I’ve been writing about Yahoo! Pipes for some time, and am consistently surprised that there aren’t more books on the tool. Pipes Tutorial – an ebook currently priced at $14.95 – is clearly aiming to address that gap.
The book has a simple structure: it is, in a nutshell, a tour around the various ‘modules’ that you combine to make a pipe.
Some of these will pull information from elsewhere – RSS feeds, CSV spreadsheets, Flickr, Google Base, Yahoo! Local and Yahoo! Search, or entire webpages.
Some allow the user to input something themselves – for example, a search phrase, or a number to limit the type of results given.
And others do things with all the above – combining them, splitting them, filtering, converting, translating, counting, truncating, and so on.
When combined, this makes for some powerful possibilities – unfortunately, its one-dimensional structure means that this book doesn’t show enough of them.
Modules in isolation
While the book offers a good introduction into the functionality of the various parts of Yahoo! Pipes, it rarely demonstrates how those can be combined. Typically, tutorial books will take you through a project that utilises the power of the tools covered, but Pipes Tutorial lacks this vital element. Sometimes modules will be combined in the book but this is mainly done because that is the only way to show how a single module works, rather than for any broader pedagogical objective.
At other times a module is explained in isolation and it is not explained how the results might actually be used. The Fetch Page module, for example – which is extremely useful for scraping content from a webpage – is explained without reference to how to publish the results, only a passing mention that the reader will have to use ‘other modules’ to assign data to types, and that Regex will be needed to clean it up.
Regex itself – possibly one of the most useful parts of Yahoo! Pipes – is cursorily tackled, and the reader pointed to resources elsewhere. The same applies to YQL – the language that allows you to interrogate data sources. Likewise, the Web Service module which allows you to connect with an API, isn’t illustrated with any practical guidance on how to use it.
The book makes no mention of the ability to clone pipes published by others on Yahoo! Pipes, and misses a big opportunity to provide links to working pipes that the user can clone and play with themselves – or indeed any online support that I can see other than a blog that currently has 2 instructional posts.
Despite all the above omissions, the lack of similar books mean this is still a useful resource for aspiring data journalists. It provides an insight into the possibilities of Pipes, even if it doesn’t quite take you through how to exploit those.
PS: If you’ve read any other books on Yahoo! Pipes (including this one) let me know whether they’re any use.