Automate with “If This Then That”

IFTTT (pronounced pronounced like gift without the g) is a service that lets you connect different services using simple recipes in the form of If/Then statements — if this thing happens, do that thing. You set these up by using shared recipes or creating your own through the IFFT site’s beautifully simple interface, no code required. There’s a good, simple overview of the process on the About IFFFT page.

The site is built around Channels, most of which are various websites that provide access to their system through an API (Application Programming Interface, a way for computer systems to interact without users going through the interface. Some of the popular channels include Flickr, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Google Calendar and Dropbox, while others are basic actions on your system like the date and time, sending texts, making phone calls and accessing iOS photos.

Each service has a set of triggers and/or actions that can be connected in different ways. For example, you can set up a recipe so that every time you upload a public picture to your library’s Flickr account, a copy of the original photo is saved to the library’s Dropbox account. (This could be handy if several different people upload to the Flickr account and you want to make sure you have backup copies of all the images.) You can do the same thing with other sites like Facebook or Instagram, and in addition to DropBox IFTTT supports Google Drive or other similar services. Most recipes can be set up on the website, but to access some some triggers, you’ll need to add the IFFT app to your mobile device. For example, I set up the IFFT app on my iPad to copy every new screenshot I make on the iPad to a special folder on in Dopbox so I can easily access them while working with PowerPoint on my laptop.

There are eighty different channels, most of which have multiple triggers and actions, so there are lots of different combinations to try. Right now the ESPN Winter Olympics is a channel, and you can set up all kinds of recipes, including one that posts a Tweet when a particular country wins a gold medal, and one that automatically updates a Google spreadsheet for a country’s medals.

IFTTT: ESPN Winter Olympics

As a librarian, my favorite recipe is one that sends me an e-mail message every time a title is added to one of the New York Times Bestsellers lists. I could just as easily set this up to send me a text, send the news out on Twitter, or add the book’s information to a spreadsheet.


This screencast shows how simple it is to set this up:

Using IFTTT makes me wish we could interact this easily with with our library system! NOBLE uses the Evergreen open source library system, which also uses triggers and actions to handle a lot of tasks, but they are certainly not as simple to set up, monitor and manage as the recipes on IFTTT. I wish we had a web-based interface similar to IFFT with triggers and actions for both staff and patrons. Staff could set up all sorts of alerts and have the system automatically create and add to spreadsheets. Instead of “When the U.S. wins a medal ad the information to a spreadsheet called Winter Olympics U.S. Medals” I want to be able to say “When my library has a copy with the location Biographies that is 60 days overdue, add it to a spreadsheet called Biography Replacements.” Or perhaps it could go ahead and create a purchase order for approval. Library users could set up all sorts of things “When a new book with a subject that contains “Origami” is added to my library’s collection, send me an e-mail message, place a hold for me, and add it to my bookbag called Japanese Arts.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *