Imagine if every electrical outlet in your home was shaped differently. Now imagine that every connector also has a unique shape. Any time you wanted to access the sweet, sweet electricity that allows most modern conveniences, you’d have to hunt for the proper outlet and hope that whatever you wanted to use had a compatible connector.
That’s what the Web sometimes feels like. There’s some data over here, there is a service or application you’d like to access that data over there, but you have no idea how to bridge the two. Some companies make it easy to take your data wherever you’d like; others have plugged the outlet with cement, or restricted access to just a handful of other applications and services. It doesn’t matter how badly you want to move that data, how many settings and configurations you try, or how much you plead with some technological deity to just make the information go where you want it to.
IFTTT is like a universal adaptor that makes it easier to bridge the outlet and the connector — or service and application, in this case — through simple “if this, then that” statements. You could set certain rules that say something like “if I star an article in Readability, then create a new note in Evernote,” or “if I upload a photo to Facebook, then save it to Dropbox.” IFTTT handled all of this technical wizardry in the background, allowing you to create a rule and then forget about the service entirely.
Now the service is beginning to emerge from the background and become something with which you regularly interact instead of serving primarily as a virtual dust collector. And it’s doing so through an iPhone application that, in addition to providing access to an iPhone’s photos, contacts, and reminders, periodically reminds you that it’s working.
IFTTT’s iPhone app displays a “feed” at launch. This collects all of the things IFTTT has done for you lately — a bit like a list of chores, except one filled out by your significant other because they’re sick of doing all this shit around the house while you lay on the couch and watch “Pretty Little Liars” — and also recommends new functions. The service previously operated silently in the background; if you weren’t paying attention you might not even notice or remember that IFTTT was working.
The application also allows IFTTT to send push notifications, when it completes certain actions. “Say, for instance, that you’re a social media manager and you’re sending your Facebook photos to your Instagram page. You might want to receive a push notification immediately to see that those are working,” IFTTT CEO Linden Tibbets offers as an example. His hope is for IFTTTT to become an integral aspect of the Web, and that means that people will want to know when the service is working and when it isn’t.
“I think what really the application represents is the base layer of all the things we want to do on mobile,” Tibbets says. “We made a decision to really validate, is what we’re doing truly a mainstream behavior? I think a lot of what we’re doing is incredibly cool and valuable, but I think it remains to be seen with, is it something that the average person will be able to use?” Based on my experience with the app, the answer is “yes.”
I’ve been using a beta version of the app for the last few weeks, and while I won’t do a full review — others have already done that — I will say that having IFTTT available with just a swipe and a tap changed the way I use the service. I’ve found new use-cases, figured out why some of the actions I’d previously set up weren’t working, and used IFTTT for little one-use actions that I would’ve never done before simply because I didn’t want to visit the service’s website.
IFTTT went from being a universal adaptor that I forgot I had installed to being something that I wanted to use more and more, a tool that could bridge the gaps between the technologies I use in ways I hadn’t previously imagined. Now that the service is in my pocket instead of in my computer’s browser, IFTTT seems much more valuable.
[Disclosure: Both IFTTT and PandoDaily are backed by Lerer Ventures. Marc Andreessen, Jeff Jordan, and Chris Dixon are personal investors in PandoDaily; the firm at which they are partners, Andreessen Horowitz, is an investor in IFTTT.]