Right around this time three years ago, a five-letter service was born. Like most startups, it took some time to simmer… to cultivate enough respect to make its way around the wild, wild tubes that us folk refer to as the internet. In the time since, IFTTT has rapidly evolved, supporting all sorts of new services, popping out an iOS app, and creating something of a budding ecosystem with shared recipes. For those unfamiliar with IFTTT, fret not — it’s a pretty nerdy service. But here’s the thing: it exists to simplify the life of the layperson, too.
I’ve waxed poetic about the thorny side of our digital society, but given that we aren’t about to file away our smartphones, picket against notifications, or turn a blind eye to that Instagram like, we might as well look for services that are built to serve us instead of the other way around. IFTTT doesn’t thrive by coercing humans to populate it with content in the way that Twitter and Facebook do. Instead, IFTTT serves to connect the world’s most popular digital services in a bid to make using them that much simpler.
Perhaps the most powerful part of the entire solution is this: it allows completely separate services and apps — oftentimes warring ones that are actively working to discourage integration — to play nice with each other. It all starts by asking what can IFTTT do, but as I’ve found, that inquiry is quickly morphing into “What can’t it do?”
WTF is IFTTT?
You want it straight? I’ll give it to you straight.
- IFTTT stands for If This, Then That.
- It’s a free service that allows one action to trigger another.
- Many of the services it supports are on iOS, which means that iPhone and iPad users will glean even more from IFTTT than users of other mobile platforms.
- The above could change if IFTTT launches apps for other operating systems, but I haven’t heard that any more are in the pipeline.
- You don’t need a smartphone to use IFTTT; you can craft most of its recipes on its website.
Okay. But I need examples, man. Examples.
- IFTTT can send you a text message if the weather forecast shows snow for tomorrow.
- IFTTT can automatically add new iOS Contacts into a Google Spreadsheet for archive purposes.
- IFTTT can automatically upload every single photo you take on your iPhone to your (now 1TB) Flickr account, your SkyDrive account, your Box account, or your Dropbox account (amongst other cloud lockers).
- IFTTT can automatically add a Starred Gmail message to a list in Evernote.
- IFTTT can automatically archive every Facebook status update and Twitter posting you make to a cloud-hosted Google Spreadsheet.
- IFTTT can automatically send stories to Pocket (the world’s greatest offline reading app, in my humble opinion) from tweets that you Favorite.
- IFTTT can automatically send someone a Direct Message on Twitter when you’re approaching a home or work address.
- IFTTT can automatically email you when a new top post emerges in a predefined subreddit.
Archiving my life
As a self-proclaimed freak about keeping track of things, IFTTT is a godsend. But even for those who “can’t find the time” to do a decent job of archiving things for future reference, this program bridges the gap. As an example, it’s fairly frustrating that Facebook activity is — in many ways — ephemeral. It’s staggeringly difficult to sift back through posts I made five years ago. Some would say that’s a plus (ahem, sexters), but to me, it’s a con. With IFTTT, I can instruct it to automatically log every Facebook status update I make into a sortable Google Spreadsheet that can forever live in the cloud.
I’m also fairly busy, as I imagine most of you are. IFTTT can automatically archive status updates, photos sent to Instagram, or Twitter posts that I create or Favorite. In some cases, I don’t even have a great reason for wanting each of these moments saved for eternity. But what I do know is that someday, I might. In dealing with deaths in my own family, I’ve never once seen a mourning crowd wish that archived photos or mementos were fewer. In each case, it feels as if everyone is even more depressed that they didn’t save as many snapshots, or write down as many passed-along nuggets of wisdom. Sentimentalist? Sure. But IFTTT does all of this for you, in the background, without ever demanding your time once the action has been established. In the time it took you to read this last paragraph, you could’ve already arranged an action or three.
For those curious, the IFTTT action I rely on the most is iOS Photos -> Flickr. Put simply, this action recognizes whenever I take a photo with my iPhone, and once I’m on Wi-Fi (you can opt to upload on cellular, too), it automatically uploads any new photos that I’ve taken to Flickr. Given that the service recently upped its free storage ceiling to 1TB, I’m reasonably certain that I’ll find myself six feet underground before that account overflows with iPhone snaps. In fact, I’d recommend creating a new Flickr account solely to link to your IFTTT account. If ever your computer crashes, those memories are going to be tough to regather. IFTTT eliminates the worry, and it even tags each upload with ‘ifttt’ to make the act of sorting a cinch.
Automating my life
To be frank, I’m still a novice IFTTT user. I currently have around 15 recipes running, and most of those exist solely to archive things for future perusal. My most commonly used action that doesn’t fall into the above category is Twitter Favorite -> Pocket. I follow hundreds and hundreds of people, organizations, and creatures of unknown origin on Twitter. If I tried to keep track of every snippet blasted out by each of those, I’d have to give up on practically everything else that I do day-to-day. IFTTT allows me to skim through my timeline when I get a free moment, and regardless of client, it’ll save every single Favorite to Pocket for reading at a later time. It’s brilliantly simple, and it allows me — in my own way — to slow the torrid pace of Twitter down just a wee bit.
To infinity… and well beyond
As if the service wasn’t useful enough, I have a feeling that it’ll only become more integral in my life as time marches on. Given the amount of effort it takes to do anything well, having a seamless tool to automate any of it is a boon. IFTTT recently began supporting Location in iOS, enabling it to flip on (or off!) light switches connected to a Philips Hue or Belkin WeMO system as you approach or leave home, work, or anywhere else with a street address.
In a way, IFTTT exists in a perfect era. The Internet of Things — or, the overarching idea that all new tools going forward will be capable of communicating via the internet in some way — will only enable the service to become more useful. More important than that, however, is the power of interconnecting things that would otherwise be completely separate. IFTTT can turn your lights off, send a Direct Message to your spouse, and make a time-stamped entry in Google Calendar each time you leave the house to meet with a client. None of those things have anything to do with one another, but IFTTT creates a bond of unity where there wasn’t one.
The only thing more impressive, really, is the potential that lies ahead. As more devices and services launch with API hooks that support notifications and triggers, IFTTT is poised to become not just a great unifier, but a great personal unifier. The company has no stake in what services you use, providing it only with motivation to create as many connections as possible in order to make your life easier, simpler, and more cohesive. I’m not an investor, nor am I in any way connected to the people who built this product. I’m just a guy with a few less things to remember each day because of it.
Even if you love the idea of wasting time with repetitive motions, I’d encourage you to give it a try. The more efficient I can convince the world to become, the easier we’ll all have it.