This post was written by Kristen Szuman, Instructional Technology Student Assistant.
The third of three posts exploring productivity apps, this post will explore IFTTT, a chain-based events service; Vault, a password keeper; and Forest, a sustainable take on the classic timer app.
IFTTT (IFTTT Inc, $Free)
What Is It? IF This Then That (IFTTT) is a free, web-based service designed to execute chains of events based on simple conditional statements (referred to as applets). For example, if you wanted a rundown of tomorrow’s weather,you could set up an applet that sends you a text message every night at 8pm. Or, if you dread coming home to a dark room or house, you could pair IFTTT with a smartbulb app so that the bulbs would turn on automatically when the sun set. However, while the app itself is incredibly useful, especially if you are often forgetful or easily-distracted, you are limited in what you can do by what other services or products you already use.
How Is It Helpful? Aside from the many niche chains you could trigger with this app, some of the more useful ones involve: daily weather forecasts or inclement weather notifications, automatically recording daily activities (such as workout times or work hours) to a Google spreadsheet, receiving a notification when you a specific person/company emails you, sending a message to your roommates when you arrive at a particular supermarket/Target/Walmart, automatically saving attachments received by email to your Google Drive, syncing Google emails with receipts or orders or invoices to a Google spreadsheet, automatically curating a Discover Weekly archive with Spotify, or unmuting the ringer on your Android phone each morning. However, those are just the applets you could set up with some other common and free web services; if you have an Amazon home service, a smart thermostat, smartbulbs, or are interested in syncing or archiving different social media activities, there are many more applets available for use.
Valt (Valt Inc, $Free)
What Is It? Valt is a password-keeping app with a visual approach. Available as a desktop app, mobile app, and Chrome extension, Valt allows you to store all of your passwords behind a automatically generated “master password.” That password is represented by a series of images generated by the Valt app. When you first download Valt to use, you are given a brief training session which takes you through a series of photos used to represent your master password; this way, you use your visual memory to access your account and your passwords and because Valt works across platforms, remembering the series of images allows you to access your passwords to accounts anytime. Additionally, when in the process of making a new online account, Valt provides you with suggested passwords that are automatically generated strings of characters and symbols, designed to be random and secure.
How Is It Helpful? Password-keeping apps can be tricky– there is always the worry that the app may not be as secure as it claims or that you may forget the password to the app that is meant to help eliminate such problems. As far as security concerns, Valt claims to not store your master password on any server, thereby reducing the risk of your Valt account being hacked and your information being stolen. Additionally, relying on visual memory is intended to be easier for users to remember, and more difficult for others to simply guess. Valt claims that it is unlikely you will forget your images if you are accessing your account regularly (about every other week or so) and these claims are even backed by academic research that has found you can easily recall “hundreds of images, even without seeing them for a month.”
Forest (Seekrtech, $Free)
What Is It? Forest is a sustainable solution to your productivity problems. Available as a mobile app and Chrome extension, Forest allows users to earn credits and plant trees around the world. When using the mobile app, a tree will grow so long as you do not exit the app. Forest uses a manageable 30 minute timer to start with, and as you earn more credits, you can also unlock different tree species and time intervals to choose from. As a Chrome extension, the app prompts you to add distracting websites to your Forest Blacklist. Once you start your timer, a tree will grow as long as you refrain from surfing the sites listed on your Blacklist. Forest partners with Trees for the Future (TREES), an agroforestry NGO with (currently) 14 projects underway in 5 Sub-Saharan African countries: Cameroon, Kenya, Senegal, Uganda, and Tanzania. As you grow more of your own virtual trees, you earn coins you can use to help farmers plant real trees chosen to thrive in their given environment. TREES partners with local farmers to help revitalize degraded lands. Each farmer is trained directly by TREES staff and technicians in necessary agroforestry techniques and technicians make yearly visits for the four-year Forest Garden program. While TREES provides the seeds, nursery materials, and training, the farmers in the Forest Garden program do retain full ownership of the trees they grow.
If you would like to read more about Trees for the Future and the work they do, you can do so over at their website: http://trees.org/
How Is It Helpful? While there are many productivity/timer apps out there, Forest not only helps you to be more productive, but also more present in your daily life. The app can be used for studying or homework, but it can also be used if you are trying to check your phone less often while out with your friends, to not use your phone during a movie or while reading, to not browse social media sites while at work, or even setting a longer timer to allow a tree to grow while you sleep. Overall, if you are looking for a way to stay focused while working, you can do so with Forest while also making a meaningful difference in someone else’s life.