What the latest Web-based services can do for you.
Why is it that the promise of an automated life is always just around the corner? Instead, each new innovation seems incapable of communicating with the rest.
A new generation of Web automation programs, which link cloud services such as Gmail and Dropbox, social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, and even many mobile apps and connected devices, hopes to overcome such limitations. Here’s a look at a few of these Web-based services and what they can do for you.
IFTTT, short for “If This Then That,” started the trend in 2010 with a system that linked a growing number of Web-based services (as well as iPhone and Android apps) via “recipes” that perform automated tasks. You can create recipes (essentially macros or mini-apps) with IFTTT’s simple point-and-click interface, or use one of the thousands of recipes that other users have devised.
Just a few examples: Receive an email when Netflix adds new items; save popular New York Times articles to read later on Pocket or Feedly; convert and send a file in Dropbox to read on your Kindle; automatically post new iPhone or Android photos onto Facebook or other sharing services and backup contacts and files to a variety of cloud storage services. Or make a call to a dedicated IFTTT phone number, and receive a transcription of your “note to self.”
Zapier is a “freemium” alternative that offers access to many online apps not available on IFTTT—more than 250 in all—including popular business programs such as Salesforce, Basecamp, GoToMeeting and PayPal. A business could send, for example, a form entry from survey service Wufoo to Salesforce as a sales lead for follow up. And while IFTTT is currently limited to just one account per service, Zapier can accommodate multiple accounts.
We-Wired Web is a promising service similar to IFTTT and Zapier that is still in open beta. It lists a huge number of services, though many are not yet available for use. Innovations include daily schedules, multiple triggers and actions per task, as well as location-based triggers.
Wappwolf works a bit differently from other systems. It uses popular cloud storage apps such as Dropbox, Google Drive and Box as automation launchpads, largely for converting or adding effects to files and media, then optionally sending them somewhere else for sharing. You create special folders within your service of choice, and when you drop a file into the folder, Wappwolf takes over and performs a specific task. For example, you could have a photo converted to black and white, scaled, renamed and then uploaded to Facebook, Flickr and Google+.
These are just the most prominent entries in a field of Web and mobile automation that is developing rapidly. The trend toward platform- and app-agnostic services means that you’ll likely be able to connect two or more services that were once completely isolated. Translation? With a little ingenuity, you can become master of your online universe.