A personal vision document regarding Roomware

Posted on March 1, 2010


Roomware and the Roomware project were started by Robert Gaal, Tijs Teulings and James Burke in 2006. I got involved by hosting their workshops in 2006 and part of 2007 in my office space.

This is my story as it has evolved thinking, presenting and working on it in 2009 (writing some new components and a Roomware Socket Server at the end of 2009: operating as a message based Event Switchbox – see this presentation).


From the Roomware project website:

The Roomware Project is an open-source framework for interactive spaces. It allows developers of multiple origins to enhance any venue or event using technologies such as BlueTooth and RFID.
“Roomware” is an application running in a defined space. For instance: linking people’s photographs to the screens of a club, sharing musical tastes with the DJ, finding other interesting people on your mobile phone, a photo booth activated by the entry tickets of two people, etc.

Roomware is about spaces, people and data. By binding them / connecting them you can create environments:

  1. Responding to people entering and moving in that space
  2. Providing people feedback on what is going in in that space
  3. Which allow people to connect to other people using the space itself
  4. Which allow people to share data with other people and the space, using the space itself

The rooms or spaces themselves become “intelligent” and responsive.

“Rooms” and “Spaces” are not limited to houses or buildings. Entire cities and countries can be connected using the principles of Roomware.

“Web 4.0”

Web 4.0 is the term I started using in 2008 for Roomware, as a catchy marketing-term and mocking the “web 2.0″ and web 3.0” movements. From the WordPress blog I created in June 2008 and have not updated since then:

“Web 4.0” is about the manifestation and connection of the “Web” in and with the real world. This can be by the projection of peoples “Data Clouds” onto public screens or by connecting sensors to data aggregators in the web and use that data for different purposes – like measuring the levels of air-pollution in a city.

The possible future of “web 4.0” and Roomware

I believe that within five to ten years, “Roomware” will become common good. Cities will be “sensing” what is going on in their “bodies” via countless types of different sensors, people will be using RFID-cards like their Oyster and OV-chip cards for more than just checking in and out at public transportation and these cards will become the key to many things: like loyalty programs in shops, restaurants and cafes and operating as a key to your house and the office you work. Your mobile phone will be a remote control for many things in your environment. Houses will be enabled with software and hardware measuring energy-use and the use of the spaces themselves, giving you advice via Wakoopa-like services to “Discover hardware and other ways to save energy”.

When you are in any space, by stating your presence, the space might be able to retrieve your social data from your personal data cloud on the web, to point you out where other people are, to tell you what the customs are when your social background differs and project public your data on the walls and tables in your surroundings when you hook up with other people.

My take on “Roomware” – whatever it will be

I want the Roomware platform to be open, whatever it will be and become. There are a lot of issues involved, of which Privacy is the biggest. When the Roomware-scenarios as described above become reality, a lot of data about who you are and where you have been becomes more and more tracable then it is already now. (Also see the presentation I gave last year about “The post privacy era“)

Think of Foursquare to the power of many. (“I was here, there and there, X amount of times, using this and that, drinking so and so”).

Data is money. When Roomware becomes a closed platform, owned by a limited group of organizations, it will be easier to aggreggate all data to a central place and sell it to anyone offering the right amount of money. One step further, when your government turns bad, the game of “you were there and there and did this and that then and then” changes again.

By keeping it open, many small parties will hold fragments of your data and whereabouts. This scattered data makes it harder to simply aggregate everything in one query, but also moves the issue of “who keeps, guards and sells your data?” to another problem area.

This scenario of you using one or another identifier (RFID, Bleutooth, GSM / IMEI, whatever) to connect to services will happen, as it is rewarding for both you (discounts, free drinks, a nice and warm personal welcome from the people, custom made services catering your personal preferences, pervasive games you can play with the environment and others) and the people offering services. It is low-cost (400 euro = a Netbook and a RFID-scanner – connected to a webservice which can be a loyalty program) and as the owner of any public service or shop you are stupid not to implement it at some time.

The identity broker

One thing that struck me in 2009, working on the concepts of Roomware, was- and is the growing vulnerability of your privacy. The more places you are traced and tracable, the easier it becomes to define who you are and where you have been – EVEN WHEN YOU ARE “ANONYMOUS”. The identity-broker is one of the parts that I see as an important part of the Roomware environment.

  1. It allows other people and spaces to find out “who you are”, but limited to the data you choose to disclose to this specific location or person.
  2. It could provide proxy- e-mails to other parties, but ones that have a limited life-span. Like “1 e-mail” so that spam is cut off by the bud.

Open = faster global adaption –> new business

I want Roomware to be open for another reason: by making the platform and all things you can build with it open and open source, it has a higher probability to spread like a wild-fire. Faster than you can make it do via a closed corporate scheme.

The added value of Roomware applications will create a new sort of business where data, the web, technology, locations and YOU finally merge into an extended type of service-program which is fast/responsive and very personalized. Stupid/dumb devices like a coffee-vendor machine and stupid/dumb environments like a hotel / hotel room, meeting rooms and office spaces become smarter in catering your specific needs.

There is another aspect to the openness. Many closed systems focus on one specific application, like “Loyalty” and exclude other services. Closedness and excluding other things is a stupid approach, as the potential of “Roomware” and a solution like the Roomware Socket Server is to literally connect anything to anything: services to people to devices, to machines, to sensors. You name it.

Closed systems = niche = slow growth / death

There are several developments on the market you could label “web 4.0” or Roomware. There are many “domotica” solutions. The ones who are closed / propriatary will have a hard time once the needs of the user grow beyond the possibilities the one vendor offers. It is like offering access to a website via a specific dial-in to a specific server “as all other sites – and the web itself – are competitors”. It might seem like a stupid comparison now our view on the distribution of information has changed.

Many if not most systems which are unable to connect to other systems via whatever means or open protocols will become worthless in the next 5 to 10 years.

Closed business = specialized use = markets/marketshare = the $$$ game

Like in the development of anything, there will be very specialized uses of Roomware. The one who is first to commercialize a successful system for loyalty programs or “catering customer need services” will be able to make a very nice buck in their market. Open organizations where anyone can join and benefit might work, but closed / centralized organizations are like the predators and weeds from economic evolution. They have proven to be successful in gaining a lot of ground, spawning a lot of their seeds and killing competitors in sometimes ruthless games of win/lose.

My agenda

  1. To find projects and people to kick start Roomware in a broader sense:
    1. Schools and school projects already doing this kind of stuff
    2. Investors who are willing to take Roomware on, build specific projects and promote and support the open idea behind it
    3. Developers who are already building solutions using Arduino, Flash, Processing and likewise technologies
    4. Companies offering hardware and software-solutions to which “Roomware” might be a good addition
  2. To keep pushing the “Privacy-button” by reading up to what happens:
    1. In law (local and European) and political movements
  3. To start my own projects in regions which have relevance to me:
    1. Health and health-care
    2. Safety