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What Is IFTTT and How Can it Improve Your Digital Life?

Tech Talker gives you an introduction to IFTTT (if this then that), a web service that automates a lot of your web functions to make life easier.

By
Eric Escobar,
Episode #083

As many of you know, I’m an engineer. I like to find ways to make things run as efficiently as possible. I like to reduce steps and complexity. That’s one reason I love listening to my fellow podcaster Get-it-Done Guy! He tells me about awesome ways to work less but do more using systems and productivity tools.

For example, on a daily basis I use Dropbox to store my files, Evernote to organize my thoughts and lists, Gmail to organize my calendar, Facebook to keep up with friends, and Feedly to keep up with the things that I’m interested in.

But wouldn’t it be awesome if I could combine all of these services to work together? Well in this week’s episode I’ll be going how to do this using IFTTT.com which stands for “If This Then That.”

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What Is IFTTT?

IFTTT or “If This Then That” is a web service that aggregates many other web apps into one place and can then perform actions given a certain set of criteria. I know, I know, it sounds way more technical than it actually is.

In fact, it’s really easy! Here are some typical examples of something you can have IFTTT set up to do:

  • If you like a photo on Instagram, a picture of that photograph will be saved in a folder on your Dropbox.
  • Text you the weather at the beginning of each day.
  • Send you an email when a new item on Craigslist comes up that matches a certain criteria that you’ve set up.

After you sign up on IFTTT, you will be able to create “Recipes.” These recipes involve two web apps, one app to trigger, and the other app to perform an action.

It’s easiest to think of the name of the website. If something happens, Then perform an action.

The best part about this website is that it is free to use and has a ton of popular web apps that you can set to trigger and perform an action. Some of the apps include Dropbox, Feedly, Facebook, Twitter, Craigslist, ESPN, Foursquare, Google Calendar, Instagram, Google Drive, Gmail, Skydrive, Tumblr, Stocks, and Bitly, just to name a few!

If you want to see the full list of supported apps, I recommend checking out the main IFTTT website where they have a ton of apps to choose from and more that get added every month.

How to Use IFTTT

I really want to stress how simple this website is to use. There is no coding involved at all, just some simple dropdown menus with options to choose from. You click what you want to happen and voila! I’ve been using it for months and it is pretty reliable. I’m even using their beta iPhone app right now which adds support for automatic photo uploading and the use of the reminders app.

By now I hope you can see the power of this web service! When I first started using IFTTT, I was blown away by how many different ways I could get my web applications to work for me.

Aside from their amazing service, IFTTT does another great thing: It shows you samples of what other “Recipes” users have created, if they have chosen to make their recipes public.

This is awesome when you’re looking for some other ways to leverage your favorite apps. You can search by a specific app and see how someone has used it in a recipe.

For example, if I search Facebook, I can see that some users have created recipes that will tweet for them if they change their profile picture. Other users have set up Facebook to download all pictures they are tagged in right to their Dropbox. And some even set their Instagram photos to upload to a Facebook album!

These are all things that can be configured in minutes, and will work automatically once set up.

Now, while all this online automation is great, it might leave you feeling a little exposed digitally. When you decide to turn on an app, IFTTT simply asks for permission to access that specific app. The process of adding an app to IFTTT is easy, however, if you were a hacker wouldn’t this sort of website look like a gold mine? Multiple online accounts, all linked together – sounds like an awesome target to me.

See also: How to Use Tor to Protect Your Online Privacy

I am bringing this up simply to remind everyone of security. Before allowing an app be sure to see exactly what you’re giving IFTTT control over, and if you’re comfortable with it. Some people may be fine allowing IFTTT into their email, and others may only feel comfortable enough with IFTTT to allow it to manage their Craigslist searches.

Just think about what you’re giving up access to for the convenience! Just to be clear IFTTT is a great service and has had no reputation for misusing its access.

See also: How to Encrypt Your Files

With that, here are your Quick and Dirty Tips for using IFTTT:

  1. IFTTT automates multiple web services.
  2. IFTTT uses one app as a trigger and another app to perform an action.
  3. There is no code or programming experience necessary to begin using IFTTT.
  4. Set up the triggers once, and they work automatically.

Well, that’s it for today! Be sure to check out all my earlier episodes at techtalker.quickanddirtytips.com. And if you have further questions about this podcast or want to make a suggestion for a future episode, post them on Facebook.com/QDTtechtalker.

Until next time, I’m the Tech Talker, keeping technology simple!

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

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