Category: Assignment-02-IFTTT




If a new article is posted on the New York Times containing the keyword ‘explosion’, then send a blink event.

An explosion somewhere in the world is the catalyst for a reaction that goes something like this: explosion > reporters and witnesses > publication > IFTTT > blink(1). In that sense, the blink(1) event is a continuation of a reaction set off by a real world explosion.

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A bulk of the craft involved in arts-engineering is making technologies talk to each other. This fact is highlighted in Jim Campbell’s “Formula for Computer Art”, a diagram resembling a slot machine that reveals (painfully so, for me) the unoriginality of merely mapping an input to an output via some unseen algorithm. Campbell’s astute diagram is a challenge to move beyond this formulaic approach to art-making. But as Golan pointed out in class, Campbell neglects to include mention of a viewer or participant (aside from inputs like “spoken words” or “number of people”). Perhaps this exclusion is telling, and interactive elements makes for more engaging art.

I don’t think Campbell’s diagram precludes mapping of some input to an output, so long as the mapping is meaningful. In “Art and the API” Jer Thorp makes the case for connections via APIs. APIs are glue for connecting people, systems and events through the medium of software. He illustrates a number of interesting use cases for APIs, like using drone strike data provided by The Bureau for Investigative Journalism to populate a Twitter feed. IFTTT (“If This, Then That”) simplifies the process of orchestrating technologies by leveraging the APIs of popular services.

What IFTTT gains in accessibility, it sacrifices in flexibility; connections can only be made between the included APIs. For prototyping projects at a smaller scale that aim join two of the included services, I could see IFTTT being useful.



The Hoarder is a recipe that searches the lost+found section of craigslist for posts title “found”. When one appears it posts a tweet ” Lost {{title}} ” .

Ideally I would have liked to have been able to create a “lost” craigslisting every time an item was “found”

I see it as a kind of opportunistic hoarderding algorythim – helping the user to get anything thing that they can get their hands on. Screen Shot 2013-09-03 at 1.00.13 PM

The hoarder recipe turns wrong: Screen Shot 2013-09-03 at 6.12.36 PM


This recipe is essential for tweens and teens – whenever the temperature rises above 22celsius (metric, not imperial) a facebook status is updated ” #ilovemylife ” with an image of jovial people on the beach.

Screen Shot 2013-09-03 at 1.08.21 PM


IFTTT is interesting because it democratises api’s. Anyone can now take advantage of them. It allows us to experiment with different content and medium. We can deliver specific weather information to ourselves through text, or schedule reminders to ourselves through text. I feel like there is a difference between receiving a text message reminding me to do something over just setting a reminder on my calander app. I have been primed through habit to respond to each differently. Jer Thorpe discusses the merging of meaningful data streams and mediums of delivery. I think that computers and the content on them need to be more human, more relevant. Open APIs allow to explore this. Jim Campbell’s formula is accurate. The ability to synthesise input, algorithm and output is becoming easier each day. This highlights the need to exercise a degree of criticality (in the same way that we need to with digital fabrication) when using these technologies. So as not to numb our audience.


My recipe:ifttt


Email myself world news. I really need to start getting more in touch with the rest of the world somehow, and this should make me be more motivated about it.

According to Thorp, API is a bridge between one piece of software to another. That is essentially IFTTT, which bridges single actions between two software to produce an overall useful or interesting function for the user. I felt that was also what Campbell’s Formula for Computer Art was illustrating – given an input, some background code “magically” converts it into a different output. The first time I read Thorp’s article, I felt I understood what he was saying, except for the part about art. In my mind, I always kept art, which I thought of as unique or aesthetically appealing visual expression, and useful tools, which I thought Thorp was describing about APIs in the majority of his article, in two separate categories. I checked out Pitch Interactive’s “Out of Sight, Out of Mind” project, which I thought was going to fall into the “useful tools” category, and was surprised at how visually appealing the moving lines that came together part on top of the timeline turned out. I think I now have an understanding of what Thorp meant by API being a bridge for art.


APIs, Formulas, and Art

My Recipe

Screen Shot 2013-09-03 at 1.00.26 AM

My first recipe sends me a text at midnight telling me to dim the lights. I like it because it is a practical way for me to remind myself that it’s getting late and I should sleep soon.

Screen Shot 2013-09-03 at 1.08.08 AMMy second recipe is more about thinking. I’ve had times in my life where I get up around sunset, and go to bed not too much after it’s dark. Those times are very different from now, when artificial lighting and lots of time indoors means I don’t notice the sunrise or sunset as much. So, I made a recipe to put it on my calendar, and hey, maybe I’ll watch a few more sunsets because of it.

IFTT & Campbell’s Formula for Computer Art

Jim Campbell’s formula for computer art, to be, is accurate observation tinged with satire; many projects really are that way (neither first word, and not often last word art.) However, I think that Campbell’s general formula could still generate meaningful “last word” art. IFTT (as a wrapper for APIs) and APIs both enable different inputs and outputs into the formula, though I do think IFTT is less likely to generate meaningful art (vs. working directly with APIs) because it constrains inputs and outputs so much.


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I think IFTTT is useful to a point–it’s great for cross-posting things/quickly hauling a specific subset of information from one place to another without any desire to apply any transformations to it. In terms of accessibility I think it trumps a straight API, but I think APIs provide a wider variety of options for how to use the data inputted. The Jer Thorp article debunking the perceived difficulty of creating/using an API was inspirational to me, I’ve been interested in using APIs in the past but have been too intimidated to actually go through with using them. I’d love to work with and potentially even create APIs this semester and beyond.

Jim Campbell’s Formula for Computer Art acts as a provocation. Interactive media art tends to follow Campbell’s formula–interesting sensor data is taken and then mysteriously mapped to an aesthetically pleasing output. Campbell wants to see artists break away from the formula and attempt new and innovative things.

One of the things I love about being in Pittsburgh is how accessible the arts are in comparison to my hometown (this feeling is mostly fueled by the awesome free bus fare/museum pass combination Carnegie Mellon provides). This recipe pulls RSS feed entries from OMG!PGH and emails the content to me. My email goes to my phone so I can add the things that interest me to my calendar, so I won’t forget to attend! Eventually, I’d like to get around to setting up an RSS feed that pulls events from the various museums/galleries in the area, but for right now I feel like this is a good selection of events that would interest me.




This recipe is called the “Bad Hemingway Generator”.
“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” is a supposed flash fiction or free verse poetry often misattributed to Hemingway. This particular poem has been passed around thanks to its association with a famous name and the novelty of its brevity, but it lacks much substance. The intent behind the poem seems to be to convey as much subtext and emotional connotation with as few words as possible.
I created a recipe to mimic this poem, so that every time a new post is created on the results page for “never used”, a new tweet is created in the template “For sale: {{PostTitle}}, never used.” In this way, I am able to create a series of free verse poetry with no effort and convey an implied narrative that underlies each Craigslist post.

“For sale: Dresser and night stand better homes and garden (Allison park) $400, never used.”
“For sale: blue point plasma cutter, never used.”

IFTTT epitomizes the interaction between different programs that Jer Thorp discusses in his blog. The trigger acts as the input and IFTTT acts as the API which transforms the information into an output. This sort of series of interactions is also the subject of Jim Campbell’s “Formula for Computer Art”. There exist innumerable arbitrary combinations of different inputs and outputs, and Campbell wanted to show that meaningful art does not automatically arise from every combination, just as every combination of IFTTT interactions does not necessarily result in useful or interesting recipes.

IFTTT – art and the API

Jer Thorp’s article was interesting to read for me since he seemed to encompass all that I normally feel about APIs in the first few sentences; API seems to be something so complex and mind boggling that it seems as if I would never be able to program one. Of course, like he said I had never really took the time to understand APIs. However, after reading the article, I feel more confident that I can program a simple API and even more confident to begin learning about more things rather than feeling intimidated. On another note, the formula for computer arts reminds me greatly of Camille Utterback’s Lecture last year. At the beginning her art such as text rain was unique, interesting and although it relied on an interaction between the audience, it did not need just one interaction to activate the project. instead Text Rain inspired its audience to dance, play, wave sheets, and move in order to interact with the project, not just activate it. In comparison, her later work such as Active Ecosystem, made for an airport seemed to more firmly follow the ‘formula for computer arts’ and therefore became less unique and interesting.

The IFTTT account seems to me as if it would be useful especially seeing some of the recipes others have made such as texting you the weather. A recipe I have created is connected to my wordpress account which hosts my blog and my gmail account. It emails me any new posts that have been posted onto my site including posts that I have made or any comments that have been posted. Since I rarely check my blog beyond posting latest work, I feel that this will be useful. the exact quote is: “If there is any new post on my blog then email me the post”

Link together the Internet


Out of the two recipes I made, I find the “if date/time, then send sms” trigger to be extremely useful for me. My phone remains almost always within my reach, and I often use it to set up reminders on the calendar. However, my phone doesn’t give me an alarm reminder. The connections with different websites and applications that IFTTT provides allows me to set up many different alarms and reminders from different websites quickly and efficiently. My first trigger is an alarm that sends me a text message in the beginning of the month to remind me to buy dog food for my grandparents back home. The other trigger will help me keep  track of the weather so I can change my attire that day accordingly.

I think very highly of Jer Thorp’s viewpoint on the relations between people with each other. The internet lives off of people trying to find connections with each other, in an attempt to reach out, learn, give and explore. Jer Thorp showed us that an API is relatively easy to program, which I think is such a powerful and important tool. IFTTT is a perfect example of people connecting with each other. Softwares that once had no relations with each other are placed on one website and given the ability to connect together. I think this both allows people to use the website more efficiently, but is also a great way to promote new sites to people, as they browse through the different applications.

In my opinion, Jim Campbell’s “Formula for Computer Art” is a very simple and direct way of showing how items are created. Basic “ingredients” run through the left side, while magically on the right side, a new item appears. Both Jer Thorp and IFTTT shows us the details in the middle of this formula, how different ingredients mix together to become another useful new item.


I think If This Then That is a great, both in terms of conceptualization and in terms of realization. I have long wished for something which, when I upload my photography to deviantArt will automatically update my Facebook page and my WordPress site, or which would amalgamate all the messages I receive from various social media sites into one clean interface. I envisioned eventually coding something like this myself, perhaps as a commercial project, but condone IFTTT largely because I do not believe I could have ever created something so beautifully designed and intuitive for the first-time user by myself. It was therefore interesting to see the differences between the various APIs mentioned in Jack Burnham’s article: the API created for the specific purpose of art is beautifully designed. Those created quickly in an hour are effective, but not beautifully. I believe these embody computer programming on its own, and computer programming with art thrown in. My main interest thus far in the BCSA program is in combining these two to create something both functional and beautiful: something accessible not only to programmers, but to the average computer user. This is where Jim Campbell’s animated diagram comes in. Human Computer Interaction is one of the average user’s largest expectations, who expect all computers will one day automatically run software like Dragon, or come embedded with a LeapMotion controller (which HP is apparently working on as we speak).

The recipe I created on IFTTT is extremely simple. It sends me an email every Mon Tue Wed Thu Sun -day at 22h30 to tell me to get off the computer and wind down before going to bed. Nevertheless, I feel this will be beneficial as the computer is my main source of distraction late at night. It was so simple to create, I am sure I will get round to more complicated recipes in the future — perhaps linking my wordpress and facebook photography pages.



When I am just thinking about stuffs and ideas pop up, I need to write them down, because I have a disgustingly bad memory. But paper and computer are not always on hand in these situations, so I need to rely on my phone. Now, the Evernote app for my phone is rather slow, and during that wait time for the app to load, I might lose my thought (this definitely happened in real life). Instead if I just text the thought to Evernote directly, chances of me forgetting decreases. I am impressed that APIs can be used as pipes to pass output of one program as input to another, essentially upgrading the Formula for Computer Art to become a chain.

I am however conflicted. A part of me is excited for the possibilities generated. But when I was giving IFTTT one permission after another to link my many isolated accounts, I grew fearful. One of the primary reasons I have many accounts is modularity; I do not wish to lose everything should any single account be compromised. However, now I am centralizing all my emails in Gmail, my files on Dropbox, and my notes on Evernote by giving all read-write access to IFTTT. What if IFTTT is attacked? What if IFTTT turns out to be not what it seems to be?

I also do not want to relinquish my direct control over my accounts; I refuse to allow something I did in one site to automatically change something else while I am not consciously aware of it, because some API is listening in on everything I do. So after testing out my recipe to make sure it works, I disabled it. I will only actively use IFTTT again when the gain in productivity far outweighs my loss of control.