Today’s blog post is by a good friend of Roundpeg, Robby Slaughter of Slaughter Development, LLC.

Considering that I run a productivity consulting company, it’s no surprise  that I’m excited about a new service designed to automate routine online activities. It’s called “If This Then That”, or ifttt. (I like to say it as a two syllable word “if-ta””).

How  ifttt works

If: This is the first step in the ifttt process. You have to think of a condition that might occur out in the world. Maybe somebody posts a comment on your Facebook wall, maybe it’s exactly 3:30PM on a Tuesday, maybe a new image is taken on an Instagram photo account. The whole point of of iftt is the if. A sequence (called a “task”) begins with then “if” statement.

This: It’s what you’re looking for. A “this” is a triggering event which occurs through one of over 30 “channels” online. I’ve played with triggers such as asking ifttt to receive an email or a voicemail. You can have ifttt watch for a specific message on Twitter or a new post from your favorite blog or even to pay attention to the weather report in your area. A “this” is what triggers the ifftt task.

Then: This is the part that links the this to the that. You don’t actually have to do anything to set up the “then”, but it’s an essential part of understanding the entire ifttt concept.

That: The final action. This is what occurs as a result of the trigger. Again, it can be any number of possible events across the thirty different channels. Ifttt can leave notes on Evernote, post messages on Facebook, send files to DropBox, or update your status on LinkedIn.

So what are some examples of how to use ifttt?

How about this one: Every time you are tagged in a photo on Facebook, send that photo to your DropBox. (link)

Here’s another cool one: Send a text to ifttt and have it respond with a phone call. (link) Great for getting out of uncomfortable situations!

I like: Note to Self – Call Ifttt and have it transcribe your voicemail into an email. (link)

All of these pre-built tasks are called recipes. You can make your own tasks into recipes and share them with others on ifttt with just the click of a button!

Advantages to Ifttt

  • Of course, ifttt saves tons of time because it’s a form of automation. It’s true that lots of the of the ways people use ifttt are merely duplicating other services. (If you want to send RSS feeds to your inbox, for example, you can use www.feedmyinbox.com). But of course, ifttt lets you manage all of your automation in once place.
  • More importantly: ifftt gets people thinking about automating the web. Right now, most of the channels are social media services. But what about ifttt services that watch Amazon.com prices? How about ifttt services that monitor press releases?  Thankfully, ifttt has a delightfully simple user interface. Compare it to this video of Yahoo! Pipes, which is practically computer programming.

Drawbacks to Ifttt

There are three big weaknesses to Ifttt right now that are keeping it from becoming more than just a fun little toy:

  • Ifttt can’t make compound decisions.  You can setup a a task to send you an email when tomorrow’s weather is below 40 degrees. You  can also set up a task to email when the weather calls for rain. But if you want to get an email when BOTH of these happen, that can’t be done at this writing.
  • Ifttt has no memory. It can’t save any information during a task. For example, I’d like a task that keeps track of all of the people who followed me on Twitter in the past week, and then includes them all in a thank you tweet at the end of the week. Right now, the best I can do is to instantly reply to any new follower (as with this recipe).
  • Ifttt does not play nice with others. The system works well when reacting to real human events and triggers, but not so well when interacting with other automated services. I found that an automated service that posts links on Facebook did not awake ifttt as expected. So if you’re currently automating part of your online activities, ifttt may not play nice.

These issues, however, are minor. Congratulations to the ifttt team on a great product! Head over to ifttt.com and try it for yourself.

Robby Slaughter runs a productivity consulting firm and is active on social media. Find him on Twitter as @robbyslaughter and elsewhere.