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The biggest WordPress automation update is here

Six months and thousands of hours in the making, Uncanny Automator and Uncanny Automator Pro 3.0 releases are out today. This is, bar none, our biggest update ever. It completely changes how we, other developers and our customers can interact with Automator now and in the future. Version 3.0 doesn’t just add new features, it’s a modern framework for building and setting up automations for WordPress.

In this blog post we’ll talk about the highlights of the 3.0 releases, both free and premium versions, as well as what 3.0 means for developers. We can’t cover everything in this blog post alone, so stay tuned for additional updates that focus on specific areas of the releases as well as lots of new documentation (especially for developers).

User-friendly tokens

A big focus of 3.0, and the next few releases, is on ease of use. That means more in-plugin guidance and tools that are easier to use, starting with readable “tokens”. For anyone unfamiliar with tokens, it’s what we call the variables that are used in actions that populate dynamic data. A user’s name, email address, the time, maybe a quiz score—all of these are examples of tokens.

New tokens for Uncanny Automator

In previous releases selecting tokens was easy, but once populated they weren’t at all user friendly. They might have looked something like this: {{27207:WP_ANON_WEBHOOKS:WEBHOOK_FIELDS:}}. We knew what they meant, but for users, they sure were confusing. So, in 3.0, we overhauled the entire trigger system for the hundreds of triggers we support. Now, instead of something that looks like code, we say what the token represents in plain English and we show an icon for the associated trigger, so no more guessing is needed to know where the data is coming from.

On that note, see below for a screenshot of how we’re now handling usermeta tokens. We definitely had a few users confused about how to set up usermeta retrieval in the past but we’re confident this new view will make things easier.

New usermeta tokens

One more thing we did to make things easier was to optionally hide fields that normally wouldn’t be appropriate for the associated field type (like making a Date token available for an Email field). In the screenshot, note the Only email tokens field; toggling that shows or hides tokens depending on whether or not they might contain valid email addresses.

Show email tokens in action fields

Power Users: Before we move on, the new token system lets you merge tokens together or with text. Did you notice how we merged a token with text in the previous screenshot? We took the user’s “Name” value from Groundhogg (check the token icon) and added it to domain. So if the user’s name is “ryan” in Groundhogg, Automator will see this email address as ryan@acmeco.com.

Delayed and Scheduled Actions

Yes, this is the feature that everyone is excited about. This one is for our Pro users only, but it’s amazing. Now you can take any action you want in a recipe and set it to run on a delay (e.g. 5 minutes or 6 months) or have it run on a particular calendar date. It’s as powerful as it sounds.

Here are a few examples:

  • When a user signs up for a trial via form submission, create the user and add them to a group or membership level, then remove them from the group or membership level a week later while adding a CRM tag.
  • Send a series of marketing emails as part of an onboarding program.
  • Send users a feedback request automatically a week after a scheduled Zoom webinar.
  • Send users an automatically generated coupon code the day after a large purchase.

Delayed and scheduled Automator actions

Not only can you schedule the actions, but you can track their progress and even cancel them if you need to. The new logging system provides better detail so you can track exactly how automations are running on your site.

Detailed recipe logging

While we’re talking about tracking scheduled and completed actions, one gap we’ve had in the past is that our separate recipe, trigger and action logs sometimes made reconciling all activity difficult. With 3.0, you can get full details for a particular recipe entry on a single screen. See which triggers have been satisfied and when, what’s going on with actions, run counts, etc. This makes it much easier to track what’s going on with your site.

Detailed Uncanny Automator recipe logs

Duplicate recipes

You can now duplicate a recipe with one click. Even better, duplicating a recipe takes you into the new recipe immediately and sets key elements to Draft status (so it isn’t enabled automatically).

Duplicate recipes and set max runs

Run recipes a limited number of times

This is something we hadn’t considered until a few customers asked us, “What if I only want a certain number of users to be able to run the recipe?” Initially, we thought this might be covered by inventory for products, tickets for events, or form limits for forms, but users had some great examples for when it was the recipe itself that should be limited. What if only the first 10 purchases of a product should get a bonus? Well, 3.0 allows you to control how many times a recipe will run across all users, not just for specific users (which we’ve always had).

Easier troubleshooting

If you ever run into problems with Automator, we added a ton of tools in 3.0 to make it easier for us (and your developers) to troubleshoot things. In fact, there’s a whole new Tools menu for Uncanny Automator in /wp-admin/. In it, key information about the WordPress environment, Automator debug logs and Automator database tables are all available at a glance. For the very rare database errors we’ve seen, there are now bundled tools so things can be resolved in one click rather than reaching out to our team.

Uncanny Automator Debugging Tools

We’re super developer friendly

We’ve had a number of developers build fantastic add-ons for Uncanny Automator over the last year. In fact, we hired one of them ourselves for Automator development! And over that year, we didn’t do enough to support developers. We are very aware of that and have done a lot with 3.0 to make sure Automator development is as easy as possible.

With that in mind, we’ve made some big changes going forward:

  1. All code is fully documented and available for review at https://docs.automatorplugin.com/. That’s right, we have an entire site (with 2,500 articles) dedicated to Automator documentation that will be kept updated after each release.
  2. A developer site with detailed development articles at https://developer.automatorplugin.com/. Yes, that’s 2 new websites just for developers to better understand how to build solutions for Automator.
  3. A far more efficient core. With the 3.0 core update, integrations can be built with a fraction of the code it took for 2.x.
  4. A dedicated Slack channel with access to our development team for questions. If you’re building something for Automator, send us a note and we can get you added. Please note that this channel is not for general support, just plugin development and only for plugin developers.
  5. New samples for 3.x code. There’s a sample integration, sample trigger, sample action, and a sample of moving 2.x code to 3.x.
  6. Full backwards compatibility of 2.x triggers and actions with 3.0. Yes, #5 will be fantastic for new development, but anything built for 2.x will still work with 3.0.

Build Automator actions with no code

All of these developer tools and resources will be of great benefit to third-party developers, but what if you need something quickly? What if you wanted to connect to a plugin we don’t support on a one-off basis? This next Pro feature is pretty mind-blowing for site builders.

You can run any hook as an action. You don’t need to build the integration first; you can just use a brand new Automator action to hook into anything. Just identify the hook name and variables and Automator can trigger it and pass in the data, whether it’s static or a dynamic token.

WordPress Hook Action

Performance changes

The Automator 3.x architecture makes a lot of new things possible (wait until you see 3.1 and 3.2!), but despite the enhancements, sites should not see worse performance. We do now need 3 calls per page load instead of 2 (to support new functionality), but because of efficiency improvements and loading more dynamically, in our performance tests we generally saw improvements of around 15% in Automator overhead compared to 2.x. Certainly this will vary for each site, but most sites should see some gains with this release and even more in 3.1 and 3.2. Automator already has really low overhead and this will keep getting better.

New triggers and actions

We know, usually major Automator releases are all about the new integrations, triggers and actions. In 3.0 it’s less a focus because there are so many even bigger changes in the core plugin. We’ll get back to that more in 3.1, but in the 3.0 release, there are still a handful of new additions.

Modern Events Calendar is the only new integration in Uncanny Automator 3.0. It adds the following:

  • Trigger: A user’s booking of an event is completed (Free)
  • Trigger: A user’s booking of an event is cancelled (Pro)
  • Trigger: A user’s booking of an event is pending (Pro)
  • Action: Register a user for an event (Pro)

Here’s what’s new for existing integrations:

There are some great new additions that should help a lot of sites, but we know the real excitement is still with the core features in the plugin.

Wondering what else is new? Make sure to check out the full changelogs for Uncanny Automator and Uncanny Automator Pro.

Preparing for 3.0

That’s it for our summary of new 3.0 features, but we will get deeper into some of them in posts over the next few weeks. For now, if you’re an existing Automator user, we highly recommend testing the updates out on a Staging site before applying them to your live site. While the updates have gone through weeks of testing, there are inevitably some scenarios we won’t catch, especially with a release like this that represents hundreds of hours of effort and significant core changes. We also strongly recommend you update both free and pro versions of Uncanny Automator at the same time; using a 2.x version of one plugin with a 3.x version of the other may have unexpected results.

Once you have tested things out, let us know how you’re enjoying the new features in the comments below!

This Post Has 4 Comments
  1. Wellll done ! So far so good, our test in our staging looks pretty sharp. We’ll try it on our website tonight ! Congrats team !

    1. Thanks David, great to hear that everything looks good for you!! 5 hours later and we did identify 3 issues affecting 5 people, but all have been fixed and we’ll get a 3.0.1 update out very soon.

  2. Excited for this update! — But, how do I update the plugin’s Pro version in a staging site when I only have 1 license?

    It won’t allow me to do testing for the pro version on a test site if I have 1 license. Any suggestions or advice?

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