The foundational principle of the web is connectedness. Every website can — in theory — be connected to every other website. Our web browsers can load the content on all of these websites. But we aren’t the only ones who benefit from being able to retrieve information from a website and do something with it. In fact, in many instances, a machine can do more useful things with the information it gleans from a website that we can. Put another way, if other machines on the internet, and the services that run on them, could access the information on our WordPress sites, we could make interesting things happen.
This sort of machine-to-machine connectivity is what APIs are for. An API is an application programming interface, a straightforward way for web sites and services to talk to each other. A WordPress website might send the title and the URL of a just-published article to Twitter, via Twitter’s API, and have it tweeted. Which is awesome, but when I said straightforward, I meant straightforward for developers. Ordinary users will probably have a hard time hooking their site up to Twitter. There are plugins that will do this, but the point here is to be able to connect WordPress to any service that offers an API, not just the ones that a WordPress developer has created an plugin for.
Making it easy for non-technical users to connect together APIs is the raison d’etre of If This Then That (IFTTT), a web service that takes the APIs offered by many different web applications and offers an easy interface for tying them together.
First a bit of terminology. In IFTTT, a channel is a web service or other API provider. WordPress can be a channel, including your WordPress site, and so can Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and hundreds of other services. Channels can be connected to each other in such a way that a trigger on one channel causes an action to happen on another channel. In our WordPress post Tweet example, publishing a WordPress post is the trigger that causes the action — sending a Tweet — to happen. Together, this is called a recipe.
IFTTT is full of pre-made WordPress recipes, small applications that will let you trigger actions from your WordPress site, or trigger actions on your WordPress site from other services. There are recipes for automatically posting to most social media sites from WordPress or making a new WordPress post when you publish an image on Instagram. One of my favorites is a recipe that sends every post I publish on my WordPress site to Evernote, where it stays as a backup.
I’m a big fan of automation. There’s nothing I like less that doing something over and over again when a computer could do it just as well, leaving me free to focus on what’s important. I’m sure you can think of tasks like that among your WordPress blogging workflows. If you can, take a look at IFTTT; there’s a good chance you’ll find something there to shave a few minutes off your day.