In February 2007, Yahoo quietly went live with Yahoo Pipes. Tim O’Reilly described it as “a milestone in the history of the Internet.” It’s the ultimate web mashup tool; keep reading to find out what it can do for you.
If you’re at all familiar with UNIX, you understand the concept behind Yahoo Pipes. A “pipe” in UNIX connects two programs, taking the output from one program and using it as the input of the next program. You can even connect a series of programs with a whole set of pipes, performing several different operations until you get the result you need.
For the sake of an example, assume that you are looking for an apartment close to a new job. You might create a program that visits web sites with classified listings, extracts the apartment listings, runs the addresses through a locator program to check the distance, discards all the ones over a certain price range, then sorts the remainder by some factor (say number of bedrooms or closeness to schools). That would be five steps run through four pipes.
Potentially, that would also be a lot of work if you’re actually writing a UNIX program to do this for you. Full disclosure: I’m not a programmer myself, so I wouldn’t know. But Yahoo Pipes lets users do exactly that, and more. It lets you combine many different data feeds (such as RSS) into a single feed. Once you’ve combined all the feeds, you can use “modules,” which are like mini-applications, to sort, filter, remix, and generally pick out whatever is important to you while leaving the rest.
I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that there are a ton of possibilities here. You can consolidate all of your favorite news feeds together into one feed and have it filter for specific words; you can put your entire online life together in one place (LiveJournal, Flickr, Facebook, what have you) to make it easier to tell your friends and family what you’ve been doing; you can even custom build an aggregated feed that covers your web site’s topic. Let’s take a closer look at how it all works.