As of late, I have written a number of posts on the Internet of Things. Here is a product which is a manifestation of this movement which may be a staple for users for many years.
IFTTT is a web-based service in which users can create chains of simple conditional statements, called "recipes," that are triggered based upon changes to other web services such as Gmail, Google Reader, Instagram, Craigslist. IFTTT is an abbreviation of "If This Then That" and is pronounced like "gift" without the "g."
An example recipe might consist of sending an e-mail message if the IFTTT user tweets a certain hashtag. Or, if the user's photo is tagged by someone on Facebook then that photo will be added to the user's cloud-based photo archive.
IFTTT: ' We're building an intelligence layer for the internet of things'
Article from The Guardian.com Connecting social signals with physical devices, If This Then That is aiming for the mainstream with its endlessly useful control panel for the internet
IFTTT can connect physical objects with social signals, and is aiming to create “an intelligence layer” across the internet of things, says its founder.
Wednesday 31 December 2014 10.13 EST
Could 2015 be the year that IFTTT goes mainstream? IFTTT, or If This Then That, has become part of the internet furniture for many in the tech community, becoming the default way to connect one internet service to another.
If you’d like to get a text reminder to take an umbrella if rain is forecast, or automatically save your Instagram pictures to Dropbox, or post a scheduled message to Twitter on New Years Eve - then IFTTT is for you. Or, if you prefer, there’s a recipe that will automatically phone you when you arrive in New York and play Jay Z’s Empire State of Mind.
There are already more than 140 services plugged in to IFTTT, from Facebook, Twitter and Gmail through to Yo, Slack and WeMo, and two new channels are added every week. And there are, it is estimated, more than 16m combinations - excluding the record collection, with location itself also added recently.
‘Giving people more control over every day devices’
But beyond connecting web services, IFTTT has far bigger ambitions, explains founder and CEO Linden Tibbets. Its future, he believes, is in connecting the internet of things - everyday devices and objects increasingly being given internet capability to be monitored, controlled and connected online.
“It’s about giving people control over services and devices they use every day,” he says. “In the physical world we have a kind of intuitive understanding of objects around us and are constantly modifying those for our needs, so there’s an intuitive control we’re after in the digital age, and that’s especially important as those two are on a collision course to merge.”
Still in its infancy, the internet of things seems focused on connecting seemingly “dumb” objects for novelty, he says. “But the second phase of the internet of things is in building up the ecosystem around gaming consoles, phones and devices like [home monitoring technology] Nest. We’re starting to see some valuable in that kind of hub,” he says, pointing to reduced utility bills and the convenience of being able to control the temperature of your home or be warned about safety issues - a fire, or gas leak - from afar.
“The real value happens in phase three when we can aggregate across all these platforms - an intelligence layer across the internet of things.”
IFTTT is on a push to add physical device controls to its hub, which currently includes the smart garden sprinkler Rachio Iro, the Parrot Flower Power sensor which monitors the health of plants and Aros, a smart air conditioning controller that can automatically adjust according to the weather forecast, your holiday schedule or even your budget. WeMo’s range of app-connected light switches, motion detectors and sockets are also included and have a wide range of applications.
‘Using pictures signifies something much bigger’
Though a staple among developers, Tibetts says the site is constantly trying to refine examples that explain the site for new users because it is hard to visualise so many potential combinations. IFTTT, he says, has a very distinct visual language, with overlarge fonts designed to echo the language of children’s books and imply simplicity.
He refers to Edward Tufte’s design work on sparklines. “These are little graphs that can be embedded in sentences. It’s an idea that goes back to Leonardo and Archimedes - using pictures to represent something much bigger - and that was a big inspiration. Take something like programming, that is syntax based, and you can use pictures and logos that people have such a deep association with. The Twitter bird - you know what that means, that logo represents your relatisonship and so is a catalyst for so much more.”
The process of creating a recipe (a combination of services) is a heavily simplified and visual, with as few clicks as possible, and the logos are a key part of that.
‘Would you like IFTTT to save that Instagram picture to Dropbox?’
As part of the ambition to make IFTTT “a foundational layer” for the internet of things, a next step is to make recipes a fixed part of third party apps. So where Instagram users are offered the choice of posting to Facebook and Twitter, they might be offered an IFTTT recipe too.
“If we recognise that you’re manually posting to Instagram, could we automate that for you?” says Tibbets. “Over the next 10 to 20 years, we will be building for inputs that are as much social signals as mechanical inputs, so thinking about touch points like getting into an Uber car as a way of interacting with the service.”
Some of the “abstract challenges” of IFTTT are to read the inferred intent within an action as a trigger for another task. Maybe your weight reaching 70kg would switch to your lower calorie Ocado order, or clicking your fingers on the doorstep after your jog would set the bath running. Or maybe no emails, texts of Facebook posts from a friend would automatically notify you to call them.
There isn’t enough discussion about ethics at business school
And with so much potential for so many different uses, how does IFTTT protect itself from any unethical use of the service? A lack of ethical oversight has played a part in many recent technology stories, from Snowden to Whisper to the Right to be Forgotten.
“There’s a healthiness in scepticism, so if you’re a consumer and feel your privacy is not respected then just don’t use that service,” says Tibetts. “The general mistrust the media has been able to spotlight is good, because it has made us have a dialogue about it.
“When you invent something the moral framework does come second. But there isn’t enough discussion at business school about ethics, because if you can build trusty and maintain it that is incredibly powerful - it becomes not just a product but a movement that people want to believe in.
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