Mixing it up, a lot.

For the third Networked Communities project I decided to explore the website IFTTT. This service provides a variety of ways to interact with over 50 social media channels in order to direct the flow of its users social interactions online.

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Currently 26 social channels are connected and are powering 19 ‘if / then’ statements. Some are as simple as adding pages bookmarked with one service to another service in order to maintain consistency This method is for pure convenience and a way to appease friends who like to ‘like’ but don’t like to use the tools that you use. While other recipes can become quite robust when their destinations are considered. I set up an account with a service called Buffer which allows one to queue up social shares and have them be distributed one by one during specific times during the week. When combined with recipes this creates a way to share a large quantity of content without as much risk of frustrating people following the Buffered account. In my experiment I am routing a range of content channels from the prior social bookmarks to any of the posts I happen to put up on this blog into Buffer via these If / Then recipes.

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This makes a good deal of sense when the descriptions of the individual services within them are taken into account. The two examples below, on the other hand, show where IFTTT can become more than just a way to send something in one direction instead it can become a way to really mix and sift content that we interact with.

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I use Google Reader as my primary RSS reader, it is robust and has many possible in-app interactions, but I don’t particularly want to share anything from it immediately as I tend to just glance over headlines and skim the text initially  What I am doing above is establishing a chain of events that allows me to be very selective with what I not only read more carefully ( the starred content being sent to Instapaper which I prefer to use for reading on my phone ) but also eventually share ( if I do end up really finding something useful after I have read it more carefully I will send it into my buffer ). There are many metaphors that this method can be drawn to, but one that stuck with me is the sifting of ore: the more narrowing steps there are the more precious the information becomes to the individual sharing it.

Buffer and IFTTT can be easily criticized as the lazy ways of utilizing social networks, but just like any tool or remedy it simply needs to be used in moderation. In the above example I would have to go through a number of steps at once, rather than have the ‘read it later’ effect of Instapaper. I usually check my reader quickly and at times when I don’t have the ability to really sit down and focus on the content, prior to this I would often ‘wing it’ and share articles if I liked the title or the first paragraph which is arguably a great deal more lazy than the above formula.

Below is a method that demonstrates a good kind of laziness provided by IFTTT:

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Here I am moving fairly hefty assets over to a cloud storage service from my preferred image sharing service, Flickr. If I am out and want to take a photo this allows me to still do so with the Flickr application and not worry about having to upload it a second time to my cloud backup system, the highest resolution file is immediately put into a proper folder for me.

A peculiar aspect that might be apparent already is the way these simple statements change so heavily based on what is on each end of the equation. Perhaps a very obvious statement, but when described as social streams we immediately become drawn to networks like Facebook or Twitter. Some of the channels offered are very different from these common social interaction tools and seem almost pointless at first but, can become useful when mixed with the right tools:

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On the right is Campfire this is a very basic chat tool for groups that want to collaborate in real time on various projects. What could IFTTT bring into a basic IRC-esque chat room? In this particular example a very basic weather update, if it is cold out just leave a message to the whole group. Again this is a very basic use of the system, but the same principle can be applied based on the group that is using the chat. If it is a room full of developers working on a live web application, the app itself could provide notice to the developers of any errors via a basic RSS feed structure. Just like the ‘weather’ is talking to this particular group now.

All of these methods provide a level of convenience, but more importantly they add features that are not normally part of the networks with which they interact. This is my way of Hacking, and perhaps more appropriately Mixing social streams in the context of this project. I will continue using and experimenting with this service, I think that if used carefully it can become an invaluable tool of routing the many (many!) online social networks that we engage in on a day to day basis. And as a final note: If this post were a golf ball it is about to bounce off many a tree.