IFTTT (or If This, Then That to give it it’s full title) is a platform that allows two previously separate apps or services to be connected. Many useful apps don’t connect to or ‘play nicely’ with others, either because they are restricted by the device (such as Apple’s iOS) or because the developer did not build it into the core function of the app. IFTTT allows these services to be connected using small bits of code called applets, and these applets open up a wealth of new possibilities.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
IFTTT requires two things; a trigger and an action. These are normally two different apps, joined together in a way that was not previously possible. Your trigger app is the cause – such as when you perform a function, at a scheduled time, or when you go to a particular location. Your action is the effect – what happens after the trigger event.
WHAT CAN IT BE USED FOR?
- IFTTT can be used to avoid carrying out repetitive tasks. If you do something once, IFTTT can then perform the same function across different platforms. For example, if you post an image on Instagram, it can also natively post the image straight on Twitter and Facebook for you.
- IFTTT can be your backup – photos, contacts and other valuable data can be backed up automatically with IFTTT. Many services allow you to do this already, but as an all-or-nothing solution, so you end up cluttering your backup with screenshots and photos of shopping lists. IFTTT can help you back up just the stuff you want.
- IFTTT can control your smart-featured devices – turn your lights on automatically when you get home, turn on your heating when you leave work, or turn the volume to maximum on your misplaced phone to help you find it. As more and more devices become connected to the Internet of Things, you’ll be able to take control of more devices.
- IFTTT can record how long you spend at different locations and create a spreadsheet entry for each, letting you know how much time you spend at work, or how much to bill clients for site visits
APPLETS I USE
At first I used the standard applets available in the IFTTT app, but before long I was creating my own to fill the gaps in my iOS workflow. I now use IFTTT for:
- Creating Day One journal entries from Strava activities to record my running
- Backing up iOS photos from a specific ‘Archive’ folder – this allows me to pick and choose what is backed up to the cloud rather than an unfiltered backup of everything
- Recording my favourite Pocket articles to my Day One journal app
- Sharing Instagram posts natively to Twitter – instead of only posting a link to Instagram, IFTTT can post the image directly to Twitter, which saves readers clicking on the link to view the post
- Being notified when my Strava contacts complete a new run – this lets me comment on their run, and motivates me to go for a run myself
- Backing up each of my posts on this site to my Day One journal app
IFTTT is particularly useful to compliment my journaling and lifelogging workflow. Without it, I would have to spend a lot more time exporting information between apps and manually entering in data. Chances are, if I had to do it all manually, it would be done piecemeal in different formats, or not at all. This would be a shame since the data is already being created and collected so I may as well create a copy for myself.
THE BENEFITS OF AUTOMATION
Automation has two types of benefits; first is the type that saves time, and second is the type that I wouldn’t normally do myself. Time saving applets are great because repetition is annoying and often doesn’t get done properly. Using an IFTTT applet means things get done to the same standard each time. Other tasks which I would never get around to organising, such as backing up data from various sources, now actually gets done.
WHO IS IFTTT FOR?
If you use a computer, smartphone, camera or any other smart device, you can find a use for IFTTT. If nothing else, you can use it to back up valued data – if your phone is stolen then at least you’ll have your contacts and photos saved on the cloud. If you create any sort of photo, video or written content, it can save this data in case the platform you use closes down.
It may seem overly technical at first but it’s actually incredibly simple to set up. Download the app, log in to the services you need, and for the most part the applets fill in the details themselves. A good way to start is to browse the applets already created by other users – once you get the hang of using these applets, you can go on and create your own.
WHAT IFTTT DOESN’T DO?
IFTTT is limited to the abilities made available by the developer, so there are many apps that haven’t signed up or are only available in limited form. So while it can help with a lot of things, there are significant gaps where really useful combinations just aren’t possible. I’d love to be able to schedule certain tasks for the same time each day, but unfortunately this type of activity can’t run in the background on iOS devices.
The most annoying examples are with some of the most popular third party apps, where Apple won’t allow certain controls to apps which conflict with their own branded services. Spotify is a good example of this. Since Apple don’t let Spotify access certain features of iOS, there is no way for you to control your music unless you sign up for Apple Music instead. This means that you can perform a few basic playlist functions with IFTTT and Spotify, but not control your music. As this philosophy is a core part of the iOS infrastructure, it isn’t going to change any time soon.
For more complicated applications, I am investigation Workflow – an iOS app which allows more involved and sophisticated applets to be created. It is my hope that the combination of the two will allow me to automate as much of my digital workflow as possible.