Agencies Using IFTTT to Dogfood Government APIs
Justin Herman, lead architect of the IFTTT ToU, works at the federal General Services Administration (GSA) on government social media strategies. He is hopeful that government agencies can make use of IFTTT channels to create internal efficiencies, in the same way that agencies should be dogfooding their external APIs for internal use. “The first step in trying in making an IFTTT channel useful is to show the business case for either improving public services or reducing the current costs of delivery," he says.
“For example, every single government program that uses social media can save money because we have records management laws that require us to archive all social media records for the general public," Herman says. "Before this IFTTT option, there were limited options for recalling and exporting social media accounts data. Now with IFTTT, we are easily able to set up a Google Calendar that auto-archives every single post as it is done.”
Herman says that this is a significant savings: Some agencies may have 20 suboffices around the country and dozens of subagencies, all with their own social media accounts.
Government Agencies Ask Developers What API Recipes They Want
With the TOU in place, agencies are now seeking the help of developers in understanding what APIs and workflows would be best set up as IFTTT channels.
“There have been government agencies looking at how to use APIs to better deliver public services for years now,” explains Herman. “In the GSA, we have senior API specialists who help other agencies. So there is a robust community across the federal government keenly interested in revolutionizing digital public services. Now, it is a matter of looking at what is the best use of this system.
“Right now, what we are looking at is the hundreds of things we could be doing with IFTTT, both for public services and for how we can use it internally.”
“This is a multistage process," says Herman. "Agencies are very interested in taking a look at any opportunity to find out what the developer community needs. That is going to trump anything.
“For this initial release, we are asking what are some ways that IFTTT will be most useful for people and really bring out the potential of this,” says Herman. He compares the possibility of using IFTTT channels as similar to the innovation leverage from using weather APIs: “Weather data is government data that is used for a myriad of services. That’s the model we want for services delivered through APIs. People could be using and benefiting from government data without thinking, ‘I am downloading a government app.’ ”
As with IFTTT’s main TOU, use of the service to power commercial software applications is discouraged. However, developers could use IFTTT to better map their proof of concept if considering adding a similar alert or automated feature to their products. Using IFTTT first may help developers better understand the end-user value of providing the feature before digging into the API directly to add the functionality of the API into their products.
The move has already led one of the U.S.’ leading developer advocates of open data, Waldo Jaquith, to tweet:
Open gov't data needs @ifttt channels.
— Waldo Jaquith (@waldojaquith) January 21, 2014
20 Ways Developers Could Use IFTTT Recipes to Trigger Alerts
For urban mobility and travel app developers:
- When severe weather alerts are issued
- When Transportation Security Administration lines at a given airport are longer than 20 minutes
- When commuter bridge inspections are overdue
- When a national park has been closed or when walking trails are temporarily closed
For apps targeting journalists, editors, media agencies and industry analysts:
- When a new data source has been added to data.gov
- When a response to a Freedom of Information Act request has been published
- When a We the People petition has been started or has reached the threshold for requiring a government response
- When new Bureau of Labor Statistics data on forecasts for particular professions are issued
- If census data for a particular data set falls above or below a particular economic indicator threshold
- If a particular lobbyist visits the White House
- If a government agency has created a new social media account
- When a service contracted by government has crossed a threshold for cost or time overrun
For food-related apps:
- When a new farmers market is added
- When a particular type of food or product has been recalled
- If a restaurant inspection declares a venue unsanitary, removes it from a recommendations engine
For financial apps:
- When a tax return has been accepted or a refund has been issued
- When an FDIC-approved bank opens a new location
For medical apps:
- When a hospital service has changed location or hours of operation
- When a medication has been recalled
- When a medical therapeutic device has been recalled or had usage warnings changed
Developers who want to see government APIs enabled on the IFTTT platform are encouraged to share their thoughts. “We want to know people’s feedback on it. What are the types of things you want to see and what do you need to see? What do developers need to make use of Government APIs on IFTTT?” Herman asks.
He says the best way for developers to provide feedback on what APIs they want to have turned into triggered workflows (or recipes) on IFTTT is to add their thoughts to the open thread on GitHub set up by If Gov Then That.