App development is stuck firmly in a recursive loop—"It’s like Facebook, but only for dogs," "it’s like Yelp, but for coke dealers"—and it's time for us all to stop, reflect, and take inventory of our current home screen. Why don’t we just get more utility out of the apps we have now?
That’s where IFTTT (If This Then That) comes in. If you've not used it before, IFTTT connects various channels (social media, email, websites, and so forth) to allow you to build simple, easy scripts, called "recipes," to automate regular tasks across multiple apps and platforms. Basically, IFTTT takes items that are already internet-backed, and gives them more internet, if that makes sense; it allows any barely tech-literate person (read: me) to feel like a computer engineer.
Why should you care? Well, the practical possibilities are pretty endless: You can automatically send a reminder text message to bring an umbrella depending on tomorrow’s forecast. You can easily create a recipe that automatically saves Instagram photos to a Dropbox folder. You can even get more specific, making sure every #tbt post is filed in the proper Throwback Thursday folder, if you organize your digital life in such a serial killer-like manner. To give you an idea of how much better your life could be if it was more automated, I've made a guide of key uses for IFTTT.
Let's a Couch
In a very practical and current example, I’m moving to a new apartment next Saturday. I’m using an IFTTT recipe with Craigslist that emails me whenever a couch is for sale in this neighborhood. I also found my new apartment with a similar recipe. (The subject of the email is customizable, so you can even include a funny subject if you so choose. Even though no one sees it, I did. Sometimes you have to do these things for yourself.)
You can use a recipe like this to make sure you’re the first one to know when an apartment hits the market, a free couch becomes available, or someone posts about a “suave, possibly Indian man seen at Bauhaus coffee shop” in Missed Connections.
If you want to know how IFTTT works, I would love to tell you. However, I’m not exactly sure. I know there is code involved, as well as electricity and the Internet. That’s the beauty of the app. IFTTT has packed away all the code powering the recipes, removing any intimidation that a command line may induce. While I’m sure there was a way to do this before IFTTT, it definitely wasn’t as easy. And what’s the point of technology if not everyone can use it?
How to Cope with Short Term Memory Loss
If you’re down with voice recognition, but Siri leaves you with something to be desired, this next recipe is extremely practical. You can call a number, leave a voicemail, and have your message sent back to you as text and .mp3 in an email. This is useful for anyone practicing a speech, stand-up routine, slam poetry, or conducting an interview.
Of course, practical applications only go so far before you become acclimated and completely take them for granted. Where IFTTT really shines, is its ability to automate the absurd.
Now You Can Avoid Work Automatically
Do you want to build an electronic paper trail while you’re absent from work? IFTTT can help with that.
With this recipe, you can set a trigger using iOS location and Twitter. If you’ve developed a drinking hobby to cope with the stress of work, you probably have a favorite bar that you frequent. Using IFTTT and location-based technology, you can automatically tweet “still at work!” (or whatever message you want) whenever you enter the vicinity of your favorite watering hole. That way, your Twitter feed will show you as an industrious and hardworking employee, instead of a degenerate alcoholic.
Avoid Your Friends
Have you ever faked a phone call in order to escape plans with someone? Me neither. But if I were to, IFTTT would make it criminally easy.
You can shoot a text to a number assigned to you by IFTTT, and it will reply with a phone call that plays a custom audio recording of your choosing. For example, if you’ve just made plans with a coworker but you’re instantly having second thoughts, you can call upon this recipe. You might be thinking that this is a lot of work to just flake on people, and it is. But think of it as an airbag. Obviously, you don’t want to use it. But you feel safe knowing it’s there.
Remember Your Dates
IFTTT doesn’t just help enable your antisocial tendencies. You can also write recipes to assist in your life as a social butterfly. Those Saturdays where you wake up wearing your jeans from the night before, sweating out whiskey, and wondering why you spent everything in your bank account—well, you're on your own there. However, IFTTT can tell you who you met last night.
With this recipe, you can get an email whenever you add a contact to your iPhone. This can remind you to give the girl or guy you met last night a call. You might have even made plans for lunch today. Who knows? IFTTT is an app, not a matchmaker. You still have to figure some shit out for yourself.
End Selfies Forever
IFTTT can even help you be the best version of yourself. Have you become addicted to taking pictures of yourself? Why not write a recipe to fix that?
With this recipe, an Instagram post with a #selfie tag will automatically trigger an email to your boss with your written resignation. If that won’t stop you, nothing will. You may think that using another web app to curb your use of another app is counterintuitive, but I would urge you to shut up.
Start a New Life in a Foreign Country
Are you the passive-aggressive type, and simply quitting your job won’t cut it? Do you want to skip out to Costa Rica, but still cash as many checks from your old work as possible before they figure out you've left? Let’s use IFTTT to disappear. (Our legal team says that you should not actually do this.) This one requires a bit of legwork, because the good people at IFTTT apparently didn’t have this task in mind when creating their product.
First, you'll want to build out relationships with a few (completely fake) loved ones on social media, whose feeds can be automatically populated using IFTTT threads tailored to each person's personality. Once you've got a significant other and a couple friends who tweet at each other automatically about the latest trending hashtag, your prying boss will be convinced they're real. Now it's your time to disappear.
Once you're on a beach somewhere, you can use your fake friends and a few key recipes—posting news to your Facebook, emailing automated and inane status updates to your coworkers, Foursquare check-ins in your old cities—to confuse your old boss into thinking you haven't ditched the office, and that you're still REALLY busy. (Sample: If @FakeFriend tweets "hang tonight?" you respond "sorry, big proposal due.") If you can hold on until the next paycheck—or hell, maybe three!—it'll be margarita time.
But eventually, your boss is going to catch on, which means, depending on extradition treaties, you might have someone wondering where all that money went. This recipe uses the date and time and SMS functions to send a custom text to your phone at a designated time—without spending money on international texting charges! Just save the IFTTT phone number as whatever contact you want, leave your phone at your desk at work, and whip up this quick recipe.
You can change this message and time every day, but the key is to flood your phone with texts from your fake friends about your whereabouts; eventually, your boss will check out your Twitter and Facebook, and see a bunch of concerned people mourning your death.
Hopefully, your boss will chalk up your disappearance as a loss, hire someone else, and move on. You lost your phone in the process, but that’s a small price to pay for freedom, is it not? Of course, this could backfire and your manager calls the police to search for you. Now, we don't recommend using IFTTT in ways that could send you to jail; in fact, we'd rather you didn't. But hey, if you did, at least the whole thing would be automated.