building blocks

Let Dexter Do the Dirty Work

5 minute read
Joab Jackson avatar

Social media can extend the reach of digital marketing, but deploy enough of these Web 2.0 services and you'll find you and your team weighed down by a multitude of tiny repetitive tasks — pasting text here, converting video there.

A new service called Dexter, now in beta, could help.

Daniel Ilkovich
Created by serial entrepreneur Daniel Ilkovich, with some seed money from New York startup studio Betaworks, Dexter could automate many of the manual chores of daily workflow, especially for those involving the web somehow.

"Dexter could be a really nice home for highly customized marketing techniques," Ilkovich said.

Automating Processes

Dexter, the company claims, "brings the power of local scripting to the web, allowing you to build simple apps that link multiple services, run tasks and get rid of headaches."

It provides a way to create applications and processes by assembling blocks of pre-defined functionality. Give Dexter some input — say a Twitter feed — along with some JavaScript instruction on how to filter or process that data, as well as a pointer to where to place the output, and, Boom, your app is complete.

Dexter could be used, for instance, to capture all the Tweets of under a hashtag, and then aggregate them for a CRM or content management system.

Then, when new information gets posted about a product or service related to that hashtag, those people who tweeted that hashtag could be alerted.

Building Blocks of Functionality

With Dexter, you can build your own apps or browse apps others have built. Apps themselves can be connected with other apps to build new ones.

Ilkovich is hoping to build a community of developers who will contribute small blocks of general-use functionality to Dexter, such as filtering checking mail.

Dexter borrowed its modular approach from the Unix operating system, which most administrators are familiar with through its open source variant, Linux.

Unix encourages the practice of creating small tools to execute individual jobs, which can be stringed together to create more complex tasks, a process known as piping.

"In the age of the web, we've kind of lost pipes, because everything is super discrete," Ilkovich said.

Dexter is still in the early testing phase, so Ilkovich hasn't figured out how customers will ultimately pay for the service. It may be a combination of a basic monthly fee and additional charges for specialized modules

Assembling Workflows

Dexter is built on an Amazon Web Services computing service introduced last year, called Lambda, that offers the ability to perform computer operations that don't require data storage (that don't require "persistent state" in devspeak).

Dexter could be seen as Lambda for Non-Programmers.

"With Lambda you need to know a lot more," than Dexter, in order to use the service, Ilkovich said.

Dexter is more aimed more for the power user or business user (perhaps one knowing a bit of JavaScript) who wants to assemble a workflow.

Dexter screenshot 1

Learning Opportunities

The BPM Factor

For those familiar with enterprise software, Dexter may also sound a bit like business process management (BPM), a discipline of software for running sophisticated office workflows.

This is not by accident. Before creating Dexter, Ilkovich worked at a solutions company that specialized in BPM systems, using software from Pegasus Software, IBM FileNet and others.

"BPM has always been used on the enterprise side of things, but there is a lot BPM can power on the consumer side, and I think Dexter will help with that," Ilkovich said, who, after working on BPM systems, started web-based cleaning service startup called GetMaid, which was acquired Homejoy in May 2014.

Like BPM systems, Dexter jobs can have breakpoints, or user-intervention steps, where the workflow process stops until someone completes some sort of action.

The user can be notified that a work item needs completion.

Perhaps the user would need to make a decision about which one of two departments a work item would need to go to, depending on the circumstance. This approach could be handy in setting up a low-cost way of managing editorial workflow, for instance.

Workspace and Trigger Points

Basically, any web service or application with a public facing API (application programming interface) could interface with Dexter.

To build an app, a developer is given a workspace, with a set of pre-existing modules (such as monitoring a Slack account) that can be strung together, with the data output of one going into an input of another.

Dexter screenshot 2

Trigger points are set for what starts the app (say a new email message arriving). Users can create their own modules, or just string pre-existing ones together.

It is still early days for Dexter, but the technology service holds vast promise for the digital marketer.

Take a look at the most mind-numbing task you are doing on the web today, and chances are Dexter could soon do that job for you.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  Title image by rahego