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How to automate your digital life

IfThisThenThat is a new web service--still in beta--that lets users set up actions to automatically trigger when certain conditions are met, making it easy to cross-post, send automated messages, and much more. Learn how to use it and get an invite code in this blog post by Rob Lightner.

If you use more than one networked service, the odds are good that at some point you've caught yourself repeating an action one time too many and wishing you could tell the Internet to do it for you. Maybe you want an easier way to import a feed into Facebook, or you want to ping a friend every time you star something in Google Reader, or maybe you want a text reminder to call your mom every Friday at 3 p.m.

IfThisThenThat (IfTTT) lets you create automatically triggered actions based on a wide range of networked services. It can free up your mental space tremendously. Here's how to get started.

  1. Head over to the invite page and use the code CNETHOWTOALLSTARS to get your beta invite.

  2. Confirm your e-mail and basic info, then log in.

  3. Read its Terms of Use and privacy policy. (This is always a good idea, but especially so for a service like IfTTT, which needs access to quite a bit of your personal life. I am perfectly comfortable with its terms, but you may not be.)

  4. Get started! Click the "Create" tab at the top right, then click "this." You're faced with a large, colorful array of channels (Web services and other widgets that can provide triggers for actions). You may have an idea in mind, or you may want to browse for inspiration, which is present in abundance.

    Step 4: Choose a channel.
    Step 4: Choose a channel.
  5. Once you've selected a channel for your trigger, you need to activate it. You only need to do this once for any given channel, and it gives IfTTT access to whatever feed or info is bundled into the channel. This might also involve specifying an RSS address or a phone number or some other nugget of information.

  6. Once the channel is activated, you'll need to select a specific trigger. In the example below, I'm using Foursquare, but different channels offer different actions, so be sure to explore.

    Step 5: Create a trigger.
    Step 6: Create a trigger. Rob Lightner
  7. Now that you've created a trigger, just tell IfTTT what to do when it goes off. Click "that" to bring up the action channels. (Watch out for further inspiration, too!) Select one, activate it if necessary, and then select "Create Action" at the bottom.

That's all it takes. As of now, you can only have 10 ten active triggers. That's quite a few, though some users will of course crave more. I expect expanded options (maybe at a premium) from IfTTT in the not-too-distant future. For now, though, it's plenty of fun and adds real value to those of us with heavily networked lives.