⟅ About ⟆ Leon van Kammen micro devtrepeneur / web integration ninja from Europe

Why IFTTT is ahead of the game

Hi! In this post I'll try to explain why I think IFTTT is ahead of the game. Disclaimer: I'm not related with (or paid by) IFTTT in any way.

First a bit of history

When I started out, unix pipes were (and still are) superpowerful to automate things:

$ echo "mail -s "$USER: please do a server-update" john@mycompany.com" | at 1145 jan 31

It looks quite humanreadable..kindof :)

Then Yahoo pipes happened

Interactive websites were mostly limited to data-entry & form-processing. Yahoo made great efforts to create an eventful web:

For that time it was very impressive, but somehow this doesn’t look simple :)

SOAP & REST became a thing

The downside however is: it needs code, therefore a developer specialist, database, server infrastructure etc. Automation still doesn’t look simple.

Jeff Lindsay, a friend at Gliderlabs (who coined the term ‘webhooks’) did a great job promoting the idea of ‘the evented web’. Back then, it gave me these revelations:


IFTTT was already around back then, and demonstrated an ‘evented’ philosophy:

Now lets look at the unix oneliner again:

$ echo "mail -s "$USER: please do a server-update" john@mycompany.com" | at 1145 jan 31

Do you notice the simplicity in both approaches?

Now let’s look at the competition

Over the years, lots of competitors have arised (Microsoft Flow, Zapier), ESB’s (mulesoft,JBoss), and opensource solutions like node-red, datafire etc. I’ve even designed and implemented some solutions for customers myself :)

The blind spot of the competitors?

“Abstracting away logic by introducing highlevel scripting to the user, is a solution which creates a new problem”

Mo code, mo problems. Mo yahoo-pipe-ish solutions, mo deutchs limit

Offering automations with a ‘conditional/chainable character unlike IFTTT’ creates new challenges. It’s no longer an adapter-platform (IFTTT), but a programming-silo which introduces all kinds of new risks.

IFTTT seems to be the only one which promotes the eventful web, and a “Don’t build silo’s”-attitude. This might explain why IFTTT is attractive by nondevelopers and developers.

The secret of IFTTT?

I have no idea, but here’s my gut-feeling :)

In order to pull something off like IFTTT, I think 3 things are important:

Imho IFTTT got it right from the beginning, by selling simplicity instead of complexity. It makes something incredibly complex very simple.

Why I think IFTTT is ahead of the game

Where others offer more complex solutions, IFTTT somewhat follows the rule of least power.

IFTTT seems to be layered in a smart, interconnected way:

layer what used by for how
1 userinterface nondevelopers nondevelopers sharing applets
2 applet service developers nondevelopers (see here)
3 backoffice integration developers products embed / list / show / enable / disable applets (see here)

NOTE: I’ve only noticed layer 3 by accidentally googling it. Ideally, the distinction between layer 2-3 could be more obvious in the IFTTT Platform docs,

I was also impressed by this REST endpoint validator:

This turns a very hairy human process (usually emailing back’n’forth with support) into a bunch of green lights.

In case you’re curious about IFTTT Platform’s onboarding process for applet services: I’ve made this node-ifttt-express repository to setup your own IFTTT Platform applet.


The trigger-action-paradigm offers a more flexible & eventful future for SaaS. IFTTT demonstrates that limiting webintegrations to an adapter-platform (unlike zapier) doesn’t really gets in the way of developers. I hope it will become a standard, and will wake up other companies as well.

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