Twitter. Facebook. Evernote. Dropbox. Gmail. Instagram. YouTube. RSS feeds. Email.
Keeping up with the growing list of social networks, essential apps, and incoming data streams that have become part of modern online life is difficult for even a Web dabbler. Getting them talking to one another is even tougher, which is where tools like "If This Then That," or simply "IFTTT," have become invaluable.
This hacker's dream of a Web service was developed to help ease the translation of data from one network to another, and now IFTTT has released its first mobile app, for the iPhone platform. The mobile app enhances the utility of IFTTT for all of its users, but its release is also a good time to take a hard look at whether IFTTT can now be put to use in the business world.
How IFTTT can work for business
IFTTT is so valuable because certain networks, like Facebook, are famously closed off, so doing something that should be simple--like saving your photos to your hard drive or republishing videos on YouTube--can be extremely tedious and time-consuming.
Some of the site's most popular recipes are mostly personal in structure. (If my Facebook profile picture changes, change my Twitter profile picture to match. If I take a photo on my iPhone, send me a copy of it via email.)
IFTTT remedies this by revolving around a simple design conceit. Using an abbreviated scripting language, users develop "recipes," each of which takes a single data input and does one single action to or with it. For example: If I like a photo on Instagram, then save that photo to my Dropbox folder. That's it. It sounds simple, and it is, but it saves you the hassle of doing it for yourself. You don't even have to write these recipes from scratch. Tens of thousands are available for download from the site's database. (You can get the Instagram to Dropbox recipe here.)
But an increasing number of recipes have a serious business bent. Want to back up your mobile device contacts to a Google Docs spreadsheet? Auto-send starred Gmail to Evernote? Link a Blogger account to a Facebook Business Page? There's, to borrow a phrase, a recipe for that
And of course, you can always script your own recipes to do more. Savvy businesses might use IFTTT to send a text message to the customer support team if the company receives a mention on Twitter. Or IFTTT can be used to simplify the hassles of keeping various networks up to date. Tumblr, Instagram, Flickr, and more can all be synced up--one at a time, of course.
The iOS version of the IFTTT app doesn't really do anything the Web version of the system doesn't do already, but it does make recipe creation and management a more flexible, do-it-anywhere activity. One of the curious things about digging into IFTTT is that you never know where the idea for a killer recipe will strike. But as more and more of both our social and business lives becomes mobile, that serendipity is less and less likely to occur when you're sitting at your desk.