IFTTT and Geofencing

IFTTT is the great connector service that allows us to program simply ‘if this then that’ logic so that when I favorite a tweet it is posted on my Tumblr blog, and thousands of other connectrons (like neurons, get it?) between the apps that channel our postnormal lives.

Now it gets realworldy. IFTTT now supports location (at least on iOS) so you can make things happen when you enter or exit a geofenced area.

Here’s my new rule, which sends an email to my family member when I get close to Cold Spring NY’s train station. This is only relevant when I am headed north, coming home from the city, so they can perhaps pick me up if we arranged it, or just be aware of the time so they can predict my likely time of arrival.


I’d rather send an SMS, but IFTTT only supports sending one to myself, alas. There is a mechanism for Google Talk, but it requires more fooling

And About Those To Dos

What I want, though, is to be able to alert myself to do things when I am at the right location. For example, to open Todoist on my iPhone when I get close to the grocery store and pop open a task called ‘grocery list’.

In fact, what would be metagood would be a meta rule that when I enter any other following list of locations, IFTTT would pop open any tasks tagged with the name ’<location name> list’. That would work for the Artisan Wine store (‘artisan wine store list’) as well as the grocery (‘key food list’).

And The Things Meets Social World

Yes, if I had a smart house I’d program rules for them, like unlocking and locking doors when I moved in and out of the zone near my house, and turning on/off the lights.

That last one suggests IFTTT would have to be become more social than it is today. For example, turning off the lights when I leave the area near my house if fine unless someone is in the kitchen making lunch. The logic would have to either default to implicit overrides or explicit ones, like ‘turn off the lights in the kitchen when I leave the area around my house unless someone else turned them on’. 

IFTTT is likely headed down this road, and it makes me more interested in fooling with smart devices in the home, because what I have read to date about controlling smart devices makes my stomach hurt.

And what about other social and thingy rules? 

  • ‘when I leave the area around my car, lock all the doors’ – requires accessing with the car’s location, too.
  • ‘when I enter an area where <list of names> are present, text them where I am’ – requires access to their locations

Opens up a potential can of worms – stalking, etc – but has obvious upsides, too.

There’s probably some fun design fiction in here, like the story of two teenage lovers forbidden to see each other that used IFTTT geofence rules to send messages. There exchange permissions to control each other’s smart devices (unbeknownst to the parents), and communicate what they are doing by turning on and off certain lights, and turn up the heat to indicate horniness. Their IFTTT romance is broken up when a repair guy finds the rules in one dad’s IFTTT account. The pair get a final message – ‘the permissions granted to <the other’s IFTTT account name> have been revoked’ – and the heat falls back to normal.

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