I’ve had some time to play with Yahoo!’s new RSS mixing service, Pipes, and I’m impressed with the possibilities. Unfortunately, there’s still a hefty number of bugs, and some features are sorely lacking (experienced coders will probably be most annoyed by being forced at working in a visual environment and not being able to look at the actual code). Still, even in its current state Pipes is offering a myriad of interesting possibilities. I will, of course, leave out the simple stuff which you can do with any RSS mixer, and focus on remixing that can only be done with Pipes. Without further ado, here are five cool ways to use Pipes.
1. Playlist images
What is it and how it’s done? This pipe takes a user input - a Last.FM username - then grabs the last 10 played tracks for that user, and replaces this input with 5 Flickr images for each feed item, hopefully related to the musician in the playlist.
How useful is it? It’s pretty cool. You don’t have to do much, just use Last.FM as you would regularly do, and this pipe will show you related images. It would be even better if I could do the same thing for videos or album covers, however I don’t think it can be done at this point (what’s lacking is the ability to analyse feed content, and pass this analysis to two different pipes). If anyone has an idea how to do this, please let me know.
Problems? See the connection that leads nowhere in the left side of the workspace? It’s a bug. It doesn’t do any damage, it’s just a visual glitch. Also, I chose a name of an actual Last.FM user as default simply because this user’s last tracks feed returns some results, which often isn’t the case. I hope he/she doesn’t mind.
2. Related stories
What is it and how it’s done? This is not my idea nor my pipe, but it’s more advanced than anything I could do so I’ve decided to include it here. The author does a Technorati search to find articles related to articles on his blog, and includes the links via some Ajax code. You can see the blog (with the related stories underneath each article) here, and the code is here.
How useful is it? Similar functionality exists, for example, in Wordpress plugins, but the great thing about this approach is the fact that you can easily change the source of the related stories: it doesn’t have to be Technorati, it can be anything. In other words, it’s a really useful multi-purpose blog plugin.
3. News in English
What is it and how it’s done? Reddit, Netscape, and Digg are not enough for you? Aching to read what the Europeans are voting on, but you just don’t have the language skills? No worries. In this pipe, I’ve taken the top 10 items from Spanish site Meneame.net, as well as German and French versions of Wikio, and created a single feed in English.
How useful is it? Well, it’s not bad. I’ve taken a silly example, but being able to take feeds in many different languages and turn them into one feed in a language of your choice will surely be very useful for many users.
4. The travel fanatic
What is it and how it’s done? Planning a trip? It takes research and time. Or maybe you can do a single pipe which will give you all the answers you need in a second? Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you: the travel fanatic. Seemingly most complex of all the pipes here, it’s actually quite simple to make. It combines Flickr images, Yahoo Answers, and Yahoo News related to the location. (Various other feeds could be added, but I chose only these three for simplicity’s sake.) This results in a very comprehensive feed with a lot of information on the place you’re planning to visit.
How useful is it? Pretty damn useful, I would say. With a bit of tweaking this single feed replaces what would previously be an entire service.
5. Fligg, Fleddit and Fletscape
What is it and how it’s done? Browse Digg through Flickr. The idea comes from this Pipe, which lets you browse through New York Times stories by replacing each story with a several related images from Flickr. I’ve simply replaced it with Digg, so credit for this goes to the author of the aforementioned pipe. However, I also wanted to do something different, so I chose to include both the stories and the related images, with mixed success.
*Update: For Reddit and Netscape lovers, I’ve added Flickr browsing for these sites also.
How useful is it? Not very. The description of Digg stories is analysed via the content analysis module, the result of which is used to fetch a single image from Flickr. Most of the time it’s completely unrelated, but sometimes it works. Nevertheless, it’s a fun way to read Digg stories.
Problems? Yes. I was unable to sort the feed in such a way so that the actual image from Flickr appears after the Digg story to which it’s related. It would be simple to do if Pipes supported some counter which would add a new field with a number to each feed, which could be used for sorting, however I haven’t found a way to do it. If someone has an idea, please let me know. At this point it’s not all that useful, but I’ve decided to include it because it shows the kinds of problems you can run into when you try to do some complex piping.
*Update: someone smarter than me figured it out, and posted it in the comments under the name “hapdaniel”. So, here’s the pipe that sorts the Digg and Flickr items one after the other: http://pipes.yahoo.com/pipes/mIJDNLm92xG2nAguFG_cUw/
Link: (Digg, only Flickr images)
RSS: (Digg, only Flickr images)
Link: (Reddit, only Flickr images)
RSS: (Reddit, only Flickr images)
Link: (Netscape, only Flickr images)
RSS: (Netscape, only Flickr images)
Link: (both Flickr images and Digg stories)
RSS: (both Flickr images and Digg stories)