February 22, 2007

Yahoo! Pipes creator encourages developer feedback

Author: Lisa Hoover

When Yahoo! released its latest Web-based application, Pipes, earlier this month it was deemed everything from "innovative" to a "milestone in the history of the Internet." According to Pasha Sadri, Technical Yahoo!, Pipes Development, overall feedback on the new tool has been positive, but he says he's particularly interested in what the programming community has to say about it.

The somewhat enigmatic data mashup tool has garnered attention for its usefulness in assimilating information from a wide variety of sources while allowing users to filter and customize the resulting output according to their needs. Though positioned as an application for users with little to no programming experience, there are enough layers of technical fodder to also appeal to developers and power users. Sadri says he specifically wants to find out how useful the tool is for programmers because it will help the development team create additional and more creative applications for Pipes in the future.

"We encourage developers regardless of their programming expertise to try out Pipes," he says. "We look forward to tech-savvy users providing feedback to help as we expand the functionality of Pipes. The opportunities for Pipes are endless and we are planning to enable more complex applications in the near future."

Historically, Yahoo! has encouraged developers to create third-party applications for its products and services and Sadri says the same is true for the release of Pipes. While certain tools, such as the UI library and Design Patterns library, are open source, the technology behind Pipes is not. That doesn't mean, however, that developers can't get underneath the hood and tinker to some extent.

"Our intent is for developers to have the tools to innovate and create more available services and applications for everyday Internet users," says Sadri. "At this early stage our focus has been to establish a tool that is great for developers and allows them to create compelling, innovative user cases. Ultimately, however, we expect that average Internet users will be the ultimate beneficiaries of the system, though they may not know that Pipes is the enabling technology."

As for the question of whether Yahoo! will completely open any part of Pipes to developers in the future, Sadri says, "Pipes is still in a very early stage and we are not sharing any specific plans at this point. But to some degree, people can already participate by exposing their data or applications as a feed that can be used in Pipes. We will evaluate further as the tool matures over time."

Sadri acknowledges that some technical expertise is necessary to appreciate the tool's subtleties, but says Pipes was designed to be used by people with all levels of experience. "[It's] designed to be something that is very simple to use, yet flexible enough to be useful," he says. "For example, the View Source functionality allows users to view the diagram for any Pipe in the system. We believe this will help less technical users become engaged by observing and tweaking a Pipe that does what they need and saving the modified version for their own use."

The ability to copy a Pipe, adapt the filters to one's specific needs, save it right on the Web site, and then route the results into a single feed is one of the things that makes the application so approachable. As visitors to the Pipes Web site are discovering new ways to combine data and information, unique uses are emerging that are surprising even the developers, Sadri, says, such as the merging of news feeds with related Flickr images.

Sadri says that because Pipes is still in its infancy, it's too early to tell just how far developers and programmers will go with the tool and what will develop as a result. He says it's likely, however, that many pre-existing online services will be enhanced by melding them into other databases to give users new amalgams of information. Citing an example of merging real estate listings with data on local schools, Sadri says, "Until Pipes, there has not been an easy way to create these combinations."

As with any new technology, Pipes will likely undergo some growing pains, but the development team is already pleased at what they have seen programmers come up with so far. "We are amazed at some of the things people are already building or planning to build," says Sadri. "In the near future, we plan to expand the scope of Pipes to enable more complex applications. One of the cool features in Pipes is that you can create a Pipe and then use it as a new module in other Pipes. This feature will be more useful as we make it easier for people to search and discover these reusable components.

"The opportunities for Pipes are endless and we look forward to the feedback that we receive from developers."

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