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Personal KM: Pull & push with IFTTT

This article appears in the issue June 2012 [Volume 21, Issue 6]

The explosion of applications and services the Internet has generated makes it difficult to track things we write, actions we take and share, things we "favorite" or other collective social tasks. We need a simple-to-use system to pull data and information from one service and push it properly formed into another service. The challenge is having a way to use the application programming interface (API) to query the information, extract it, parse the results, put it in a usable format and then pass it to an interface for easy display or to another service that can make sense of it.

Years back, Yahoo built a service called Pipes that provided a way to point at the source API, extract potentially helpful information and do something with that data/information. The interface was quite daunting for those with non-technical (or even moderate) skills, but many services built in Pipes still run quite well today, and many depend on those services to ease information flow.

"Recipes"

In December 2010, If This Then That started with the aim of filling the gap in ease of use. IFTTT provides 42 services (channels) with which it can be used as an interface to extract information from and/or push to. Those services include not only the usual suspects like Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Flickr, Google Calendar, etc., but also e-mail, calls and SMS as potential resources. The interface is rather plain and lets us select "recipes" already made by others, or we can build our own tasks, which we can also share as "recipes" with others. The service securely walks the user through authenticating the services and provides a listing of data/information types available.

The key is to sort out and decide what our endpoints are or are going to be. When we have many services, and each with the possibility of feeding the other, it is important that the paths of pulling from one service and placing it in another don't loop back on themselves. That looping back can cause many multiples of the same content in the same service. The other piece of advice is to strongly consider the privacy implications of cross feeding between services, as well as possible ownership issues.

In IFTTT, my Foursquare check-ins are grabbed and pushed into a Google Calendar. Foursquare is a Web and mobile location check-in service that can be used to track where we've been (for example, to track travel expenses and meetings). I also push my Last.FM, which  helps keep a record of what music we listened to, into Google Calendar.

The most productive use for IFTTT for me is pulling things from the places where I write (blogs, Twitter, Tumblr, etc.) and pushing them into Pinboard, one of my personal Web endpoints, where they are stored as bookmarks. Pinboard's paid archive service pulls in the text of the information on those pages or sources and indexes them for search. That makes Pinboard a nice Web-based (with mobile interface), one-stop shop for searching my personal endpoint.

Not only does IFTTT provide this wonderful, simple service, but also many of the services offer the means to push content and objects elsewhere. It's good to track what services are pushing to others to reduce duplicates. It's nice to be able to relatively easily manage our personal infocloud in this way, finally.  


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