The internet is full of services that do wonderful things for you at little to no cost. Gmail does your email, Google does your search, Pinboard.in does your bookmarking, Dropbox does your cloud storage, Trello does your project planning, Alexa runs your smart speaker, and Twitter makes sure you get nothing done all day.
Imagine, then, how much more powerful these services could be if you could get them to not only work with each other, but also automate these workflows?
Confused? Let me explain with an example.
A large portion of my working day is spent on the internet searching for story ideas, researching articles, saving links, reading and emailing. As we have discussed before in this column, bookmarking and saving web pages is a crucial element of the way I, and many readers no doubt, use the web.
So what happens when I come across an article that I not only want to bookmark and save, but also want to add to my lists of tasks? Perhaps it has an idea that I’d like to use in a column. Or it is a recipe I would like to try later. Or it is an article on a travel destination that I would like to discuss with the missus on the weekend. Thus I have to do at least two actions with the link—each action involving the passing of the link through an internet service.
Doing each of these actions separately is simple enough. But what if you could automate these workflows, with just a single click on a single button activating multiple services? This is where If This Then That, or IFTTT, comes in. IFTTT has been around for ages, long having become a favourite of life-hackers, productivity mavens and people of that ilk. That is not to say that it is complicated. It can be, but it doesn’t have to be. Even at its most basic, IFTTT is a simple, useful tool for people who want to use a variety of services in the most seamless way possible.
How does it work? IFTTT stitches together online services in such a way that an event on one service triggers an event on another—IF this happens THEN THAT happens. If you post a photograph on Instagram, then a copy of the picture is saved in your Google Drive. If you get an email from your boss, then you get an alert in your Pushbullet inbox. If your favourite blog gets an update, then the link is automatically added to your Pinboard.in account. If you save a link on your favourite travel blog, then you get a reminder on your iPhone to check the link on the weekend.
And these are just some of the more straightforward applications. IFTTT helps you stitch together hundreds of services to create workflows that you can tailor to your specific needs. So, for instance, I have a whole host of workflows, or Applets as IFTTT calls them, that automatically add RSS feed updates from a handful of great blogs into my Pinboard.in bookmarking service. That way I not only have them bookmarked and tagged as I want them, but I can also use Pinboard.in’s archiving service to keep a copy of those links if they later get pulled down or go behind a paywall.
My new favourite Applet combines Trello, Pinboard.in and my iOS Reminders to help me make travel plans for summer. So every time I come across a possible destination idea, I save the link to a list on my Trello. As soon as this happens, two Applets kick in. One saves the link to my Pinboard.in account, as backup. And another Applet automatically adds the link to my iOS Reminders app so that I don’t just save the link and forget it forever, but also remember to actually discuss it later.
But enough explanation. IFTTT is best learnt through experimentation. There are countless possibilities for Applets. With new services being added all the time. Make no mistake. There has to be something in your professional or personal life that IFTTT can help untangle just that little bit.