Senator Ted Stevens wasn't far from the truth when he called the internet a "series of tubes." If he'd said pipes instead, he probably would have gotten far less of a crucifixion -- that is, if it's possible for one crucifixion to be less unpleasant than another.
With content floating around in so many varied forms (blogs, wikis, news, niche information), there have got to be better ways to organize all that info we're streaming aside from the current process of choice: standard RSS feed readers and browsers. While convenient, RSS readers don't allow for much data structuring and have a limited framework for manipulation.All that could change with Yahoo! Pipes, a surprisingly exciting offering by the guys we thought were just hopping around in Google's Web 2.0 shadow.
In Yahoo's own words, "Pipes is a hosted service that lets you remix feeds and create new data mashups in a visual programming environment." The service is inspired by Unix pipes, which enables midnight script kiddies to chain multiple utilities together on a command line, a simple, yet powerful capability that lends the ability to perform complex data processing in a very concise format.
Now everyday RSS users can play info-deejay too.
Pipes starts out simple the way all good APIs should. With only a basic set of modules for pulling and manipulating Atom and RSS feeds, users can combine information sources from existing Web services and feeds. And because Pipes uses standard RSS 2.0, users can in turn read or further mash their pipes in any standard feed aggregator. Customized pipes with user input can also be created and run on Yahoo servers as little web applications.
Simplicity leaves space for a lot of creative leeway, however. Yahoo provides a few examples of how Pipes is already being used. One user created an apartment search pipe that combines Craigslist listings with Yahoo! Local data to display available apartments near businesses.
Other users are getting slightly more creative.
Frantic Industries has already created a list of 5 cool ways (just so far!) that Yahoo! Pipes can be used right now. Among other things users have created jukebox-style playlist images to match their music, streamed related news stories alongside their blogs or articles, translated global news sites into English, developed comprehensive instant-travel guides, and browsed Digg through Flickr.
There are also bugs aplenty and a few peeves with existing features. Frantic Industries judiciously points out experienced coders will likely go mad about not being able to look at the code as they program, as Pipes utilizes a visual framework.
So the possibilities are broad: consider how exciting it is when major Web 2.0 venues like Google or Flickr mix and match information offerings (like the inclusion of Keyhole satellite technology into Google maps). With a bit of creativity and some patience -- Pipes can be buggy and slow because it's new -- any dedicated RSS junkie can now do the same thing.
Pipes is not an open source beta but Yahoo is (wisely) keeping an ear to what works and what doesn't through its online editor. In the near future they plan to unroll the following:
* Programming access to the Pipes engine
* Support for more data sources like KML
* Additional built-in processing modules
* The inclusion of user-contributed modules to expand and make the best use out of Pipes' capabilities
* Additional ways for rendering output (Badges and Maps, etc)
Even though some opinions have been less positive, we're not too concerned about the future of Pipes. The present already holds some exciting potential. All Yahoo's really got to do is follow the white rabbit -- runaway Pipes users -- as they toy with the possibilities.
And what are you still doing here? Get on over there and leverage them Internet things, 'n stuff.