IFTTT (If This Then That) where have you been my entire connected life?

I used to try everything just for the sake of checking it out. Now, with soooo many tools, apps and startups out there I’m more cautious. I’m tired of apps and technologies that sure, solve a problem, but in order to do it you have to completely change the way you think or work. It sucks that app A doesn’t do (whatever) but that’s usually not reason enough for me to start over with something else.

IFTTT is not new. It’s been around for a year or so. I knew it had a lot of buzz, I just hadn’t bothered digging in before. All that time wasted!

What is IFTTT? If This Then That is a simple web app (that works beautifully from an iPad, by the way) that allows you to set up automated recipes that connect and extend already existing web apps. What makes IFTTT killer isn’t what it can do. It’s all API and oauth, not rocket science for us nerds. What makes IFTTT killer is how approachable and easy it is. I can show this to my mother and she’ll get it.

First you activate the channels for the web apps you already use. You rarely have to enter your username and password. Instead, IFTTT typically prompts you through the app’s authorization process. This is safer because your credentials are not stored in IFTTT and you can log in to the app directly and revoke access at any time. IFTTT clearly explains the app’s purpose using everyday language and even gives you convenient links for managing your app settings from within IFTTT. A nice touch.

IFTTT channel

There are currently 53 ready-made channels to choose from covering a wide variety of apps and purposes. Clear and easy to tell what you’ve activated.

That’s the “IF.” For the next part in “If this then that” — the “THIS,” each channel has pre-set triggers based on what is accessible via API. So no worries that the Evernote channel is going to suddenly start broadcasting your private notes. In order to broadcast a note in Evernote you have to explicitly share it. So the only option you have as a “THIS” (trigger) in IFTTT is to do something when you’ve shared. The explanations for what happens in a trigger/action are very clear and “non geek” so nothing should take you by surprise. If IFTTT posts a tweet it will be because you specifically set it to do so.

evernote trigger

Every channel has different triggers depending on the app. There are a few channels such as Date & Time, Phone, SMS or Email that aren’t tied to apps but are essential for some very helpful recipes. Like condiments. You can send an email or text to IFTTT to set off a recipe (so once again, no obvious worries that your private stuff is getting broadcast if you activate these channels).

The “THEN” is the channel that is going to do something based on the “IF THIS.” The “THAT” is the action that is going to happen. Depending on the action selected and the trigger, it’s an extremely simple template to select whatever is going to happen. For example, here’s the action for a recipe I quickly created that will send me a text message if the weather forecast calls for snow tomorrow.

That’s it. Seriously, Mom, you can do this.

I didn’t start using IFTTT because I was bored or curious…I had a problem. IFTTT solved it. My problem: I still like Google Reader. Yeah, yeah, I know. RSS is dead. Blogs are not dead. Blogs are still cool. People who blog are still cool. I spend a lot of time on my iPad and I was frustrated at how near impossible it was to add a new feed to Google Reader from the iPad Safari browser. I use Feedly or Flipboard for reading, but keeping the content fresh was a challenge. Enter IFTTT and the problem is solved: if I send an email to trigger@ifttt.com with #reader in the subject line, add the URL that’s in the body to Google Reader. It was just that easy. If I’m on a page and I know it has a RSS feed that should be auto-discoverable (just about any blog and many websites) I simply use Safari’s share via email link. Done. Simple. It works.

You can share recipes and browse what other users have created, so here’s my shared recipe for email > Google Reader if you’re interested. If a shared recipe uses a channel that’s not activated, you’re walked through that part first. They’ve thought of everything.

The app is completely free and I hope they can stay that way for a while without having to resort to “sponsored” recipes or something.

So am I the last of my friends to find this great little tool? Any cool shared recipes?

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