Getting Started with IFTTT

IFTTT, which is short for If This Then That, is a web-based service that allows users to create simple recipes to control web-connected devices and services. I’ve talked about IFTTT quite a bit on my podcast, but one of the comments I receive regularly is that people just don’t quite not how to get started, or aren’t sure how IFTTT can fit in their life. To help, I thought I’d give some basic examples of how I’m using IFTTT.

To explain IFTTT, we first have to understand the terminology and concepts behind the service. IFTTT is made up of dozens “channels” representing various devices and services that can be connected via the IFTTT. Many popular Internet-connected devices and web services have IFTTT channels. When you string these services together using IFTTT you are creating a “recipe.” Each channel then has a number of “triggers” - or the “this” or input part of the recipe - that cause “actions” - or the “that” or output part of the recipe.

For example, a simple IFTTT recipe might say: If I’m tagged in a photo on Facebook, then download that photo to my dropbox. This possible because Facebook and Dropbox are both supported channels on IFTTT and tagging a photo on Facebook is a supported trigger, while downloading something to Dropbox is a supported action.

Once you get the hang of how IFTTT recipes can be strung together you can start using IFTTT to automate the way you interact with your various Internet connected devices and services. However, it can sometimes be difficult to get started with IFTTT. To help you get started, I thought I’d devote this article to a couple of everyday examples of how I use IFTTT in my life.

For the Connected Home

I have a few internet connected devices at my home, including Phillip Hue bulbs, WeMo switches, a Nest thermostat and a Ring doorbell. While these devices don’t natively interact with each other, they all of these devices have channels on IFTTT.

One of the simplest series of recipes is I use on IFTTT is to turn my Hue lights on and off based on certain times of day or events. For example, I have a light in my Foyer that I like to turn on at 5:45 a.m. and off when the sunrises. I can do this by creating two simple IFTTT recipes connecting the Date/Time and the Weather IFTTT channels to the Hue channel. One recipe turns the light on at 5:45 while the other turns the light off at sunset.

This recipe turns off the light in my foyer when the sun rises.

This recipe turns off the light in my foyer when the sun rises.

You can also connect Internet-connected devices to each other. For example, when my Ring doorbell senses motion outside my door or someone rings the doorbell, I have an IFTTT recipe that will turn on the Hue light on my front porch. This not only gives the appearance that someone is home, but also illuminates the porch so I can have a better view of who may be at the door.

This recipe turns on the front porch light when my Ring doorbell detects motion.

This recipe turns on the front porch light when my Ring doorbell detects motion.

Finally, I have a web-connected security camera in my home that allows me to keep an eye on things while I’m away. Although the camera is in a public area of the home, I don’t like the idea of the camera being on while I’m home. Therefore I’ve connected it to a Belkin WeMo switch so I can cut power to the camera and know that it’s off when I’m at home. In addition to being able to toggle the power to the camera on and off manually using the WeMo app, I can also setup a few IFTTT triggers to ensure the camera is off when I’m at home.

One way I do this is if my Nest thermostat is set to Home, then IFTTT will automatically turn off the WeMo connected to my camera.

This recipe turns off the WeMo connected to my home camera when my Nest is set to "home"

This recipe turns off the WeMo connected to my home camera when my Nest is set to "home"

ikewise, the IFTTT App also has the ability to use your location as a trigger. Therefore I’ve also setup a location based trigger so if my location is at or near my home, the WeMo attached to the camera will turn off.

This recipe turns off the WeMo connected to my home camera when it detects my location is nearby.

This recipe turns off the WeMo connected to my home camera when it detects my location is nearby.

For Personal Use

I also use IFTTT to make my things in my personal life a little easier. One simple use case for IFTTT is to receive a notification in the case of a specific weather event. Because IFTTT has access to a weather channels and can trigger notifications on my iPhone it can be configured to send me a notification to my iOS device every morning in the event rain is expected. This way I never get caught leaving the house without an umbrella.

This recipe gives me a notification if tomorrow's forecast calls for rain

This recipe gives me a notification if tomorrow's forecast calls for rain

Another fun use of IFTTT is keeping me current on sporting events. You see, I don’t care a thing about sports. However, I live in a college town where Football is king and I have to have a general awareness of how the local team did from week-to-week. I also have a cousin who plays professionally for the Atlanta Falcons and while I don’t regularly follow their games, I do like to know if the Falcons won or lost on any given week. ESPEN has an IFTTT channel so I can receive notifications on my iPhone when particular team I follow finishes a game.

This recipe gives me a notification of the final score of the Atlanta Falcon's game.

This recipe gives me a notification of the final score of the Atlanta Falcon's game.

Finally, I use IFTTT to keep my various social network updated. You can use the IFTTT services to cross-post from one social media service to another or to automatically post on your behalf when certain events happen such as an when an RSS feed is updated. For example, IFTTT automatically updates the Mac Power Users Facebook and Twitter accounts anytime our RSS feed is updated with a new episode of our podcast.

This recipe updates the Mac Power Users Twitter feed every time a new podcast is posted.

This recipe updates the Mac Power Users Twitter feed every time a new podcast is posted.

Hopefully this has given you a few ideas of how you can get started with IFTTT. There are dozens of channels with new ones being added each week. Hopefully you can find a way to use IFTTT to put the web to work for you.

*This article first appeared in the April Issue of ScreencastsOnline Monthly Magazine. ScreenCastsOnline monthly magazine is packed with hints, tips, articles and links to streamable versions of ScreenCastsOnline tutorials and delivered monthly via Newsstand on the iPad. You can find out more at https://www.screencastsonline.com/membership_benefits/