The internet of things isn’t about things. It’s about cheap data.

The value that comes from connecting your thermostat to the internet isn’t that you can now control it from your smartphone, or that it’s a theoretical home for new ads. The value is that you suddenly have access to cheap information about the temperature of your home, and by collating other data points or simple extrapolation techniques, you also have access to detailed information about what is happening in the home.

This can be cool. It can be creepy. And it can be convenient. But as is always the case when we encounter technological shifts, the internet of things is really a tool. And like a hammer is used to expand the amount of force generated over a small area (allow you to hit something really hard), the internet of things is a tool is for cheaply delivering and gathering information.

What can a connected GE jet engine tell you?

What can a connected GE jet engine tell you?

So sensors on your car should be sending information back to the manufacturer about features you use, and your mechanic about how you are driving and wear and tear on the car’s parts. The manufacturer could then change the car’s design, as Ford has done, while your mechanic can offer you a preventative maintenance contract. Shared over a wider network, you can offer real-time traffic information or even improve weather forecasts by acting as a traveling weather station. But you might also open yourself up to tracking by the government or unscrupulous data-miners seeking to help advertisers establish ever-more-granular demographic profiles.

So if we view this as a tool, then let’s stop talking about the internet of things as this monolithic system that will make homes smarter, businesses leaner, and so on. We need to break this tool down and figure out what information we want and where we can get it. We also need to think about what it can unleash on the world and how to set safeguards.

Data can change your business or your life

Let’s start having these conversations. We’ve begun them on the site and via our podcasts, and on October 21 and 22 we’re hosting Structure Connect in San Francisco, a conference that will be devoted to discussing how the internet of things affects our home lives, transforms our businesses and can change our infrastructure. What does cheap access to data mean for these places?

Alex Hawkinson SmartThings Mobilize 2013

Alex Hawkinson, CEO and Co-Founder, SmartThings Mobilize 2013 (c) 2013 Pinar Ozger [email protected]

Alex Hawkinson, the CEO of SmartThings and Bob Hagerty, the CEO of iControl will talk not just about what one will do with the smart home, but how they plan to build businesses via connected devices. There’s also the overlap between the consumer and the business worlds, be it where the home meets the smart grid or where a patient meets the hospital; that’s a topic Cedric Hutchings, co-founder and CEO of personal health tracking company Withings, will cover.

We’ll have executives from hospitals, retails stores and others businesses talking about how real-time access to information has changed everything from how they scheduled workers to how much they charge for a product. Michael Simon the CEO of LogMeIn (which owns Xively) can share how this access to data is turning former software vendors into service providers and how industrial access to information changes the products a company can sell.

But wait, there’s more

It’s all well and good to think about what cheap access to data can mean, but we’re also experiencing a revolution in how we get access to that data and what people can do with it once it’s out there. An entire generation of startups built on the back of the maker movement and crowdfunding sites have formed to build the products that will connect us in our homes and workplaces.

Workers produce desktop printers that can create small plastic prototypes.

Workers produce desktop printers that can create small plastic prototypes.

But it’s a tough journey from developing the idea for a connected baseball to getting the product in stores around the world. That’s where we’re creating a series called How We Built It, where a selection of entrepreneurs who have built physical products will share what they’ve learned about prototypes, intellectual property, Chinese manufacturing partners and even the profiles of consumers in each big box store.

We also want to support the up-and-coming products that entrepreneurs are building, which is why we’re creating the [email protected], a program that will showcase 30 new connected devices, sensors or other enabling technology for the internet of things. Each day we’ll show 15 new devices. Entrepreneurs must apply for the program and will receive one ticket and a tabletop for one day of the event.

Structure Connect is going to be a big show, but here at Gigaom we’ve been producing big shows for years. I’m excited to bring together an amazing list of speakers to cover how connecting everything will actually change the world — from the cool to the creepy. There will be big ideas, but also case studies so attendees can come back from San Francisco understanding how they can start taking the first steps to change their business or just keep better tabs on their home.

Join us.