I think when someone mentions the Internet of Things (IoT), they get a picture in their mind of what a thing is and what it might do. I would guess that if you ask a dozen different people, you would get as many answers. It is very easy to over simplify "a thing" or picture something off the wall like I have in the image below.
I think there is a simpler way of communicating about your "thing" or groups of things. The figure below has certainly helped me understand each "thing" and some of their important characteristics. Obviously there are many attributes that each thing could have and operate on, but the chart below gets at a basic description of a thing, along with a name and identifier, that can help folks understand "things in basic context". There are four basic vectors to help me describe things and what they are capable of in terms of basic behavior. Obviously, there are details around communication methods, patterns sensed, analysis completed, decisions made and potential actions taken that are crucial details that must be described as well. My quick classification scheme considers the level of humanity, the level of intelligence, the level of collaboration and the freedom to seek set goals.
Level of Humanity:
Things can literally be as simple as a sensor or an actuator or a complex as a intuitive human. There are also complex robotics or personal knowledge assistants in the middle. Knowing if your thing is really a thing makes a big difference in how they should communicate and interact with your things. Most people do not consider humans as "a thing" in the Internet of Things(IoT), but they should because there will be a balance of interchangeability that will float on this access. Know which resource that is best of the work at hand in a dynamic environment will be a secret sauce in creating desirable outcomes.
Level of Intelligence:
Some things are simple and just sense, collect or fire actions and do not need a bunch of intelligence, but there is a trend to put intelligence closer to the actual events and actions. With that said understanding the raw IQ of your thing will be important when you call upon it as a resource or respond to it when it calls upon you. It's even more important when the things are dynamically collaborating before they involve you, if they do at all. Humans, as managers, may be completely out of the loop with a very intelligent collaboration in or on the IoT. Of course visibility, after the fact is essential, so building a behavior visualization will be important.
Level of Collaboration:
There are four levels that are helpful in understanding if you have the right level of collaboration in your thing(s). The first level would be basic communication which allows your thing to emit or accept messages or parameters. The next level up would be basic coordination between your thing and other things. The next level would be cooperation each thing working intimately with other things. The highest level would be knowledge and intelligent collaboration for desired outcomes.
Level of Freedom to Seek Goals:
Each "thing" has a level of freedom to pursue a goal or a combination of goals. While these goals might stay the same, however the level of priority and weighting between these goals may shift. Your thing should be able to shift its behavior based on this weighting shifts. In some situations, your thing might add, change or delete a goal in the goal mix, but this would be a fringe behavior for a thing or a network of things.
I have not seen a complete meta model of data that describes a thing and the network that allows things to work together, so the above diagram works for me to understand the impact of my things. I hope you find it useful to visualize where your thing lands on these four vectors. By the way, you can use "thing', agent or personal assistant interchangeably when using this diagram as it applied equally.