IFTTT – An Alternative to Feed Aggregators

Since Google Reader was retired I’ve been on the lookout for something a bit different. I tried out a few services but none of them really fit in with my way of doing things. When I thought about it all I really wanted was a service that would send me an email when a new entry was posted to a blog I liked. Luckily that’s exactly the kind of thing IFTTT does.

IFTTT is a web service that allows you to create little “programs”. These programs, or recipes as they’re called, carry out an action following some trigger event. Each recipe has the same structure; “if this happens then do that”. The “this” piece is called the trigger. The “that” piece is called the action.

Example triggers,

  • I tweet a message
  • I update my Facebook status
  • I upload a photo to Instagram
  • A new entry is posted to a blog

Example actions,

  • Send me an SMS
  • Upload a photo to Facebook
  • Add an event to my Google Calendar
  • Send me an email

See About IFTTT for a more comprehensive description.

Actions and triggers are organized into channels, e.g. Facebook, Dropbox, Email, Feed (i.e. blog feed), etc.

Using the “New feed item” trigger in the Feed channel and the “Send me an email” action in the Email channel I put together a recipe for each blog I wanted to subscribe to. Here’s what my XKCD recipe looks like,

XKCD Recipe

The email subject has the blog name and entry title. For the body I chose to include a link to the entry rather than the full text. Here’s what an email from IFTTT looks like,

XKD Monster

I’ve subscribed to number of blogs this way. What I really like is getting email notifications pushed to me rather than having to use a blog aggregation tool. I use email as a sort of TODO list. This way I can treat new blog posts as something I need to do. Once I have the email I can come back to it whenever I want.

As good as IFTTT is there are some rough edges for my particular use case. I wouldn’t say they’re problems though because IFTTT is meant to be a general service.

  1. If I want to subscribe to a new blog it’s a bit of a nuisance having to create a whole new recipe from scratch. It would be great if I could create a new recipe based on another one. That way all I’d need to change is the recipe’s name, the blog feed URL and the mail subject (which includes the blog title). The positive side of this is that it stops me subscribing to blogs willy-nilly. I prefer a few quality subscriptions.
  2. I’d like to be able to export my recipes. Why? I think it’s the programmer in me. Now I have all these recipes I feel like they should be under version control.
  3. An IFTTT API would be great. If there was an API to create a recipe I could create a browser extension to automatically create a “Subscribe to RSS” recipe while on a blog.

So that’s my experience. It works for me.