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Mashup Pipe dreams for Yahoo!

I do so like the direction Yahoo! are taking recently. Rather than trying to battle Google head-on through search, they’re coming from many different angles pursuing smaller, more niche directions. Their main vector of attack recently being Mashups.

While they busy themselves with their various web properties together via other means, you can now entangle your Del.icio.us favourites and your Flickr pictures along with your Answers with Pipes, a very new take on RSS feeds usage.

At first blush, Pipes seems very limited in that all it does is RSS feeds, but then that’s to underestimate what can be done with RSS feeds, and more importantly, what can be shoved down them.

“The product name is taken from the world of UNIX where a pipe is a conduit for the transfer of data between applications, while with the Yahoo product it is a conduit for data between web services.”

That’s part of the reason I originally rolled my eyes at the idea. Anyone who’s every used pipes in Unix knows that you’re going to have to get up pretty damn early every day for many a year to get one over on Unix pipes.

Anyway, it’s not like that.

“The beauty of the application is with its simplicity – a user can take any sources, user input requests or [pre-defined modules] and drag & drop them into place and then connect the pipes. Within minutes I had built an application that would search for ‘Techcrunch’ in a variety of feeds, bring that data together, sort it and filter it for unique results.”

So you can build custom search queries, so long as you know what the name-value pairs are for that particular search. But let’s face it, if you’re building URL’s you’re already well up the technophile food chain.

It’s about the UI, stoopid!

One thing I dislike immensely about such things is the aversion to Adobe Flash. Why? Why not use Flash for what is its ideal territory?

This is what Flash was made for. Instead, we are required to muddle through a roughly-hewn user interface that doesn’t always do what you’d like it to do.

Case in point: Pipes crashes Safari under Mac OS X Tiger. Not a good start.

Okay, I know Pipes is still in beta, but there’s just no excuse for not using Flash, which just works while the infernal annoyance that is Web 2.0 tries but often comes up short.

Haven’t we seen this before?

The other thing that made me roll my eyes – though to a lesser extent – was that Pipes seems to be a web version of Apple’s Automator, which I dislike.

While to the casual eye Automator should be useful, it’s not. Of the first three things I thought of that I’d like to automate, Automator didn’t do much automating. In fact, it didn’t really do much of anything useful.

Having played around with Pipes (over a modem connection no less … long story!) I’m happy to say that it’s not Automator, in the sense that Pipes appears to be useful.

Share and share alike

As to be expected with such things, the emphasis is on sharing, with the addition of leaving shared Pipes open to editing by other users.

I also like the fact that Yahoo! are looking beyond their own self interests and keeping the likes of you & me front & centre:

“The fact that they include Google Base as a default source in Pipes shows that the web is much more about interoperability than the desktop ever was or ever will be.”

As a friend of mine recently deduced, Google Base has huge implications for ecommerce, a point which I imagine isn’t lost on Yahoo! or anyone else who’s spent time faffing around with Google base.

So we’ve seen the good, where’s the ugly?

Ah yes, the ugly side. Or to be more specific, the side of Pipes that kills revenue:

“Yahoo! Pipes makes it easy to remove advertising from feeds or otherwise reformat your content. I already know a few publishers who hold back the publishing the full content of their posts for fear of easy resyndication and brand dilution, and if Pipes becomes popular publishers might hold back a bit further or ban Yahoo! Pipes outright.”

Which for some of the bigger players out there is a problem. To make matters worse, to stop this new feed revenue cull from happening in the first place, they have to make a little effort:

“The Pipes troubleshooting section lists three ways of blocking the tool from using your feeds: modify your Apache settings to block User-Agent ‘Yahoo Pipes’, add a new element to your feed, or send Yahoo! an e-mail asking them to manually add your URLs to a blocked list and verify your authority to make such a request.”

Which takes ugly and just runs off with it into the distance.

Given that Yahoo! could potentially be shooting themselves in the foot on this one, we might just see some changes being made that avoid this little curio of a technicality over the course of the beta stage.

To infinity and beyond

There’s a lot to like about Pipes, but there’s also a lot more can be done, and I don’t mean that in a disparaging way, either.

What I mean is, Pipes has huge potential, disruptive potential. The kind that changes how people do things.

For instance, what else do we like to share and read, other than pictures and ‘blog articles? What about our tastes in music?

Might we not see Last.fm accounts find their way into Pipes? Sounds good to me!

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By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

5 replies on “Mashup Pipe dreams for Yahoo!”

I’d offer a simpler analysis, which I go into greater detail on over on Stumbleupon: However good the idea for a product may sound, if the product doesn’t work, it’s garbage.

Under the simplest of tests – a simple unfiltered merging of feeds – I found that Pipes failed, ending my curiosity about yet another Yahoo service.

Hi Joseph and thanks for the comment!

It’s clear that Yahoo! Pipes isn’t for everyone. In fact, it’s quite a complex little animal.

Not much has changed since I originally wrote this article, and I can see how easy it would be for you to try a Pipe and have it fail…

You’re quite welcome, Wayne, and I think that you’ve touched on the basic problem with Yahoo – things don’t tend to change. Products linger in Beta forever and then, sometimes just get killed. Goodybe, 360. Google is eclipsing these guys for a reason, perhaps.

BTW, I just found the direct link to the individual Stumbleupon post I mentioned. (Sounds weird, but SU does these things differently). If anybody was about to follow the link on my previous post, the link on this one will get one to that post with a lot less potential wading.

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