Introducing the Burner Developer Connection

Last month, Burner released Connections, which are integrations between Burner phone numbers and third-party applications and services like Dropbox, Slack, and Evernote.  These connections enable great new capabilities for phone numbers, such as automatically archiving photo messages to Dropbox.

Today, Burner is releasing its Developer Connection, which users and developers can use to connect Burner to any number of applications, or to make new, custom applications, using something called webhooks.  

It’s a huge step forward for Burner toward becoming an open platform, and an important milestone in the journey toward smarter phone numbers for everyone.

Give us a shout at 323-391-4827 if you have comments, questions, or other feedback! That number is connected to our team Slack account and we'll be awaiting your texts!

What are webhooks?

Webhooks are a simplified version of the kinds of API’s that many applications use to talk to each other.  When something happens in one application that it wants to pass along to another application, the first application simply hits an URL with a basic POST command containing the information it needs to pass along.  The other application is always ready for that information and knows what to do with it.

Because they’re so simple and straightforward and avoid the complications of chattier integrations, many applications today use webhooks, from familiar consumer apps like Dropbox to speciality and business-to-business services like Github, Stripe, and Sendhub.  

There’s also a whole ecosystem of 3rd-party players emerging to help people set up, manage, and do things with the webhooks and the data they’re delivering, so there are lots of ways of handling webhooks for novices and technical pros alike.

How does Burner’s Developer Connection work?

The first feature of Burner’s Developer Connection is an outgoing webhook.  It lets a user specify a URL via the Burner app.  Once the webhook is enabled, then every time the user gets a text message, picture message, or voicemail, Burner will post to the details to that URL in a standardized format (see http://developer.burnerapp.com for more detailed information).

That URL can be another application with public-facing webhook URLs (these would be called incoming webhooks when issued by the other application). A developer or company can set up a custom URL just to take webhooks from Burner. Or a user can use any of a whole bunch of tools to handle the webhook, transform it if they want to, and pass it along to whatever other application they want it to talk to.

Do I need to be a computer programmer to use this?

Not at all.  An example of a very easy way to use the Burner Developer Connection would be through the application IFTTT (“If This Then That”).  IFTTT if a free-to-use service (and one we’re big fans of) that enables incoming webhooks via something they call the Maker Channel (https://ifttt.com/maker), which provides unique URLs a user can simply copy and paste into Burner.  Every time the Burner number gets a text, picture, or voicemail,  IFTTT will get the info and can pass it along into its hundreds of other applications via thousands of premade recipes, all of which are “no coding required”.

Zapier is another great service that accepts inbound webhooks from Burner and can point them to hundreds of other services in ways that are easy to customize.  

Between these two services alone, there are hundreds of things you can connect Burner to.

For example, you could set up a phone number that would add a new row to a spreadsheet for every text, add all incoming pictures to Google Drive, or automatically tweet everything that comes in.  You could set up a number that anyone can text to turn on the air conditioning via your Nest thermostat, or turn on your porch light, or add something to your to-do list.  You can create a new contact in your CRM, or add someone to your mailing list program every time a new person texts you.  And you can do all of this without doing anything more complicated than copying and pasting a URL.

Right now we have a recipe running at the office that flashes the Hue lights in our main conference room in different colors every time I get a text on a particular line.  Since I don’t program at all and I was the first person on the team to set something like this up, I think that’s proof it’s not that hard to use (though it’s definitely more entertaining to me than to my teammates).

With that said, if you’re not intimidated by peeking under the hood, you could also point Burner to a service like Reflector.io or Cloudpipes or ApiTools -- just a couple of examples of a whole set of tools that will take your incoming webhooks and set up all sorts of filters and splitters and conditional logic on them, and then point them on to something else.

So you could filter all your incoming messages and take the ones that are from one person and point them one place, and everyone else and point them another.  Or save them to a Google sheet only if they include the word “subscribe”.  Or whatever you want.

You can check out more examples and documentation at our developer website on github.

What are some of the things you can do with this, and why is it a big deal?

Some of the examples above – flashing the lights in the conference room and so on – may seem like novelties, but they illustrate the point that anything is possible.  You never know when a flashing light is going to be important to someone who’s on call at nighttime, or hearing-impaired.

We’ve heard from thousands of users that they’re using Burner to do things like taking signups for their dance studio classes, for managing events and projects, or for running their side businesses.  We also know that millions of people out there are literally running businesses off their T-mobile and AT&T phones.  We just made their lives easier in a whole bunch of different ways.

We’ve also seen a great early response from our native Connections -- Dropbox, Slack, Evernote, and Soundcloud -- and had lots of interest from other companies in being part of this too.  While we’re working on additional native Connections, the Developer Connection lets anyone play with this.

In this way we’re enabling the entire open web to innovate on top of Burner, and by extension, the phone network.  

Now anyone can create, for free, a phone number that acts as a live connection between hundreds of millions of mobile phones that can text, and thousands of applications that like to talk to other software.  For the first time, we’re treating a consumer phone number as software and letting anyone who wants to to build on top of it.  This is the whole point of open software platforms, and more than we could ever hope to build ourselves.

There’s great precedent for this kind of thing.  Gmail created a tremendous amount of value for its users by making its email app programmable, i.e. allowing 3rd-party developers to sit on top of it with added functionality, or to read and write to the data.  Slack is creating a similarly valuable ecosystem for teams and enterprises right now.  (It’s worth noting, by the way, that some of Slack’s first integrations were built with open webhooks, as is the whole backbone of their new “add to Slack” button that many developers are building on today.)

At Burner, we think that the phone number has been trapped in monopoly-carrier-land for far too long, and is overripe for this kind of innovation and the power that modern software can unleash.

What’s next?

We’re already working on additional developer features and new native connections as well.  

The first “next thing” we’re excited about, though, is to see what people build with our new Developer Connection.  We hope you’ll share your ideas, recipes, and feedback!