IFTTT: 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 recipe. Read on to learn how IFTTT can make your online life immensely easier...

Simplify and Automate Your Online 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 or your smartphone, then takes actions to make your online life easier:

In the world of IFTTT, online things such as Twitter, Facebook, Gmail, Dropbox, OneNote, and so on, are called “channels” through which information flows and actions are initiated. Currently, IFTTT supports 121 channels. 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.

IFTTT - If This, Then That!

You can use the simple logic of IFTTT to connect channels 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."

• 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 "I upload a photo to Instagram" THEN "send a backup copy to Dropbox."

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

The event in quotes that follows an IF statement is called a “trigger.” The thing-to-do that follows the THEN statement is called an “action.” The entire IFTTT statement including action and trigger is called a “recipe.”

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.

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

IFTTT has even joined the Internet of Things, signing up Belkin WeMo Devices as a channel. This means you can create a recipe that says, “IF I send a text message saying, ‘Turn on porch light’ THEN turn on the porch light” through the Internet-connected WeMo light-control switch.

Mobile IFTTT apps for iPhone and Android phones are available. IFTTT integrates with other services such as Yahoo! Pipes to enable elaborate recipes that collect data from many sources and publish or store it wherever you like.

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 describe. I recommend that you sign up for an IFTTT account (it’s free!) and play with it a bit. Create a few recipes and browse the many channels 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: Your Personal Virtual Robot"

Posted by:

12 Sep 2014

Just not comfortable giving them access.

Posted by:

12 Sep 2014

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).

This should go over very well with the Hollywood actresses...

'Nuff said!

Posted by:

13 Sep 2014

Haven't figured out how to use the (RSS) Feeds channel yet, and documentation is pretty poor. Otherwise, love it.

Posted by:

13 Sep 2014

Haven't figured out how to use the (RSS) Feeds channel yet, and documentation is pretty poor. Otherwise, love it.

Posted by:

14 Sep 2014

It should be pronounced IF-TEE. Then the advertising could say IFTTT if nifty. Does anyone use that word anymore?

Posted by:

John Schultz
15 Sep 2014

A related service is Zapier (find them at http://zapier.com). They were winners of a Startup Weekend local to me and seem to have done well for themselves, now with over 350+ integrations.

Posted by:

15 Sep 2014

I was REALLY jazzed at the idea of this service. Especially with using NewsBlur. But I can't get it to work on either Chrome, Firefox, or IE. And no tech support.

VERY disappointed. :-(

I will look into Zapier.

Posted by:

19 Sep 2014

I like the idea of IFTTT but I don't have a Gmail email address (and don't want one). I use a personal domain email for most of my important emails. Is it possible to use a personal domain email as an IFTTT Trigger?

EDITOR'S NOTE: I don't see a way to do that. But you can probably build your own trigger.

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