June 20, 2014 - 18:25 — GretchenNovakXu

Are there any tasks that you wish you could make your smartphone, your e-mail account, or websites like Facebook and Twitter do for you automatically? Maybe you want to have every photo you take with your phone--or every photo you're tagged in on Facebook--automatically e-mailed to you. Or maybe you want to have the ringer on your phone automatically silenced when you arrive at work, and turned back on when you get home. Maybe you want to get a text message whenever the weather forecast says it's going to rain. There is a free tool that allows you to do all of this and more!

IFTTT (short for "If This, Then That", and pronounced to rhyme with "gift") is a fantastic service that allows you to create "recipes" to automate various tasks. IFTTT was launched in 2010 as a Web-based service, but within the last year it has introduced an iOS app and an Android app, which allow users of these devices to do even more with the service. In addition to iOS and Android devices, IFTTT is integrated with a growing list of popular websites.

How does it work?

For every task you want to automate, you need to have a recipe, which is basically a statement in the form "if this, then that". Recipes consist of two parts: a trigger ("this") and an action ("that"). Whenever the trigger event in your recipe takes place, the action will happen automatically. Triggers and actions can come from any of 111 different channels, including Facebook, Twitter, email, weather, and date & time (you can see a full list here). Each channel has some triggers and/or actions associated with it, and you can combine them however you like to do very useful things!

Here are just a few examples of recipes and how they work:

  • To get an email reminding you to pay your rent on the 1st day of every month:
    • select the Trigger "Every month on the 1st" from the Date & Time channel
    • select the Action "Send me an email" from the Email channel
  • (On an Android device) To automatically send someone, such as your spouse, a text message when you leave work:
    • select the Trigger "You exit an area" from the Android Location channel
    • select the Action "Send an SMS" from the Android SMS channel
  • To have every new photo you take with your iPhone automatically saved to your Dropbox account:
    • select the Trigger "Any new photo" from the iOS Photos channel
    • select the Action "Add file from URL" from the Dropbox channel

How do you get started?

First, you'll need to sign up for an IFTTT account. This is free, and the only information you'll need to provide is your e-mail address. If you have an Android device or an iOS device such as an iPhone or iPad that you want to use with IFTTT, you will also need to download and install the IFTTT app from Google Play or the App Store. (Unfortunately for iOS users, some of IFTTT's coolest smartphone-related functions, such as automatically changing your ringtone volume or sending a text message to someone on your behalf, are only available to Android users.)

After you've created your account and logged in, it's time to start adding recipes. You can click on Browse to see the recipes that other people have created, or click on Create to make a recipe of your own. Some channels will need to be activated the first time you use a recipe that has a trigger or action from that channel--IFTTT will let you know if that's the case. Sometimes activating a channel is as simple as clicking on a button that says "Activate"; other times, you will need to provide some information, such as your phone number if you want to activate the channel that lets IFTTT send you texts, or your Facebook username and password if you want IFTTT to retrieve any information from your Facebook account or post to Facebook on your behalf.

Once you have selected the recipes you want to use, you can sit back and wait for IFTTT to do the work for you!