Review: IFTTT connects social media, photo and other Web services

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At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder IFTTT

Think of social media—and the Web in general, really—as a game of dominoes: One action creates an entire range of reactions. That's what makes it so powerful...and so time-consuming, especially for those people who are trying to update a constant stream of information on multiple social media accounts. But IFTTT tries to make this easier by allowing you to link Web services, so doing something on one triggers the rest. It is a free service that's a lot like its name: a little bit confusing until you understand just how simple and useful it is.

IFTTT (it's pronounced like "gift" without the "g") stands for If This Then That. And that basically describes what IFTTT does: when one thing happens, IFTTT lets you create an automatic reaction. You could, for example, use IFTTT so that you'll receive a text message whenever someone posts a picture of you on Facebook. Or to receive an email if the weather forecast calls for rain. Or automatically save a copy of a photo to Dropbox whenever one is posted to Instagram.

IFTTT's neat, clean interface makes the service easy to use.

To use IFTTT, you simply create a free account with your email address. Then, you can get started building IFTTT recipes. IFTTT works on the basis of channels, which are what it calls the basic building blocks of its recipes. Channels are things like Facebook, Evernote, Email, Weather, Buffer, Craigslist, and more—there are 59 channels currently available.

To create a recipe, you select the first channel and then the trigger (the "this" part of IFTTT). Once the channel is selected, IFTTT displays applicable triggers. When I selected Etsy as my channel, available triggers were things like "new purchased item" or "new item in shop."

After selecting the trigger, you select the channel and the action (the "that"). The same 59 channels are available as the action channels; once you select one, you activate (if it's not already active) and then choose the action from the available choices.

Once you select the channel and the action, you can customize it using what IFTTT calls Ingredients. These ingredients are pieces of data from the trigger. For Etsy, the ingredients could be the Etsy URL and the price. For Facebook, the ingredients could be a photo caption and the image source. You use these ingredients to customize the resulting action, such as sending a text message or email, or posting a status update to Facebook.

IFTTT lets you customize any messages it sends or posts by adding "ingredients," which can be a bit confusing.

Once all the pieces are in place, you can save your recipe by giving it a name. Recipes can be kept private or shared with the entire IFTTT community—and IFTTT does have plenty of shared recipes to give you ideas or the building blocks for creating your own. (When you share a recipe, you're not sharing access to your personal data; anyone who accesses the recipe only gets the basic steps, and then fills in their own personal data to make it work for them.) When you select a channel, you'll have to give IFTTT access to your account, which usually involves either linking accounts or granting certain permissions. This process was simple and painless with all of the channels I tested.

Using IFTTT is actually a lot easier than explaining it, though the service is definitely not perfect. I was, for example, slightly disappointed with the result of one of my recipes. I set up a recipe where I would get a text message whenever a photo of me was tagged on Facebook. I set the action channel—the text message I'd receive—to include ingredients like caption, image source, upload date, and uploaded by. I was hoping to receive a detailed message with the photo and all of the data I'd requested. Instead, I got a link to view the photo online (not on Facebook)—and only the photo, not any of the other info I'd requested. The message format makes sense (given that it was an SMS, not MMS), but that SMS still could have included the additional details about the photo that I'd requested.

I was more impressed with my other IFTTT recipes, though, and I was definitely amused by some of the shared recipes available on the site. One user created a recipe that will alert him via SMS if the CDC reports a zombie outbreak, while another user created one that automatically uploads any photo he posts to Facebook to Picasa, too.  These two recipes sum up the appeal of IFTTT: it's fun and pretty darn useful, too.

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At a Glance
  • Ifttt is a free, fun service that lets you build interesting connections between various pieces of the Web.


    • Clever, fun and useful service
    • Lots of options


    • Text messaging feature didn't quite live up to expectations
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