I recently saw this video from Kevin Rose about how Twitter could be used for monitoring of home alarm systems, and it was further supported by industry analyst John Honovich, who said that except for a few reservations Kevin's idea "has merit."
Here's a little background on Kevin: He has worked a bit as a technology journalist/pundit, but mainly he's a web entrepreneur, and is the driving force behind Digg.com -- a news site that chooses what goes on the hompeage by social networking "Diggs" that push a story to the top. It's like Yahoo's Buzz (which copied the Digg concept) if you're more familiar with that site. Kevin generally is a pretty free-thinking kind of guy -- he looks for place where technology can serve us and "how we can use technology and free solutions to disrupt some of these businesses" -- by businesses he means your big alarm monitoring companies of the which you see advertising regularly on national TV.
Let me run through the concept which Kevin proposes in the video:
- Homeowner installs intrusion sensors and cameras that can be connected to via Web
- Sensors and cameras go to some sort of hardware like a panel.
- Instead of that panel/hardware dialing a monitoring company when it goes into alarm mode, it sends out a Twitter notification.
- Twitter notification is received by family, friends, neighbors, who then login to check actual video.
- Friends/neighbors then call the police if needed.
"Let me know, it's early, I haven't had any caffeine yet, so this could be another one of my half-baked ideas," says Rose at the end of the video. I think it is one of those half-baked ideas.
As John Honovich points out, it is technically feasible to do. He points to motion detection cameras as the obvious technology, but I'd also suggest that we look at today's array of combined devices that feature both a PIR sensor and a video camera. While some folks in Honovich's blog questioned the use of low-end, motion detection cameras for such a system since they would generate lots of false alerts, let's put a little trust in technology and assume for a minute that there are cameras and camera-sensors out there which could work and not generate too many false alarms.
The main problem, as I see it, isn't false alarms, friends' lack of contact information for homeowner, or even that the homeowner isn't savvy enough to put the cameras/sensors where they need to be (Honovich raises reservations about all these problems) -- the main problem is the social networking application itself. Simply put, you may think your friends and neighbors care about whether your house is being broken into, but I'm not sure they'd get the message. We live a world of messaging oversaturation, where people send out dumb Twitter messages that say they just enjoyed the best grape soda ever, where your Facebook friends put out notes like "I just fed the cats, going to get coffee now", or where any number of emails remind you to order the blue pills.
So, your #break-in Twitter notification goes out to 10 of your friends, local family members and neighbors, but do they really care? Friend #1 is in a sales meeting, Family member #2 is in the car in traffic and can't pull hands off the wheel. Neighbor #3 is changing diapers and can't get to a PC. Friend #5 forgot to charge their phone and didn't get the message... Can you really expect or trust anyone to be there to monitor your home for you? What kind of guarantee are you going to get?
And that is the difference between self-monitoring, or even "crowd source" monitoring and professional monitoring. You pay about $30 a month to know that XYZ Monitoring Co's people are going to be there to check your system when it alerts, and you know they are going to do it, because if they don't, they expose themselves to serious liability, and also because if they are there to do that, they get paid!
Even sites like Digg.com (which is the project that really put Kevin Rose on the map) seem to recognize the oversaturation of messages in today's connected world, so they have developed a system that lets users push stories to the top so others can see that these are the stories that are most important and most popular. But the difference is that if you don't see a Digg story, you don't have to really worry about anything, however, if your home is broken into, it's serious business.
I'm all for new thinking and reinvented methods of self-monitoring, but I think the model really is self-monitoring (using your iPhone to check your cameras when you get an alert) in addition to professional monitoring. Finally, there's nothing to stop an enterprising technologist from building a crowd-source monitoring system like the one Kevin espouses, and crowd-sourced monitoring and self-monitoring is better than nothing at all, so I shouldn't disparage his concept too much, but Kevin shouldn't think for a minute that this model would really replace the services that big monitoring companies offer.