If This, Then That: the brighter future of a Lego internet

I’ve been playing around for a few days with IFTTT.com – thanks to Conrad, Darrell & Brian for putting me on to it.

It stands for “If This, Then That“.

It’s brilliant.  I thought I’d write two quick things about it:

Firstly, run through an example of what it does, so that you can have a play yourself.  It’s not a hardcore geek thing, either, it’s easy for anyone who has got an idea of something they want to do and a passable knowledge of the internet.  DON’T BE SCARED.

Secondly, I’ll go through the glimpse of a brighter future of making, learning, sharing and doing that I think it gives us.

A demo of IFTTT.com

Their own description is pretty to the point:


Essentially, it’s turn of of your little web profiles and channels into Lego blocks of webness.

So you look at your lego box full of different blocks, and think ‘hmmm, wouldn’t it be great if this block connected to that block’, and you make something new…



Except, of course, the different lego bricks you’re using look like this:


Let’s give it a go.

I’d suggest the first thing you do once you sign up to IFTTT is head to the Channels page.

This is where you grant IFTTT access to all the channels you might want to use, Facebook and Twitter, LastFM and Instagram, Evernote and Dropbox.  All the things that, for the most part, do what they do very well, but sit in isolation.

Once you’ve done that, head to Tasks, and click ‘Create a task‘.

This is where you just have to think in terms of “If This Happens Here, I Want That To Happen There”.  Here’s an example of one of the Plumpton Mornings tasks I created.

Every photo I put up for this project on Instagram has the #plumptonmornings tag, like so:


What I want to happen is for it to appear on a Tumblr blog as a new photopost, with a specific comment underneath that tells me when the photo was taken.


So IF THIS (Instagram photo with the #plumptonmorning tag)…


THEN THAT (create Tumblr photo post with date tag)…


Which means that rather than have to collect them all together and load them up to a separate site myself, I can automate a very personal, particular service to make life easier.  Off the picture goes to the Tumblr, without me having to lift another finger…

The possibilities of what I could do with just the #plumptonmornings photos are almost endless… I could add all the photos to Dropbox or Evernote if I wanted to keep them somewhere, or upload to a specific Flickr group…

…I could make a note in Google Calendar to say “in London”, to work out how often and when I tend to go up to London…

…or I could check in on FourSquare automatically to a certain location (trains, by time, stations, by the direction, or just Plumpton station itself).  If I used FourSquare anymore.


As soon as I’ve completed a task, and found that it works, the final thing I can do is share the Recipe – so that other folks don’t have to recreate what you’ve successfully done, they can just copy your recipe and make a new task of their own from it.


Which also means that the Recipe page is a great place to go and

In short, if you haven’t guessed already, I love IFTTT.com – it’s not just a wonderful service in its own right, but it also gives us a peek of a bright future…

What does IFTTT.com mean for the future?

I’m really bad at coding.  I mostly operate on a cut, paste, stick & guess level.

That is, I basically know how to use Google, so I ask it questions about doing things in code, it returns a page that might have some code that’s useful on it,  I read it, understand as much as I can, guess where to tweak it and stick it in, then press save to see what I’ve broken, or inadvertently changed.

It’s really haphazard, and only works after a fashion.  It’s hacking, but only in the mental image of someone blindly swinging a machete though an overgrown jungle path, looking for something…


But the very principle of IFTTT works at a meta level for what the service itself succeeds at doing… someone has sat down and thought…

“If there was THIS site that took away some of the harder work of coding from APIs, then THAT would mean lots more people could do fun/good/useful things with their internet stuff…”

As a very broad principle, all technology tends to become easier to use over time, and at the same time as a larger percentage of the population knows how to use it…

And at the centre of these two trends, occasionally ideas crop about how to make the technology a good bit simpler, and there’s a little boost in the speed of change.

Which is great news not just for us, as it helps us do things today we couldn’t do yesterday, but for the generations coming up behind us too.

Not only will they be more attuned from an early age to the devices and platforms available, and the instructions & gestures they employ to affect them, but they have access to lots and lots of material and learning resources online to help them get under the skin of making the internet work for them.

And every time someone comes up with another IFTTT.com, a way in which to simplify the complexity, they will to bring people into a world they thought was previously beyond their grasp.

Which, given the increasingly unattainable cost of going to University for many kids, offers hope that the disenfranchised can find a different path in the world.

Anyway, enough talk, more action – spend a bit of lunchtime today, or this evening,  playing with IFTTT.com – I’ve no doubt you’ll be delighted to find out what you can make.

Happy hacking 🙂

For further reading on teach children or novices about coding, Emma Mulqueeny, who runs the excellent Rewired State / Young Rewired State, have an excellent post all about those resources:

How to initiate kids (or anyone) in coding