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Automating the cloud, one website script at a time

Lisa Schmeiser | March 14, 2013
Cloud-based APIs offer the promise of seamless integration between services. All you need is the programming chops to make the most of them and the bandwidth to keep up with the rapid pace of change of today's most popular services.

Cloud-based APIs offer the promise of seamless integration between services. All you need is the programming chops to make the most of them and the bandwidth to keep up with the rapid pace of change of today's most popular services.

Enter sites like Zapier and If This Then That. This new class of Web-based scripting services offer users the ability to craft simple scripts to siphon data out of one cloud-based service and move it to another automatically, no programming expertise required.

The point-and-click interfaces at the center of these Web-based scripting services provide an easy way for users to automate workflows among various cloud services, thereby enhancing each service's value and usability. Moreover, users can get what they want from their assorted cloud services by visiting one hub that connects all their accounts to one another.

Think of it as a pipeline to greater productivity that crosses the consumer/business divide.

One scripting service to automate them all

Even people who don't understand conditional constructs can put them to use with the Web-based service If This Then That (ITTT). The site's service is straightforward: Allow it access to your cloud-based accounts, and it will help you stay on top of your online, cloud-based life by crafting "recipes" you can use to automate specific tasks. Each recipe is triggered by specific events and culminates in specific actions.

For example, you might write a recipe that lets you move files from a Dropbox account to a specific chat in Campfire -- a handy way to disseminate files to a collaborative group the minute you upload them. Or if you maintain your company's social media streams, it might be in your best interest to archive your work in the event of a review -- and ITTT can help set up a script that lets you save every Twitter message or Facebook status update to a stored file in Dropbox.

Creating a recipe is a matter of pointing your cursor at an application's icon and clicking it. First, select the application. Then, select the recipe's "trigger," such as the event that will activate the recipe's script, like creating or uploading a file. Next, direct where you want that bit of data to go and what you want to have happen once it's been pushed to the second app. Then click Create Recipe, and your automated script is written and attached to your user account, set to go off when the triggering event takes place.

The site's greatest strength is in providing tools that manage archiving data on a personal level or sift through social media account activity to direct your attention to the highly relevant updates. It's not all saving Twitter messages to text files; I've set up my account to check my voicemail and create a backup archive of phone calls received and messages recorded. This archive came in handy when trying to coordinate the details of a mortgage application.

 

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