A collection of my posts/articles/presentations on If This Then That (Ifttt)

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I’ve been using If This Then That (Ifttt) for a few years now. I tend to use it for pulling information together and sharing it to a variety of services and social networks easily. Without it I’d be forever logging in and out of services to collect and share information. There are similar services to Ifttt, but it works well for me.

Below are a collection of blog posts, articles and presentations I’ve written on the subject and I’ve also written a chapter on Ifttt and similar services for the forthcoming More Library Mashups book, titled “Ifttt makes data play easy?

Replacing Google Reader With Ifttt and Pocket

Automating Information Discovery and Sharing (Umbrella Conference Presentation #UB13)

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This is the presentation I gave at this week’s CILIP Umbrella conference, focusing on automating the discovery and sharing of information across many online networks using services like IFTTT and the importance of information literacy in this context.

Many Places = Many Conversations

Many websites now provide users with the ability to participate in social networking – by social networking I mean the 2 way communication between users.

This communication often revolves around the need to discover and share information.

To give you some idea of numbers of websites and users on them, the ebizmba.com site lists each of the the top 15 social networking sites as having more than 4 million unique monthly visitors each. The most popular service (Facebook) has 750 million unique visitors per month. Wikipedia list 220+ popular social networking sites. “Popular” is the keyword here – there are many more that do not have such a high number of regular users.

On a personal level ,I regularly use 3 Twitter accounts; 2 Facebook accounts; 2 social bookmarking sites; 2 Tumblrs; LinkedIn; Google plus; Flickr and Youtube, as part of my day job, advocacy work and personal life.

So you can see that if you want to maintain an effective information discovery and sharing presence on these sites at this scale it may be difficult, especially with limited time and resources.

Automate to Overcome Problems

So, I’m going to talk about one way to overcome some of the difficulties of discovering and sharing information in this context, & I’ll cover…

Automating the discovery and sharing process.

I’m going to focus on a specific service found online at http://www.ifttt.com , because it’s a service I’m most familiar with. But I will also give you links to a handful of other services that work along similar lines to ifttt, that might be of interest to you and might suit your circumstances and ways of working better.

I’ll talk about when automation is useful, when it doesn’t always work and why human input is just as important.

And I’ll talk about the importance of information literacy in this context.

What is IFTTT?

It’s a free web service that can be found online at http://www.ifttt.com

Ifttt stands for “If This Then That” and I’ll explain why it’s called that later in this presentation.

It allows you to connect over 60 online and messaging services (referred to as channels on the ifttt site) together.

Ifttt automatically feeds information and data from one channel to another and it gives you some control over how that information is fed between channels.

Why is it useful?

It makes the pulling together, discovery and sharing of information across a variety of online networks easier and less time consuming than if you had to visit each site and manually login to either discover or share information.

I know some social networks allow you to automatically share information to other networks, but the good thing about ifttt is it allows you to manage your information connections/flows in a single place and it makes it easier to keep control .

Which Services Connect?

Here are the types of services/channels you can connect. The graphic on the right illustrates all of the services (as of June 2013).

For example, there is Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Yammer, App.net, Hootsuite, Delicious, Diigo, Pinboard, WordPress, Tumblr, Blogger, Youtube, Vimeo, Soundcloud, Last.fm, Storify, Flickr, Instagram, Google calendar, Evernote, Dropbox, Gmail , Pocket, Etsy, Google Drive, SMS messaging, Weather, Date alerts, and also remote controlled services.

There is also a dedicated RSS channel, which means that any site with an RSS output can be plugged into ifttt.

How Does it Work?

It works by creating a link between 2 channels/services.

In some cases you need to authorise ifttt to be able to access some of your accounts on these channels.

One channel acts as a Trigger and another channel acts as a response to that trigger.

It takes its name from the idea that “IF the trigger channel does THIS action, THEN the response channel does THAT action.”

However, not every channel can be used as a trigger or a response. For example there are no Twitter triggers.

Different channels use different criteria as triggers/responses and you define the criteria to be used.
A single combination of a Trigger and a Response is known as a Recipe.

Recipes are automatically & regularly checked to see if they need to be run.

You can share your recipes with others.

The same trigger can be used for different recipes.

Recipe Example

This is how a recipe actually looks on the screen in edit mode:

This example auto tweets a link to a specific blog every time a new blog post is published on it and it adds appropriate hashtags to the tweet.

The trigger shows the RSS feed of the blog and the Action section shows the response.

In the box underneath “What’s happening?” you’ll see some of the text appears in curly brackets. This indicates a data field that is pulled through from the trigger channel – in this case {{Entrytitle}} is the blog post title and {{EntryURL}} is the link to the blog post. The + next to this box will list any data fields from the trigger channel that can be pulled through.

All other text that appears in the box is text entered by the user.

The final shot shows the tweet that is generated.

Further Examples (1)

These are a few of the 50+ recipes I have running at the moment, just to give you an idea of how you can use it.

There are a lot that use a service called Pocket here (red symbol with a V in the centre). I use Pocket as an RSS feed reader, as it allows me to pull in news articles to one place and tag them. The tags I use allow me to define which channel the article is shared to via an ifttt recipe.

I’m using recipes to send information to Buffer, which is connected to Twitter. This schedules when I send out my tweets. You can see what looks like the same Recipe going to buffer, but they’re different, in that each of them adds a different hashtag to the tweet that is sent out eg #lovelibraries #ebooks etc.

Further Examples (2)

In these examples you’ll see that Twitter only appears in the response channel column. There are no Twitter triggers, as Twitter aren’t keen on having content shared in this way.

The recipe that includes the weather channel as a trigger automatically tweets from our library account if there’s a chance of snow in the area to forewarn people about any possible library closures. It tweets “Snow forecast tomorrow. Please check our website for possible library closures.”

A couple of recipes here are also used for backup/archiving purposes – my bookmarked links on Diigo are backed up on Pinboard; and any photos I share on Facebook are also backed up to my Flickr account.

I also use ifttt to build up a work and CPD log by connecting my Google calendar, blogs and Linkedin account to Evernote, which I find useful for appraisals and one-to-ones with my line manager.

Services Similar to IFTTT

So, I’ve focused on using ifttt here, but there are other similar services available that you could try. And it might be that if you like the look of ifttt, but it doesn’t quite suit what you want to do or the way you work, it’s worth having a look at some of these other services.

I’d say Zapier & WeWiredWeb are the most similar services to ifttt.

Wappwolf is limited to activity when uploading files to Dropbox, Box, or Google Drive – you can convert files, unzip or share to other places eg Flickr; Google Drive; Slideshare; Kindle. The focus here is on the automation of processes rather than sharing to networks.

Issues and Drawbacks

So, what are some of the issues of using a service like ifttt?

If you’re increasing the amount of information you’re discovering and you’ve made it easier to share with others you can bombard people with too much information.

Sometimes uninformative or misleading articles or news headlines are pulled through. For example, the news headline pulled through from an RSS news feed “New chapter for town library” isn’t very informative. What’s the story behind that? Which library is it talking about? Or maybe the headline isn’t factually correct.

Also, will the information pulled through from the trigger source be informative enough for your readers on the site you’re sending it to?

Human Input

So that’s why it’s important to have some human intervention, so you can keep some control over the discovery and sharing process.

Make sure you regularly check that your recipes are running smoothly.

I control how information is shared by using Pocket as an RSS feed reader (eg like Google Reader), which I use to sift out irrelevant information before sharing. Recently over an 11 week period 3771 news items were fed into my Pocket account from 9 different resources, and I only shared 668 of these items to 10 different channels via Pocket. Therefore only 17-18% of items were worth sharing.

If a blog title or news headline isn’t appropriate or informative enough you can decide to share it manually instead of automatically.

Ifttt can still do a lot of the repetitive gathering of information, logging into different accounts and sharing, but you can also keep control over it.

It also helps to think about your discovery and sharing of information from an information literacy perspective…

Search, Identify, Gather

Think about where the useful sources of information are going to be.

I find the most useful ones are services that either have a dedicated ifttt channel , or one with an RSS feed of search results as an output.

It’s surprising how many original sources of information aren’t fed into social networks, and that’s one of the reasons why you shouldn’t just rely on social networks as your main information source.

Assess and Evaluate

Assess and evaluate the information coming through from your ifttt recipes.

Some of my ifttt recipes don’t need to be filtered in any way – for example, any backup or archiving I’ve setup; or if it’s a feed from a trusted source. They can just run automatically without any intermediate filtering stage.

But if I need to filter information I use Pocket. This allows me to read and assess the value of the information coming through. If I want to share that information I add a tag to the item in Pocket and the tag I use dictates where the information is shared. Eg. “ggtwitter” will send that item to the my personal Twitter account; “ggLinkedIn” will send it to my LinkedIn account. In this instance I need to use recipes to pull the information into Pocket and another set of recipes to share the information from Pocket to another service.

Communicate and Share

Think about where, when and how you want to share that information.

Which of your social network accounts do you want to send this information to?

When do people need this info? Straight away; Soon; or is it not time critical? For example, it’s generally no good posting an important piece of information on Twitter at midnight when most of your followers are asleep, so you might want to use Buffer to schedule these tweets instead.

Adapt or tailor the way you share the information depending upon which network it’s being shared to. For example, you may want to add hashtags to the updates you send out on Twitter, but you wouldn’t include hashtags on updates you send to Facebook.

Organise and Archive

Think about standardising the way you pull information together and share it with different services/channels.

You could use ifttt to keep a record of what you share with others; creating archives, logs or backing up your social networking data.

And don’t forget that if it the information saved in these archives isn’t perfect you can always go in and edit it to tidy it up.

Automating Discovery and Sharing

So, in summary if you either do spend a lot of time juggling different web presences to discover and share information with others, or you want to have more of a web presence, consider automating some of these processes to reduce your efforts and standardise your information discovery & sharing practices.

Ifttt or one of the other services I mentioned can help and it lets the machine take some of the strain, whilst keeping enough control of it yourself to ensure that the right information is discovered and shared more effectively.

Try These ifttt Alternatives

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If you find ifttt useful you might want to take a look at these services too.

Zapier
WeWiredWeb
Elastic.io
Cloudwork

It might be that you like the look of ifttt, but it doesn’t quite suit your needs or the way you work, or it doesn’t connect channels that you use. If that’s the case maybe one of these services will suit you instead.

Out of the five, I’d say Zapier and WeWiredWeb were the most similar to ifttt. Zapier appears to be able to connect the most channels.

Creating a CPD or Work Log Using ifttt

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As well as using ifttt to share information to various social networks I also find it very useful for building up a personal work/continuing professional development log, which I use to record work I’ve undertaken and work events or training I’ve attended.

The main ifttt channels I use as triggers for this are LinkedIn, Google Calendar, Diigo and RSS feeds. I feed information from those channel triggers into a spreadsheet in Google Drive, and use the Evernote channel as a backup.

Here’s a bit more detail about each of those channels and how I use them:

LinkedIn – I post work related status updates here, such as “Running ebook training sessions for staff today.” etc. After the ifttt Twitter triggers stopped working I decided that I would use LinkedIn more for posting work updates instead, as it’s a professional network and it makes sense to provide updates there about what I was working on/involved with. I use both the LinkedIn status update and link update triggers to catch everything I post to my LinkedIn account.

Google Calendar – I record all of my work related meetings and events in Google Calendar, marking them with a tag “sccwork”. I set up an ifttt trigger to look for events containing this tag, so that personal/social events aren’t pulled through.

Diigo – I bookmark web links to web pages focusing on work I’ve been involved in or anywhere I’ve commented on a news article or blog post with the tags “mywork” and “mycomments”. I set up 2 triggers to identify any new bookmarks I’ve added with either of these 2 tags.

RSS feeds – I have a trigger that identifies if I’ve written a new blog post on this site.

As for the responses to these triggers, I have a “Personal Log” spreadsheet set up in Google Drive and also a “GGSCCWork” notebook setup in Evernote. Whenever one of the above channel triggers is activated a new row is added to the spreadsheet and a new note is created in Evernote and the information from the trigger channel is pulled through into both of them. I tried to standardise how the information is pulled through. For example, the first column of the spreadsheet contains the date the LinkedIn status update was posted, the Calendar event happened, the blog post was created, or the Diigo bookmark was saved. The second column contains the text of the LinkedIn status update, details of the calendar event, blog post title, Diigo bookmark description.

As I used many of these channels already for recording my work it made sense for me to re-use this information and pull all this activity together in one place. I find it especially useful as a reminder of what I’ve been working on, particularly when I have one-to-ones and appraisals with my line manager.

Replacing Google Reader With Ifttt and Pocket

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A couple of days ago Google announced they were getting rid of Google Reader, which was a bit of a blow for me, as I use it as a main source of news for sharing to a broad range of social network accounts and sites semi-automatically. I used it in conjunction with ifttt, so that if I added a specific tag to an item in a Google Reader feed it would trigger an action to automatically post it to 1 of a number of accounts I use regularly.

Google Reader was flexible and because I could connect it to ifttt in this way it meant I didn’t have to log in and out of various personal and group Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Buffer and bookmarking accounts sharing links and news – I could do it all in one place. I could also do it via any device I had connected to the internet – PC, smartphone, tablet. Google Reader was also useful in the fact that you could organise RSS feeds into folders or tags and didn’t just have a huge jumble of unrelated links filling up the page. The whole set up was such a time-saver.

So, when I heard about the planned retirement of Reader my heart sank for a few reasons (1) Another popular service was being ditched by a high profile company without any thought for their users – I’d have happily paid to use Google Reader if I’d been given the option.  (2) How was I going to continue sharing this information if I had to do it all manually? (3) This ifttt setup was a key part of a presentation I was supposed to be giving at a conference about a week after Google Reader was due to close down – I could end up with very little to talk about at it!

So, I knew I had to try to find another solution. I’d looked at other RSS and news services some time ago to see if there were any decent alternatives to Google Reader. My main concern back then was that news articles were quite slow at being pulled through into the feed. Ideally if NewsNow.co.uk had an RSS output feed I’d use that for all my news – it’s got a wider coverage and is more up-to-date than Google News. Anyway, there wasn’t anything that worked in the way I needed it to that would provide all the functionality and flexibility in one place. Looking at lists of recommendations for Google Reader that have also appeared over the last couple of days nothing still met my specific needs in one package, although I’ve discovered some handy services I didn’t know existed.

However, after a bit of tinkering with ifttt I have managed to come up with a solution that works in a similar way to my Google Reader and ifttt set up, but instead I use a service called Pocket. This is a service for bookmarking items and articles to be read later.

Firstly I had to set up ifttt recipes to pull in all the RSS news feeds I follow into Pocket . Each separate RSS feed required a new RSS to Pocket ifttt recipe to be set up, so if I have 20 feeds I’ll have to set up 20 recipes. Alternatively, I could use something like Yahoo Pipes to pull all RSS feeds into a single one and set up a single RSS to Pocket recipe. I’m reluctant to do this though, as Pipes can be temperamental.

As you can tag items/articles in Pocket in a similar way to Google Reader it means you can organise the RSS items into related articles when they’re saved to Pocket.

Once you’ve pulled the items into Pocket with the tags, you can also add tags manually to specific items that will trigger the items to be posted to a variety of sites and services, as I had done previously with Reader. eg Add the tag “linkedin” to an item to send the article to LinkedIn. Here’s an example recipe for this.

As with Google Reader you can also mark items as read or delete them so they aren’t clogging up your feed on Pocket.

I’ve set up a number of RSS feeds going into Pocket, but as this is the most time consuming part of the process I haven’t added all of my old feeds yet. I have tested a few of the triggers and they’re working fine.

So, fingers crossed for this new setup and farewell to Google Reader – it was a great service for my needs and it’s a shame Google are binning it.

Twitter Archives And IFTTT

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Twitter, Google Drive and IFTTT made my day about a week ago. I found out that a new Google Drive channel had been added to IFTTT that enabled me to archive tweets via a spreadsheet – I was specifically looking for something that replaced the service Twapperkeeper used to provide. This was a perfect and straight forward solution for me. Fantastic! Then a few days later I found out that all the Twitter triggers in IFTTT (those that enable the archiving to work) have to be removed to comply with Twitter’s terms of service. This is a Twitter decision, not an IFTTT decision. This includes any method of archiving, not just via Google Drive spreadsheets. It’s pretty disappointing that Twitter have taken this stance, as it seems as if they’re happy with people providing content for their network, but aren’t keen to freely et the content go anywhere else once it’s been passed onto them. And before anyone tells me to stop complaining about a free service – I understand that Twitter is a free service. I appreciate that and I also appreciate that Twitter is a service that’s very useful to me, but at the same time if users hadn’t provided the content they do provide, then Twitter would not be as successful as it is. In fact, without free content from the users it would have flopped, in the same way that other microblogging services flopped. It’s ironic that part of its success – its open attitude in the early days that allowed data to be pulled out of the service easily, as well as sent to it – is being gradually closed down. Now it seems as if the traffic is all one way. Wouldn’t it be good if Twitter provided the service that suited its users and content creators and not just itself. In fact, I’d even be happy to pay for that service.

Pulling Photo Storage Together With ifttt

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I set up another group of tasks with ifttt.com today, so that I don’t have to dither about:

(1) Where I upload a photo or image to, based on who I want to share it with – Flickr, Facebook, Twitpic, my personal blog.

(2) Which of my photos/images from these various places should be stored together.

So, I decided that Flickr is the place I’m going to store all my images and any images posted on the other sites will automatically be uploaded to my Flickr account.

I’ll still need to go in and tweak some of the information in Flickr once an item has been uploaded to it from these other places (eg tags; which sets they appear in), but it will still save me a lot of time to do it this way and I’ll have at least one place now where my photos and images can be found together.