How To Automate Your Online Chores With ifttt

Nick Grantham is an Australian educator living and working in Ireland. With a background in education, engineering and e-learning, he founded Fractus Learning to connect people with a shared passion for technology and how it can bring education to life.

iftttThe name may be unusual, but as far as online tools go, this one is an absolute ripper. An acronym for “If This Then That”, ifttt is an online service that lets you automate the annoying manual tasks that waste your time every day.

With so much of our online lives tied up in fragmented services, we spend a lot of time jumping between each. So, for example, if I change my profile picture on Facebook, I also need to log in to Twitter and change it there. With ifttt, little tasks like this can be automated. As well as this, there are all sorts of handy notifications and synchronisations you can set up to make life that much easier. I now use ifttt to send me an SMS if it looks like it may rain tomorrow, as well an email whenever a new book is added to Kindle Top 100 Free eBooks list. The possibilities are literally endless.

 

Using Channels

ifttt Basics

The ifttt interface is a composition of large clear text and buttons. It feels a bit like one of those enlarged TV remotes your grandparents use, but it makes for a very clean and simple user experience. The key to working with ifttt is understanding the acronym “If This then That”. So, if a certain event occurs (this) it trigger another event (that). Before launching into ifttt, you first need to understand a few definitions:

  • Channels - Channels are the individuals services that ifttt uses as triggers and actions. Some examples of channels supported by ifttt are Twitter, Facebook, Diigo, Evernote, email and SMS.
  • Tasks – Tasks are rules that you set up to performs a certain function. A task involves setting a trigger (say, being tagged in a photo on Facebook) and an action (say, saving that photo to Dropbox).
  • Recipes – Recipes are tasks that you or someone else has created and decide to share. This is a great way to start out with ifttt and see what others have created.


Tasks

Creating Tasks

Creating a task is quite a fun process with the way ifttt has implemented the setup. As a simple example, let’s create a task to send a thank-you Tweet to anyone who chooses to follow us on Twitter:

  1. First choose a Trigger channel – in this case we will choose Twitter. If you have not already given permission to ifttt to access your Twitter information, you will be asked at this point. You only need to grant permission once.
  2. You will be presented with a number of Twitter “triggers”. In this case we want to choose “New follower”.
  3. We now need to choose the Action channel, which in this case is Twitter again.
  4. From the selection of “actions” lets choose “Post a new tweet”
  5. We now need to choose what our Tweet should say. Let’s put in “Hi {{UserName}}! Thanks for the follow and hope you learn something from my Tweets”.
  6. The final step is to confirm and activate the task. From this point on, anyone who follows me on Twitter will get a nice message thanking them for the follow

Tasks can be turned on and off as you please once they are created. They poll your services for triggers every 15 minutes, so although actions will not occur immediately, they will be fairly punctual.


Recipes

Sharing Recipes

Recipes harness the creative powers of others to save your creating tasks that have already been made. As well as using pre-made recipes, you can also help the ifttt community and share your own tasks as recipes for others to use.

Some of the top recipes that you might want to try out are:

  • Every time you are tagged in a photo on Facebook, it will be sent to Dropbox
  • Items starred in your Google Reader are saved to Evernote
  • Receive an SMS when it is going to rain
  • Save all Instagram photos to Dropbox
  • When the Amazon Free Android App of the Day is posted, send me an email
  • Send your Google+ post to your Facebook wall
  • If someone follows me on Twitter follow them automatically

 

By automating many of those small tasks you can really save a lot of time. A couple of minutes here and a couple of minutes there really adds up. With the list of supported channels growing all the time, ifttt lets you automate just about everything and makes it a lot of fun in the process.

 

What are some of the online chores that you would like to automate? And is ifttt a tool you could see adding value to your digital life?

 

Image courtesy of Flickr, clogozm