in T'interwebs

Pipes: Rewire the web

I’ve always loved both the notion of “piping” and the word itself. Many years ago, when first I met tech wizard Mr Winter at BBC Online, he would amaze me with his ability to just, er, ‘transform’ things with a clickety-click in a terminal: manipulating data, transforming, rearranging and then piping the results into a different application to ‘do more stuff’. While it looked like magic to an early Mac user (and like magic to the even-earlier O-Level Computing spod used to DOS and BASIC…) it’s of course totally fundamental and obvious to UNIX people who grew up on pipelines and scripting.

Scroll on a number of years and we Mac users are now unix people, I’m happy playing in the terminal and can do simple pipes and scripts (with help, I know!). However, I’m miles off that confident fluidity exhibited by keyboard whizzes with goatees… My knowledge about what’s possible is far in excess of my ability to “do” what I need.

Enter, huzzah, Yahoo Pipes – doing for piping and munging feeds what Filemaker Pro did for databases. No more grappling with grep, awkwardly awking and pathetically piping – I can munge together friends’ RSS feeds into a lovely single feed.

My usage at present is mainly “ooh – I can add things up and filter”, but a broader interest is that this is the first mashupping tool that’s accessible to a ‘normal’ user. It’s been a dual gripe of mine that most mashups at present seem to be map-based and that the API and tools to do that mapping is far from trivial.

In my ideal world (where people toil free of charge with devotion to satisfy my whims and interests) we’d have a similarly useful interface for Google Maps: maybe even linking a primary data store to google’s spreadsheets…

It is, of course, possible to cobble together a map mashup of holiday photos (in Flickr), locations (held in Sheet) and Google Maps, but “possible” and “knock-uppable in a whizz” are two different things…

Whether the application to drive/create/manage mashups is provided by the API owner, a third party (before they’re acquired by Google-hoo!) or – gasp – a desktop application (built into iPhoto? GPS data in Exif linking to Google Maps on .Mac…?) – the time feels ripe and commercially attractive.

Thanks to Mark Hopwood for reminding me to play with Pipes!

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