IFTTT: San Francisco Startup Lets Anyone Control The Internet of Things – Forbes.
To get to the office of one of San Francisco’s most innovative startups, you need to walk away from the gleaming promise of the financial district and toward the boarded-up failures of upper Market Street. You’ll be looking for a formerly abandoned building, and you’ll likely walk past the entrance a few times before you try a blank steel door next to a shuttered storefront.
Once inside, you’ll climb a few flights of narrow stairs, through hallways painted a garish orange, until you emerge, fittingly, in an open and sunny loft, where a handful of developers, and one fierce Pomeranian named Lady, are putting together a platform that lets anyone, regardless of their programming skills, play with the Internet. By play, I mean remotely control objects and send information skittering around the globe. Or effortlessly combine virtual worlds and real worlds, so when something happens in a virtual world like Farmville, it triggers an event in the real world.
For example, if the forecast says it will rain in New York City tomorrow afternoon, call my phone at 7:45 a.m. and remind me to bring an umbrella. If the description of my stolen bike shows up on Craigslist, send me an email. If Apple’s stock falls to $650, send me a text message. If it’s 50 degrees or cooler in Boston, turn the heater on in my apartment at 6 p.m. so it will be warm when I get home.The service is called “IFTTT” which stands for “ if this, then that.” The name describes the way developers tend to the think about code: If “this” happens, then it will trigger “that.” But the logic also works for everyday actions.
The IFTTT Team/Credit: Patrick Kawahara
Up until now, you probably thought of the Internet primarily as a source of news, entertainment and information. But it’s always been more that. If you knew how to control it, the Internet was a way of routing electricity, redirecting fleets of trucks, and turning security cameras on or off. Basically all the things that sci-fi movies from two decades ago imagined a global network could do, the Internet does.
IFTTT won’t let you wreck havoc, but it will let you have fun and give you a new sense of power by letting you connect one Internet service to another.
“I like to call it the mother of all mashups,” said Lee Dumond, host of the podcast, mashthis, which recently featured an interviewwith IFTTT founder Linden Tibbets.
Tibbets is a thoughtful, soft-spoken programmer and designer from Duncanville, TX. He moved to California to attend school, and most recently spent three years working at IDEO, an innovation and design consultancy, before leaving to run IFTTT full time early this year. Tibbets wanted to unlock the creativity that was inherent in the design of the Internet, and particularly in the proliferation of interfaces known as APIs.
APIs are the Babel fish of technology—they let one service talk effortlessly to another and share data under carefully defined parameters. They’ve been around a long time, but people started to pay close attention to them in 2005 and 2006 when Facebook, Google and Twitter all launched APIs that let developers build applications that used data from their services.
For awhile APIs were a fad. Companies wanted an API in the same way they wanted a website in late 1990s. Then they started to figure out how APIs could be good for business, and that’s when the growth really exploded, says Oren Michels, co-founder of Mashery, a platform for API management. During the last year an API directory hosted by the Programmable Web, one of the leading information sources on APIs, grew as much as it had during the previous five years.
For Tibbets, who together with his brother Alexander started IFTTT in December 2010, this meant there were millions of connections just waiting to be joined together in a easy-to-use wrapper. The way IFTTT works is the wrapper lets you create a “recipe” by selecting a trigger “channel” (like the RSS feed from Forbes.com) and then the trigger (send a news story) and the trigger channel (via email). This particular recipe will email you headlines when new stories are posted in the technology section of Forbes.com. The process of setting it up took about a minute.(See other Forbes.com IFTTT recipes here.)
Within a year, IFTTT’s first 10,000 users had created more than 400,000 recipes. IFTTT currently has almost two million recipes linking 52 “channels.”
A channel is how IFTTT describes a stream of data from a specific service like Facebook or Yahoo, or an information feed about stocks or the weather. A channel can also describe specific actions that can be controlled with an API like sending a voice message or an SMS. Like many things involving technology, it sounds a lot more complicated than it is in practice.
In July, IFTTT announced an ESPN Olympics Coverage Channel so that people could interact with news stories about their favorite athlete or sport. At the ESPN offices, one of the employees used IFTTT to turn on a disco ball and trigger the U.S. national anthem every time Team USA won a medal. “What’s awesome about IFTTT is that there are endless possibilities,” said Chris Jason, director of ESPN’s API program.
Increasingly, those possibilities have to do with physical objects. In June, IFTTT announced new channels for Belkin’s WeMo switch and WeMo motion detector. Immediately, people began inventing new ways to use the gadgets. One man combined WeMo switches and motion detectors into a home security system. Someone else wanted to be notified whenever the dog jumped on the couch. Others used IFTTT to log all motions to a Google Doc or to Dropbox.
Jamie Elgie, senior director of new platforms at Belkin, said he uses IFTTT to automatically get breakfast started in the morning. Without IFTTT, he said, Belkin would have had to create dozens of one-on-one integrations itself. Even more challenging, it would have had to create an interface that included all those different possibilities. “There are users who really want to do a lot with this, and IFTTT enables us to unleash that creativity without messing up the interface for people who want to do simple stuff,” Elgie explained.
For Tibbets, the WeMo wrappers marked the beginning of IFTTT’s foray into the vast Internet of things. Tibbets sees a time coming when nearly all products are connected to the Internet—which means they’ll be connected to other products and services and can be controlled by IFTTT.
To speed that process, IFTTT is building out a platform that will make it easy for anyone with an API to create a channel on IFTTT. Right now, Tibbet’s tiny team of developers is doing all the coding. However, the platform should make creating IFTTT connections virtually plug and play. “Someone with a fully formed API should be able to do this in a half a day,” Tibbets said.
For ordinary people interested in flexing the power of the Internet, this means the fun has just begun