Saturday, February 10, 2007
Pipes is a mechanism by which you the user can create an internet application all of your own—by requiring little more on your part than dragging and dropping. It's a reference to pipes in Unix, for all you Unix programmers, but now refers to internet processes rather than shell utilities. There's a good explanation here and here. Check it out.
Yahoo! Pipes is a simple, if rather graphically stunning, visual programming environment for making simple web-based applications that filter and mash up data from a variety of web-based sources. In less than a minute, I had created Die Boston Tagebücher, a German translation of The Boston Diaries by hooking up my syndication feed to Babelfish to do the actual translation.
In fact, looking over the modules available, I could probably recreate my metasearch engine in about an hour or so, provided I could get the results in XML (back when I wrote three versions of a metasearch engine, you pretty much had to write code to fetch URLs, roll your own HTML parser and deal with the low level guts of CGI programming—such is progress). But in the few minutes of playing around with it, it doesn't seem to be very tolerant of errors; it fails more times than not (but then again, it appears to have just been released and the response is more than expected).
Besides, the operations it currently allows are very limited. I thought it might be nice to do some content analysis for each entry, then feed the result into a Flickr image search, but there isn't a way to simply extract the content analysis for another module to use. Maybe that will change over time, but for now, it's only for simplistic data manipulations.
What really got me was the user interface and building the “pipes”—it's all very slick and it reminds me of a “programming langauge” I had for the Amiga years ago. It was less a “programming langauge” and more of a visual “plug-n-play” type system for programming—a type of visual flow-charting program that could generate code to run, although I don't recall the name of the application, it made that much of a lasting impression on me. And I find it amusing that the interfaces to each module are typed—and here I thought that the prevailing programming mantra of today was “up with dynamic typing, down with static typing!” (more on that in a later post). But this also reminds me more of a prototyping or documenting tool than a real programming tool, much like the first time I saw Visual Basic (which I thought was very cool when I first saw it, which will probably surprise a lot of people).