ifttt, Dropbox and the panopticon

August 8th, 2012  |  Published in tech

If This Then That (ifttt) can be used to create rules that append arbitrary text to a file in a Dropbox folder based on triggers from things like social networking or bookmarking accounts.  A few years back, when I sketched out Panopticon, I was thinking about stuff in terms of getting recent bookmarks, flagged mails and other stuff into Things where they’d become reviewable items. 

I don’t use Things anymore, find myself unable to muster a ton of enthusiasm for its closest competitor, and am not generally interested in anything that’s not going to be stored in a  simple plaintext format. That mostly leaves me with an informal format of my own devising, one of the simpler human-oriented formats (e.g. Markdown or TaskPaper), a human/machine format (e.g. YAML), or something else. 

Right now I’m really enjoying org-mode for outlining and to-dos, but I’ve also got a soft spot for TaskPaper. Either can work pretty nicely with ifttt to create a lashup Panopticon for a lot of different services. I’ve got ifttt recipes that log a few social actions, starred Google Reader items and other bits and pieces going into a plaintext file in my Dropbox account. 

To review, the point of this logging is pretty simple:

If you’re one of those people who needs to stop at the end of the day and turn out your pockets, making sure you put your keys in the key place, and your change in a little bowl, and loose receipts wherever you put those, that’s what panopticon is doing for me: Helping me put everything I’ve accumulated from the ‘net over the past day in a little glass bowl. That way it won’t get run through the wash or carelessly emptied into the trash.

It’s a big tickler file for the next morning, so I can say “Oh, right … meant to follow up on that” or “meh” or “yeah, I was there,”  then either do something about it or just mark it as “done” so I don’t have a feeling that things are quietly piling up behind my back. They’re still piling up, but the difference is that I’ve decided it’s o.k. for them to do that as long as I observe them doing that.

The one thing I wish ifttt would do (and in a brief Twitter exchange they said it’d go on the list) is write to a plain text file with an arbitrary extension. Right now, it assumes that your filename should end with “.txt,” which makes it a little harder to automatically open the log in org-mode in Emacs. On the other hand, that’s what Emacs’ `auto-mode-alist` variable is for:

(add-to-list ‘auto-mode-alist ‘(“\\Dropbox/org/.*\.txt\\'” . org-mode))

That just tells Emacs to treat any .txt file opened up in my Dropbox “org” folder in org-mode, which includes the file I’ve got ifttt writing to for my log.

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