If this, then that: A beginner’s guide to the wonderful world of IFTTT

IFTTT recipes
These days, our digital lives are expansive, taking into account many devices, platforms, and services. What makes it frustrating is that these devices occasionally overlap in what they do — i.e. Twitter and Facebook — or seem like they’d just work well together if you could just figure out a way to connect them.

Thankfully, there is a way to do this, and it’s called IFTTT. Short for “If This, Then That,” IFTTT is an easy way to automate tasks that might otherwise be repetitive or unable to talk to each other. It works like this: users are guided through a process to make simple scripts, aka “recipes,” where some type of event in one device or service automatically triggers an action in another. IFTTT is also completely free, and well supported. There are now more than 300 channels — which are what you reference when creating recipes — spread across a range of devices and services, including social networks, smart appliances, smart home systems, and devices such as weather stations, audio systems, and wearables.

Getting Started

Getting set up with IFTTT is not difficult, though it might be a good idea to head over to the service’s website and take a look at what it supports. While everyone will be able to make use of IFTTT’s social network connectivity, the real fun is if you have a smart device that supports the platform. Thankfully, a wide array of products support the service, including Fitbits, various Nest products, and a wide variety of smart home devices and appliances.

After heading to the IFTTT website, click the Sign Up link in the upper-right corner and enter the email and password you’d like to use. IFTTT will take you through a crash course on how to use the site, and then ask you to select three channels you’re interested in. As a tip, select channels of partners that you have accounts with — you’ll use these channels when making recipes. If you’d like, you can also select more than three, as well as click the Show more channels link to see other channels you might want to add. When you’re finished, click Continue, and you’ll see a page with various recipe recommendations based on your channel selections.

Using IFTTT

Now that you’ve signed up, take a look at the recipes. You’ll likely see some to link your social networks. This recipe, for example, lets you keep your Twitter and Facebook profile pictures in sync, while another allows you to automatically upload Facebook photos you’ve been tagged in to Google Drive. Pick the ones that interest you — how you use IFTTT really is up to you.

What I’ve found best in my own IFTTT experience is that it’s best to automate tasks that might be repetitive for you, or those that are just a pain in the you-know-where. For example, I have two recipes that do yeoman’s work to promote my writing. Both use DigitalTrend’s RSS feeds, and monitor it for new entries containing my name. When it sees a new entry, it automatically tweets the story on my Twitter feed, and publishes a post to my Facebook page. I used to have to do that manually, which took a lot of time.

Another recipe that I find pretty cool connects to my Strava account and builds a Google Spreadsheet of my workouts. I also you a recipe on the daily to share the time lapse from my Bloomsky webcam via Twitter. As you can see, the possibilities are almost endless.

Before you even start adding recipes, however, it’s a good idea to run through the 300+ channels and see how many you can add before you go nuts. As you add more channels, IFTTT’s channel recommendations will get better. There seems to be new channels added weekly, so keep checking back too.

How Well Does it Work?

My experience with IFTTT has been fairly trouble-free. Most of the suggested recipes work well without modifications, though some require a bit of fiddling to fit your needs. Creating recipes is basically a point-and-click affair, one that’s straightforward and allows ample room for customization. Be aware that some channels only work in one direction though, meaning they can trigger an action but not the other way around, or vice versa.

Also, give the recipes some time. Most of the connections between the social media services are nearly instantaneous, but I’ve waited for as long as a 30 minutes after an entry appears in the DT RSS feed for the posts to go out. IFTTT does not continuously check for these triggers, but instead, pings that service or device for the trigger you’ve set on a preset (but undisclosed) schedule.

There also are some negatives to IFTTT, too. You can only have one event trigger and one action. In some cases, you’d likely want to have more than one action, and with IFTTT that’s not possible. There are similar services that can do that — Stringify is the best option, in my experience — but these other services don’t have the extensive list of partners IFTTT has, so you’re currently stuck making multiple recipes.

Some Recipe Suggestions

Don’t fret if you’re looking for the perfect recipe to get you started — the service has its own recipe lists for you to peruse. Here are just a few of the best ones to check out.

Emerging Tech

Ant-inspired walking robot navigates without GPS by using polarized light

What do you get if you cross Boston Dynamics and Ant-Man? You get Antbot, a robot from the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) which uses ant-like navigation to move around without the aid of GPS.
Gaming

How you can share your best gaming moments with friends on the PS4

Check out Digital Trends' quick guide to everything you need to know to save your outstanding PlayStation 4 gameplay moments, share them online, and transfer them to your computer.
Computing

These 30 useful apps are absolutely essential for Mac lovers

There are literally hundreds of thousands of great software programs compatible with MacOS, but which should you download? Look no further than our list of the best Mac apps you can find.
Smart Home

Google Home Mini vs. Amazon Echo Dot: Which smart home speaker is better?

We put the two most popular smart home speakers -- the Google Home Mini and the 3rd generation Amazon Echo Dot -- together and tested them on appearance, audio, and abilities. So which should you buy? Find out how they did in our showdown.
Computing

Make a GIF of your favorite YouTube video with these great tools

Making a GIF from a YouTube video is easier today than ever, but choosing the right tool for the job isn't always so simple. In this guide, we'll teach you how to make a GIF from a YouTube video with our two favorite online tools.
Emerging Tech

InSight’s heat probe will dig 16 feet beneath the surface of Mars

New images from NASA's InSight mission to Mars have confirmed that the lander succeeded in setting the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package instrument onto the surface, from where a self-hammering spike will burrow downwards.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Grow veggies indoors and shower more efficiently

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

White spots on Ceres are evidence of ancient ice volcanoes erupting

Scientists are pouring over data collected by NASA's Dawn mission to learn about the dwarf planet Ceres and the bright white spots observed at the bottom of impact craters. They believe that these spots are evidence of ice volcanoes.
Emerging Tech

NASA to launch SPHEREx mission to investigate the origins of our universe

NASA is launching an ambitious mission to map the entire sky to understand the origins of the universe. The Spectro-Photometer for the History of the Universe, Epoch of Reionization and Ices Explorer (SPHEREx) mission will launch in 2023.
Emerging Tech

Probes exploring Earth’s hazardous radiation belts enter final phase of life

The Van Allen probes have been exploring the radiation belts around Earth for seven years. Now the probes are moving into the final phase of their exploration, coming closer to Earth to gather more data before burning up in the atmosphere.
Emerging Tech

How can digital art created on obsolete platforms be preserved?

As the lines between art and technology continue to blur, digital art experiences become more commonplace. But these developments are raising an important question for art conservationists: How should digital artworks be preserved?
Emerging Tech

Statistician raises red flag about reliability of machine learning techniques

Machine learning is everywhere in science and technology. But how reliable are these techniques really? A statistician argues that questions of accuracy and reproducibility of machine learning have not been fully addressed.
Emerging Tech

Chandra X-ray telescope uncovers evidence of the universe’s missing matter

Where is all of the matter in the universe? NASA's Chandra telescope has uncovered evidence of hot gas strands in the vicinity of a quasar which could explain the missing third of matter which has puzzled astronomers for years.
Emerging Tech

Wish you could fly? You totally can with these top-of-the-line drones

In just the past few years, drones have transformed from a geeky hobbyist affair to a full-on cultural phenomenon. Here's a no-nonsense rundown of the best drones you can buy right now, no matter what kind of flying you plan to do.