Way back when Classics social media began — by which I mean the Classics-l list, soc.classics on Usenet, and various other online fora — one of the earliest, recurring complaints by some participants circulated around the sheer volume of posts/emails one might get in a day. Of course, those kinds of complaints continue today to a greater or lesser degree and I’d like to bring Classicists’ attention to a service (free!) that’s been around for a number of years which you quite possibly will find very useful: IFTTT. I use it (and will show you below) to monitor eBay, archive my own tweets, save others’ tweets that appeal to me for whatever reasons, and (perhaps most important) to impose order on Twitter when a conference is being livetweeted.
IFTTT (IF This Then That) is a simple-to-use online ‘triggering’ service which I’ve found to be incredibly useful in all my online activities. It enables all sorts of technology to interact with other technology via the web (e.g., you can set it up so your phone automatically mutes when you arrive at work, or church, or whatever). I first learned of it some five or six years ago from the Lifehacker site and have made great use of it since. Perhaps oddly, my first use of it had nothing to do with Classics — I was put in charge of our school yearbook and was taking piles of photos with my phone. I was getting annoyed with always having to forward photos to my email so I could edit them (or whatever) on my laptop and so found a ‘recipe’ (as they were then called; they’re now called applets) at IFTTT which would send any photo taken automatically to my email. I used it a couple of times but then decided it was taking over my hard drive too quickly.
At the time, I was also heavily following the questionable online auctions at eBay and found a very useful recipe/applet:
With this one, I set up a trigger which searches eBay for ‘Roman Antiquities’ and another one which does ‘Greek Antiquities’ and every day I get a digest email with whatever is new in those categories. It’s probably useful to point out at this point that ‘setting up a trigger’ is actually easy and there’s probably one already existing for what you want to do (other than filling in some blanks in a form). So for non-programmer types, there is nothing to fear from IFTTT.
IFTTT and Twitter
Skipping over some other experiments, we now turn to my aha moment when I realized IFTTT could be used to impose some order on Twitter. Initially, I wanted something which would create an archive of all my tweets. When I found out how it worked, I actually was using the results to create pages of tweets here at rogueclassicism, which some of you might remember (I stopped doing that primarily because it created huge pages of tweets which were really slow to load). I’ll mention this one, though, just in case you would like to archive your own tweets. Again, the recipe already existed:
Now this is where things will get potentially uncomfortable depending on your trust level. You will have to tell IFTTT to turn on the ‘services’ for both Twitter and Google Drive. Once you have done that, you click on the little gear up there (upper right in the blue) and include your details. Important details are whether it includes things you retweet and whether it includes your replies. This applet also will create a spreadsheet in your Google Drive which you should give an appropriate title to (the default works) and a path to the file on your Drive (I think the default works here too; if you want it somewhere else, it can be changed). Here’s an excerpt of sorts of the output from back in October:
As you can see, going left to right (and not ‘sized’ for content), what is created in spreadsheet form has the date (A), who sent it (B), the tweet (C), and a link to the tweet (D). When I was creating pages here of my tweets, all that was required was to copy column D and paste it into the HTML tab of a WordPress page (this is important for a later use). In case you’re curious, Google Sheets has a limit of 2000 rows, so when that limit is reached, a new sheet is started.
Saving Liked Tweets for Later
The next use for IFTTT arose when I was trying to figure out how to save individual tweets to return to later. As anyone on Classics twitter knows, people are constantly posting links to blogs, podcasts, etc., and I needed an easy way to save them on any of my devices so I could check them out and potentially add them to my rss reader (which is Blogtrottr, by the way). I’ll admit this one isn’t perfect, but it gets the job done and requires you to ‘like’ a tweet. It’s also one that I had to create myself (i.e. there wasn’t an existing applet for this) but it’s actually rather easy and I’ll walk you through it:
Assuming you have set up your IFTTT account and have given the permissions for Twitter and Google Drive …
- Click on the dropdown arrow by your account name and select ‘New Applet’:
2. You’ll be taken to a page that looks like this; we’re working on the protasis now … click on the +this part:
3. Select the service that will be the source of the protasis … in this case, Twitter (you can also type ‘twitter’ into the search box if it isn’t conveniently in the top row as it happened to be for me)
4. Select from the various choices the one you want; in this case it relates to the user liking a tweet:
5. Okay … now it’s apodosis time … click the +then that:
6. Again, you’ll be selecting a service … what they don’t tell you is you have to specify the Google service rather specifically (sorry), so you’re looking for Sheets:
7. Then again you select what you want to happen, in this case, add a row to the sheet:
8. After that, you’ll be taken to a page which looks like a bunch of code (sort of). There’s nothing really necessary to change here, but you might want to give the spreadsheet a different name. Later, when you’re proficient with IFTTT, this is the page where you’ll ‘fiddle’.:
9. Click on ‘Create Action’, then ‘finish’ on the page that comes up. Since you’re triggering this by liking something, you really don’t need to be sent a notification when it happens, so you might want to turn that off.
The Money Shot: Following (and saving) Livetweeted Conferences
Of all the things I’ve done with Twitter, IFTTT, and Google, this is probably the most useful for the world of Classics Twitter. A few months ago, there were two or three conferences going on at the same time that were being livetweeted by several people in several venues. The conferences all had hashtags, of course but even with that, my twitterfeed was bursting with hundreds more tweets than usual. And so, as I pulled out the last clumps of my hair trying to stay on top of things, I thought of IFTTT. In this situation, we need to use that page mentioned in step 8 above.
The process for this one is almost identical to the foregoing.
- Click ‘New Applet’
- Click the +then and select Twitter
- This time, click on ‘New Tweet from Search’:
4. Type in the hashtag for the conference and click ‘Create Trigger’:
5. Click on the +that, use the searchbox to select Google Sheets, and do the ‘Add row’ thing, create action, and finish as in the previous example. Again, you’ll want to turn off notifications.
6. Now here’s where the ‘fiddle page’ comes into play; after you’ve done everything (or go to your main page with your applets), you will see what you created as this:
7. Click on the little gear and you’ll be taken to the fiddle page. Here’s the one for the IFTTT recipe I made for the CACSEAC a few months ago. Notice I have manually added ‘Exclude:retweets’ in the ‘Search for’ box; I think it adjusts in the box above, but if not, you can do it manually here as well.
UPDATE (a couple days later when I noticed): in the ‘Formatted Row’ box, delete the entry that says ‘Link to first URL’ … it won’t affect the operation of the thing if you don’t, but it will give you a potentially annoying empty column in your spreadsheet.
8. Click on save and wait for the tweets to pour in. If you’re paranoid like I am, you will do a test tweet with the hashtag to see if it works. It might take a few minutes to get started but it should show up pretty quickly.
To foreshadow a related post which should show up in the next couple of days, if you use the technique I mentioned above in regards to archiving my tweets (i.e. copying and pasting ‘column D’ from the spreadsheet), you can actually save a whole conference without worrying about Storify or anything that has replaced it. More on this to come!
P.S. If I’ve made a mistake in the above instructions, please drop me a line!