Dogs Are Now Part of the Internet of Things

Must "like" dogs.

Mar 3 2014, 6:50pm
Image: Whistle

The internet has already raised our love of animals and all things cute and cuddly to insane levels. But do you ever find yourself wondering: could we make the social web even more animal friendly? After a long hard day of scanning through Facebook in search of the perfect photos of other people's pets, do you start to think: couldn't we just centralize all this furry goodness in one place and not have to worry about all the human stuff quite so much?

There's already Catmoji for the cat lovers among us who just want to mainline kitten pics and drop any pretense of meow-less social interaction. But what about dogs? Man's best friends have remained second-class citizens online ever since rock stars like Maru and Lil Bub put the cat-industrial complex into full gear. It's high time that some Zuckerbergian genius applies his or her talents to this realm that's been left sadly undisrupted.

Enter Whistle, the San Francisco-based startup that makes Fitbit or Jawbone-like activity tracking devices, but for dogs. The company has been getting glowing press coverage as of late—co-founders Steven Eidelman and Ben Jacobs were even written up in the most recent Forbes "30 Under 30" list. And now that Whistle has created a successful wearable device (no easy feat, but probably slightly more manageable since it's dogs that wear the things rather than humans), it's moving onto the final frontier: social networking.

As GigaOM wrote today, Whistle just released a major update to its iPhone app that introduces "a bevy of new interactive tools." From writer Kevin Fitchard's description, the new Whistle sounds an awful lot like some human social networks:

Instead of just attaching photos and comments to the major events it tracks throughout the day — say, a long walk or a play session — Whistle now lets you create an event anywhere on its daily timeline. You could note naps on the sofa, friends giving your mutt a scratch behind the ears, even feedings and monthly heartworm pill doses. You can record these activities in real-time, snapping photos directly from the app or note them retroactively, and you can comment on any event in the timeline.

The main difference between Whistle and something like Facebook, Fitchard went on to say, is in the exclusivity of the network. Technically anyone can register as a dog's "owner" to be able to see the pooch's activity, but the design and functionality of the app is optimized for a small handful of people at most to be watching over one particular dog or another. It's more like an enterprise-level network along the lines of LinkedIn than Catmoji, which takes inspiration from services like Facebook and Twitter to let users blast out as many pictures of cats as possible.

Whether or not you're a dog person, it's interesting to consider Whistle as a sort of test case for the relationship between wearable devices and the so-called "internet of things" in general. A "smart necklace" for your dog is easier to stomach than one for yourself or your family members simply because it doesn't pose the same ethical or aesthetic challenges as a piece of everyday human consumer electronics.

The same goes for connecting those devices to a social network that can track one's activity and alert other interested parties. Obviously there are more pressing ethical concerns once we network humans rather than just dogs. But if something like Whistle manages to really take off, it's not hard to imagine the next-gen dog collar giving other developers ideas for how to bring similar services to humans.