Technology Tuesday: If This, Then That!

There are so many occasions where I’ve said to myself, “It would be so convenient if I could do this, and then have that happen”. Apparently the founders of ifttt (If This Then That) felt the same way and created a service to provide thousands and thousands of ways of simplifying tasks. Similar in some ways to previously discussed DropBox Automator, ifttt is an extremely powerful and robust service that “puts the internet to work for you” by creating tasks that follow a simple pattern: 1) When this happens 2) Do Something Else

We will take a quick look at ifttt this week to see a sampling of the very cool, convenient and time saving things that you can do. From using the thousands of  existing “recipes” to simply and easily creating your own, there’s no doubt that you will find a handful of ifttt tasks to help you save time and make your life a little easier. Over 1,000,000 tasks created later, clearly Ifttt is working well for many people.

OK, what is this all about again? Simple. It allows you to pick a simple trigger of something that happens, and automates a simple outcome. Triggers can be anything from Facebook status updates, to favoriting a tweet on Twitter to having new photos on Instagram. The action can range from texting you a message, to emailing you, to adding an update to a different service, downloading, adding to DropBox or scores of others.

Give me a couple quick examples? Here’s a couple of the many that I am using right now:

1) When I favorite a Tweet with a link, I have the article added and downloaded to my Pocket (formerly Read It Later) account for later reading. I use this often getting on a plane when I need some offline entertainment.  I have another task setup to do the same thing with Google Reader. When I “star” an item there: Boom! Sent to Pocket.

2) When a new item appears on Craigslist in my area with both “Phish” and “Poster”, I get an immediate email. You never know when someone is hawking a great poster and I don’t have the time to search daily. I never miss new listings now.

3) When there is a new Cyanide and Happiness comic, send it to my GMail. I always wake up with a morning laugh!

How do I set this up? Again, dead simple. Each of the services that you want to use are called the “channels” and are the building blocks of creating ifttt tasks. The first time that you want to use one, you will have to authenticate your account with your sign-in credentials and allow ifttt to monitor it or use it for the action that you want. For the most part, ifttt will be using Oauth so no password storing will happen. Here’s a few of the ifttt channels that I am currently using. The ones that are colored are the ones that I have given ifttt access to and that I can use easily in the future without authenticating again. The dimmed out ones of course are other available channels that I have not yet used.

[Some Ifttt “channels”]

After you choose which channel to use, you will create a “trigger”. You will see all the available triggers after selecting a channel. In GMail’s case, you can trigger new email from a particular person, with a specific label or an advanced search of your liking. After selecting the trigger, fill in the field to match, and then the resulting action channel that you want. Then, complete the action field and you are good to go! Let’s look a quick example. Suppose you want to download all photos that you are tagged in on Facebook to your DropBox so you’ll have a permanent copy of them regardless what happens to original post. Click Facebook Channel, click “when tagged in photo”, click Dropbox, click new photo in folder. Done.

Recipes People create hundreds of tasks every day. You optionally have the ability to make your tasks public so others can enjoy the fruits of your labor and creativity. When you chose that option, your task becomes a “recipe” that others can easily use. While creating your own tasks is dead simple, recipes save you a small bit of time and might spur some creativity and help you realize a task that would be helpful to you. For example, Last.FM has well over 100 recipes already. Love a track? Tweet it! Send your Scrobbles to Evernote! Just click the recipe and create a new task for yourself.

[Ifttt recipes for Last.FM]

How do I keep track of all my tasks? When you sign in, you can click Tasks to see all your existing ones. With the icons to the right of the task, you can delete it altogether, toggle on/off, turn into a “recipe” for others to use, and inspect or edit it. You can also see how many times that particular task has been triggered.

What else do I need to know about ifttt? In reality, the actions are not actually instant. Ifttt will poll your trigger channel every fifteen minutes looking for matching criteria to fire the action. So if you created a task to monitor GMail for a message sent from a particular person (potential employer while you were away from your computer at a summer music festival?) and had that trigger call your phone to let you know that the email arrived, you would not get the call them moment the message arrived. So don’t create any tasks where it was sensitive enough that you needed a smaller window for action. Though, you can always manually fire a task if need be.

Of course, this is a free service and you can create an unlimited amount of tasks.

Bottom Line: Ifttt is extremely powerful; linking together dozens of the webs top services including texting and phone calling giving you an ability to create literally limitless actions when other action happen. Use the existing recipes or create your own and your imagination is the only limit.

Good luck making your life better! Oh, and you signed up and want to use my Cyanide and Happiness recipe? Be my guest:

Be sure to share your creative recipes with me!


Hidden Track Technology Tuesday
email: [email protected]
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