Yahoo Pipes, a service which enabled users to connect and mash together content from around the Web, is closing its doors on August 30. Yahoo says the move is to help “focus our efforts on core Yahoo product experiences”—the usual company line when the aging Web giant realizes that it has neglected a service for so long that it can’t afford to save it.
New Pipes cannot be created after that deadline; existing ones will only work until September 30. Instructions for exporting Pipes have been posted on the platform’s blog.
Pipes was an apt name for both the service itself and the cross-Web plumbing it enabled users to build. Launched in beta form in February 2007, its mission was to help users “rewire the Web.”
ReadWrite initially described it as an “RSS remixer,” but we soon came to understand it as the first glimmerings of the heretofore unstructured Web as a giant database. In a sense, these were application programming interfaces, or APIs, rendered in a visual, drag-and-drop format.
Essentially the platform could gather content from multiple sources—websites, feeds, apps—and then filter and modify it to create something new. For example, RSS feeds could be filtered to exclude certain topics or words.
An example that shows off the power of Yahoo Pipes would be matching New York Times keywords against Flickr photos to show a visual representation of the day’s news. It could also translate feeds from one language to another using an appropriate engine.
Unfortunately for power users on the Web, the big tech giants don’t see much reason to continue supporting services for users who like to tinker and customize. Google Reader was another recent, much-mourned casualty.
Life After Pipes
There is hope for a post-Pipes world though, with more modern successors offering at least some of the same functionality. Perhaps the biggest and best known amongst end users is IFTTT (If This Then That), which can pull in data from a host of sources, adapt it, and export it elsewhere.
Gmail, Dropbox, Facebook, Twitter, SoundCloud, Evernote, Slack, Google Calendar and more are all supported by IFTTT, and there’s basic RSS and SMS integration as well. It works with a number of smart home systems and there are mobile apps too.
Zapier is another service looking to offer straightforward integration and automation between apps and platforms, like , though it has a more professional angle than IFTTT (and isn’t free). Zapier, for example, pipes messages from status-monitoring systems and Zendesk’s customer-support tools into Slack chatrooms, among many other possible routings.
Yahoo Pipes refugees might also want to check out Built.io, which helps businesses streamline the process of building apps. You might think of mobile apps as a very different world than the desktop-centric RSS feeds Yahoo Pipes drew on. But these app-building platforms depend on data drawn and filtered from Web feeds—so under the hood, they require something that looks conceptually like Yahoo Pipes.
Though all of these replacements owe Pipes a conceptual debt, against these more polished, more powerful and more accessible alternatives, Yahoo Pipes looks rather outdated, and it’s clear that the writing was on the wall.
Nevertheless, we’ll miss it—not just Pipes itself but the way it gave non-programmers and programmers alike the opportunity to take more control over the content they got from the Web. We need more of these democratizing tools online, not fewer.
Images courtesy of Yahoo, ReadWrite, and IFTTT