The NYT Just Made It Way Easier to Remix Its Journalism

Bringing the simple power of logic (if! then!) to the social web
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IFTTT

The New York Times has now opened a channel at the website If This, Then That (IFTTT). For journalism hackers and tinkering readers, this is fine news.

IFTTT is elegantly useful and usefully elegant. For a variety of sites and services (Evernote! Instagram! Dropbox!), IFTTT combines "triggers" and "actions," so that when one thing happens on one service, something else happens on another. You can say, if I take a picture on Instagram, then automatically save it to Dropbox.

Or: If my Facebook profile picture changes, then (automatically) change my Twitter picture too.

It even connects to SMS, so you can say: If it begins to rain in my zipcode, then text me about it.

(You can even share these if-then procedures as "recipes," which are, in fact, what I've linked to here.)

And now you can do that for the fervid rainforest of data that is the New York Times. The Times IFTTT channel gives you five triggers to work with, five if's:

  • A new article is published in a section.
  • Any article becomes one of the site's most popular.
  • A specific search finds a new article.
  • Any movie becomes a Times's "Critic's Pick."
  • A new event occurs in a specific category.

So you can say: If the Times writes about my company, then text me about it. Or: If a search for "sea cucumbers" reveals a new article, automatically post that article to classyseacucumbers.tumblr.com.

(Though in both of those cases, what you're really saying is, if a search for a keyword, e.g. "sea cucumber," on nytimes.com reveals a new article, post that new article as a link to my Tumblr.)

I think the Critic's Pick one is the most enviable. Like, gawk at that hot editorial-technological synergy. And with it you can say if a Critic's Pick is opening soon, then add that opening as an event to my Google Calendar.

Earlier this year, Anil Dash wrote about "the web we lost." In the mid-2000s, it was fashionable (and expected) for social networks and web services to make their data available to users and other services in a machine-readable form. Blogger could use your Flickr photos, for example, even though Google owned one service and Yahoo owned the other.

That kind of access to data has been tightened recently: Instagram doesn't allow the huge use of its database that Flickr does; Twitter no longer even offers RSS feeds of its users's feeds. But some data is still being given away, by companies motivated either by their bottom line or, as in IFTTT, by usefulness. 

A postscript: Now, the New York Times offers a swath of RSS feeds, and those can all be triggered through the IFTTT's RSS channel regardless. 

So, for example, if you wished to receive an email every time the doyenne of Supreme Court journalism, Linda Greenhouse, published one of her rigorous, historically-informed, comprehensive and wide-ranging semi-monthly columns at the Times, then you could catch the Greenhouse Express.

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Robinson Meyer is an associate editor at The Atlantic, where he covers technology.

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