What is IFTTT in Home Automation?

If you have spent any time in conversations about home automation you will most likely have run into the idea of “IFTTT”. If you have been too embarrassed to admit that you have no idea what that is, this is the place for you to be.

IFTTT is shorthand for “If This Then That”. If you know a bit about programming you’ll know that this refers to the basic structure of building decision rules into a computer program.

IFTTT is a free, web-based service that lets you create custom behaviors for web connected software, just like the software that runs on your smart home automation equipment.

Most people who use IFTTT create things that have nothing to do with home automation. They may create rules that trigger an email when they tweet something specific or that sends them a message each time someone tags them on Facebook.

Home automation geeks (and the people who make the gear) have, however, put IFTTT to use for much more than this. Using IFTTT you can take control of how your home reacts to certain things in ways that the creators of your automation systems may never have anticipated.

Cliff Notes Version

ifttt-fshIFTTT was created by a guy named Linden Tibbets and his team. It was released to the world on September 7, 2011. By April 2012 one million custom tasks had been created on the service. Later that same year IFTTT officially entered the internet of things and home automation space officially when it was integrated into Belkin Wemo devices.

By 2015 IFTTT was one of the most valuable internet of things companies in the world. Not a bad record for only four years of operation.

Explain it to Me Like I’m Five Years Old

At its most basic level, IFTTT is made up of “channels”, which you can think of as the basic component of each “recipe”, which is what IFTTT calls the custom commands that users create. A channel is basically the stream of data from one service, such as YouTube, to another, such as Twitter.

We also have “triggers”, which are events that put recipes into action. Posting a new video to YouTube could be a trigger, for example.

Following a trigger, there is an “Action”. The action is the effect of all of this. So you could say that when you post a new video to YouTube, it is shared via your Twitter account automatically.

As you can imagine, there are a ton of possible use cases for IFTTT for just about anyone who has ever opened a web browser. It can automate so much that we take for granted as manual processes.

One of the best things about IFTTT is how community-driven it is. The chances are that, regardless of what you want it to do, someone has probably already perfected the recipe to do it right. Most users don’t have to create a recipe from scratch. They can just use a premade one as is or with small modifications.

What can home automators do? Well, that’s a different story, but has the same basic ingredients. Let’s check out some of the coolest applications.

Home Improvement

fitbit-fshPeople have thought up some really neat home automation tricks using IFTTT. My favorite is probably the one using the Fitbit fitness tracker that’s worn around the wrist. The recipe uses data from the Fitbit as a trigger to know when you are awake. Then it switches on the coffee machine, so that by the time you get to the kitchen there’s fresh coffee waiting.

There are also many recipes that let you leverage weather data to control things like lights. For example, you can use the actual time of sunset to determine when your lights should go on, saving energy.

From a security perspective you can do things like get your IFTTT alarm to automatically arm itself when it detects you leaving home.

There’s eco-friendly stuff as well. For example, you can make it so that your irrigation system pauses watering your lawn if there is to be rain the following day.

New recipes are being thought up every day, so there’s a lot to look forward to.

Supporting Act

The biggest limitation that IFTTT has at the moment is channel support. The service or device that you want to use must be an officially supported IFTTT channel. Luckily, you can check their homepage in order to find out if your intended components will work. At the time of writing IFTTT already worked with Nest, ADT, SmartThings, and various lighting systems.

IFTTT is still pretty young in terms of its adoption and maturity, but there’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll see more and more home automation devices ship with IFTTT support, or get that support via a software update.

I Did It My Way

I love the idea of IFTTT. Home automation should be about customizing things to your own needs. They’re making great strides in automatically letting your stuff learn what you want, but it’s good to at least have the option of control. IFTTT may seem daunting at first, but this is one of the most user-friendly home automation programming methods I’ve seen. Have fun checking it out!