IFTTT is a web service that stands for If This, Then That. The 'This' is the trigger, and the 'That' is the action. On a basic level, IFTTT allows you to automate things. But don't misinterpret our use of the word basic -- because IFTTT is anything but basic. In fact, IFTTT is actually a pretty powerful tool when used properly. The trouble is that it may seem a bit overwhelming at first glance.
Part of what makes IFTTT so powerful is that it works with a large variety of software/services and hardware. In fact, at this time there are more than a hundred Channels, which brings us to this first point -- there is a variety of terms you should become familiar with before getting started. These terms include Channels, Triggers, Actions, Ingredients and Recipes.
The Channels are described as the "basic building blocks" of the service. You begin by activating the channel(s) for the software/service or hardware that you want to work with. Those just getting started with IFTTT will likely find themselves coming back and activating new Channels as they think of new uses for the service.
Channels include blogging software such as Wordpress and Tumblr, as well as services such as Dropbox, Evernote, Facebook, Flickr, Foursquare, Instagram, Instapaper, Pushbullet, reddit and Twitter. Of course, that is only naming a few. Some of the hardware related Channels include fitness items such as Fitbit and Jawbone UP, as well as household and automation items from companies such as Nest, Philips, WeMo and Wink. Plus, there are plenty of Channels related to Google.
Triggers and Actions
The next terms are Triggers and Actions. We briefly mentioned these terms in the introduction earlier in the post, and again, the Trigger is the "this" and the Action is the "that." An example may help a bit. By activating the Instagram and Evernote channels you can create a Recipe that sends all your Instagram images to a specific Evernote notebook.
Triggers and Actions will vary from Channel to Channel. And in some instances, a Channel may only be available with Triggers or with Actions. Using Evernote as an example and you see both Triggers and Actions, though there is only one of the former. The single Trigger for Evernote is based on you sharing a link to a new public note. Actions for Evernote include creating and appending notes, appending to-do notes and more.
Looking towards Pushbullet as another example and we find a Channel with only Actions. Here is a service that makes it easy to push notes and links. Combining IFTTT with Pushbullet and it becomes easy to send yourself reminders for things you need to do, when combined with the Google Calendar Channel.
You can also build upon the Trigger with a variety of Ingredients. Similar to how you combine ingredients while cooking, IFTTT uses Ingredients to make up the complete Trigger. Going back to that same Instagram to Evernote example and some of the Ingredients we used include a title, image URL and a few tags. In this case the title is the caption of the image on Instagram.
Ingredients will also vary and instance to instance, and in some cases the ingredients will be basic. For example, creating a Recipe that has Pushbullet send a note when you get a Gmail message from a specific person will bring the following as Ingredients; Title and Message. But looking toward the Gmail message as a whole and Ingredients can include everything from subject to body, attachment, received date and sender's address.
We've covered Channels, Triggers, Actions and Ingredients up until this point. These all work together to create the Recipe, which is the complete piece that makes the automation possible. You can build Recipes from scratch and you can also use recipes that others have created and shared.
The nice part about the Recipes is how easy they are to create. Assuming you already have an IFTTT account created and you are logged in -- you just need to click the "Create a Recipe" button in your dashboard. Once that button has been clicked you are walked through the step by step process. The image sitting just above offers a look at what you'll see after you hit the "Create a Recipe" button. From this point it is just a matter of tapping the "this" link and following the prompts.
Of course, given the wide variety of supported software/services and hardware the harder part is likely in narrowing down the specific use cases that will work best for what you are looking to accomplish. The possibilities will seem rather endless, so to share a idea, we find IFTTT works really well for collecting things. Several personal Recipes include having things automatically sent to an Evernote notebook for archiving. A few others that we can suggest include;
- Sending Fitbit daily activity summaries to a Google spreadsheet.
- Sending Instagram images from a specific username to Google Glass.
- Sending Untappd checkins to Evernote
- Sending Instagram images to Evernote
So far we've been looking at IFTTT as a service that lives on the web. But you should also make a point to check out the mobile apps, which are available for Android and iOS. The overall feature set is the same between the web and mobile versions of IFTTT, however you will find some extra perks when going mobile. One example is the ability to trigger an action based on the location (GPS reading) of your smartphone. Using this setup you'll be able to make something happen by entering, or exiting, a specific GPS location.
Channels related to Android include; Android Device, Android Location, Android Notifications, Android Phone Call, Android Photos, Android SMS and Android Wear. On the iOS side the Channel list includes iOS Contacts, iOS Location, iOS Notifications, iOS Photos and iOS Reminders.
These mobile apps can be found in the Google Play Store and the iOS App Store.
More To Come!
Anyway, while this post serves as an introduction to IFTTT -- we are just getting started. We also have some posts planned that take a deeper look at IFTTT with specific services and devices such as WeMo, Fitbit and Google Glass.
Are you using IFTTT? What are some of your favorite recipes?