How to: Get started with ifttt in 5 easy steps

The previous two posts on this blog have referred to www.ifttt.com, the program that I predict will revolutionize the way we organize our lives. Although still currently in Beta, its potential is enormous for anyone who likes to know about recent developments – for example, changes in the weather or in the stock market – or for those who would like more efficiency in their online activities, especially when it comes to sharing, either with others in their social network, or within their own account/s.

“ifttt”, (pronounced ‘ift’  – like ‘lift’ without the ‘l’) literally stands for “if this then that”, and that is literally what it does. The two variables of ‘this’ and ‘that’ are programmed by the user, and this allows for an incredible number of permutations. For example, if the ‘this’ variable, known as ‘the trigger’, was ‘I tweet’, and the ‘that’ variable, known as ‘the action’ was ‘update my facebook’, then the task you have created reads: “If I tweet, then update my facebook”. Pretty simple, pretty cool. But where it becomes really interesting is the variety of ‘channels’ that ifttt taps into. Facebook, twitter, instagram, email, SMS, are just the beginning. DropBox, Evernote, Foursquare, Google Calendar, LinkedIn, YouTube, Tumblr and Vimeo are joined by WordPress, weather, stocks, Gmail, Google Talk and Google Reader. Just to name a few. Buffer, date and time, delicious, posterous – even your phone! – etc etc, the list goes on and on. And more channels are in the process of being added. Which means the varations are, literally, endless. Which is not just ‘pretty cool’ in my book, but way, way, way, WAY cool!

In summary, you set up ‘tasks’ which automatically work when a specific trigger fires a programmed action. So. How do you set it all up, and get it working? Using their lingo, how do you create a task using triggers and actions, from channels?

Below are five steps explaining the process.

1. Join

Clean, simple, large font web interface directs you to either Sign In (if you’ve previously joined) or ‘Join’ (blue box, top right). The other blue box, directly underneath ifttt’s slogan, invites you to ‘Learn More’.

To join, create your username and enter your email address, then create and confirm a password. Then verify these details through the inbox of the email you listed.

Congratulations! You’ve joined. Now go back to ifttt.com and sign in. Check the ‘Remember Me’ box if you want to stay logged in.

2. Check out your Dashboard

Here’s mine. You can see I have 5 tasks, all enabled. (Yeah, I know it’s not particularly many, but I’ll explain that in a moment…)

The dashboard is divided into three main sections. The top right tabs, “Tasks”, “Recipes” and “Channels” take you to pages which a) detail your tasks, and allow you to create more, b) the database of recipes, from which you can choose, and adapt to your own particular circumstances and c) list the various channels which can be used as either triggers or actions. The second, main section of the page shows your own tasks / recipes / channels, and the third section, at the bottom invites you to invite others to join you on ifttt. Very clear, very straightforward.

3. Create your first task

Each time you create a task, you’re taken through the seven step process, step-by-step. Each step is clear, with the reminder ‘If this then that‘ statement at the beginning, reminding you which variable you are creating. Click on the underlined, highighted variable to create it.

For the ‘this’ variable, you will need to chose your trigger channel (eg twitter) and it is here that you are required to fill in your account details for that channel. At present, you only ever need to fill this in the first time you use a channel. You will then need to choose from a previously created list, what type of trigger you want. For example, did you want your twitter account to fire your task when you tweet? Or when you tweet with a #hashtag? Or maybe when you get a new follower?

And once you’ve chosen the trigger, (for example, ‘New tweet by you’) you may be asked a further question, that specifically relates to this trigger. In this case, you’re asked if you’d like to include retweets or @replies with that (a little like the MacDonald’s fries, in a way!). And that’s the ‘trigger’ done, so then it’s on to the ‘action’.

Back to the ‘if this then that’ statement, and you’ll see that the trigger is completed, and the ‘that’ variable, the ‘action’, is highlighted. Click on this link to create the action, that is, to program what you want to happen when you send a tweet.

Step number four now, is to select the action channel from the page which loads. In this example, I’m going to put my tweets onto my facebook page for Bloxham Marketing. Again, I am required to fill in my account details for that channel. (Remembering that, at present, I only need to fill this in the first time I use a channel.) I will then need to choose from a previously created list, what type of action I want. In this case, it is ‘create a status message’.

Step six of seven is to add extra text – or not – to the ‘that’ variable, the action which you’re creating.  

Then finally, with both trigger and action completed, it’s time to name your task, and create /activate it. Done! 

You will then be taken back to your dashboard, where your task is now visible.

4. Check out the recipes

Now that you’ve made your first task, go check out other peoples’ creations, by clicking on the ‘recipes’ tab (top right). This takes you to a database of everyones’ tasks. You may notice that many seem to be similar. You may also notice a variety of languages in the ‘descriptions’. You can sort the database via ‘what’s hot’, ‘new’, and ‘popular’; you can also filter by channel; or run a regular search to find a particular recipe for you to copy.

Once you’ve found a recipe you like, you can ‘make’ it into your own task by clicking the blue arrow to its right, and filling in the ‘missing ingredients’ – ie, the channel account information, or the specific nature of the trigger or action. And finally…

5. Browse the channels

To do this, click on the Channels tab. You may be surprised by the combinations you’ll think of when you look at the page covered in logos. Ones that might surprise you – that you would never have even thought could be possible!

So that’s it – my 5 easy steps to get started with ifttt. Now, there’s quite a bit more to it that this, so I’ll endeavour to explain more in the next post or two, but these are the basics. Oh – and regarding ‘why’ I only have five tasks? It’s because ifttt have not implemented the functionality for multiple accounts per channel. At the moment, I’ve only been able to input one account per channel, and this has restricted my ifttt-ing ability, as I’m unable to create the tasks I want to use for work. (If you look closely at the screen shot above, you’ll see that the task I created as an example for this post doesn’t actually fire my tweet to a facebook page update for BloxhamMarketing, but rather, to the StJames Lutheran College facebook, which I inputted for one of my active tasks…) Hence my feedback to ifttt via their ‘contact’ form (bottom of every page) – and their personalised reply email within 48 hours, which 1) very politely thanked me for my suggestions and informed me that multiple accounts is definitely functionality that ifttt is working on, and 2) impressed me so much with their brilliant customer service that it formed the basis of a previous post.

So. A huge post, I know, but hopefully an informative one. And now it’s over to you. What do you think YOU could use ifttt for? And why?

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