If this, then that!

IFTTT lets anyone control the Internet of Things.

Technology is converging towards the goal of simplifying everything by connecting any tool with every other tool through the internet. This phenomenon, called the Internet of Things (IoT), promises convenience and a vision for the ultimate life automation tool [1]. The objects in our daily life are getting this additional digital layer [2]. However, in this increasingly connected present, average humans have no clue how to optimize and programmatically leverage the tools they use. Most people view the internet as a source of news, information, entertainment, etc. [3], but it’s always been more than that. Unfortunately, the majority do not have the knowledge or understanding to do the automation and optimization they need for themselves even though the means exist (it’s just too complex to manipulate without domain specific knowledge). Still, the internet can be harnessed to control anything connected to its network. How?

By using APIs to create programmable shortcuts for established tools.

An API (application program interface) is a code based communication tool that lets a service effortlessly share data and control actions under pre-defined parameters [4]. While APIs have been around for a long time, they gained recent buzz (~2005) because popular sites like Facebook and Google launched more easily consumable and public APIs.

Using an API is complex, but fortunately, IFTTT revolutionizes the process. Its users touch no code but can suddenly program their entire life. Forbes explains, “IFTTT takes [workflows] to a whole new level. Both for businesses and individuals. Both for software and hardware. It is a workflow system for the cloud. And it, and other services like it, will become the backbone of the next wave of Internet of Things technologies” [4].

IFTTT, pronounced gift without the g [5], allows you to communicate sans code with your devices by creating “recipes’ composed of two main parts: a trigger and a subsequent action.  The way to think about it is: “If this trigger happens, then do this action.”

IFTTT lets anyone control the Internet of Things.[6]
IFTTT lets anyone control the Internet of Things.[6]
IFTTT lowers the barriers to entry for individuals to have the power to control the tools and devices in their lives. Without learning to code, becoming a programmer, or manipulating complex APIs, anyone can control the automation of their life. CEO Linden Tibbets describes, “We continue to build IFTTT for the folks who are non-technical, who want to get more out of the services and the devices that they use every day” [2].

Currently, IFTTT is free and simple to use, adding to this mission to let ANYONE (if they have internet access) have power over the Internet of Things.

However, in order to deliver on that promise, IFTTT partners with many of the world’s best brands and services, like Facebook, Spotify, Google and more [6]. Without them, the immediate benefit of IFTTT would be masked; as described in the NYTimes, “IFTTT and its partners are hedging their bets on a different philosophy, where interconnected devices are ultimately good not only for consumers, but also for the companies [7]. The impact of this can be best seen with Amazon’s Echo and Alexa.

Amazon Echo is a smart speaker that responds to the name Alexa, and it is operationally being built on top of IFTTT’s platform. CEO Tibbets describes how IFTTT leverages their “recipe” concept to have special keywords as triggers for Alexa: “So, you can tell Alexa to turn off your lights, open the garage door, post a tweet, and you can do that all through a recipe. I think that’s incredible to make Alexa relevant to not only smart home devices, like Nest, but also other productivity apps and services” [2]. As a user, you can create as many new recipes as you want, but the real benefit is that you can choose from existing recipes from other IFTTT users.

For IFTTT, I believe that the next step is now to leverage AI and machine learning concepts to understand how users are creating and writing these recipes and use that data to intelligently build new, even more useful tools. Automatically generating recipes based on intelligently analyzed data will open up new doors that the current system has not yet leveraged.

With that, we can take digital assistants like Alexa to the personal assistant level with more tailored and personalized software.

IFTTT leverages current digitized technology and is uniquely positioned to create the envisioned PA of the future. All that they are lacking is the unlocked potential of AI. The future of this company is exciting, and I can’t wait to see what they do next!

  1. https://www.superb.net/blog/2014/09/04/ifttt-fundraising-submerges-internet-of-things-in-unprecedented-hype/
  2. http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2498266,00.asp
  3. http://www.forbes.com/sites/eliseackerman/2012/09/23/ifttt-the-san-francisco-startup-lets-anyone-control-the-internet-of-things/#462add6161e3
  4. https://www.techchange.org/2015/06/25/using-apis-without-code-my-top-5-ifttt-recipes/
  5. http://www.forbes.com/sites/quickerbettertech/2014/11/03/this-little-service-absolutely-crushes-google-alerts/
  6. https://ifttt.com/press
  7. http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/08/28/with-30-million-more-in-hand-ifttt-looks-to-the-internet-of-things/

Word Count: 765


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Student comments on If this, then that!

  1. Thanks, Denzil, for your post! It was very interesting to read about the applications of IFTTT combined with IOT. I was browsing through the IFTTT website and many of the applets they have seem very exciting.

    I think it is important for IFTTT to generate a large enough network of users and partners that utilize their services. This is because, the technology may not be too complex for competitors to enter and replicate the service. The main barrier would be the extent of the network that is already created by IFTTT.

    My other concern is on security risk. Using the Applets grants access to data and information stored, and users could be apprehensive about this. If secure servers could be hacked, who’s to say that these Applets can’t be hacked too? Also, if we ever reach a stage where home appliances and IFTTT are connected, could someone who gained access to a device like Amazon Echo use it for mischief, such as disarming an alarm system, or opening a door?

    I guess I paint a rather negative view of IFTTT, but if security and privacy features could be enhanced I can see this being very successful.

  2. Denzil, this was a very interesting read.

    One thought I had reading about IFTTT is the continuing trend of simplifying complex tasks so that anyone could master them. One example is the creation of web-pages/Internet sits, where we have seen a very successful industry grow around DIY site-building. One example of this is WIX, which enables the average person to build professional looking sites. The question that arises from this trend is where would it leave the people that have the skills that are now being replaced. I believe that rather than a threat to them it poses as an opportunity to become specialists on the one hand and to help provide the tools that enable the masses to master the more simple aspects of their jobs.

    While this concept that IFTTT developed is very intuitive and appealing, I wonder why it is yet to become a major hit. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that a bigger community of “designers” has to be built, as Milkman mentioned above. But then, one may wonder why this hasn’t happened yet. Is it because IFTTT are not doing enough to leverage their product (operationally, marketing etc.) or because at the end of the day this is a cool fad but not something a product that bridges a real gap that people have in their day to day lives. Most apps today are designed by professionals and are mostly free and therefore our need for IFTTT may not be so substantial. However, I do believe that with the introduction of more and more connected devices into our daily lives, there is still much potential for IFTTT to thrive.

  3. I’m thrilled that you chose to discuss IFTTT, Denzil!

    I use the platform whenever I am on the market for something on Craigslist and want to be notified whenever someone posts an item on Craigslist within certain parameters (e.g. if… someone posts a chair in like-new condition within 5 miles of 02138… then… send me an email). This automated process allows me to stay on top of activity on Craigslist without having to check myself, since Craigslist does not currently offer a push notification feature.

    While Milkman’s security concerns are valid, I do agree with Ameg that this is the future: basic digitization / automation processes will become so accessible and commoditized that (1) ordinary, non-technical consumers will be able to get more done on their own without having to hire a software developer, and (2) software developers will be increasingly pushed upstream to higher-order tasks, such as developing back-end algorithms and hardware, rather than basic front-end development. We not only see this with IFTTT, but also with https://bubble.is/home, a platform that allows users to code mobile and web apps using a simple drag-and-drop interface akin to Microsoft PowerPoint. As a result of this “consumerization” of technical functions, I have two personal takeaways: (1) Our schools need to increasingly equip students with the aptitude for thinking both conceptually and technically (so that they can not only understand WHY IFTTT is powerful, but HOW to use it), and (2) job seekers who believe that simply learning to code will somehow weatherproof their careers should take a hard second look.

  4. As a self-proclaimed IoT nerd, I loved your post Denzil. What I find so beneficial about IFTTT is that it solves (at least temporarily) the current battle for which platform will be the hub for internet connected household devices. While Google/Nest and Amazon/Alexa and Apple/ Apple Home and GE/Quirky [1] , to name a few, have been battling it out to see who will be THE platform for the connected home, IFTTT has snuck in under the radar to work across multiple platforms and devices, irrespective of the manufacturer.

    In IFTTT’s approach, I’m reminded of our Uber case and the creation of a two sided platform that is supercharged by an apparent network effect. The more IFTTT partners with different API’s the more useful the service becomes and the more users will be attracted. The more users, the more likely partners will want to work with the company.

    The biggest risk I see to this business model is if one manufacturer/platform (ie Google/Nest) does prevail in becoming the preeminent connected home manager, then the IFTTT service loses the majority of its value overnight. The company will have to work to create switching costs with their existing user base if they hope to maintain their current valuable market position.

    [1] Wakabayashi, Daisuke, and Nick Wingfield. “Google, Lagging Amazon, Races Across the Threshold Into the Home.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 03 Oct. 2016. Web.

  5. Denzil – great post that has generated some great comments for discussion.

    I’m interested in the NYT quote you cited: “IFTTT and its partners are hedging their bets on a different philosophy, where interconnected devices are ultimately good not only for consumers, but also for the companies.” I think incorporating IFTTT into devices and platforms provides an incredible opportunity for firms to understand exactly how consumers are using their products. The key here would be somehow giving the producer access to the aggregate recipe data from its users.

    For a hypothetical example, Amazon may have strongly believed that consumers would use Alexa mainly for music playback and invested to make this feature more robust. However, after reviewing IFTTT data, they may have found out that customers disproportionately use it for home security applications. Armed with this knowledge, Amazon could then prioritize future updates for Alexa based on actual usage and perhaps even use the recipe data to drive differentiation across its product line. My only concern would be that consumers may be hesitant to share THAT much data about their routines and device interaction behaviors. Companies like Amazon would need to ensure certain privacy measures and demonstrate that sharing the information would lead to tangible benefits for the customer.

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