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Four Ways the Nerdy Yet Useful "If This Then That" Web site Will Help Organize Your Online Life

A handful of the IFTTT "channels" available for subscription
A handful of the IFTTT "channels" available for subscription

I recently stumbled onto the brilliant website If This Then That or ifttt.com. IFTTT is a website that brings together a range of different online services and makes them play nice together. And what makes IFTTT so unique is that it takes something extremely nerdy at its core -- if/then statements that drive a lot of programming code -- and makes it very easy to use and understand.

IFTTT lets you connect to a huge range of websites and communication devices like Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Dropbox, email and cellphones. They refer to these as "channels" and there are dozens of them. Channels may also include RSS feeds, clocks and calendars. Once you have connected to any device or network that requires a password, you can set up "tasks" using their if-this-then-that system. For example, if you take a picture with Instagram (the "if-this" part), then your photo is also stored to your Dropbox account automatically (the "then that" part).

IFTTT's interface is disarmingly simple and there are literally hundreds of pre-programmed tasks created by other users IFTTT refers to as "recipes." You can create your own or simply use one that has already been created. After sifting through a bunch of these and even adding a few for my own use, I realized there are four great ways right now that IFTTT can organize my life.

As the site grows, adds more channels and provides extended support for things like multiple accounts on a single platform -- think multiple pages on Facebook or several Twitter accounts -- I could see this being an invaluable resource for streamlining an increasingly hectic online world.

Sharing communication of any kind across platforms is easy
Sharing communication of any kind across platforms is easy

4. Mass Communication Many people have accounts on several different social media sites. There are tools for helping you post to Facebook if you post on Twitter or vice versa, but what if all you had to do was post one place and it was broadcast to all your accounts at once? By setting up a couple tasks in IFTTT, you can make it so a post in one location broadcasts to multiple places at once.

There is still limited support for Google+, but Facebook (including fan pages), YouTube, Twitter, Foursquare and others are fully functional. There are services that provide all sorts of shortcuts for these types of things, but most of them work on one service at a time. With IFTTT, all those options are in one location that is really easy to manage.

Weather updates set to your specs via text message.
Weather updates set to your specs via text message.

3. Reminders & Notifications There are lots of notification services available, but most of them do one thing or focus on one service. With IFTTT, you can be notified of virtually anything via email, a text message or even a phone call. Get a wake-up call through your own phone. Have movies and TV premier dates from an RSS feed automatically posted to your Google calendar. Get a text when it's about to rain. There are even tasks that let you send a text message that triggers a "fake" phone call to get you out of an awkward situation, which could be really handy. I'm just saying.

 

There might not be a simpler way to automatically back-up your stuff.
There might not be a simpler way to automatically back-up your stuff.

2. Storage & Archiving One of the concerns most of us have is protecting our data. When that is spread out across a bunch of different websites and resources, keeping it organized and backed up can be a concern. And this data comes in many forms. The most obvious are files and images. One simple task is archiving photos posted to Facebook (including ones in which you were tagged) or Instagram or Flickr to one location, like Dropbox, which stores those files online and places them in a folder on your computer.

For text, there are a myriad of options. Blog posts can be e-mailed. Your Twitter feed can be archived in a note in Evernote or your Facebook stream can be archived by date on your Google Calendar creating a kind of creepy social networking diary. Even a phone call message can be transcribed and sent to your email, a very simple way to create a "note to self." The possibilities are staggering.

If there is a way for people to use this for stalking celebs, they'll find it.
If there is a way for people to use this for stalking celebs, they'll find it.

1. Searches & Organization For anyone who uses the web to do research or to keep track of certain topics of interest, there is no more daunting task than sifting through hundreds of websites, RSS feeds and news stories. There are services like Google Alerts, but those only send emails and they can be slow to respond and inaccurate. RSS feeds help to track websites, but they don't sort the information.

With IFTTT, the ability to search specific places for keywords and phrases and have that information sent instantly via SMS (for more urgent issues) or email simplifies those searches dramatically. Sometimes that might be a keyword on a news website or it might be an item you've been wanting on Craigslist.

Additionally, IFTTT can drop entire stories (favorites on Google Reader, for example) into Evernote or email or even post them to your Facebook wall, turning a complicated jumble of content into a simple stream of targeted information.


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