I have to admit to really enjoying the web service IFTTT. The service stands for If This, Then That. It allows you to create recipes from a menu of popular services where there is a public API available and move data back and forth not according to anyones design but your own, with IFTTT’s help, of course.
A great practical example is Twitter. On Twitter there is an account, MichiganDOT that is the public twitter mouthpiece for Michigan’s Department of Transportation, those folks responsible for the roads and rails and such. This twitter resource is valuable for many reasons the least of which is that MichiganDOT tweets about road hazard conditions and the presence of crashes or construction that would otherwise hamper movement within the Mitten. On its own Twitter is something that you have to grope for, you’ve got to start an app and page around to find what you are after and it’s all very manual — and annoying. I hate annoying. So how can you beat MichiganDOT, for example, into a service that sends you alerts? IFTTT.
The recipe in IFTTT to make this work is clever if you know the way to run around the back-end of Twitter. Several months ago Twitter closed their API to IFTTT making it difficult to create any new IFTTT recipes that use Twitter data to do automatic things. Twitter left a back door open, in that every Twitter account has an undocumented RSS feed associated with it, and all you need to know is the trick to get at it. IFTTT can consume RSS data, Twitter produces RSS data, so it’s kismet. The code you start with is this:
This plugs into IFTTT’s Feed source, then you connect that to IFTTT’s SMS destination, set it to your mobile phone number and the recipe is done! Just like that. Really easy and straightforward and now the very moment that anyone who staffs the MichiganDOT twitter account posts ANYTHING the RSS link lights up, IFTTT notices, copies it over to an SMS message and ships it out to my phone.
With the undocumented API backdoor from Twitter, MichiganDOT, and IFTTT I am able to recast the MichiganDOT twitter account as a “Michigan Road Conditions Alert Line” and I don’t need to sign up for anything or ask anyone for anything or cajole some developer to make something to make it work for me. In many ways, it is a clever way to have my cake and eat it too. I don’t have to schlep around in Twitter missing things, I get alerts, bam, as they happen.
The nice thing about IFTTT is it’s just the tip of the iceberg. You can send any channel data anywhere you want. Twitter to Evernote, Twitter to Pocket, Facebook to Evernote, Facebook to Pocket… there are about 20 channels you can fiddle around with and you can shop around for other people’s recipes and adopt them and make them work for you. If you don’t have IFTTT, then you are missing out on a huge potential of DIY convenience. The best part is, nobody is the wiser. MichiganDOT has no notion, Twitter doesn’t care, so why not use what’s out there and make it work for you?