Data collection using IFTTT

“If This Then That” (IFTTT) is a web service that allows you to connect other web services, apps and devices to each other to automate simple tasks. For instance, like many people you probably have receipts sprinkled through your email. Perhaps you would like to keep these in one place. By connecting the IFTTT Gmail service to the Evernote service, IFTTT can automatically transfer any emails containing the words “receipt”” or “order” to an Evernote folder. These trigger – action combinations are called applets and there are millions of pre-existing ones for you to choose from – or you can make your own. At the time of writing IFTTT had implemented over 600 channels (see Figure 1 for a some of the better known services), and more are coming online all the time, so the possibilities are substantial.

Figure 1: Some of the better known services to which IFTTT can connect.

IFTTT is ideal for using for data collection. For instance, you can:

  1. Record outlook calendar events when they occur
  2. Record incoming and outgoing phone calls
  3. Record incoming and outgoing SMSs
  4. Record your weight and BMI when you step on your Fitbit Aria scales
  5. Record sleep and steps from Fitbit watches
  6. Record the main news headlines from National Public Radio
  7. Store photos you take on Android or iOS devices
  8. Record your moods through Jawbone UP

In this tutorial, you will learn to register an IFTTT account and connect applets. Note that IFTTT is constantly evolving, so some of the screens may look a little different from the ones we show in this tutorial. The same general sequence and functionality should be present, however.

Registering for IFTTT

The first step is to register for an IFTTT account. Navigate to IFTTT.com and click on the sign up button in the top right hand corner. You can use your Google or Facebook sign ups or click through to register with IFTTT independently (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: The IFTTT sign up page

Connecting IFTTT

Now that you have an IFTTT account you are ready to enable some applets and connect some services. For the purposes of this tutorial I am going to connect Twitter to a Google Sheet, so that I can analyse the tweets I send. I created a new gmail account and a new twitter account for the purpose, to avoid inadvertently sharing details of my personal accounts, and you might want to do likewise. Make sure you are logged in to IFTTT, your Google account and your Twitter account and go to the IFTTT home page (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: IFTTT home page.

Now click on Explore and type in “twitter spreadsheet”. Look for the applet described as “Archive every Tweet you post to a spreadsheet” (bottom right on my screen, Figure 4) and click it.

Figure 4: Exploring the available applets.

Now you can connect the applet (see Figure 5).

Figure 5: Connecting a new applet.

It will ask you to connect the Twitter and Google services if you haven’t already and then you will be set to test it out. I posted a test tweet (see Figure 6) and then was able to see the entry in a Google sheet (see Figure 7).

Figure 6: The test tweet.
Figure 7: The result in the Google Sheet.

And we are done. Now when ever I post a tweet it will register in this spreadsheet and I can then either use Google Sheets to analyse this data or download it and enter it into another statistical package.

There are approximately 50 million applets to choose from, so many of the things you may want to do will already be available. If not, however, you can use the Create option (see Figure 5) to craft new applets.

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