Scott Hanselman

Essential IFTTT (IfThisThenThat) - Programming Workflows for Humans using the Web's Social Glue

September 14, 2011 Comment on this post [15] Posted in Blogging | Tools
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There's hundreds of channels to plug into with IFTTTWow, every once in a while an app or website comes along that smacks me in the face. Not just a regular "Hey, that's cool" smack, but more of a "Duh, I should have made that and I would have had a license to print unlimited money and now those guys have already done it and no one will ever know my secret brilliance but they did it and I have no money but I should still tell everyone because they are awesome" smack in the face.

IfThisThenThat should be the next big thing on the social web. It's bloody brilliant.

Here's the dull description I made for nerds:

IFTTT is a cloud-based open-ended web workflow creator building on existing social APIs to create more sophisticated distributed aggregated tasks.

Here's my description for non-technical friend:

IfThisThenThat lets all your online stuff work together to do way more interesting stuff.

There are Channels, like Craigslist, Feeds, Twitter, etc. Those are places that data can come from or go to. There are triggers that a different for each kind of channel. One might be "the temperature goes over 100" or "I tweet something with a @mention" and then you can take action. You can combine them in any way you want.

Here's an example that I'll make right here as I blog. Let's say I want FourSquare checkins to show up in my Google Calendar. Didn't know you wanted to do that? ;) Oh, you do.

It's the magic of OAuth and the proliferation of nice, clean public APIs that makes this possible. As I add the FourSquare Channel to IFTTT, I authorize it to have access to my FourSquare data. I'm not giving them my FourSquare password, though, so I can always revoke access later if I like.

Any new checkin?

I'll select Any new check-in...then I'll select what to do from that same huge list of Channels:

What a huge list of channels!

I'll authorize Google Calendar in the same way, then the REALLY nice part shows up. Templated actions. Yes. I can add text from a dictionary of {{Addins}} (although I think that's a poor name from these {{Keywords}}, but whatever). This way I get complete control of what gets added.

Lots of Action Fields to choose from

I'm sure they'll include more documentation and details on what data is available to be passed between Channels.

Now, bask in the programming of it all. Bam.

If any new checkin on foursquare, add it to Google Calendar

Some examples are amazing in their elegant simplicity. Why is IFTT a great idea? Because it's an ideavirus. It fills a vacuum in your web experience you may not have even known existed. And now that you do, you won't be able to live without it.

If Scott blogs something, send the link to Instapaper to be read later

Hanselman to Instapaper IFTTT recipe

If MSFT stock goes above 30, email me.

Email me if our stock goes up

No, text me!

Text me if our stock goes up

That's better. Now, if I tweet something that is not a @Reply or RT, also post it to my Facebook Page:

Put new tweets on my Facebook Page

If I take any pictures and post them on Instagram, also save a copy in DropBox for me.

Download Instagram photos and save them in DropBox

Hey, you can do stuff with DropBox? Sometimes I find a file while on my phone but I can't download it. If I email you a link, save it to my DropBox, OK?

Save emailed links to DropBox

And, if I favorite something with a link, make sure to send a copy of that link to Instapaper.

Send twitter favorites to Instapaper

I know I tend to be hyperbolic, but this is cool like Yahoo Pipes was cool, except people without a PhD can use it. This is going to be huge.

There's a few interface quirks, like it's unclear how to make a new recipe (you make a task first, then click inspect task (an unlabeled arrow) there's an another unlabeled button that looks like a pharmacist's mortar and pestle (mixing UX metaphors between recipes and prescriptions) and you can create a recipe there.Still, these are nits. The workflows is there and I LOVE the giant iconography, clean typefaces, and above all, the sense of empowerment.

If you are on the interwebs and have a maze of social accounts, you need to seriously spend time time drinking in the wonder and the magic of IFTTT. It's gonna be massive. You heard it here. Now, go.

*hat tip to Rob Conery for turning me onto this!

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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September 14, 2011 3:50
Whoa, this is mind blowing. What really turned me on was the ability to seamlessly maintain a backup of all the memories in my life. The to dropbox link is genius! A huge block of psychic weight has just been lifted knowing that my pictures of my children and beautiful wife will not go to the cloud without a backup medium.
September 14, 2011 3:52
Very cool, and I like the comparison to Yahoo Pipes. Pipes is damn useful, and can do much more than this can, but it's got a learning curve. Will definitely be playing with this.
September 14, 2011 4:15
This is incredibly cool. It's not just fun, but it's actually useful, such as following tweets with e certain #hashtag, send them to my mailbox so I never miss interesting tweets.
I could have come up with this myself ;) Genius!
September 14, 2011 4:21
Solid, simple execution of a complicated idea. Great example of providing the simplest thing that can possibly work.

However, I don't think it's going to be quite as big as Scott does, only because I don't think very many people are as active with the API-enabled web as Scott is. My parents won't care about this, not until they have a particular problem that this can solve for them easily and I point this site out as the solution.

And then they'll have one action; which I help them write.
September 14, 2011 5:10
I agree it's cool and fun and easy to use (I think even my wife could create tasks with it). The only thing that's really missing is connecting tasks together. Once they have AND and OR conditions that allow you to link tasks together you can get into some very funky workflow scenarios, approaching the level of some applications. Add to that the ability to tie into the system through an API and you can offer this up as a consumable service to users. However it still is cool and fun. Thanks for the link!
September 14, 2011 9:48
That is really neat, thank you for sharing.
September 14, 2011 10:02
I have one for you :)
If "Chinese app purchased on iTunes" then "suspend iTunes account" :)
September 14, 2011 10:26
that's the coolest thing I've seen after twitter! thanks Scott for sharing this wonderful piece of information!
September 14, 2011 11:08
You know why this will be successful? Because the syntax looks just like VB and everybody loves VB.
September 14, 2011 19:32
I've started a proposal on StackExchange for users of, anyone care to provide some sample questions?
September 14, 2011 20:39
Services like this, albeit not as elegant, have come and gone. comes to mind as a similarly useful service that is now gone.

Also, it might be tough to get anyone to pay for this type of service.
September 14, 2011 23:15
Love the idea. Not sure 95% of the population will know an if then from a hole if the ground though - even with a simple interface. I like it, its just that I haven't been able to explain what I do to about 95% of the people I meet.
September 22, 2011 20:46
wow. I agree with @Michael that this isn't yet ready for the average user. Still, I feel like I'm seeing a part of the future here. Really, I shouldn't have to manage stuff on 26 different platforms or social networks -- I should have one console or dashboard that pulls stuff in from wherever it lives and sends stuff out to wherever I want it to go. This is just the beginning.
January 29, 2012 1:13
What a great feature for social media aggregators. Just think if integrated this (they have the credentials set-up already) and drop contents to skydrive or whatever.
January 30, 2012 20:26
I can't believe you left out ebay and craigslist integration? Just imagine the possibilities?

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.