Wouldn’t it be great if there was an easy way to automate all those little tasks you do online? Maybe every time a picture of you is posted on Facebook or Instagram, if automatically downloaded to your Dropbox? What if you could log your hours spent working  automatically into a spreadsheet?  Or get a text every morning with the weather?  That’s the promise behind IFTTT, short for If This Then That, a web service that does exactly what the name suggest: plug-in a variable service that triggers another service.  The web service allows you to pick any of your favourite web apps – everything from Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Dropbox and more – and trigger another service based on certain actions.  And it’s going to change your life.

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How IFTTT Works

If you know the concept behind If This Then That statements in coding, this pulls that idea into real-world web services.  You can really utilize IFTTT in two distinct ways:

Build a Recipe: Any task, which IFTTT calls Recipes are ways you create any action based on some sort of conditional statement.

"IF {THIS (this thing or variable that happens to one service) 


THAT(do this to another service)"

for example: “IF I post a photo to Twitter, then download it to Dropbox”

Pre-made Recipes:  People have built loads of brilliant tasks any user can add to their own IFTTT account.

How to Create an IFTTT Task

As the name suggests, any tasks is made of a simple If/Then statement.  The variables fit inside each piece of the IF trigger THEN Action statement.  The trigger and action variables are the build blocks of every recipe and you can define them using channels.

IFTTT Channels are made up of available services that IFTTT supports, from Dropbox, Evernote, Facebook, Flickr, Gmail, Instagram, Instapaper, SMS, Twitter etc etc etc.  There are (as of writing) 35 support channels, but the list is always growing.

To get an idea of how powerful IFTTT recipes can be, let’s create a basic simple task on IFTTT that can automatically download Facebook pictures you are tagged in and download them to your Dropbox.

So, for this example you’ll need to sign up for an IFTTT account, obviously, as well as have a Facebook account and a DropBox.  IFTTT makes the process easy and simple, so head over and visit the Create a Task page:

Step One: Choose a Trigger Channel


Click the word this and IFTTT will display this channel picker:


Since we want to trigger an action whenever anyone tags a photo of you on Facebook, we’ll use Facebook as the Trigger channel.  If this is the first time you use the Facebook Channel on IFTTT, you’ll need to authorize IFTTT to work with your Facebook account.

Step Two: Choose a Trigger

Once you authorize the Facebook Channel, you’ll see all the possible Triggers that can activate an action.

IFTTT Facebook Trigger

You can build any action that is triggered by any of the Facebook actions, but for our tutorial, you’ll want to use the “You are Tagged in a photo” trigger.  Give that a click.

Step Three: Complete Trigger Fields

At this point, you’ll usually need to define trigger field specifics.  The Facebook trigger doesn’t have any trigger fields, because there are no additional possible variables (it’s just triggered when you are tagged in a photo.  If you are using a different channel, for example Twitter, you’d want to specify a hashtag for example.  Since our Facebook trigger need no further information, just go ahead and click Create Trigger.

IFTTT Create Trigger

Now that you’ve define a trigger, you’ll need to define an action that follows that trigger.  In our case, that means getting the tagged photo into a folder in our DropBox.  Click the Blue THAT link to specify the action.


Step Four: Choose an Action Channel


Now we’ll pick a channel that will have a reaction to our trigger.  For our purposes, of course, we’ll use the DropBox channel.  Again, if this if the first time you’ve used Dropbox as a Channel on IFTTT, you’ll need to authorize it, as you did with Facebook.

Step Five: Choose an Action

Other Action Channels will have more actions to pick from, depending on what the channel is.  Dropbox has one action: Add file from URL.  And really, that’s exactly what we want it to do.  So select Add File From URL and move on.

Step Six: Complete Action Fields

When we set up our Facebook channel, we didn’t really need to add any trigger fields, because there were no options.  In the case of Dropbox, you’ll need to fill out some extra information.  For our purposes, you’ll need to add the actual URL of the file you want to add to Dropbox and the folder in Dropbox where you will save any tagged photo.

IFTTT is pretty clever, and it has already assumed the file URL you want is any URL of a tagged photo on Facebook.  The service uses ‘Add-ins’ which are supplied as the default option when you picked a Facebook tagged photo trigger.  IFTTT knows that since that is the trigger, it can go ahead and supply the action with some obvious information.

IFTTT Action Field

For the Tagged Photo Trigger in the Facebook channel, you can use any of the following info in your action field:

  • Uploaded by
  • Uploaded Date
  • Caption
  • Facebook Photo URL (a link to the page on Facebook where the photo is visible)
  • Photo Small URL (a thumbnail version of your picture)
  • Photo Source URL

The Photo source URL is the URL of the full image, and it’s what we’ll use for the File URL.
So keep File URL as is.  You can set the Dropbox save folder to whatever you want.  By default, IFTTT will create a folder like:




Once that’s all set, click the Create Action button

Step Seven: Activate Your Task

That’s it!  At this point, you can add a description of your new minted Task, but its option.  Descriptions are helpful if you plan on sharing the recipe with other users, and it’s recommended.  Part of the strength behind IFTTT is what other users have made and shared.  Click Activate.

IFTTT checks ever trigger every 15 minutes.  Every time a trigger is true – like when you get tagged in a new photo on Facebook – it’ll execute the action you’ve built.

Step Eight: Turn Your Task into a Recipe

If you want to share your helpful actions and tasks with the rest of the interwebs, you’ll have to turn it into a Recipe.  To do this, head over to your task and click the one you want to turn into a Recipe.  Click the Recipe icon – the one that looks like  a mortar & pestle thing.


Give the recipe a description, which is required to turn it into a recipe, edit any parts of the task you want, and create the recipe.

It would come as no surprise that many of our favourite recipes are ones that have ranked high on IFTTT’s popular recipes page.  Browse through it the pages to find recipes you like, or browse by channel to see more.

Most recipes have a very broad use, but you can get insanely specific with the service.  There are recipes for getting an SMS alert when something you’re looking for on Craigslist shows up in a search.

We’ve really gotten into IFTTT at IONS:  I’m using a recipe that will send me an email whenever a new IFTTT recipe is built, just so I can keep track of anything I might want to try out.  Gavin has a bunch of recipes are related to having his smart home interact:  His lights turn red whenever he gets a new tweet.

How Are You Using IFTTT?

If This Then That is so beyond full of potential, which is why we love it so much.  The more channels they add, the more possibilities we can discover.  If you’ve been playing with it for a while, or today is the first day you try it out, tell us about the most impressive ways you’ve decided to use it.  Let us know in the comments!

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