IFTTT At First…


If you are like the majority of computer, phone, or tablet users, you probably have had the experience of using a program or app and thinking, gee, I wish there was an easy way to just make it do this or that.  Well, there is, with IFTTT.  The service lets you select from “recipes” other users and service providers have created, or you can go ahead and create one yourself.  Basically, the “recipe” is a way to ask one app or program to do something you really wish it could do, to interact with another program, or to send you alerts without having to learn how to code.  In some cases, using a recipe is as easy as entering in you username and password.

IFTTT gets its name from the common computer programming command of if/then, where a programmer will code a program to do one task based on a trigger.  For example, if the user presses the power button, then put the device to sleep.  In the world of IFTTT (If This, Then That), these if/then statements are used to control a variety of things, ranging from simply saving in two spots at one time to asking for the house lights to come on every day at sunset.

Here is how it all works.  First, you sign up for a free account with IFTTT.  All you need is an email address and a password.  Next, look for recipes that will help you accomplish the task you want to accomplish.  You can do that by either browsing the available channels or by searching for a specific app or program.  You may, for example, look on the Facebook channel for a recipe that will automatically upload and photos you post on Facebook to twitter or save a copy in your Dropbox storage.  Likewise, you could use a recipe found on the Honeywell channel to check the weather and, if the temperature will be below 50, turn on your heater.

The channels on IFTTT are generally set-up with the provider having some input, so the BMW or Comcast channels will have content that is provided by those companies.  Some channels only contain recipes provided by the manufacturers, such as the GE Dishwasher channel, which includes recipes that can be used to send you a text message when the filter needs to be serviced or the rinse fluid is getting low.  Other channels, such as most of the social media channels, allow users to upload recipes as well, so you may find another IFTTT user has figured out how to save those photos you take on your iPhone directly to Google Drive and provided the recipe for you.

In most cases, all you need to use a recipe is to connect to the channel and then click the add button.  Connecting to a channel is basically just letting IFTTT know about the services that are involved in the recipe.  If a service is set-up to text you, you will need to enter your cell phone number.  If you want to connect two calendar applications, you would need to add the username and/or password for each one.  Once you connect to a channel, your information is saved by IFTTT so adding new recipes is a matter of clicking the add button.  Be aware that IFTTT will ask if it is OK to do things like post on your behalf if you connect to social media accounts, but this can be turned off or turned down while setting up the connection.  For example, if you connect to Facebook, you will be asked if you would like IFTTT to share your activity and you can select your privacy level for that, such as only me or friends or general public.

IFTTT is not limited to making apps or social media work differently, it also includes ways to automate alerts for everything from news stories to sports scores to the latest eBay listings that match a certain search term.  In the eBay example, you can set-up search terms, maximum price and with the advanced options, pick the time of day to receive the email.  When you click on the advanced options for the eBay alert, and many others, you will see how the author has coded the alert so you can make changes if you wish to do so.  Other popular alerts include the final score alert from ESPN, in which you ask for the final score of your favorite team’s games to be texted to you or reminders that you have yet to reach a daily activity goal on your fitness tracker.

Finally, on the off chance you cannot find a pre-made recipe for the task you wish to accomplish, IFTTT lets you use a wizard to create your own recipes.  Once you are logged on to IFTTT, you will see these wizards at the bottom of the main screen for the specific channel.  For example, on the Fitbit channel, one wizard lets you set up an alert if you have not reached your step goal by a certain time of day.  Or, for the savvy shopper, you can write a recipe that will follow a certain SKU or product on a retail website and let you know when the price drops.  If you think the recipe is worth sharing, you can opt to submit it to be added to a channel for the general public to use, but you do not have to make your recipes public if you choose not to.

Other options on IFTTT include a favorites area in case you come across a recipe you may want to try later or share with friends and an option to create a DO button to use on your cellphone or tablet. The DO button is an app that can be downloaded from the Apple or Google Play store and then set-up to run a recipe with the tap of a button.

- Laura N.

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