Connect any two of your favorite web apps in creative ways. A sort of “digital duct tape” according to Linden Tibbets, the app’s creator, If This Then That (ifttt) lets you find new uses for web apps you’re already using by making it easy for you to combine them. The vision is to make the digital world, where programs exist in isolation, more like the physical world, where we combine things to make other things all the time.
“When a 12 year old wants a lightsaber,” says Tibbets, “[he] cuts the handle off an old broom and shoves a bike grip on the other end.” Similarly, with iftt, “you can take two things in the digital world and combine them in ways the original creators never imagined.”
What kinds of combinations are possible? Any RSS feed can be automatically tweeted. New results for searches on Craigslist can be emailed or SMS’d to you. You can be notified by text message when certain people email you. Your tweets can be automatically added to a Google calendar, giving you a timeline of your life. Basically, any action on the web can be assigned a reaction in order to automate a web application. It’s the one ring you need to bind all your isolated web apps.
A Simple Sentence
So how does this all work? Basically you pick two things: a trigger and a resulting action. For example, check out this sequence:
This setup automatically tweets any item I share in Google Reader, along with my comments. The trigger is me sharing something on Google Reader, and the action is a tweet linking to the shared article. Once I’ve set this up with ifttt I can expect anything I share to automatically be tweeted.
That’s the idea here – automation. It all starts with a simple sentence:
To get started, click the word “this.” You’ll be asked to choose the program you want to use for the trigger:
There’s a lot to choose from. For example, we could pick the weather app and make the action a prediction for rain tomorrow:
With our trigger selected, we can pick an action. For example, we could set ifttt to call us with the weather update:
With the “this” and the “that” set, we now have a complete command:
Every time tomorrow’s forecast calls for rain I’ll get a phone call telling me so.
This is one of thousands of combinations, of course. I could get an SMS, email or Facebook message instead of a phone call; I could even have the news saved to my Dropbox. All of these items are called channels, and are easy to add to the service.
Explore this and you’ll find thousands of possibilities. I can get a phone call when a certain person mentions me on Facebook, or when an item I want on Craigslist is on sale. I can automatically send everything I tweet to Facebook, and vice-versa. I can set up a hotel-style wakeup call.
I could think of many more examples, but you really need to play with this tool yourself to appreciate all it can do.
Head to the Channels section of the service and you’ll see a collection of apps:
Color apps are already activated; black and white ones need some attention from you. Click them to activate. You’ll probably need to give ifttt permission to access your various services, which can take a while. Don’t worry, it’s more than worth it.
Browsing Other Recipes
Like this in principle, but aren’t sure what sort of commands you’d create? You can browse other people’s commands. They are called recipes, and can really get your creative juices flowing:
Explore the recipes for a while and you’ll get a solid idea of what’s possible with this tool.
As of September 2011, the following channels are supported:
- Date & Time
- Facebook Pages
- RSS Feeds
- Google Calendar
- Google Reader
- Google Talk
- Phone Call
- Read It Later
I sincerely hope more are on the way, particularly Remember The Milk.
Ready to get started? Just head to ifttt.com and register for an account. This is that rare web app that’s so amazingly useful I find myself stunned it didn’t already exist. The ability to make web apps interact with each other directly is just one more reason the operating system just doesn’t matter anymore .
What cool recipes did you come up with? Share them in the comments below, along with your thoughts about ifttt.