Don’t overlook Yahoo Pipes, they work

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Very rarely do I stumble across functionality that makes me rub my hands together and laugh evilly at how powerful and graceful it is. I have one for you to try this week — It’s called Yahoo Pipes.

Yahoo Pipes have been around a few years now, but we’ve been so distracted by social media that we’ve overlooked this technology. Yahoo Pipes are designed to help ordinary Web users achieve global information domination. Pipes allow any user anywhere to add streams of content together, filter out content within the streams to hone information delivery into a sharp, perfect point.

Let’s say you’re interested in buying an iPad, but don’t want to pay more than $400 for it. You can build a Yahoo Pipe that filters Ebay content, delivering only content that includes “iPad” “$400” “Auction ends today” and even specify a model number. And to your amazement, that’s the only content you’ll receive from your pipe.

Here’s how Yahoo Pipes solves an enterprise publishing problem — the enterprise Web site has multiple blogs, but the webmaster wants to combine the blogs into a different combinations of feeds, based on different pages within the site. Just run the RSS feeds of blogs through Yahoo Pipes with an “Add” function and blammo, they’re together forever. In any combination. The content delivery is only limited by the imagination of the person building the pipes.

Media junkies, you can build a pipe that combines and delivers YouTube, Vimeo, iFilm, Motionbox, MySpace Video and Revver videos about a specific topic through a single RSS feed to your device automatically. Cat video fans, think of the possibilities! But on a more serious note, businesses can also aggregate training videos, perform competitor surveillance, and trendspot with a cleverly devised pipe.

Possibly the most useful feature of Yahoo Pipes is the repository of awesome pipes that smart people have built already. You can use their pipe as a model, or just copy what they did and add a few personalized parameters and you can experience the kind of information domination that comes from being able to customize what you receive from the Web.

The only downside of Pipes is that the documentation is a little difficult to understand at the beginning. Mostly it’s because Pipes doesn’t have a lot of description available for its functions, so you are left finding your own way as you begin to understand what’s what. But if you simply run a few pipes that were created by the experts, and then look at the kinds of elements that were used to get those results, it’s easy enough to figure out, which is probably why Yahoo didn’t spend much time describing everything.

When you look at Yahoo Pipes for the first time, you’ll probably make the mistake that I did initially, which is to discount the technology because it looks too easy to actually work. Seriously, it looks like a bunch of bubbles, and the pipes are built by drawing lines from one bubble to the other. It looks like it couldn’t possibly do anything important. However, some of the best technologies on the Internet have a simple user interface, as Yahoo Pipes proves.

Try experimenting with Yahoo Pipes — Since it’s a pull technology, you won’t hurt anybody if your pipe doesn’t work. But if it DOES work you’ll be amazed at what comes out. Enjoy!

Marci De Vries is president of MDV Interactive, a web consulting firm in Baltimore. Reach her at marci@mdvinteractive.com.