Jackson West’s Obsessive Compulsion

How Much Would You Pay for a Robust, Reliable Yahoo Pipes?

Posted in 1 by Jackson West on May 14, 2009

yahoo_pipes_screenshotI’ve been a fan of Yahoo Pipes since it was first released to the public. I first used it to combine a number of feeds1 from sites I contributed to so that my home page was constantly updated with recent work and personal updates. It allowed me to include only my just my posts from sites with multiple authors and to strip the boilerplate and ads tacked on to items. I’ve since used it to prune feeds from sites based on certain criteria or key words to reduce the noise in my feed reader and to experiment with ideas for mashing up or repurposing data from other services.

If you’re still reading, then you probably also know that Yahoo, the company, hasn’t exactly been operating smoothly of late. Many of my friends who once worked there have either quit or gotten pink slips, leading me to joke in an aside to an item about rumors of further layoffs that I would have confirmed the news with my contacts at the company, but I don’t have any left. I understand that new CEO Carol Bartz has her work cut out for her, but her stated mandate to slash parts of the business that aren’t turning a profit scares me.

Why? Because Pipes is free, and while I imagine it isn’t terribly expensive to operate, any costs it generates are strictly revenue-negative. Regardless, though I can’t say for certain there have been significant outages, neither would I assure anyone that it’s speedy or reliable2. Nor can I think of any significant new features added, or any further development at all, since it’s been released. So my question is: If you use Pipes, what would you pay to keep it going, assure some degree of dependability, and even fund continued development?

My suggestion for a move to a pay model is based on my love of Flickr. While I often neglect to cough up the $24.95 yearly fee for the pro account thanks to laziness and poverty, I do pay for it, and have since before and after it was acquired by Yahoo. Not really for the features it affords paid users, really, but because it acts as a remote backup for hundreds of photos I’ve taken; was the first application I found, online or off, which made photo metadata so easy to add that it’s almost fun; and thanks to that metadata makes searching, browsing and publishing photos taken by thousands of people from around the world and up to the moment a magically useful experience.

To a certain set of power users, I feel Pipes could offer similar value.

While I have a passing acquaintance with Javascript, Perl and PHP, I’m not familiar enough with the chores like managing RSS feeds or parsing XML that real developers find second nature. But the graphical approach to connecting the input and output of basic data processing routines presented by Pipes was intuitive enough to pick up quite quickly. Even if I haven’t actually followed through, I can’t count the number of times I’ve thought or replied “you could use Pipes for that” when someone describe a publishing problem they were having or a little bit of functionality they wanted.

The only thing that’s stopped me from recommending Pipes or dreaming up innovative uses for it, frankly, is my trepidation that it may stop working or cease to exist entirely on any given day. Yahoo just shut down GeoCities, which after more than a decade as a free, online publishing platform was as hoary an institution as they come on the Internet. My hope is that Pipes is so miniscule, it won’t even register Bartz, the Yahoo board or the constantly re-orged execs as a line item on the budget. Even then, it’s only a matter of time until some consultant from the likes of McKinsey does notice it and sounds the “wasteful spending” alarm.

I’m writing this in the hopes of pre-empting that eventuality, maybe giving Pipes fans and afficionados a platform in the comments, and suggesting that I, at least, would be willing to pay a nominal fee for the peace of mind provided by the knowledge that Pipes would not only live but even thrive if administered a hot cash injection. I’m also writing this because after a splashy release with plenty of publicity from tech journalists, I haven’t seen it mentioned in months if not years.

I’m willing to start the bidding at $10 (Okay, $9.95) a year. What about you: Do you use Yahoo Pipes? Are the features you’d wish to see? Have you found the service spotty or even broken on occassion? How much would you pay for the current level of service and function to be maintained? And would you pay more if you knew Yahoo would actually devote some resources to improving it? Or am I just an idiot for not knowing a better solution offering similar utility, much less relying on a Yahoo product at all?

1. I was so proud of myself, I was about to send it as a suggestion to then Lifehacker editrix Gina Trapani only to find she’d already been there, done that and written the tutorial weeks before. I actually did end up writing for Lifehacker, albeit briefly. And of course Gina’s now beating me and many others to the good idea punch at Smarterware.

2. My pipes feed does go through Feedburner — which, like Flickr, was another great service that ended up devoured by a Valley monster. In this case, Google. I admit to having some trouble isolating the problem when updates to my personal site seemed delayed or don’t appear at all. Pipes, Feedburner, Flickr, Twitter or one of any number of CMS systems could be to blame in any given case.

Update: So, I got word from an unknown someone who claims familiarity with the project that it’s not only free from danger, but will see improvements sooner rather than later. Many thanks to said informer, and all due respect, but while I admit to shirking my tech-news reading duties, not to mention those related to further development of my own tools, I haven’t seen any movement. That said, no movement is essentially what I’m asking for here, so sally on, Pipes.

9 Responses

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  1. Joshua Miller said, on August 19, 2014 at 8:13 am

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  5. Layla Garcia said, on August 27, 2014 at 9:48 am

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  6. Isabella Jenkins said, on August 27, 2014 at 1:16 pm

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  7. Charlotte King said, on August 27, 2014 at 3:25 pm

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  8. Eli Hill said, on September 1, 2014 at 12:38 am

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  9. Ellie Hughes said, on September 1, 2014 at 9:20 am

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