IFTTT (“If This, Then That”) has launched a new Data Access Project which provides information from government – and not just federal government, but also state and municipal governments as well as other relevant groups.
I can’t find a page on IFTTT specifically for the Data Access Project, but I did find a page of Government services at https://ifttt.com/search/Government. It currently contains 21 different government-related services, from the broad (Library of Congress) to the more specific (City of Tampa, Florida.)
IFTTT is a handy, free service allowing you to take use data or actions from one place (a “trigger,”) and use it to cause something to happen in another place (an “action.”) For example, you might want to post to Facebook every time you add an article to your blog. IFTTT can do that. (For more in-depth examples of using IFTTT, check out my articles Keeping Up With Reddit: Use IFTTT, Not Google Alerts or How to Quickly Follow Local Protests and Actions With Twitter, IFTTT, and Pushover.
The government services offered by IFTTT vary a lot in what they offer in terms of triggers. In this article I’ll be taking a look at three of them and what they offer.
ProPublica – https://ifttt.com/propublica
ProPublica is definitely not a government agency – instead it’s a nonprofit which does a lot of investigative journalism and has done a tremendous amount to increase transparency in all federal administrations. It’s no surprise that ProPublica has won multiple Pulitzers along with a raft of other awards.
It’s also no surprise that ProPublica has a number of triggers available on IFTTT.
Notice that one of these triggers allows you to track bills matching a search keyword. Let’s play with that.
To create IFTTT “Applets” (I think they used to be called recipes, now they’re applets) you’ll need to be signed in to an IFTTT account. You’ll also need to connect to your IFTTT resource – in this case ProPublica. Sometimes you have to sign in to a service to connect to it, but in this case just click the big Connect at the top of the page at https://ifttt.com/propublica and you’re all set.
Once you’re connected to ProPublica, go to your My Applets page at https://ifttt.com/my_applets , then click New Applet on the right.
(I currently have about a gazillion applets at IFTTT; your page will probably look a bit different.)
Click on the + this section of the New Applet screen. (IFTTT’s UI drives me crazy sometimes!)
Search for ProPublica, then click on it.
Choose your trigger (in this case, New Bill from Search Is Introduced):
In this case, you need to supply keywords for the trigger. I’m going to choose transparency. You can also choose phrases if you want. I suggest using general keywords if you can and refining later; unfortunately in this case there’s not a way to preview the kinds of results you would get as you would if you were using a search engine.
Now you’ll need to click create trigger, and for the next step choose +that to specify what you want to happen when a new bill with your keyword appears.
Your options will depend on what services you’ve connected to IFTTT. You can get a phone call. You can send something to Evernote or Pocket. You can send yourself an e-mail. Etc.
I think what you should do depends on how many notifications you’re going to get and what your interest is. If your interest is immediate and you don’t think your keyword is going to cause too many alerts, you could get notifications by e-mail. If your interest isn’t immediate and you plan to review them only occasionally, you could have information added to a Google Sheet.
In this case, I’m going to for e-mail and choose the GMail service.
You can create a draft, send an e-mail, or send an e-mail to multiple people (which I would not do without their express permission since we all get enough unsolicited e-mail as it is.)
In this case IFTTT fills in all the information from the bill I could want, so all I have to do is click Create action, then finish, and I’m good to go.
This is an incredibly powerful way to monitor goings-on in government without having to regularly visit Web pages or even RSS feeds. Let’s take a look a couple more resources here.
SEC – https://ifttt.com/sec
In this case there are only three triggers available, but they’re substantial – for press releases, investor alerts, and new SEC filings. And again, how I’d take action on these would depend on how I wanted to handle the information. Press releases would be useful to save to Pocket as I review that daily. A keyword-filtered investor alert might be better sent to my phone if I closely followed financial news.
For more local concerns, I was very impressed by the offerings of Smart Louisville.
Smart Louisville – https://ifttt.com/smartlouisville
Need to monitor Louisville pollution? Want to keep up with emergencies? Louisville offers a couple of local triggers.
In the case of these two triggers, I can see both of them being handy to get text messages about or even post to Facebook if you’re in Louisville and have a lot of local friends. But I can also see where saving air quality changes or emergency notifications to a Google Sheet would be a useful way to track changes over time or aggregate data for later analysis.
In fact, looking through the 21 services aggregated under IFTTT’s government offerings, I can easily think of dozens of ways to use them to keep myself informed about government actions and offerings. I can also see that this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to possibilities. I’m looking forward to the release of more services, especially municipal government information.