[IFTTT] Here's Your Personal Virtual Robot

Category: Cool-Stuff

Life’s simple pleasures are the best. Simple tools give great satisfaction; the thud of a hammer, the growl of a handsaw, and the elegant execution of an IFTTT applet. Read on to learn how IFTTT can make your life a little easier by automating certain tasks...

Simplify and Automate Your Tasks

IFTTT? Robots? Wait, what? Yes, this thing called IFTTT (pronounced like “gift” without the “g”) is one of the simplest, most satisfying, and most versatile tools ever invented for the online world! IFTTT stands for “If This, Then That” -- the most basic of all human decision-making algorithms. Here is how you can turn it into a personal robot that monitors events on the Web, your smartphone, your home, or car, and then takes actions to make your online life easier:

In the world of IFTTT, online things such as Twitter, Facebook, Gmail, Dropbox, and so on, are called “services” through which information flows and actions are initiated. Currently, IFTTT supports hundreds of services. In addition to reacting to online events, mobile IFTTT apps for Android and iOS devices allow you to monitor all sorts of things on your smartphone and take a variety of actions.

You can use the simple logic of IFTTT to connect services in useful, infinitely expandable ways. For instance:

• IF "a new item matching my keywords appears on eBay (or Etsy, or BestBuy)" THEN "send me a text message notification."

IFTTT - If This, Then That!

• IF "new Health articles are published by NY Times" THEN “email me a weekly digest.”

• IF "the temperature in (some city) goes above/below (some number)" THEN "call my phone and tell me."

• IF "my mobile phone arrives at or leaves school/church/work" THEN "turn ringer ON or OFF"

Think of the event in quotes that follows an IF statement as a “trigger.” And the thing-to-do that follows the THEN statement as an “action.” IFTTT combines actions and triggers into “applets” that go to work for you.

The Web, Your Phone, and Things!

A related service that you should know about is Google Alerts. Instead of searching every day for things of interest to you, use Alerts to monitor news sources, blogs and other Web info. You can choose to get email notifications as events happen, daily, or weekly. There's also Zapier, which has capabilities similar to IFTTT, but focuses more on business processes.

You don't need programming skills to use IFTTT. The IFTTT website and mobile apps have a user-friendly applet-construction wizard that can help you put together a custom-crafted applet by just pointing and clicking. It also features a growing catalog of users’ applets that you can use. You can even sign up for an “applet of the day” delivered via email.

Some other applets you might find useful are "Save new photos you post on Facebook to Google Photos," "Set ringer to HIGH after missing a call," "Update your Android wallpaper with NASA image of the day", or "Get an email fronm ESPN with the latest news on your sports team."

IFTTT has even joined the Internet of Things. With services like Nest or WeMo, you can create applets that let you monitor or control your lighting, thermostat, and security cameras.

Note that for some actions, IFTTT will need permission to access an online account (such as Gmail or Facebook), or some feature of your smartphone (like your location or settings). IFTTT has a Privacy Policy page which says all the right things about protecting your personal data, but you'll have to decide if you are comfortable with a third-party service having access to your online data and your mobile gadgets.

IFTTT is so simple and yet so far-reaching that it’s difficult to fully describe. Since 2011, IFTTT has attracted 11 million users and runs and over a billion applets each month. I recommend that you sign up for an IFTTT account (it’s free!) and play with it a bit. Create a few applets and browse the many services for more. If you're an IFTTT-er, tell me how you've found it useful.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "[IFTTT] Here's Your Personal Virtual Robot"

Posted by:

12 Dec 2017

Sounds neat but I can see myself getting swamped with all the notification emails!

Posted by:

Jay R
12 Dec 2017

The growl of a handsaw???? If you are ever in Memphis, I'd be happy to let you hear the growl of an 18V cordless circular saw or sliding miter saw (7.25").

Like Rich, I don't know if I need any more notifications. Between my phone and my email, I'm thinking about purchasing a bobcat. (I need a dump truck, baby, to unload my head.)

For raisin my awareness, there are no sour grapes. (On the net, and off my meds.)

Posted by:

12 Dec 2017


I use Google Alerts to track news stories about my larger clients. It let's me send congratulations for good news and makes me aware of bad news!

Posted by:

Sandy Jewell
12 Dec 2017

The app will only download if you are using Google Chrome. I've found that Google Chrome on other people's laptops is opening with NEW TAB sometimes. That is not right. I have to get rid of it and download it again. Don't want the damn thing on my computer.

Posted by:

13 Dec 2017

Call me a curmudgeon but this rush to the iot and having neat applets to do these things for us always makes me think what are they getting out of this and what am I getting into or giving up. As the saying goes if it seems too good to be true then it is.

Posted by:

13 Dec 2017

Got one of the first apps for that a few years back, but truthfully never found much I cared to apply it to. It's obviously a powerful tool that many will find useful. But, as others have commented, I look for less interruptions, notifications, e-mails, etc., in my life... not more.

Posted by:

Stuart Berg
13 Dec 2017

Hi Bob,
For the past 30 years or more I've been controlling our house thermostat with a little heater type device under the thermostat called a "Temperature Minder" made by General Electric. All it is a small resistor in a small case that sits under the thermostat. When it's on, it fools the thermostat into "thinking" that it's warmer than it is in the house and causes the temperature to drop about 15 degrees F. It comes with a small transformer that applies a low voltage to the device. For many years I ran it from a timer that allowed me to have the house come back to normal temperature before we arrived home from vacation.

More recently, I'm controlling the applied voltage to the device by plugging in the small transformer into a WEMO switch that I control from anywhere in the world using my smartphone. The WEMO app on my smartphone can schedule when I warm the thermostat (lower the house temperature) just before arriving home from vacation.

This brings me to IFTTT: I can control my WEMO switches via emails (if my smartphone is unavailable for any reason). I can also receive emails whenever the WEMO switches go off or on. That's handy because of some times when the WEMO switch could possibly turn the thermostat heater device off without my knowledge when I want it to be on.

Finally, many people ask why I don't just replace the thermostat with a smart thermostat, like a Nest. The reason is that the thermostat controls a geothermal heating/cooling system (installed in 1993 as a research project with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority replacing an older air-to-air heat pump) that has many status lights on the thermostat that no smart thermostat would have.

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