• Andrew Collins

How Social Media is Driving China’s Internet of Things

With the rapidly growing improvements in smart technology, the phrase, “the Internet of things (IoT),” has gained a lot of traction over the past few years. Rather than data, analysis, and response on the Internet produced by people, the Internet of things consists of devices that can sense aspects of the real world and report and/or act on that data, communicating amongst themselves.

Companies like Nest (which Google acquired for over $USD 3 billion), are already manufacturing many such smart appliances. These devices, like Nest’s thermostats and smoke-detectors, are sensor-driven, use wifi, programmable, and can “learn.” The reach for these devices has the potential to expand into every aspect of someone’s life- in addition to a “smart” home, the technology lends itself well to other important aspects of our lives, like the office, healthcare, transportation, and food.

Because the government has proactively decided to support the development of the Internet of things, or wu lianwang, China is often seen to be leading the IoT, accounting for over a quarter of the world’s machine-to-machine connections. With huge swaths of the population still struggling to receive basic healthcare and access to safe food, the Internet of things has potential to help millions in the world’ most populous country. The government has already established zones such as the Chengdu Internet of Things Technology Institute, which is working on a system for rural villagers to be able to get a diagnosis and prescription from a doctor remotely by stepping into a “health capsule.”

But the biggest innovator and driver of the IoT market for every day citizens is through companies in the private sector. Similar to the US, much of the IoT development is driven in China by tech giants: Google and Apple in the US and Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent, and Sina in China. Interestingly, many of these Chinese tech giants started as or are primarily social media platforms. Because these companies can tap into an existing user base and can easily integrate their gadgets, from smart chopsticks to cloud services to weather apps to even a blood pressure monitor, they’re a lot easier to link into a larger ecosystem. Already China’s mobile payment platforms and e-commerce markets are more developed than the west, due in a large part to the variety of roles of social media plays for Chinese netizens. The IoT is the next step, and from the looks of things, not too far away.

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