"Pipes is a hosted service that lets you remix feeds and create new data mashups in a visual programming environment," Yahoo explains.
In other words, it's a way for non-programmers to create new Web services.
Other companies have been pursuing this goal as well. Ning offers a platform that allows users to easily create custom social Web sites. FortiusOne is developing what it calls the GeoCommons, a public data-sharing resource for map mashups. And a startup called Teqlo is building a mashup platform that promises to let non-technical users create applications from Web services without programming.
But Yahoo deserves credit for recognizing where the Web is headed and providing the first mass-market platform to get there.
One of the central tenets of Web 2.0 is that data should be exposed through APIs for use by others. Many Web services have done so, but using that data still isn't easy.
The problem, as Yahoo engineer Jeremy Zawodny describes it, has been a lack of good tools to combine online data sets. "In the Unix world, we often connect sources of data to filters and utilities using pipes," he writes in his blog. "A pipe is a way of constructing ad-hoc workflows composed of any number of inputs, filters, and manipulation tools. And the beauty of the whole system is that they all use a very simple input and output method, so there's a nearly infinite set of ways you can combine and recombine them."
Yahoo Pipes aims to solve that problem by offering what amounts to a visual integrated development environment for mixing and managing online data sources. Using Pipes, you can, for example, create a single RSS feed of news alerts -- automatic searches for a keyword like "Yahoo" -- from a variety of different sources. And Yahoo expects to expand the possibilities in the future.
If Yahoo can figure out how to keep the Pipes site up and running -- it has been overwhelmed by user interest most of the morning -- it will be able to boast a truly innovative service for which Google, at the moment, has no answer.