WEB & TECH / MAR. 28, 2014
version 3, draft 3

Put the Internet to Work for You: Using IFTTT

There’s a danger to the technological world we live in. Overload. Too many time-saving apps and programs. Too much software clogging our computers and devices. Too much to remember to do to use the apps that are supposed to save us time.

Luckily, there are ways to connect and automate almost everything these days. The “set it and forget it” mentality has taken hold and refuses to let go. Most of the apps we rely on - email providers, photo sharing, social media, notes and web clippings, bookmarkers, to-do lists, instant communicators, feed readers, cloud storage - are designed to make our lives easier. And they do. But the problem comes from the sheer number of them, and the number of steps involved in linking, connecting, and utilizing them in meaningful ways. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could automatically connect one to the other? To have something happen - without you raising a finger - simply because something else already happened.

You can. Enter IFTTT.

What is IFTTT?

Besides the sound that air makes escaping from a leaky tire, IFTTT stands for If This Then That, and it’s an ingenious service that completes a second step automatically once a first step has been completed. You set it and forget it. Once you create and activate a recipe, everything is done for you. And the possibilities are virtually endless.

How Does IFTTT Work?

The basic premise is simple. You create (or browse the catalogue of shared) a recipe using triggers and actions.

A recipe looks like this: If This (the trigger) Then That (the action). So a recipe is built using two distinct components, called channels. They are the basic building blocks upon which IFTTT works its magic.

IFTTT currently has 84 available channels, with new ones added frequently (and as they emerge). Channels include everything from App.net to YouTube. Facebook (personal, pages, and groups), Twitter, Buffer, Basecamp, Dropbox, Evernote, Pocket, Instapaper, Gmail, Google Drive, Google Calendar, Instagram, LinkedIn, Weather, and Wordpress are just a few of the options.

What is a Trigger?

A trigger is the THIS part of the recipe. To create a recipe, you select a channel to act as your trigger. You then specify a particular action (or short series of actions) that, when it occurs, sets the recipe into motion.

For example: If someone comments (the trigger action) on my Facebook Page (channel)...

You have just created the first half of your recipe! Now you need to provide the second part. The action.

What is an Action?

An action is the THAT part of the recipe. An action is the response that occurs when the trigger is completed. You choose a channel and dictate what exactly will happen.

For example (using our Facebook Page recipe): If someone comments on my Facebook Page (your trigger) then sends me an email alert (the action).

IFTTT will automatically let you know every time someone comments on your (or your company) Page. You’ll never miss the chance to thank and engage with a new, potential, or existing customer again.  

That’s it. Building recipes is fast and easy, and once it’s activated, you never need bother with it again. You can, of course, turn them on and off, update account information, change the channel(s), or edit the parameters as needed.

Some Popular Recipes

There are thousands of shared recipes available for you to browse and use. Some of the most popular include:

  • If it’s calling for rain (weather channel) then send me a text (sms channel)
  • If I star an email (Gmail channel) then send it to Evernote (Evernote channel)
  • If I post on my Facebook Page then send out a tweet (Twitter channel)
  • If the stock market goes down (RSS channel) then send me an email (Gmail or email channel)
  • If I archive an article (Pocket channel) then send it to Google Drive
  • If I take a photo on Instagram then save it to Dropbox
  • If I add an event to Google Calendar then send me an email reminder

Three incredibly useful channels are SMS, Phone, and Time & Date. With them, you can create a seemingly unending supply of personalized recipes, including:

  • If it’s 6am on Tuesday (time & date channel) then call my phone (phone channel) - a handy wake-up call
  • If it’s 2pm on Thursday (an important meeting) then send me a text message (sms channel)
  • If it’s the last day of the month then send me a “Pay Rent” text message

How Often Do Recipes “Fire”?

Every time your trigger occurs, the recipe will kick in. There may be a short delay, as IFTTT does not follow all of your channels in real-time. According to the website, the majority of channels have a polling period of 15 minutes or less, meaning that channels are monitored for new activity every 15 minutes or less. The time & date channel, however, will always activate at the specified time and date (there is no delay).

Using IFTTT

The only limit on how you use IFTTT is your own imagination (or the imagination of other users if you limit yourself to the shared recipes). It’s helpful at both home and work. Monitor stocks and finances (either your own portfolio, or as part of your job), monitor your brand name online (using an RSS or Google feed), save important information and contacts to a backup solution (Evernote, Dropbox, Box, Google Drive), get schedule reminders by text or phone, be alerted to developing news in your industry, collaborate with colleagues, create complex, multi-recipe sequences using a variety of channels, triggers, and actions.

With new channels added all the time, IFTTT really does allow you to automate your world. There are even channels that allow you to connect to your home (smart locks, smart lights, smart thermostats), allowing you to know when someone unlocks your door, or turning up the heat when you are halfway home (using a GPS channel).

As their slogan says...put the internet to work for you. Personally. Professionally. 24 hours per day, seven days per week.   

 

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