If you want to create functional mash-ups of web services to suit your own ideas, but don’t know anything about programming, check out Yahoo! Pipes. It is a free web tool that lets you play around in a fun graphical environment to create new and interactive web services. For instance, you could create your own search engine, or a way to browse Flickr photos using a map, or a way to collect Craiglist postings from different cities using specfic keywords.
You don’t have to know anything about programming: you’re literally hooking up “pipes” to one another to create your new tool. It’s like playing with Lego, only the final product is actually useful when you’re done.
It’s easier to understand when you see it in action. For our purposes, let’s say you want to keep an eye on the graphic design scene in Canada and in Calgary. You can automatically monitor blogs and websites that are talking about anything design-related in Canada. I just spend the past little while creating a system that does exactly that, and here is how it ended up:
Here is how I created the system. First, gather your sources. On many search sites, you can grab the RSS feed for the search string. So we’re going to want to go to sources like Twitter Search, Google Blogsearch and Technorati, type in searches like “design” or “Calgary graphic design” then find the RSS feeds for each search.
Next, assemble it in Pipes. The interface (shown below at a reduced size) takes a little getting used to, but makes sense once you dive into it. From the sidebar on the left, select the type of “pipe” you want to use. You can fetch RSS feeds, CSV files, search results and more. I used the “Fetch Feed” pipe, and into each field, I copy-and-pasted the RSS feeds that I had already collected. After hooking it up to a filter that prevents duplicate content, I connected it to the Pipe Output. Voila! A sweet new way to keep your eye on graphic design in Canada and Calgary.
There are tons of different tools you can create. A short browse through Yahoo’s gallery will turn up plenty of practical, interesting tools, like an Ebay Price Watch tool or a search engine that digs through every major video sharing site. Put your brain to it, and see what tricks you can accomplish with Pipes!