IFTTT – automation for the web

Have you ever seen any of the predictions from the 50s and 60s? You look at the Jetsons or some home magazines and they all seem to be predicting that technology would make our lives better, easier. That things would be quicker and we’d have more time. It doesn’t seem to have worked out that way, though, does it?

People also say our world is getting smaller and, thanks to the internet it does seem to be, but our digital world is getting ever bigger, more spread out. Sometimes parts of my digital world have felt a little isolated, like islands in a huge ocean. If only someone could build bridges between the islands.

A few years ago Yahoo made a good start with their Pipes web application, taking the Unix idea of “piping” output from one application into another and using this to manipulate data sources of different types. But Yahoo pipes is a geek tool and not always easy to apply to those services we use every day. It’s definitely data-centric as opposed to task-centric.

If This Then That

In the last year or so I discovered IFTTT.com (pronounced like “gift” without the G) which stands for If This Then That. It’s an incredibly simple concept; it uses a cause and effect relationship to connect up the remote parts of the online world (and even some bits of the real-world, more on that later) .

IFTTT speaks of channels (the individual islands), triggers (“if this”), actions (“then that”) and recipes which are the combination of the above. What’s more, recipes can be shared and reused which means that much of what you want to do has already been done before!

There are 59 channels, covering everything from the usual suspects such as Facebook and Twitter to niche applications like Salesforce Chatter and Yammer to real-world applications like Withings, WeMo and blink(1). There are also some special channels: Date & Time, Weather, Phone and SMS.

So far I have a mere 24 recipes and I’m going to share a few with you.

I’ve got my Blogger account set up to automatically post to Facebook. This is something I think WordPress can do automatically, but of course Google largely ignore that Facebook even exists.

There’s the automatic backup of my facebook and instagram pictures to DropBox, just in case anything happens to either service. It also saves on downloading them if I ever want to use them for anything else!

If I start reading an article on Google Reader and find it a little too long to read on a screen and a little too interesting to ignore, I just add a special tag “instapaper” and it gets picked up, added to my instapaper reading list and automatically sent to my kindle to read in comfort later!

If the weather is going to be too rough tomorrow to cycle to work I get a message on Google Talk (I tend to have a GMail tab open all day).

The real world integration really interests me, but I haven’t got there yet. This, actually, was what first drew me towards IFTTT; I first heard of it on the Kickstarter page for the Pebble watch. I love the thought of automatically turning on a fan when the temperature is going to be high, or automating the outside lights. You could use it to turn on an alarm when your favourite stock goes up or down. The possibilities are literally limited by your imagination.

Gradually people are starting to try and find solutions to the separated parts of our online world, but no one seems to be doing it quite a powerfully as IFTTT. They actually seem have made it possible to make your life easier and automate more, instead of being slaves to the machines. If you haven’t already I’d definitely encourage checking it out, especially if you feel your online world is getting too big.

Do you use any tools to automate your digital life? Or how about tools to help draw the various parts of your online and real world activities together in one place? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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  1. TwinkleBob Solutions » Blog Archive » IFTTT helps to integrate says:

    […] written an article for Geek-Speak.co.uk about the usefulness of IFTTT.com as a tool for integration and automation for both our online and […]