IRL: Letting IFTTT automate my life

IRL: Letting IFTTT automate my life

I've come to rely on different services to help power me through the day: Foursquare to find new coffee shops, Pocket for my reading habits and Instagram and Flickr for photo sharing. As great as these apps are, though, I find myself wishing they could do more -- especially when it comes to how they all talk to each other. Being programming-inclined, I've been turning to If This Then That (IFTTT) to connect these various services, as well as automate some of my more basic tasks.

While IFTTT offers a lot of ways to crosspost to various networks, I've found it valuable for archival purposes, especially combined with Evernote's powerful search. I like to keep logs of places I check into, along with a list of my favorite articles from around the web. Foursquare and Pocket can both do this, but there's always that small chance the service will go away or shifts focus. Plus, their search capabilities aren't as feature-rich; you can't even use tags, for instance. And while I'm not crazy about Evernote's note-taking capability, it's great for archiving and searching. With just a few clicks I can save and tag my activity -- metadata and all -- inside a labeled Evernote notebook. This makes it easier for me to remember the awesome little breakfast nook we found when visiting Bar Harbor a few years ago. Not a huge fan of Evernote and like Drive better? No problem: IFTTT supports Drive, too.

I got particularly good use out of IFTTT a few months ago when I was searching for a new place to live. I have two dogs and they've never had a yard to play in, so having outdoor space became a big priority for my wife and me. Unfortunately, our part of New Jersey doesn't have many pet-friendly rentals, so it was critical that we have a leg up on everyone else who was looking. I knew Craigslist offered RSS, so I plugged that into IFTTT and had it email me with any new listing. After a few weeks, a new place was found, a yard was had, and our dogs have been sunbathing ever since.

IFTTT's iOS app has also proven more valuable than I expected. I like to capture a lot of pictures on my phone, especially when I'm on my bike. I'm five minutes away from the beach and 30 minutes from the farmlands. Of course, I like to capture this stuff, but when I'm riding I don't have time to futz with various apps. With the app I can set it to monitor an album in my photo stream and auto-upload to my Flickr feed with the tag "bike touring." This makes it easy to snap a photo, dump it in a folder and hop back on the bike before the ol' legs can cramp up.

The channel list is always growing, too, and each new addition has me exploring new ways to further integrate IFTTT into my life. And while it's mainly centered around web-based services, the mobile apps have opened a new area for me to experiment with, thanks to location triggers and push notifications. IFTTT won't be a good fit for everyone, and it doesn't always work the way you'd like it to. For example, I can't have pictures auto-post to Instagram, but I can use tags to auto-post to Facebook, Dropbox or Twitter based on a hashtag. Not the end of the world, but it can sometimes interfere with my workflow ideas. This minor annoyance aside, IFTTT's easy-to-use interface and improving mobile apps can go a long way in making the web work the way you want it to.