Saturday, September 22, 2012

Toodledo and If This Then That

Toodledo and If This Then That

Two great web apps that taste great together.

There are a handful of tools out that that bowl me over with their possibilities. They seem to have infinite potential, even if I can't think of just what to do with them right now. One of them is Don Libes's expect programming language. Another is the web app If This, Then That, or IFTTT. Here's how I just set up a "recipe" on IFTTT to create to-do items by taking a voice memo on my cellphone.

What is IFTTT? It does what the name says: it's a web service that arranges for "that" to happen whenever "this" happens. I have about a dozen and a half of these set up, so when I post this blog entry, an IFTTT action will tweet a link to it from my twitter account, and another will post a link to it on my Facebook page. When I upload a picture to Facebook, a copy will be saved to my Flickr account. When I mark something with a star in Google Reader, that article will be saved in Instapaper for me to read offline later. If you browse their recipes, you'll get the idea quickly. See what I mean about infinite possibilities?

So what do I want to do with all that infinite power? Well, one thing I want pretty badly is to do useful things with my iPhone 4, like create to-do items in Toodledo by voice. The iPhone 4 is a museum piece--which is why I linked Wikipedia instead of Apple--and it doesn't support voice commands. For that I'd need an iPhone 5 or at least a 4s. I used to have a cool voice-command app called Siri, but it was mysteriously pulled from the app store shortly before they announced that the iPhone 4s would talk to you in a feminine voice and go by the name of "Siri." Hmmm.

Since then I've looked at any app that promises voice command. Dragon is pretty good, but it's really nothing more than a notepad that takes dictation. Vlingo isn't too bad, but I've found it frustratingly hard to use. Enter Voice Assistant. It has pretty accurate voice recognition--but ironically, I found it the most useless of all. It's a "do one thing" app. If you tell it in the preferences that you want to send text messages, then that's all it can do. If you tell it you want to send emails, then that's all it can do. It can only do one thing. How incredibly, utterly useless!

But suddenly I find myself wanting to do only one thing. I just want to talk into my phone, and create a to-do item. How on earth is that so hard? (And if you're going to tell me to bite the bullet and buy an iPhone 5, I can only say to you, "Shut up.") I used to use Jott, until they wanted me to start paying monthly for it. I tried to use Google Voice, but I could never get its "straight to voicemail" feature to work--they're convinced that when I call from my cell, I want to listen to my voice mails rather than leave one. Which somehow makes the single-minded stupidity of Voice Assistant attractive. If I tell it to send a text message, then by golly that's exactly what it will do.

But where to send the text? Toodledo doesn't accept text messages. I subscribed to the Pro service because it lets me create to-dos by sending an email message, but email is all it can do. What I need is some way to set things up so that If I send a text message, Then an email is sent to Toodledo...

And lo and behold, I know of just such a service. Five minutes at IFTTT, and I have just what I need. Whenever I send a text message to Toodledo from my cell phone, they will use it as the subject line of an email from my Gmail account to my secret Toodledo email address, which Toodledo will funnel into my inbox. I've shared the recipe with the public under the name "Text messages -> Toodledo."

Using it has a few moving parts, of course:
  1. First, sign up with Toodledo and subscribe to "Pro Plus" for $30/year.
  2. If you don't already have one, get a gmail account.
  3. Get yourself an iPhone and install Voice Assistant.
  4. Then, register with IFTTT, activating the SMS and GMail channels.
  5. Find the Text Messages -> Toodledo recipe and click "Use Recipe."
  6. Enter your secret Toodledo email address as the email "To" address, and save.
  7. Note the phone number the recipe gives you for sending your text messages to.
  8. On your iPhone, create a contact for "Toodledo," using your secret email address and the SMS phone number from IFTTT.
  9. In Voice Assistant on your iPhone, enable "Fast Access - SMS & iMessage," and choose the Toodledo contact as your "Favorite Sms & iMessage" preference.
That's it. Now whenever you dictate something in Voice Assistant, it will automatically pop up as a voice message. Tap "send," and it will go to IFTTT, who will send an email to Toodledo, who will turn that into a to-do item. Somewhere in this chain of events, I'm sure a pin pops a balloon, which scares a cat, which jumps onto a sleeping man's head, who rolls down a flight of stairs, landing with his nose on the RETURN key.

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