How sending email to SMS led me to a world of event-driven programming

A couple of nights ago, I was messing around with SMS alerting after checking out some websites to let me know the best times to see the Northern Lights in southern Britain. Lancaster University’s AuroraWatch UK site, has an alerting system including advice on sending emails to a phone via SMS.  The exact steps are carrier-specific, however O2, who operate the network I use (Giffgaff), works with MMail (send a text consisting of the word on to 212 and a confirmation from 21203 will tell you your email address, which should be +447xxxxxxxxx@mmail.co.uk – turn it off again with an off text to 212).  Even so, it is a risky service to leave active as each text message sent or received costs the recipient (it’s supposed to be 10p, but for me it seemed to be £0.20), so it’s possible for a spammer to run up a hefty phone bill for you… on that basis, MMail doesn’t sound so attractive.

There are a variety of SMS services available from SMS2Email but a little bit more digging around (on the Giffgaff forums), turned up reference to If This Then That (Ifttt) – a website that someone had mentioned to me recently but which I hadn’t looked at yet.

My verdict? Wow! Event-driven programming is cool.

Register at the site and build tasks that match the “if this, then that” construct, based on:

  • Triggers – the this part.
  • Actions – the that part.
  • Channels – the “things” that triggers and actions take input from or output to .

Tasks poll for input every 15 minutes but they can be turned on/off and you can also create recipes for sharing tasks, so for example, I’ve created a task/recipe that polls the AuroraWatch UK Twitter RSS and sends an SMS message when there is a red alert (i.e. a chance of spotting the Northern Lights anywhere in the UK). I’m sure there are loads more things that can be done with Ifttt as there stacks of channels to build from – in fact, wading through the recipes that people have shared brings up some pretty cool ideas.

Ifttt is definitely worthy of further investigation…

5 thoughts on “How sending email to SMS led me to a world of event-driven programming


  1. I’m disappointed with ITTT that they don’t permit arbitrary API calling, so you can’t say “If http://example.com/data.json includes blabblah then e-mail me a formatted version of that record”, or “If I GTalk you with a string, connect to http://example.com/api/post?message=string

    For those of us who use Open Source apps such as StatusNet, or even have RSS feeds they want to do stuff with, it makes it quite difficult to get any value out of it.


  2. I’ve been using IFTTT for some time now and on the whole it has been fine, but just be wary as it still seems to be bedding in. You pointed out a little while ago that I had published a lot of blog post links to twitter one morning, that was an example of IFTTT getting a little overexcited! It’s happened a further 2 times since then so those tasks are now turned off!


  3. @Gary – I’ll watch out for that then – thanks for the warning.

    @Jon – sure, it’s not great for those who can code, but as an event-driven model that pretty much anybody can follow, it’s got some value surely?


  4. @Mark sure, I appreciate it’s usefulness, but currently it’s limited. I mean, the list of actions and triggers haven’t really grown since I first looked at it some 3-6 months ago.

    It’s not a huge leap to go from ITTT to Yahoo Pipes [1] but the amount you can do with Pipes is so much more. I think my main issue with ITTT is that it’s like they got half way into it, and then the money ran out. The blog hasn’t been updated for months, and there seems to be no way to request new services are added.

    [1] http://pipes.yahoo.com


  5. @Jon Interesting… I tried pipes once and didn’t find it as simple – maybe that’s the point… there’s only so far you can dump down programming! I hope IFTTT hasn’t just run out of money (I could ask when will Yahoo! ;-) ) but I’ll bear that possibility in mind :-(

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