Today's Web is brimming with a staggering number of services where users can speak their mind (Twitter), grab vital information (any news or blog source), store important files (Dropbox or Box.net), collaborate with peers (Facebook or Google+), and much more. The dream has long been to devise ways to get these often disparate and siloed services to interact with one another, creating something greater than the sum of its parts.
A new Web application dubbed ifttt.com serves as an excellent yardstick of how far we've come from the early days of specialized, single-purpose mashups, or more complicated SOA where services were cobbled together with complex tools and the coding equivalent of duct tape.
Ifttt.com -- "ifttt" stands for "if this, then that" -- draws on the wealth of APIs for many of today's most popular Web services; it serves as a hub through which users can easily get separate services to work in tandem and carry out incredibly useful, time-saving tasks, called recipes.
Here's how it works: First, you choose a trigger, a specific event that takes place in one of the support services or channels. Currently, ifttt.com claims 35 channels, including Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, Dropbox, WordPress, Foursquare, YouTube, Last.fm, LinkedIn, a stock feed via Yahoo Financial, and more. Now that Google+ has introduced an API, you can expect it be added to the mix. I wouldn't be surprised to see Spotify, too.
For example, a trigger might be someone tagging you in a picture on Facebook. It could be your creating a new post on WordPress or adding a new follower on Twitter. It could be you starring a favorite article, blog post, or song. A trigger might even be a stock reaching a certain price or a forecast for snow or rain the next day.
You can refine your trigger, too. Suppose you want only certain tweets to be posted to your Facebook status page; you can have your trigger look for a particular hashtag. If the hashtag is there, it will carry out the action.
Next, you choose an action that you want a trigger to launch using a second channel. If your trigger is someone tagging you in a picture on Facebook, your action might be to have that picture automatically added to your local Dropbox folder. If your trigger is creating a new post on WordPress, your action might be to automatically tweet the post. Getting a new Twitter follower could trigger an automatic message to that person, welcoming him or her. An alert about stock hitting a specific level could generate an email to your Gmail account, an SMS to your smartphone, or a phone call.
The recipe-creation process is very user-friendly; the tool guides you step by step in clear English. Notably, ifttt.com doesn't give you infinite choices as to what your triggers or actions will be. For example, Facebook triggers are currently limited to a few options: Your posting a new status message; your posting a new link or photo; your being tagged in a photo; or your Facebook profile changing (your name, profile picture, or website). You can't set up a recipe to alert you if a friend, say, mentions you in a Facebook post.
Also, for the time being, you can't set up a recipe with more than one trigger or more than one action (basically an
Those limitations promise to be temporary. Per Linden Tibbets, creator of ifttt.com, "Our current feeling is that a lot of the functionality that
and would provide could be pushed into more complex triggers and actions. We will do more thinking about how best to tackle this stuff."
You can still tailor, for instance, the wording and format of a tweet triggered by a new WordPress post. More trigger and action choices will almost certainly follow as the minds behind ifttt.com continue to develop it.
Before you finalize your recipe, ifttt.com summarizes what you've created in a simple, straightforward manner. You can add comments as to what the recipe does, both for your own reference and others.
Once you've created your recipes, you can sit back and let them run. According to the site, the service checks every 15 minutes to see if one of your triggers has, well, triggered. If it has, the site will carry out the appropriate action. But you, as a user, always have the ability to change a recipe, turn it off, or delete it completely.
One other cool aspect of ifttt.com: It includes an ever-growing library of recipes by other users. Users who don't have the time, patience, or wherewithal to create their own recipes can pick and choose among existing ones. The existing list might also inspire a new user to create an entirely new recipe. Additionally, each recipe is assigned an URL, so you can share a particularly clever one with your peers.
Security-conscious users should be aware that using ifttt.com to manipulate certain services requires a user to give the site permission to access your account. That shouldn't come as a surprise; other hublike services (think Mint.com) require the same. The minds behind ifttt.com might consider adding end-user friendly information on the site about privacy and security. Users will want to how ifttt.com is ensuring their login info for various services is safe.
This article, "The great Dropbox-Twitter-Facebook mashup arrives," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.