Yahoo!'s pipe dream

 

If you’re not plugged into the news nirvana that is RSS,
chances are you’re missing out on loads of great story leads every day. Press Gazette tries Yahoo!’s new service that lets you bring news sources from around
the world into one place, translate them, play around them and splurge out a
feed at the other end.

Yahoo's new service, Pipes, has already provoked some hyperbole from the digerati. For "Web 2.0" guru Tim O'Reilly, the service is nothing less than "a milestone in the history of the internet".

Essentially, the service allows people with little knowledge of programming to combine the RSS feeds from websites into more useful outputs.

Adding value to information by automating the combination, filtering and presentation of diverse information sources is one of the great promises of the current "Web 2.0" developments online.

But for all their promise, "mashups" — sites that combine information from several online sources into a single output — have been the preserve of the people with more than a little programming skill.

Pipes drastically reduces the knowledge necessary to create a simple mashup. Pipes is certainly elegant — its drag-and-drop editor allows users to pull in RSS feeds, to filter and sort the content they deliver, and use the resulting information to create a new RSS feed.

As O'Reilly says, Pipes has "the promise of turning the web into a programmable environment for everyone".

GADGETS FOR THE HARD-WORKING HACK Yahoo!'s pipe dream By connecting the various operations, snakes-andladders- style, with shiny blue pipes, users can determine the order in which the many possible processes are executed. Even the most right-brained user can appreciate this visual metaphor for the flow of information.

Pipes clearly has some useful applications for journalists seeking better ways of finding and processing the glut of online information.

One Pipes project available on the site begins with the French daily Le Monde, pipes it through the Babelfish online translation service and uses the result to create an English version of the RSS feed (see picture above).

Another Pipes project takes the New York Times RSS feed, subjects it to a content analysis, and produces a feed of related photographs from photo sharing website, Flickr. That could come in handy the next time a big disaster leads to an outpouring of citizen photojournalism.

A third demonstration project aggregates search results from various news and blog search engines such as Google News, Technorati, and Bloglines — a quick way of monitoring reaction to a story or simply doing some comprehensive ego-surfing for your byline.

It took some experimentation, but I managed to create a simple Pipes project in well under an hour — a custom RSS feed that combines all feeds from the web into a "stalker feed".

The feed combines the RSS from my personal blog and Press Gazette blog, searches Google News for my byline, pulls in photographs I've uploaded to Flickr, and adds the links in my bookmarks from del.ico.us into a single subscription feed. Result: A single feed serving up all my stuff in one place.

Judging by the demonstrations on the site, this is barely scratching the surface of what is possible. With a deadline looming, though, I reluctantly gave up my efforts to produce a more sophisticated project.

Still, the potential is impressive. Still, like most trendy Web 2.0 applications, Pipes is very much a work in progress. Many things that one might assume to be simple — like ensuring that the date fields of different feeds are formatted in the same way — can be tricky and require more experimentation than a time-pressed journalist would care to do while on deadline.

Pipes is still far from being the sort of thing hacks less geeky than this correspondent will find useful immediately.

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