by Mark Gibbs

Simple Tech Tasks Made Easy with “Ifttt”

Nov 28, 20114 mins
Consumer ElectronicsIT Leadership

Looking for an easy way to get simple technology tasks done, that doesn't require any IT intervention? blogger Mark Gibbs has a solution: Ifttt.

Sometimes you just want to do something IT oriented that should be really easy, but for a couple of reasons probably won’t be if you get IT involved.

The first reason is that unless you have some serious corporate political clout, it’s going to take time and effort to get any attention and get your project going.


You’ll have to go through “channels”, schedule a meeting with someone techie. If or when you get that meeting, you’ll need to explain what you want. Then you’ll be told you need to write a requirements document. After you write the document, you’ll have to schedule another meeting in which you’ll most likely be told that your requirements document makes no sense and be told how you should have written it, and…well, you get the idea. It’s all going to take a long time.

The second reason is that once you’ve got IT to agree that they know what you want (even if you really do “need” it, they’ll probably see it as a “want”) and get budget approval, your simple project will then join the queue. This could result in you getting your “want” fulfilled sometime in the next decade. If you’re lucky.

All that for something simple, such as having an e-mail message sent periodically to a particular address, is just ridiculous.

A friend of mine had exactly this problem because the e-mail service where he worked was unreliable and the admins never noticed when the service stopped working. His idea was to have some external source send him an email every ten or twenty minutes so he could catch outages.

This is exactly the kind of simple task that most IT groups absolutely won’t be interested in. Should you seek a service like the one my friend needed, you might want to check out “If This Then That,” otherwise called “Ifttt.”

Ifttt has a very simple interface: On the Ifttt website you click on “Start a new task” then select the “trigger channel” – that’s the “this” part – from a list that includes “Date & Time”.

Other channels in the list include looking for new additions to a Craigslist searc or sending an e-mail message to Ifttt, along with whatever operations are relevant for other channels including Dropbox, Facebook, Feed, Flickr, Foursquare, Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Reader, Instagram, SMS, Stocks, Tumblr, Twitter, Vimeo, Weather, WordPress, and YouTube. You can even make leaving a voicemail on the Ifttt service be a trigger.

The “Date & Time” channel triggers can be set for specific times each day, once an hour or a specific quarter hour, selected weekdays at a specific time, every month on a specific day and time, and every year on a specific date and time, etc.

In my friend’s case he chose the quarter-hour option. The next step was to select a “that”–the action that corresponds with the “this” he already selected.

Again, there’s a list of “action channels” that includes sending a file to Dropbox, making a phone call, sending text, posting to a WordPress blog, Evernote, LinkedIn, or Tumblr and sending e-mail.

For e-mail you set the subject and the message body (the only e-mail address you can send to is your own for obvious reasons). Text fields in many action channels can use “add ins” which are data from the trigger event such as the time.

You can make any task a “recipe”, essentially a template for a specific task, which you can share with other people or use to make variants of the task for yourself.

So, if my friend wanted a message every 30 minutes so he made his task a recipe and used it to create a new task. In the new task he filled in the various configuration details changing the trigger time from on the hour to 30 minutes later.

Voila! My friend now has two tasks that together send him e-mail every 30 minutes.

You can read my review of Iftt from earlier this year but I’d also just advise you to just go and play with the service. It’s very easy to use, well-designed, and–did I mention?–it’s free!

If you try out Ifttt or already use it, please let me know what you use it for and what you think. It’s a lot easier than asking IT to do something simple, isn’t it?

And if you’re in IT, I have just made your life a little bit easier. You’re welcome.