The Center for Data Innovation spoke with Linden Tibbets, cofounder of If This Then That (IFTTT), a software company headquartered in San Francisco focusing on linking applications and connected devices. Linden discussed how the simple idea behind IFTTT became integral in so many applications, and how IFTTT is a natural fit for the Internet of Things.
This interview has been lightly edited.
Joshua New: For such a simple concept, IFTTT has a pretty wide array of potentially complex applications. Could you explain just how IFTTT works, and how it has evolved over time?
Linden Tibbets: IFTTT has always been about creative control. It allows anyone to feel confident customizing their digital world, in the same way they already do their physical world. Our aim over time is to make this more intuitive and less complex.
We empower people to make connections between the services they use every day—there are over 340 services on our platform, including Facebook, Twitter, Evernote, Gmail, Amazon Alexa, Nest, Fitbit, and Slack. Users can combine these services together using simple and powerful “if this, then that” statements called “Recipes.” Some popular Recipes include “When I come home, turn on your lights,” “Automatically keep your social network profile pictures in sync,” “Set your temperature with a spoken command to Alexa,” and so on.
In terms of evolving, we’re working on some exciting stuff. We just gave our partners the ability to embed IFTTT directly in their apps. We’re pushing the boundaries in terms of what our partners can do with IFTTT and making sure they can meet their users’ needs.
New: In 2012, IFTTT started focusing on the Internet of Things with smart home devices. Could you explain how IFTTT and the Internet of Things go together so well?
Tibbets: I wouldn’t say we’re focused on the Internet of Things, but it’s a natural fit. There are some problems there that IFTTT is naturally positioned to help with, in terms of getting all of these disparate devices and systems to work together. Our broader vision is about services of all types—you may not think about it, but those Internet of Things devices are all actually services. And we’re quickly moving toward a world where everything is a service. Every noun; not just physical things, like your TV or car, but organizations and businesses, too.
Those services come with their own interfaces, streams of data, and so on. You don’t just buy a connected light-bulb; it comes with an app and a login. As more of these services come online, we’re focused on making it easy to manage.
New: IFTTT relies heavily on open source technology. Why?
Tibbets: We’ve used open source software in our stack, but the IFTTT platform itself is not actually open source. We do have aims to open our platform to everyone, eventually. There are so many creative developers and makers that use IFTTT, and we’re committed to supporting that community.
The best open source software is highly flexible, testable, secure, well-written and well-documented. That’s why we use it in our stack, and though our platform isn’t open source, we hold it to those high standards.
New: The obvious applications of IFTTT are things like smart home management, improved productivity with smartphones, and other more consumer-focused applications. What about industrial uses?
Tibbets: Enterprise is an exciting opportunity for IFTTT. The lines are blurring all the time. Industries have many of the same issues consumers do: how to manage huge amounts of data, how to build systems that work seamlessly, and so on. If there are problems that could be solved through better communication, automation, or flexibility, I think we could help. Industries are built and maintained by people, and people need intuitive interfaces and the confidence to control these huge systems. That’s right in our wheelhouse.
New: In February 2015, IFTTT got a bit more complicated by adding a few more functions for its “Recipes.” How did this change the potential for IFTTT integration into connected devices?
Tibbets: We actually didn’t make IFTTT more complicated, we made it simpler! In this case, in February of 2015. We introduced the ability to trigger IFTTT actions with a single tap, via our DO apps. So you can press the DO button and ask a Slack channel if they want coffee, or use DO camera to send a photo to Dropbox with one tap.