Yahoo Pipes: An obituary for a former ‘internet milestone’ turned busted flush

Yahoo Pipes: An obituary for a former ‘internet milestone’ turned busted flush

In his first appearance at Prime Minister’s Questions, David Cameron, now British premier but then Leader of the Opposition, sneered at Tony Blair: “I want to talk about the future…He was the future once.”

That may be how the developers of IFTTT feel the day after the venerable Yahoo Pipes received its execution order from high command at the internet’s perpetually-confused purple fun palace.

Before IFTTT became the obvious place to easily connect different apps and Web services together, Pipes led the charge. Its slogan was “rewire the Web.” Now it’s coming to an end, not with a bang but a whimpering Tumblr post.

While even we joked about “a bunch of services you’ve probably never heard of” closing when the news broke yesterday, it was a very different matter when Yahoo – itself a very different company then – revealed Pipes to the world in 2007.

Screenshot 2015-06-05 14.00.31

Eight years is practically a lifetime in Web terms. Back then, O’Reilly Media founder Tim O’Reilly greeted the new arrival with hosannas:

Yahoo’s new Pipes service is a milestone in the history of the internet. It’s a service that generalizes the idea of the mashup, providing a drag and drop editor that allows you to connect internet data sources, process them, and redirect the output.

Since he provided such a glowing celebration at the birth of Pipes, I wondered if he’d be willing to offer a eulogy now its head is on the chopping block. Here’s what he said:

It’s the road not taken. Yahoo Pipes had a bold vision of an internet-style interoperable web of data and APIs; instead we got a centralized hub and spoke system in which data access is centralized and we have warring camps in which Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon try to lock customers into a single platform.

One day, perhaps, we’ll realize again the power of the internet model, and bring it higher up the stack.

Of course, Yahoo is now one of those players trying to tie users into its platform after swallowing Tumblr and going on a further acquisition spree in search of apps addictive enough to lure its lost fans back to the fold.

Though it’s possible to argue that Google was still advocating ‘open’ at the most recent I/O developers conference, it’s not the version of ‘open’ that Pipes represented. It’s about bringing more people into the Google ecosystem, not truly linking up disparate players.

Pipes was a little too complicated for most users, a curious wonky solution to problems that the majority of people don’t even think about very much. But it represented an important philosophy – the idea that the Web is about connecting, not building walled gardens.

Read more: Yahoo is shutting down Maps, Pipes and a bunch of services you’ve probably never heard of

Read next: Microsoft's new site helps you find your twin