IoT Council: Three Questions on IoT: Ann Light

When did you hear first of IoT? In what context was that?

IoT was the European term that came up during the first decade of the new millennium for what the US was calling calm technology or ubiquitous technology at that point. I recall Rob doing a lot to make that term stick. When Claire Rowland (with others, including me) wrote the book Designing Connected Products (2015), there was concern that IoT would not last as the dominant term, so it was placed in the subheading “UX for the consumer internet of things’. But I had been working on the idea of IoT even before the name settled. In 2002, I wrote about the challenges it would create for users, having come out of a PhD on how people used the Web and seeing a problem of usability: “we should stop thinking about products’ end-users and start thinking about the system’s end-designers. Because that is what we are all becoming as we choose and use network components.” Ann’s Rant: Users as Designer – Challenge of the Network Age, May 6th 2002, BCS Interaction Specialty Group, Usability News,

Did you think it was something big then or just another technology?

Given that I’d been studying use of networks for a few years by then, and particularly the internet, it seemed huge, but more something behind the scenes than something sexy like the new products Apple kept releasing. It was big for computer scientists interested in networks and for human-computer interaction, less big for people going about their business, who couldn’t even detect that the systems round them were changing. So not like when the Web landed and suddenly everything had a URL… not that big.

What were your dreams, hopes for it once you realised how big it was going to be?

I ran a project in 2006-2010 in which we used the principles to connect ethically grown products to their consumers and that felt like a brilliant use of a system that could map connections and objects and keep their integrity as they travelled across the world. Yet, perhaps unlike many people on this list, I wasn’t very sure of it as I couldn’t see how people would grasp it and help make it something useful for them. I remember launching a series of talks and workshops under the heading of SINET, short for “the social implications of networking everything” (2005-6). It was a precursor to a project I then led on ‘Democratising Technology’ (2007-8), which was about how to make networks and the power to connect up things something accessible and legible to people not normally involved in design. The full tribulations of that are caught in a chapter called Not a Research Agenda for Smart Objects ( – behind a paywall [contact me if you want to see a draft copy].) I remain interested in what is happening but it does seem that it is still mostly useful for management, not the things that mostly motivated those people I was working with.

If you want a copy mail me at kranenbu at and I will forward it to Ann.

Ann Light