Content in the Kitchen: Making Sense of the Internet of Things

Last December, I was at the Gilbane Conference in Boston, and, toward the end of my 2 days there, I headed into a session about the Internet of Things. It had been a while since I'd thought about the idea of my refrigerator and stove talking to each other, so I thought it was time to get an update from the experts. I'd always thought the idea was a little creepy, but, after the session, I left wondering if it wasn't both incredibly useful and a bit impractical. And, of course, I was thinking about what this all means for content creators.

Many publishers, advertisers, and content marketers are still struggling with the best way to deal with the proliferating number of smartphones, tablets, gaming platforms, and other mobile devices-think Google Glass-and now they have to worry about reaching you on your clothes dryer. Content strategy just got (more) complicated. Luckily, the Internet of Things isn't quite pervasive yet. Most of us aren't living in a Jetsons-esque apartment, but connected devices are becoming more prevalent every day.

There are already success stories out there bringing the Internet of Things into every home. Smart locks, thermostats that learn your heating and cooling preferences (and your schedule), and the popular Fitbit are all examples of connected devices that are building the foundation of the Internet of Things. Anyone who has ever left home only to wonder if he remembered to lock the door can understand why being able to check your locks from your smartphone is truly a convenience. Tree huggers and penny-pinchers can probably agree: A thermostat that learns your habits as you use it, and then heats and cools your home accordingly, is a smart investment. Anyone who has ever paid Weight Watchers to help track her calorie intake-or even just tried to do it herself-can understand why Fitbit is a handy tool. But do we really need a refrigerator that tracks what's in it?

The most important thing about the Internet of Things-and the devices that will eventually populate it-is that it's effortless and truly brings value to users. Take my refrigerator example: Someone has to tell the refrigerator what's going into it and coming out of it. Even if it's just a matter of scanning a bar code-which isn't yet a reality for many smart refrigerators-that's a lot of work for relatively little value. Am I going to spend 20 minutes scanning in my latest grocery haul when I can just open the door and see for myself what's in there? Probably not.

The idea that this refrigerator could help me concoct recipes based on what's on its shelves is intriguing, but I'm still not sure it's worth the time I would spend logging food in and out (if I could even remember to keep up with it). Getting reminders from my refrigerator to pick up milk could be useful, but unless I remember to tell it that I'm out of milk, it can't remind me. And if I'm taking the time to tell the refrigerator that I polished off the milk, I can probably just set a reminder in my iPhone-or have Siri do it-and save a few hundred dollars on appliances.

The truth is, when it comes to something such as a smart refrigerator, I see a ton of opportunity for marketers but not a lot of convenience for users. If you're a marketer who works for a food company and you know that I have your product in my refrigerator, it is great content marketing to send me a recipe. It's also great marketing to send me a coupon when you know I'm out of your product. But it still all depends on my taking a lot of time and effort to keep an accurate log of what is going in and out. This isn't convenient; it's kind of annoying.

I have no doubt that, in 2014, the number of connected devices available to the public will continue to grow, but they won't all catch on. Success will, ultimately, depend on whether or not the device seamlessly fits into users' lives while addressing a general need. And before content creators spend too much time worrying about keeping up with the Internet of Things, they may want to sit back and wait to see who the winners are likely to be. It's not yet time to rush into creating content for the clothes dryer, but it is time to keep an eye on the burgeoning Internet of Things.