Whether it's having Dropbox back up every Instagram photo you take, getting a text message in the morning when the forecast calls for rain, or receiving an email when a favorite artist uploads a new Soundcloud recording, IFTTT — which stands for "if this, then that" — has offered users a pretty simple way to automate tasks across web services since launching in 2010. It already supports nearly 70 services (called "channels"), and the company plans on supporting a bunch more by year's end. That expansion starts today with the addition of The New York Times.
The more apps that work with IFTTT, the more powerful it becomes, and the company's hoping that it'll become indispensable as it connects with more web services. For now, that means getting one of the largest news outlets in the world on board. The Times is joining solely as a "trigger," which is IFTTT speak for the "this" part of the simple "if this, then that" equations that make up the service. For example, with the new Times channel, you can set any story from a particular section of the paper to get added to your Pocket account so you can read it later. Or you could do the same with just the most popular articles.
But there's far more you can do, since IFTTT has nearly 70 channels at this point. For example, CEO Linden Tibbets tells The Verge in a telephone interview that should IFTTT be "lucky enough to be mentioned in the Times," he wants to receive an SMS text message instantly letting him know. The Times channel lets you set a trigger for any custom search, so that wouldn't be hard to set up. You can also set triggers for new Critics' Picks movies, books on the Best Sellers list (by type), and local New York events (by category). So you can get all new nonfiction bestsellers added to your Evernote account, or you can automatically post certain stories to your social network of choice. The site has a fairly simple interface for concocting new recipes, but if you're not familiar with IFTTT, you don’t have to think up great equations on your own: the service lets users share recipes they come up with, and it's easy to browse through the best ones.
"What we really want to do is open up IFTTT as a platform and let anyone make a channel."
IFTTT's partnership with The New York Times marks a major addition for the company. To date, ESPN and BuzzFeed have been the only media outlets set up for IFTTT, though users have taken advantage of the service's generic RSS channel to set up triggers for items from other outlets. Support for a particular publication — like that announced today for the Times — allows for more specific triggers than previously possible with RSS feeds, however. IFTTT also says it's working to add many more in the future. "This is just scratching the surface," Tibbets says. He explains that content providers like the Times are are "looking at all the ways readers want to consume or get alerted about their content" and "they're faced with a real challenge in that they can't address each and every one of those things." IFTTT offers them an easy way to solve those problems, he notes.
And by the end of the year, it should be much simpler for companies — whether they're media outlets, web services, or social media sites — to enable support for IFTTT. Currently, anyone who wants to make an IFTTT channel has to work with the company’s developers to make it happen. But Tibbets says he "really wants to open up IFTTT as a platform and let anyone make a channel," adding that developers have been working all summer to figure out the best way to do that. It’s not yet clear if that means the company will create an open API for others to hook into the service, but whatever the solution is, it should be available by the end of the year. In the meantime, more services should be hopping on board throughout 2013, as Tibbets says it's "about to kick off what's really going to be fast and frenzied channel building."
"There will certainly be ways for consumers to pay us for some of our services."
It’s not just about new channels, however: there are other improvements coming to the service. IFTTT launched its (quite good) iOS mobile app back in July, and it's working to take advantage of some of the new tools in iOS 7 to make the app even better. The app currently lets users set photos, contacts, or reminders added to your iPhone as a trigger, but Tibbets says iOS 7's new API tools will let the team add "a lot more things." Triggers will also go off quicker thanks to the new background monitoring tools built into the updated operating system. The team's also working on mobile apps for more platforms, including Android, but Tibbets won’t reveal when that might be available. He did hint that premium accounts are in IFTTT's future, however, saying "there will certainly be ways for consumers to pay us for some of our services." Though it appears the focus will be on working out deals with its channel partners. Tibbets says we'll hear more about the company's monetization plans when it launches its tools to let anyone make a channel — but in the meantime, IFTTT remains one of the best free web-based tools on the block, and the addition of a big news source like the Times only makes it better.