I’ve just read this brilliant piece by Matt Jones of Dopplr / Schulze & Webb on what he calls ‘thingfrastructure’

(I found it via Influx Insights, thanks Ed)

Matt proposes that…

“the technologies of rapid fabrication and pervasive networks are allowing the tangible and the intangible to switch places and mingle.”


Don’t worry, I’m going to ‘write out loud’ to get my head around it too…

Rapid fabrication – We can make things (real world, physical objects) very quickly, and replace it often.  We don’t have to make something in the bulk we used to, with the homgenous consistency we used to, or at the price it used to cost.  Moo cards being a great example; I’ve just had another set of 100 delivered, with a variety of personalised, different images, at a much lower cost than traditional business cards…


The same technology is beginning to affect packaging, and when 3D printing kicks off properly will really come into it’s own…

…so physical objects are becoming updatable very regularly.

Pervasive networks – Through a combination of constant access to the network through a myriad of devices, the low cost of everything from processors to RFID tags, and the design & use of systems to capture information, there is increasingly some information & data capture sitting behind everything we do.  It’s also referred to as Ubiquitous Computing (so Wikipedia tells me).

…so everyday actions can provide timely, relevant and useful information.

Now, here’s the clever bit:

i) we can quickly make physical things based on the best available information

ii) we can collect the best available information from the things that are in the real world

This means that the real world of ‘tangible’ objects influences the intangible world of services via the network, and vice versa, as Matt’s chart shows:


It means that every thing that is a part of the connected world is more than just a physical object; it becomes a connected, influencing part of the world around us and the services we use.


(and no, I didn’t just blog about this because of the Lego slide Matt uses; it’s not part of the ongoing Feeding The Puppy obsession with Lego as a brand and a metaphor).

But what would it mean in real life?  Here’s an example of where this could go…

Imagine you are about to leave home from work one night, and fancy cooking a curry.  Using your mobile, you’ll be able to find a recipe, and then connect to the refrigerator in your kitchen at home to see which of the ingredients you need.  <o:p></o:p>

The fridge knows what the contents of your kitchen are; there’s an RFID tag on each of the items in the fridge & cupboards that identify them, the date they were placed in there, the number of times they have been taken out and replaced (telling you roughly how much you’ve used, and therefore need).  

The fridge responds with a shopping list.  You take this list, and connect your mobile to the satellite navigation system in your car.  <o:p></o:p>




Your car contacts a series of stores which you could pass by on your route home, and checks which ones have all the ingredients (because all the RFID tags in store act as a real time inventory of stock), which ones are at the lowest prices, and which will take the least amount of time as a detour on your way home.  You get exactly what you want, in the fastest, cheapest, most convenient way.

This is commonly referred to, I believe, as the internet of things, but I think Matt’s concept of Thingfrastructure is a great build, because it highlights the need for services in this world, and not just physical things.

Companies in this new world will of course have to make sure the things they produce are great (there’s noweher to hide a dodgy product anymore, as Chris alluded to recently).  But it will be the service they create around the things that will make people choose them over a competitor…

So, the smart supermarket could identify what people are using certain products for.  They could start printing the recipes on the back of the next print run of packages.  Or add in photos taken by customers of the meals they created, or tips on how to make the recipe better, or what wine people tried with it.  Or become as competitive on price as possible by creating packs that are the exact size people need for the recipe…

Of course, it all sounds very far away and futuristic… but hey, if the iphone fridge is here already, it may be closer than you think.