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Pipes — Yahoo!’s AppleScript?

20 February 2007

Yahoo! Pipes is getting a lot of press as the latest and greatest web mashup tool. OK, I’ll bite…

So I went over to take a peek. First of all, the whole thing is about as intuitive as AppleScript. Which is to say, you know that it’s “simple” to use, because everyone else says so. But no one will tell you really what it’s supposed to do or how you’re supposed to make it do it. There are lots of examples, but it’s kind of like putting ingredients out on a counter, and giving each ingredient a name and a description of its flavor, but not telling you what food group it’s from, what it reacts with, or how to combine it with the other ingredients in which volumes to make some outcome.

And that’s another issue — the outcome. What does it MAKE? Lists of stuff, I guess. I’m really not sure.

So I tried making my first Pipe. I could have written a UNIX pipe at the command line faster than this. 🙂 But OK. So I want to find all the GoogleBase recipe entries for chocolate lava cake, and mash those up with all the Flickr pictures tagged with chocolate lava cake. I was able to do that after slogging through and finding the Union module (which is useful enough that it should probably be somewhere else, but that’s just my opinion).

But that looked stupid. I had a list of 20 recipes (why 20?), followed by a list of 20 Flickr pictures. I could have just gone and grabbed the individual RSS feeds for these and written ten lines of PHP. But OK. So it’s a visual envrionment and you don’t need to know any programming. Fine. I’ll still play along. Now I’d like to alternate — one Flickr picture and then one recipe, and then the second Flickr picture and the second recipe. I tried everything I could think of. I made sub-pipes. I used foreach operators. But I always got a list of recipes, and then a list of pictures.

Then I decided I’d already wasted enough time. There are no tutorials — just EXAMPLES. Well, ok. Showing me a picture of a bowl of clam chowder isn’t going to help me make clam chowder. Once they’ve got some decent documentation up, maybe I’ll give it a go again. But I’m not a college student who can sit around for half a day trying to use some tool to do something I can already do.

Which brings me to one other really quick point. Go to Pipes documentation page, and come back with a concise definition of what it is and why you’d want to use it. Then go to Google Base‘s doc page and tell me what it is and why you’d want to use it.

Let’s see:
“remix popular feed types and create data mashups” = HUH? What is a ‘feed type’, and how do you ‘remix’ it? Am I a DJ?
“submit all types of online and offline content, which we’ll make searchable on Google” = Oh, it’s like Craigslist, only infinite content types.

Granted, they’re two different services doing different kinds of things, but Google’s approach to explaining it is completely different from Yahoo!’s. On Google’s first doc page, you see the most important questions that new visitors ask — What is it, and why would I use it? I showed you above the ‘what is it’, and here’s the why, “If you have information you want to share with others but aren’t sure how to reach them, Google Base is for you. You can easily submit all types of online and offline content to Base, and if your content isn’t online yet, we’ll put it there.” Well, my mother can understand that!

On Yahoo!’s first doc page, it asks the question ‘What is Pipes?’, but then sends me to an overview for a ‘quick introduction’. OK…I get the answer to the what question (again, as above), but there’s no why. Why? Why do I want to use Pipes? The example it shows me is how to find out how many dog pictures are on Flickr. Hmm, ok, or I could just go to Flickr and type ‘dog’ into the search field, and see how many came up.

Maybe I’m missing something. I’m sure there’s potential out there for this to do something really cool, but until then, I’m going to use it as much as I use AppleScript.

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