellent way forward. I see it as a hub, where people can start easily by adding data feeds and getting access to data and using it. For example, a bunch of buildings could put their energy-use data on the site, and then we could see heat maps of which buildings are using more data. Mash that up with real-estate and weather information, and we can start to break it down by person, exposure, elevation, weather patterns, etc. What’s cool about this is it can start from the bottom up, and as things get more popular we can try to build standards around the various APIs that get traction. This is what Ross Mayfield calls “turning paths into roads,” and it’s a great example of how communities can build standards. In fact, the Pachube founders envisioned just this, so they designed a markup language called Extended Environments Markup Language (EEML), meant to support future standards (in the same way that XML supports many new standards, like XBRL). It’s mostly for architectural processes and already ties into BIM, which I mention in my book.

The parent company is Connected Environments, which already has venture funding. If I had a fund, I’d look into how I could support Pachube, as there will be many interesting spinoffs. I’m really impressed with what they are doing. Usman Haque, the company’s visionary CEO, won a World Technology Award for innovation last year. I hope he’ll read this and get my book and read it. I’d love to be connected to him on LinkedIn, in case anyone can connect us.

I’ll be in Hong Kong next week to give a speech. I may not have time to post for about 10 days. Be sure to follow my tweets – I’ve loaded up some great stuff for while I’m gone.

If you’re interested in the Internet of Things, you might want to go to the Internet of Things Conference in Tokyo, November 29 – December 1st.

Finally, be sure to see IBM’s good vision video on the Internet of Things:

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