Making the internet of things work for journalism

By Francesco Marconi

Our strategy manager presents a few intriguing ideas for how media companies can incorporate connected devices into their reporting.

According to Cisco, the number of connected objects is expected to reach 50 billion by 2020, equating to 6.58 connected devices per person. They are all controlled by tiny computers that communicate with each other, in an ecosystem commonly known as the “internet of things.”

The internet of things has implications for two distinct aspects of journalism – newsgathering and consumption. Smart devices connected to each other can be used to provide better context to a story, such as data on traffic, weather, population density or power consumption.

Vince Tripodi

Innovation Day at AP

We recently provided our software development team with Raspberry Pis – small, easily programmable computers – and access to various sensors, so they could build innovative data-gathering prototypes and display them to coworkers.

We also explored cloud-based platforms, like Amazon’s IoT Cloud, that manage both smart devices and the terabytes of data generated by them, and that facilitate meaningful analysis and decision making.

“How can we make the internet of things revolution work for AP, both for our products and our journalism?” asked Vince Tripodi, our vice president of research and development. “That’s what we’re trying to find out.”

Software engineer Urvish Burman demonstrates facial recognition and detection software to coworkers during Innovation Day at AP’s headquarters in New York. Courtesy of AP Corporate Communications.

A few ideas for how media companies can incorporate the Raspberry Pis and sensors into their reporting quickly materialized:

- We can monitor vibration and noise from entertainment and political venues to identify the most popular songs at a concert, or the biggest plays of a game, or even the quotes that resonate the most at campaign rallies.

- We can measure water quality in Rio de Janeiro or air quality in Beijing, validating data from environmental protection agencies. More broadly, we can track climate change through conditions of drought or other macro events.

- We can monitor vibrations to measure the impact of construction sites and how they affect nearby residents and businesses, or foot traffic at new and current public transportation stops to gauge their usage.

Beyond reporting

These new technologies will allow journalists to break more stories and dig deeper into them, further closing the gap between the media and technology industries. It’s not just the gathering of news that promises to be affected, though – how audiences consume news will also undoubtedly change.

Key drivers of the growing internet of things are connected cars and smart homes. The experience of talking to a dashboard in your car or asking a device at home to tell you the latest news all depends on personalized voice recognition and natural language processing.

As adoption of these smart devices grows, there will still be privacy, security and technical concerns that need to be worked through. The inconsistency of available data in lower population areas also represents a major challenge.

But it should be clear by now that the internet of things, like the internet in general, won’t simply go away. As media companies, we need to start thinking about how these new technologies can help us better inform the world.

Francesco Marconi

Francesco was the manager of strategy and corporate development at The Associated Press. He is also an affiliate researcher at the MIT Media Lab and an Innovation Fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University.

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