If you had reason to divide technology users into two groups, those who are curious enough to look behind the curtain and figure out how things can be made to work better, and those who aren’t– I can think of no better line than the humble email filter. Tinkering with email rules isn’t rocket science (or even computer science), but it marks a person as belonging to a certain tribe. Lets call them People Who Think The Computer Should Be Working Harder.
ifttt.com (If This Then That) is for people who think the Internet should be working harder. It’s basically the same principal as email filters: instead of applying rules to incoming emails, you assign them to particular triggers– which could be a Craigslist search, incoming Facebook messages, new posts to an RSS feed, photos on Instagram or Flickr, videos on YouTube or Vimeo, and any of dozens of other triggers– even email. Triggers are grouped by source, called a “channel”.
Most of the channels can also be the destination of an action. For example, here are some tasks I use:
- Send posts from the CFPB blog to Instapaper (I figure it’s probably good practice to read the stuff my employer publishes)
- When ever there’s a new post to the official Django blog, email me– these are most often security updates.
- Longreads is a great source of good (and, long) articles. I like sending those to Instapaper, too.
As you can see, I’ve barely scratched the surface– I could be doing a lot more with this. Here are a few some contrived examples, mostly for fun:
- Post to Twitter, every time I “love” a track on Last.fm
- Whenever I post a new Facebook status, post it to LinkedIn as well. Or Tumblr. Or Posterous. Or WordPress.
- Every time I send an email attachment to a certain address (provided by ifttt), save it to my Dropbox account.
- Send me an email whenever someone is selling a particular item on craigslist.
Explore it yourself, and I think you’ll find several examples of ways it can make the web more useful for you. This is one of those sites that I wish I could pay for. What they do is so useful, I hope they find a way to make it sustainable. It’d be a shame for it to go away.