This Little Service Absolutely Crushes Google Alerts
(This post originally appeared on Forbes)
By now I’m sure you’ve played around with Google Alerts – the service that allows you to setup alerts based on keywords which can be emailed to you at various points of the day. Many businesses and individuals rely on these alerts to get updates on products, news and competitors, not to mention…ahem…ourselves. Google Alerts is a great service – it searches the web for news and updates. And that’s nice.
But another, relatively new service absolutely crushes Google Alerts. It’s called IFTTT. That may sound like a strange name, but for anyone like me who’s in the customer relationship management (CRM), accounting or database world IFTTT stands for If This Then That. It’s a workflow tool. For you.
IFTTT represents “…an easy way for developers, owners and manufacturers of software, devices and sites to talk with each other,” says John O’Farrell of Andreessen Horowitz, whose firm was an early investor and remains a significant shareholder in the company. “It’s middleware for the common man.”
Those of us in the technology world know about workflow tools. We create workflows in the CRM and accounting systems for many of our clients. For example, if a quote is about to go overdue, then send a reminder to the salesperson. If an inventory item falls below a safety stock level then create a purchase order to replenish (and if that purchase order is of a certain value, just send it to the supplier). If a customer’s invoice goes past 30 days, and they have a poor payment history, and the invoice is over a certain amount, then put a hold on open orders and alert the sales manager. If a lead hasn’t been followed-up by a salesperson in 10 days, re-assign that lead to another salesperson. Workflows are powerful tools used by companies who realize the benefits of how automation can truly increase profits.
But IFTTT takes this 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.
As I write this, IFTTT has partnered with 142 brand-name companies (there were only 20 in 2012 according to O’Farrell) who have shared their application programming interface. This is the channel. Need to get an email the minute Buzzfeed publishes another ridiculous Harry Potter list? Want to automatically post your favorite Etsy items so your Twitter followers can see them? Waiting for that immediate alert for when a new 2BR apartment gets listed in the Mission District? Want to automatically add an entry to a spreadsheet every time you receive a payment on Square? This is what IFTTT and its partners do. You’re not just getting a message. You’re getting work automatically done for you.
Each channel partner has what IFTTT calls “recipes” that the partner created to do this stuff. Recipes is just another word for “app” or “program” and the company and its partners are smart enough to know that once someone like me sees “app” or “program” we’re thinking “developer” which means “dollars” and so we run away screaming. But like many of the workflows in the CRM and accounting systems we sell, IFTTT’s recipes do not require coding. The hardest part is figuring out what the trigger is (a sale is made, a sale is lost, a refund is due, a product is broken) and then what you want to do about it (update a database, send an email, add a line to a spreadsheet, print out a receipt). This is your process for getting things done automatically, providing immediate customer service and keeping your people as productive as possible without having to add more heads to your payroll. Once you’ve figured out the process, you can create your own recipes. Or modify existing ones. No developer needed.
This is powerful stuff. But there’s more. Oh, there’s more. That’s because IFTTT is not only connecting software but it’s connecting hardware too. Take another look at those channel partners. You see the typical cast of characters like the ones mentioned above, plus Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Reddit, Evernote. But wait… there’s also Philips “hue” and Honeywell “evohome” and UP by Jawbone. What is this? This is the Internet of Things.
This is IFTTT enabling all of those services to “talk” to hardware in your home and business. Like sending you an email to confirm that your manager has locked the doors and put on the restaurant’s alarm before she left. Or getting a text message when motion is detected in a room. Of flashing the lights in your bar every time the home team scores a touchdown. Or having your alarm clock and coffee machine detect when you’re waking up. What is this dark magic? It is nothing more than middleware, which is really what IFTTT is, connecting two databases (one online, and one inside your coffee machine or alarm system) through the Internet and then doing something about it when something else is triggered.
“It’s called “set it and forget it,”” says O’Farrell. “This generation already expects invisible automation from companies and the next generation will expect it even more.”
Google Alerts? That was soooooo yesterday. Sure, there’s a lot happening online. But the real action is going on in your office and your home and your body. And today’s “alerting” tools are quickly being crushed by services, like IFTTT, that build workflows into our lives.