Will Your TiVo Tweet?

Todd Barnard —  January 30, 2009 — 12 Comments

TiVo programmer Ryan Rose has hacked his washing machine to send text message notifications over Twitter when his clothes are done. He did this for a practical reason, to prevent forgetting about his laundry which might sit in the damp washer and mildew. You can follow the washing machine’s activity on Twitter (412 people, including myself, already do) to be instantly informed when Mr. Rose’s laundry is done. Why would you want to? More on that later… Here’s video of “PiMPY” in action:

I’m a big fan of Activity Streams such as Twitter and FriendFeed. Once current user contributions across all the social web sites are freely distributed, with an emphasis on privacy, a new web era will arrive. My vision originates from Professor David Gelernter‘s “Life Streams” as defined in his 1993 book Mirror Worlds: The Day Software Puts the Universe in a Shoebox – How It Will Happen and What It Will Mean.

Apparently I am not alone in my opinion that Activity Streams are the next big thing. Some of the most influential people in social media (MySpace, Google, Plaxo, Comcast, Nokia just to name a few) recently attended a DiSo meeting to discuss the future of how their user’s activity will be published. (Ian Kennedy, formerly of Yahoo and now head of Nokia’s Ovi service, kindly recorded the DiSo meeting using his phone.) One of the points discussed during the event was that activity streams are not just generated by people but that machines, like PiMPY, can also broadcast what they’re doing. Mr. Rose’s place of employment is noteworthy, and it got me thinking about the possibilities of machines with their own activity streams – particularly TiVo.

Talking TiVos
If we were to imbue a TiVo PVR with the means to broadcast its activities, it might look something like this:

There’s a definitely a simple convenience factor in receiving a message from your DVR, but that alone may not be enough of a value proposition to cause every TiVo owner to embrace this. What more could be extracted from letting our favorite little STB “speak” publicly?

Back to that earlier challenge
Why would you want to start following a washing machine on Twitter? The Los Angeles Times suggested a reason:

One subscriber to PiMPY’s laundry [activity] feed is the Whirlpool Twitter account. Brian Snyder, Whirlpool spokesman who oversees the appliance manufacturer’s social media accounts, reached out to Rose on YouTube after spotting the video. He said the company was “always looking for new ways to connect our appliances to the Internet.

Corporate marketing firm Razorfish has another:

Marc M. Sanford Ph.D., in a detailed white paper titled ‘Social Media Measurement: Widgets and Applications‘ finds that consumer purchase behavior directly correlates to how deeply a Consumer engages with a piece of social media and where they discover the media. Not surprisingly, referrals from friends (or influencers) are 4x more effective.

So if the Razorfish paper offers evidence that people are four times more likely to buy goods and services they see referenced in social media, such as an activity stream, it would be trivial for thought leaders like TiVo, Netflix, Roku and Amazon to offer a revenue sharing program. In theory, the people following your TiVo’s activity stream just might earn you some money by clicking on the show its recording. I would consider this reason enough to participate, would you? Now if we could just get Ryan Rose to write the code…

12 responses to Will Your TiVo Tweet?

  1. Todd- I worked with Dr. Gelernter and the ill-fated commercial enterprise that stemmed from his Mirror Worlds idea. The vision was definitely ahead of its time. It’s too bad the resulting software in 2003- a desktop search and RSS feedreader application- didn’t live up to its promise.

  2. Slight correction, I’m not exactly the Head of everything at Ovi (a broad initiative that touches many services). I’m a product guy with a specific focus on Nokia Contacts and, as you can imagine, lifestreaming.

    For shared appliances a twitter interface might make sense (remember the Internet Coffee Pot?) but I’m not sure for a device that only one person is really interested in following.

    My neighbor’s son just went off to college and the washing machines there are set up to SMS you when they’re done. Simple solutions are sometimes best.

  3. @Mari

    Wow! What a privilege. Professor Gelernter is my hero. I know of the product you mentioned, called scopeware. I have never used it, but understand it was tied to a desktop OS. It’s taken this long for technology ( 2009′s activity streams ) to catch up with Gelernter’s “Life beams” vision! Here’s the 2003 Sun interview:

    http://java.sun.com/developer/technicalArticles/Interviews/gelernter_qa.html

    @Ian Kennedy

    Sir, I apologize for mis-representing you. I will modify the description to simply “Awesomeness”. Thank you ( and Nokia ) so much for participating in the DiSo Activity stream development!

  4. It’s likely that there are devices where you work that can broadcast their status when there is a problem that needs attention. For example, many office copier/printers can be set up to send an email when they jam, or are out of paper. SNMP traps are also used for this purpose.

  5. I knew a project using some old school Moto QWERTY pagers receiving text status updates, tons of useless info and false positives, so when the meaningful info or real issues came in, they were lost in the noise. So it seems not only must we keep it simple, we need a good way to filter and organize all this info – keep the signal high and reduce or hide the noise.

  6. @Dave Zatz

    “..tons of useless info and false positives, so when the meaningful info or real issues came in, they were lost in the noise.”

    So far, I have had a 100% accuracy rate on exactly when Mr. Rose’s laundry is done. No noise, all signal.

    If new sensor data gets added to PiMPY activity stream, would you consider how full the lint filter is, to be “noise” or “signal”?
    :P

  7. Was inspired by this post and got my TiVo’s tweeting:

    http://twitter.com/TwiVo

    Kind of fun!

  8. @Darren Cloutier

    Awesome!!! Excellent work.

    I urge you to post the code up on sourceforge.net or similar, and apply a public domain license to it. Share with all who wish to do the same.

  9. @Todd Barnard

    Will do! That will be my project this weekend! :-)

    I am very much intrigued by this notion of activity streams and am thinking up other ideas already. Is there a community/blog for things like this?

    Thanks,
    Darren

  10. I’m excited to see the source too! :) Great work!

  11. @Darren Cloutier

    “I am very much intrigued by this notion of activity streams and am thinking up other ideas already. Is there a community/blog for things like this?”

    As far as *people* and their Activity Streams, we all participate, at:

    http://activitystrea.ms

    But for the specifics of *machines* broadcasting their Activity Streams, you are in uncharted waters – but that’s a good thing. Your TiVo and Ryan Rose’s washing machine are the only devices I know of tweeting. Take the bull by the horns and set a great example of what *could* be!

  12. A thought: Should the TiVo merely direct-message the stop-recording URL to you or keep its tweets protected? Otherwise hilarity ensues when somebody in Singapore stopped your recording of Dancing With The Stars.

    Overall, I love the idea!

    (cc: @DaveZatz on Twitter)

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