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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

If This Then That - The Super Simple Way to Control Interactions Between Your Web Services and Apps

Categories: General, Tips

Do you ever wish it was easier to automate a bunch of online tasks without having to fall back on a large number of third-party services or your own diligence? Check out IFTTT (If This Then That) to cook up simple trigger/action-based "recipes" that will save you time and frustration.

I'm just back from yet another fantastic MODX conference just outside Utrecht in the Netherlands (organised by modmore). My head is spinning full of new ideas and inspiration and I can't wait to get playing with the new modules I learnt about (watch this space for an introduction to ContentBlocks, a completely new approach to building CMS websites!).

But we didn't just talk about MODX! Getting together with a bunch of other developers is always a great opportunity to exchange tips and tricks for improving work flows and adding functionality with third-party applications and services. One such service that stood out for me is "If This Then That". Yup, pretty odd name, but actually very fitting as it does exactly what it says on the tin! So I thought I'd share it.

From Triggers and Actions to Ingredients and Recipes

If This Then That (or simply IFTTT) is a service that lets you create connections across several offline and online services/apps with one simple statement. Is basically checks if a "trigger" is in place (the "IF" part) then it carries out a certain "action" (the "THEN THAT" part). For example "IF I am tagged in a photo on Facebook, THEN send me a text message". Or "IF I add #fb to a Twitter post, THEN post it also to Facebook". 

But these statements are not limited to core channels such as Facebook and Twitter. In fact, there is a choice of over 130 channels available and the list is growing. From the usual suspects such as LinkedIn, Blogger, Instagram, reddit, Tumblr, Flickr, Vimeo and YouTube to eBay, Etsy, Dropbox, Buzzfeed and From Google Calendar and your Android Weather app, to Facebook Pages, Facebook Groups, Email, iOS Contacts and iOS Location. Take a look at the full IFTTT channel list to get the the picture.

Other parts of IFTTT terminology are "ingredients" which are basically elements of triggers used to define the action. For example, ingredients from an Email trigger could be the subject line, date or sender's address. And finally, a "recipe" is the name of the whole statement. So as a subscriber, you create your own recipes to activate your own IFTTT flows. 

Personal or Shared Recipes

With IFTTT, you can not only create a series of personal recipes but also draw from a large list of shared recipes that other users have made available to the community. These shared recipes might not necessarily be of benefit to you if you don't subscribe to the channels that are used as triggers but they are a great source of inspiration to get your own brain going and come up with recipe ideas that work for you. 

For example:

When #Facebook profile picture changes, update #Twitter profile picture

Save my Instagram photos to Dropbox

Upload new iOS Photos to Google Drive

If I star an email in Gmail, create a reminder to take care of it

If I like a track on Soundcloud, download that track in Dropbox

Save my email #attachments to Dropbox

Mute my ringer at bedtime

So How Much Do I have to Fork Out for This Service?

Did I forget to mention that IFTTT is completely free? Well, there you go. Nothing else to add. It really couldn't be any simpler, and the user interface is also as easy as can be. So check it out and give it a try!

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