Making sense of the Internet of Things: A critical review of Internet of Things definitions between 2005 and 2019

Nikolaos Goumagias*, Jason Whalley, Ozge Dilaver, James Cunningham

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
20 Downloads (Pure)


Purpose: This paper aims to study the evolution of definitions of internet of things (IoT) through time, critically assess the knowledge these definitions contain and facilitate sensemaking by providing those unfamiliar with IoT with a theoretical definition and an extended framework. Design/methodology/approach: 164 articles published between 2005 and 2019 are collected using snowball sampling. Further, 100 unique definitions are identified in the sample. Definitions are examined using content analysis and applying a theoretical framework of five knowledge dimensions. Findings: In declarative/relational dimensions of knowledge, increasing levels of agreement are observed in the sample. Sources of tautological reasoning are identified. In conditional and causal dimensions, definitions of IoT remain underdeveloped. In the former, potential limitations of IoT related to resource scarcity, privacy and security are overlooked. In the latter, three main loci of agreement are identified. Research limitations/implications: This study does not cover all published definitions of IoT. Some narratives may be omitted by our selection criteria and process. Practical implications: This study supports sensemaking of IoT. Main loci of agreement in definitions of IoT are identified. Avenues for further clarification and consensus are explored. A new framework that can facilitate further investigation and agreement is introduced. Originality/value: This is, to the authors’ knowledge, the first study that examines the historical evolution of definitions of IoT vis-à-vis its technological features. This study introduces an updated framework to critically assess and compare definitions, identify ambiguities and resolve conflicts among different interpretations. The framework can be used to compare past and future definitions and help actors unfamiliar with IoT to make sense of it in a way to reduce adoption costs. It can also support researchers in studying early discussions of IoT.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1583-1610
Number of pages28
JournalInternet Research
Issue number5
Early online date3 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2021


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