IFTTT In Plain English: An Easy Way To Create Your Own Echo Apps

If you’ve visited any Echo owner discussion boards or read any tech-slanted articles about the Echo, then by now you’ve probably heard about IFTTT: If This, Then That. But having read those same discussion threads and articles myself, I know that unless you’re already pretty well-versed in the basics of how computer programs work you probably still have no idea what IFTTT is all about because to date, all the stuff I’ve seen online about IFTTT is loaded with jargon like “actions”, “triggers” and “events”.

IFTTT is actually pretty simple (once you take out the jargon) and very useful.

 

 

What IFTTT Is
IFTTT is a service that gets various devices and apps to communicate with one another, so that when a certain thing happens in one app/device, something else automatically happens in another app/device. The instructions that pass these commands from one app/device to the other are called “recipes”.

As of this writing, IFTTT can work with such apps as Twitter, Instagram, ToDoist, Dropbox, Facebook, Google Docs and more, and can communicate with such devices as Philips Hue SmartHome devices, Android phones, iPhones…and the Amazon Echo. New apps and devices are being added all the time, too.

Each app or device/service is set up as a “Channel” on the IFTTT site, for easy lookup. Click here to browse the current Channel list, and here to browse trending recipes in the Alexa Channel.

 

 

What IFTTT Users Can Do
Once you sign up for a free IFTTT account, you can create your own recipes and add them to the IFTTT site, or use IFTTT recipes others have created by adding them to your personal ‘My Recipes’ page.

The first time you add a recipe that uses an app or device you haven’t used with IFTTT before, you’ll be prompted to go through a brief registration step to connect your specific devices and accounts. After all, if you want to use the recipe that automatically changes your Twitter profile pic when you change your Facebook pic, you’re going to have to let IFTTT connect to both of those accounts.

To create a recipe, you begin by going to the My Recipes page. Then click on the Create A Recipe button to launch the wizard that will walk you through the process of selecting a channel (remember: a channel is a supported app, service or device), choosing from a pre-populated list of options/commands for the channel, then selecting a second channel and assigning an option/command from a pre-populated list for that channel. Here’s an example, from an existing IFTTT recipe:

IF THIS: I use the Echo to add a new item to my to-do list
THEN THAT: add the same item to my ToDoist to-do list

 

 

Why Using IFTTT With The Echo Is Still Pretty Clunky
First of all, as of this writing (6/12/15) the number and type of Echo requests you can make is very limited. IFTTT recipes can only build on Echo commands and functions that already exist, so you end up with a lot of workarounds.

For example, there are a number of IFTTT Echo recipes for using the Echo to help you find your phone when you’ve misplaced it, but the way they work is by turning up the volume on your phone when you use the Echo to add an item to your to-do list in the usual way, or by turning up the volume on your phone when you issue a certain Echo command (e.g., “What’s on my to-do list”). This may be helpful when you know you left your phone volume low, but it’s not quite the “Echo, call my phone,” experience you might’ve been expecting.

The workarounds can create some unintended consequences when the Echo command the recipe relies on is already in use for its standard purpose, too. An IFTTT recipe that turns up your phone’s volume every time you add an item to your to-do list could become a real annoyance if you add items to your to-do list regularly and don’t always want your phone volume on high.

Secondly, as of this writing most (I’d say virtually ALL) IFTTT recipes are user-created, and of course the person who created a given recipe may have done it in a way that seems illogical to you, or doesn’t do what you expect it to, based on its name or description.

Finally, not all recipes will work, and IFTTT offers no guarantees in that area.

You can think of IFTTT as more of a big online bulletin board where users can share and exchange their IFTTT recipes.

 

My advice: try it if you’re interested, but keep an open mind and don’t go into IFTTT expecting to get a lot of slick new Echo commands and functions.

 

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