Posted on October 18, 2007


I got a notice in my inbox today that Chumby Industries are finally (after what seems a loooong time) beginning to ship the first Chumbies to early adopters. I tried very hard last year with a series of increasingly sycophantic emails to Chumby to secure myself an beta model, and failed dismally, but at least I seem to be on the mailing list for the first people allowed to buy one…

chumbyThe Chumby, for those who haven’t come across it before, is a small Linux-based wifi device with screen – er, ok – it’s a computer – which sits on your wireless network. The content it displays is entirely hackable – you can point it at any number of Chumby widgets which sit within the Chumby network. These range from simple clocks to news to just plain weird stuff. The basic idea is that the plain ole’ desktop or web widget is now beginning to show itself in the real world.

I think this is exciting for two main reasons: 1. I reckon that widgets (in general, but right now, web and desktop based ones) are the biggest thing happening to content consumers right now, and 2. Ubiquitous computing / internet of things / the spime – the whole pervasive “internet in real world” thing is going to change the way we use web resources in a big way.

So what else is there? Well, mobiles, obviously – generic computing devices which we all carry with us, everywhere. Offshoots from here include SMS, MMS, QR tagging and mobile web browsing. When commentators like Tom Standage start saying things like

“…mobile phones are the most numerous digital devices on the planet, and truly deserve to be called “personal computers…”,

and major telcos start concentrating on the mobile web (T-Mobile’s “Web n Walk” and Vodafone “The internet is now mobile”), you know that these kind of approaches are leaving the steep bit of the hype curve and entering the mainstream.

MarcelAnother device in the Chumby space is the Nabaztag. Those lovely types at the Science Museum got me one of these as my leaving present and I’ve been hacking it every since. Marcel (picture on left, looking only mildly like a drug dealer..) connects to the web through my wifi network much like the Chumby and receives emails, weather reports, podcasts. Most usefully, I’ve also discovered that he has much more authority for telling my 3 year old to go to bed than me… 😉

Meanwhile in the museum space, Ross Parry and associates recently presented on the concept of the Live!Label – small screen-based labels for exhibits which can be updated anytime via a wifi network.

The general premise of all of these devices is the same: the real world is where we live and move but the internet can start to be layered on top of that world, Matrix style, rather than separated from it. As wire-free (wifi, 3G, GPRS, EDGE..whatever!) access gets faster and more ubiquitous, this layered internet will begin more and more to play a part in our real, not just virtual, lives.