Quickly sharing links via Messages and Workflow

Despite my initial distaste for its drag-and-drop programming paradigm1 and the vague suspicion we all have that Apple is going to kill it sooner or later, I’m finding myself using Workflow more and more. Like the tea and grill reminders I wrote about a couple of months ago, the macros2 I make with it aren’t complicated, but they’re easy to make, easy to use, and they save me a surprising amount of time.

Something I do quite often from my phone is send links to my family via Messages. Without Workflow, the process goes like this:

With Workflow, the process is:

Written out like this, it may not seem like the savings is worth it, but believe me, it is. The “Switch to Messages” and “Find the right message thread” steps always take longer than they ought to. Also, when the macro is done, I’m automatically taken back to web page or tweet or whatever I was at when I thought “this would be good to share.”

Here are the actions that comprise the macro:

Message URL macro

The first two actions get the URL and save it to the variable MessageText for later use. The Contacts action is the most important, as it allows you, via the ⊕ button to add people to the short list that we then choose from in the next action. The choices (plural because Select Multiple is on) are then stored in the TextRecipients variable.

Finally, we retrieve the URL from MessageText and pipe it to the Send Message action, which has the Recipients set to TextRecipients.

If you have just a couple of people, or a couple of lists of people, you’re always sending links to, you could make individual macros for sending to each. In a macro like that, you wouldn’t need variables or the choosing action. They would be a single-action macros where the URL is sent directly to the Send Message action and the Recipients would be hard-wired in when you wrote them.

I started thinking I could do it this way but immediately realized the combinatorial problem, as there are 15 ways to make a list of up to four people:

In general, if you have [n] people with whom you share links individually and in various groupings, there will be [2^n - 1] combinations that have to be covered, a number that can get out of hand quickly. Hence the advantage of a single macro that puts all the people in a list and has you choose them.

I suspect there’s already a macro like this in the Workflow Gallery (which you can access from within the app), but I didn’t feel like searching for it. Also, it couldn’t be used “out of the box”—whatever might be in the Gallery would have to be customized to my family contacts.

  1. Due mainly to the extra back-and-forthing necessary on an iPhone, the only iOS device I had at the time. 

  2. I don’t care what the standard terminology is, I’m calling them macros. I’m feel distinctly stupid talking about making workflows in Workflow to help me with my link-sharing workflow.