IfThisThenThat shows power of simplicity
I love when things "just work".
That was a phrase used by the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs, whose death last week has me thinking about simplicity among a raft of other things. Because more often than not, a simpler approach to problem solving is always the better option.
Case-in-point: the fantastic connector of web apps called IfThisThenThat.
IFTTT's pitch is as simple as its interface: "Think of all the things you could do if you were able to define any task as: when something happens (this) then do something else (that)."
This conditional construct should be familiar to any developer. It also happens to work great for automating tasks for non-developers as well.
I also love the creators' thinking when building this tool. From their blog:
A crucial element in building any tool that enables creativity is defining the right set of constraints. You have to start with a box before you can think outside of it. Though sometimes, it’s the absence of limitations in just the right places that drive creative thought.
Creating a task on IFTTT is really a matter of deciding "what's the job to be done?" For instance, I wanted a daily reminder if the weather forecast called for rain. The recipe works as follows: If tomorrow's forecast calls for rain (the trigger), send an email to me containing a warning and forecast (the action).
IFTTT's recipes can be concocted using any of their channels. These range from basics such as email, SMS and phone calls to the aforementioned Weather Channel, Facebook and Dropbox.
Here are a few of my tasks:
- If it upload a photo to Facebook, also upload it to Picasa (via email)
- If I share an item in Google Reader, also post the link and comment on Twitter
- If I pin a link to Pinboard, also post a Tweet with the link
- At 4:45pm, send me an IM to remind me to catch the Trolley
These are standard helpers. But you can also do things like send an SMS to IFTTT to have receive a fake phone call to get you out of social situations gone wrong. Or you can send all Facebook photos in which you've been tagged to Dropbox.
IFTTT's actions work like a cron: a time-based job scheduler. Once a task is created on IFTTT, it polls the trigger every 15 minutes to see if the action should be executed.
Most of the tasks that can be created with IFTTT aren't unique or groundbreaking. But the simple interface and process makes everything just work. It's a heck of a lot easier than lashing together a bunch of disperate web services or building your own. And the ability to share your favorite recipes makes it easy to get started.
The web needs more services like IFTTT. It needs more simple. And it needs to just work.