Travels with Paddles

a sea kayaking journal

Axel Schoevers (Photo: A. de Krook) Name:
Axel Schoevers
Rijswijk, Zuid-Holland, Netherlands

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Down the Yahoo! drain Pipes

It came to my attention that Yahoo! ends its Pipes service by 30 September. What the ... is Yahoo! Pipes, you are rightfully to ask.

I started using the free Yahoo! Pipes service some years ago to merge RSS feeds from various news agency websites to filter out kayak related news articles while not be bothered with a volcanoe. The graphical interface of Yahoo Pipes! made that very easy to do. The result was again a RSS feed that could be integrated on my blog, for instance. The feed was even 'pumped' to a KayakNewsFeed Twitter account to 'archive' the messages. For RSS is only triggered for new messages and old messages drop down the list and eventually out of it and are 'lost forever'. Little effort, big results.

Some interesting websites did not offer RSS feeds, though. Yahoo! Pipes made it also possible (directly or indirectly) to create a RSS feed out of any web page that has structured repetitive blocks of content. Converting the 'repetitive block mess' into a RSS format with 'Reg-ex coding' was not so easy though. Big fuzzy efforts (^.{0,99})( \| )(.{0,99}$), even bigger results.

A RSS feed provides only a snippet of each item. To read the whole article one is directed to the originating website. Everybody's happy? Surely the news provider wants some credit for supplying the news, by visiting their website. By offering RSS they have a way of telling the world 'read more? visit me!). For commercial use there would sure be loads of small print...

There are alternatives to Yahoo! Pipes. However that will mean hosting the alternative one selves and more hardcore coding... I am not so keen on that.

Moreover, there are other developments that work against RSS altogether. More and more websites use proprietary ways of offering news that cannot be 'scraped'. Those sites want you to visit them in the first place for advertising, logging and profiling. I.e. the developments regarding supplying news on Facebook based on profiled interests, tracking, friends' activities and related advertising. How 'independent' news would that be?

The other worrying example I found out recently is that the Dutch Watersports Counsel (WSV) is offering a news web page that looks like it is created from plain RSS, but in fact the news text snippets are a collection of images created with a kind of proprietary Adobe Flash. How to filter (OCR) the word 'kayak' out of image text? End of story for RSS?

I think the inventors of XML and RSS should be awarded an IT 'Nobel Prize'; even posthumously. My first job after College was writing software in COBOL to extract lines from bank balance and transaction statements from SWIFT 'wire transfers' off a computer reel tape. That was pre-XML and very hard-core coding indeed. XML (and RSS) would have made that a piece of cake. Yahoo! Pipes indeed rewired the web using RSS. Now some wires will be cut and lights start to go out.

NewsCURRENT will be reduced to a mere trickle by 1 October and the KayakNewsFeed will stop flowing altogether.

From all of these signs saying sorry but we're closed
All the way down the telegraph road
- Mark Knopfler -