How To Supercharge All Your Favorite Web Apps With Ifttt

Wouldn’t it be handy if every time someone tagged a photo of you on Facebook, that pic were automatically added to your Dropbox folder? If items you starred in Google Reader were automatically added to Instapaper or Read It Later? Or if you received a text message whenever it was going to rain? If This Then That (ifttt) is a brilliant web service that let’s you plug information from one service into another.It allows you to link all your favourite web apps to create super-charged integration between tools like Gmail, Dropbox, Instapaper, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Foursquare, and oh-so-much more. Here’s how to use ifttt to get more from your online life.

How ifttt Works

The service can feel a little tough to grasp when you first dig into it, but it’s actually very simple. You can use ifttt in two different ways:

  • Create custom Tasks. Tasks allow you to create a work flow based on some sort of conditional statement (the pillar of all programming!). “If [this thing happens on one service] , then [do that on another service] .” For example, “If I post a new photo to Instagram, then download it to Dropbox.”
  • Use pre-made Recipes are simply pre-built tasks made by other users that you can add to your ifttt account.
  • In the section below I’ll walk through how to create a task from start to finish; then I’ll highlight some of my favourite pre-made ifttt recipes that you can start using in a couple of clicks, no setup required. (If you prefer, you can just jump straight to the recipes, though I’d recommend reading through how to create a task so you understand the basics.)

    How to Create an ifttt Task

    As I mentioned above (and as the service’s name implies), a task is made of an If … Then … statement. Put in ifttt terms, If trigger, then action. The trigger and action are the building blocks of ifttt tasks, and you define them using available channels.

    ifttt channels are made up of the services ifttt supports, like Dropbox, Evernote, Facebook, RSS feeds, Flickr, Foursquare, Gmail, Google Reader, Instagram, Instapaper, SMS, Twitter, and so on. You can see all of ifttt‘s 35 (currently) supported channels here.

    To wrap your head around how to create a custom task on ifttt, let’s create a simple task on ifttt that automatically downloads Facebook pictures you’re tagged in and stores them in your Dropbox folder. (This task is available as a recipe in the section below, but it’s a good example, so I’ll walk through how to make it yourself first.

    Navigate to ifttt‘s Create a task page (you’ll need to sign up if you haven’t already). ifttt holds your hand through the task creation process, so when you first visit the task creation page, you’ll see this:

    Step One: Choose a Trigger Channel

    Click the bold this and ifttt will display this channel picker:

    You want to trigger this task whenever someone tags a photo of you on Facebook, so Facebook will be your trigger channel. Click Facebook. (If this is the first time you’ve used the Facebook channel, you’ll need to authorise the Facebook channel.)

    Step Two: Choose a Trigger

    Next you’ll see all the possible Facebook triggers built into ifttt. Your options are:

    • New status message by you
    • You post a new link
    • You upload a new photo
    • You are tagged in a photo
    • Your profile changes

    You can create tasks that are triggered by any of those Facebook actions, but for the purpose of this action, we want the You are tagged in a photo action, so click that.

    Step Three: Complete Trigger Fields

    At this step, you can define trigger fields specific to certain channels. Our Facebook trigger doesn’t have any trigger fields (there are no possible variables; it’s triggered whenever you’re tagged in a photo). When you’re using other channels, like the RSS channel, for example, you’d paste a URL you want to watch in this step. (I’ll explain a little more about how fields work in step six below.) Since this trigger has no trigger fields, just click Create Trigger. If all went well, you should see this:

    Congrats! You’ve successfully defined your trigger. Now to define the action that follows the trigger. For our task, that means placing the tagged photo into a folder in Dropbox. Click the big blue “that” link to define your action.

    Step Four: Choose an Action Channel

    Now it’s time to pick the channel that will react to our trigger. For our example, as you’d expect, the action channel is Dropbox. So click the Dropbox icon. Again, if this is the first time you’re using Dropbox as an ifttt channel, you’ll need to authorise it.

    Step Five: Choose an Action

    Dropbox only has one possible action: Add file from URL. Good news! That’s exactly what we want! So click Add file from URL and move on to the next step.

    Step Six: Complete Action Fields

    If you recall, the tagged photos trigger from our Facebook channel didn’t have any fields. Dropbox, on the other hand, does have fields that you need to fill out: The URL of the file you want to add to Dropbox and the folder inside Dropbox where you want to store your tagged photos.

    ifttt is smart (brilliant, even), so it already has the action fields filled out so that the File URL is defined as the tagged photo URL on Facebook — which is exactly what you want. It does this using “Addins” that are supplied by default when you choose the Facebook tagged photos trigger. ifttt knows that if that’s your trigger, it can supply the action with several attributes. For the Facebook tagged photos trigger, you can use any of the following information in your action fields:

    • Uploaded by
    • Fb Photo URL (a link to the page on Facebook where the photo is visible)
    • Photo Small URL (a shrunk down, thumbnail version of your picture)
    • Photo Source URL (this is the URL to the full image — and it’s what we’re using for File URL, defined by the {{ImageSource}} text you see in the File URL input)
    • Photo Caption
    • Uploaded Date

    So keep File URL as is. You can set the Dropbox folder path input to whatever you like. By default, it’s going to create an ifttt/facebook/tagged folder inside the root of your Dropbox folder. You can change this to whatever you want.

    A note on addins: If you wanted, you could use an addin to, for example, place images in folders based on who took the pic. To do that (and for the purpose of illustration for how you might use addins), click the Dropbox folder path input, click the Addins drop-down, and select Uploaded by. You’ll see a description of what the addin text will look like, and if you click the blue Addin tag, ifttt will append the addin to your input. You’ll notice in this addin example, the Dropbox folder path becomes ifttt/facebook/tagged/{{From}}; if I tagged a photo of you, you’d see it in your Dropbox folder at ifttt/facebook/tagged/Adam Pash

    Once you’ve got your action fields all filled out, click Create Action.

    Step Seven: Activate Your Task

    You’ve officially created your first task. High five, baby! At this step you can add a description of your task. Descriptions are particularly useful if you want to share it as a recipe for others to reuse. When you’re all finished, click Create.

    That’s all there is to it. ifttt will check each trigger every 15 minutes; every time a trigger returns true (in this case, whenever you’re tagged in a new photo on Facebook), it’ll execute the action (sync the photo to Dropbox).

    Step Eight: Turn Your Task into a Recipe (Optional)

    If you want to share your brilliant task with the world, you can turn it into a recipe. To do so, visit your tasks page and click the task you want to make into a recipe. On the task page, click the recipe icon (it looks like a mortar and pestle).

    Give your recipe a description if you like, edit any of the fields, and create your recipe. Yum.

    My 10 Favourite ifttt Recipes

    Now you know how to create tasks. Awesome! You can scratch a lot of itches by smashing together various channels and using your imagination, but you can also enjoy brilliant recipes other ifttt users have already made. Here are some of my favorites:

    Note: Click the image to go straight to the recipe. You may also notice my name in these images; when you activate the recipe, that’ll all display your information.

    Download Facebook tagged photos to Dropbox

    Text me if it’s going to rain

    Greet new Twitter followers with a direct message

    Save all Instagram photos to Dropbox

    Send Google Reader starred items to Instapaper

    Put Foursquare check-ins on your Google Calendar

    Sync Instagram pics to a Facebook album

    Remotely download a torrent by sending a link in an email

    Send an IM to ifttt, get an easy-excuse phone call

    Post your Instagram pics to Flickr

    It’s no coincidence that most of my favourites rank high on ifttt‘s most popular recipes page. Browse through the newest to check out of the more niche recipes, or just to see some of the less obvious uses that haven’t risen to the top.

    Absurdly Specific

    Most recipes have pretty broad uses, but you can use the service to fill really specific needs, too. I’ve created a recipe that IMs me whenever someone creates a new ifttt recipe so I can keep track of new tasks I might want to try out.

    How Are You Using ifttt?

    If This Then That is full of potential, which is why people like me love it so much. Whether you’ve been playing with it since we first covered it last week or today’s the first you’ve tried it out, let’s hear about the interesting ways you’re using it in the comments.

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