Guest Post: Mash things up with (Yahoo!) Pipes

Well, I don’t know if I can live up to the expectations that come with being formally introduced as a guest author, but I’ll do my best with this post about (Yahoo!) Pipes.

Pipes is a cool online service that lets people without programming experience create their own “mash-ups”.  While it does take a little time to learn, and even longer to appreciate it’s full range of functionality, there are many things that can be done with Pipes after only a few minutes.  And, if you find an existing Pipe you like, it is even easier to get started because you can grab a copy and tweak it to your liking.

As an example, I am going to create my own alert service using Pipes.  Let’s just say that I am interested in teaching information literacy over the web.  Wouldn’t it be great to monitor several library related journals and blogs for items discussing information literacy?  It sure would.

It turns out a lot of journals offer their tables of contents as RSS feeds. (As an aside, one quick way to find RSS feeds is through a service called ticTOCs. A subject search of ticTocs for “library” reveals 59 Library and Information Science Journals. )

I am going to start by using feeds from five journals:

pipes2I can use Pipes to combine these five feeds into one. When you “Create Your Own Pipe” you will see several options on the left and a blank canvas on the right.  Since I want to mash-up feeds, I am going to select the “Fetch Feed” module on the left and drag it to the work area on the right.  When I do this, a single box appears for entering RSS feed URLs.  Since I have five feeds to add, I am going to click on the “+” button until I have five boxes.


Once I’ve entered the feed URLs into their respective boxes, I need to tweak the mash-up so that it will list the most recent stuff first.  To do this, I’ll expand the “Operators” section on the left and select the “Sort” operator box.  With the “Sort” box, I can sort the results by item.pubDate (a standard tag in RSS feeds) and ask for “descending” order.

I can complete this Pipe right now by clicking on the dot below the “Fetch Feed” box.  If you drag your mouse from that dot to the top of the “Sort” box, and then do the same thing from the “Sort” box to the “Pipe Output” box, Pipes will be able to process the instructions in the correct order.  You will see lines connecting the boxes.

You may notice that I have just created a simple feed mash-up.  In fact, by changing the feeds in that “Fetch Feed” box and sorting by date, you can create pretty much any feed mash-up you want.   But Pipes can go beyond just a simple feed mash-up, so I am going to refine this a bit.  Remember at the beginning I said that I was interested in articles about teaching information literacy over the web.  I can filter the results of my feed so that I only get results that match specific search criteria. For this, I am going to drag the “Filter” module, or actually two of them, into the work area.

The first filter module is looking for (permitting) items with “information literacy or instruction” while the second one is looking for “online or electronic”. By routing  the connections (pipes) through these filters, I can effectively create a Boolean search where my output will be articles from my journals that meet the criteria: (information literacy OR instruction) AND (online OR electronic). The terms would have to appear in the title or in the “description” field, which is essentially the abstract in this case.


Check out the Pipe so far. Remember, too, that I can add  RSS feeds from other types of sources simply by clicking on the “+” sign in that Fetch Feed module and entering in more feeds.  So, I could include a blog that might talk about information literacy or the results from a saved search in Academic Search Premier, which EBSCO allows me to export as an RSS feed.  I could also be more general and use a blog search engine (such as Bloglines) and run a search for blog entries containing the terms “information literacy” AND online.  The search results include a link to an RSS feed that I can add into my Fetch Feed box.  Since the search results will contain the terms information literacy AND online, the filter is a bit redundant, but it won’t hurt anything to add it to the list of feeds.

To view this Pipe (with a few more feeds thrown in) and see the results, you can go here.

pipes8You may notice that Pipes provides several options for embedding results into other web pages, or generating a single RSS feed from the output .  Plus, if you create your own account, you can “clone” this Pipe and use it as a template for additional alert services simply by changing the journal feeds and filter words.

Happy piping!

See also:
Using Yahoo Pipes with Ingenta RSS feeds – All My Eye

Michael Shochet is a Systems/Reference Librarian at the University of Baltimore.  He currently serves as President of the Maryland Library Association’s Academic and Research Libraries Division.

Grazr helps you share your RSS feeds!

In the last post Carrie helped us understand what RSS feeds are and how to use Bloglines to read your feeds. Now that you have the basics of RSS feeds down, let’s get creative. Perhaps you have a feed or two that you’d like to share with your library liaison areas or people who are on a committee with you. You could direct them to the blog and tell them how to subscribe or you could use Grazr to create a feed reader like Bloglines directly on your own website!

grazr-image5Grazr’s free account option will allow you to create unlimited single RSS feed widgets to place on your webpage.  If you wish to combine multiple feeds into a widget, you can do this also, but it may cost you.  The free account allows you to create one combined RSS widget, but to be able to have multiple combined RSS widgets, you’ll need to pay anywhere from $9.99  a month to $149.99 a month.  Confused?  Let’s say that you have a liaison web page like the one above, a free account will allow you to stream blog entries from one single blog in any one widget.  You will have to create multiple widgets to stream multiple blogs (and they will not be combined).  If you would like to create a widget with let’s say health news from Medline Plus, along with health news from the CDC, along with articles from a search you conducted in a database, you will only be able to create one of these multi-stream widgets for free (although you could place this same multi-stream widget in multiple places).

Although the free Grazr account does have its limitations in terms of multiple feeds, it can still be a great resource for your liaison pages as well as on any webpage where you’d like to share the latest news, articles or updates from another website, blog or even podcast.  Amanda Taylor, a librarian here at Towson has come up with a great way to share new books in the library using Grazr.  She has created a blog listing all of the new science books as they come into the library.  Grazr allows this blog to be viewed from her different subject pages such as this page:

So I guess you could say that Grazr allows you to be super web 2.0- not only are you able to direct feeds into your feed reader like with Bloglines, but then you are able to push that feed back out on any relevant webpages.

Staying informed without the mess

Keeping up on your reading can be hard, even for a librarian. Don’t despair. There are tools to help.

RSS feeds are a great way to stay informed about what’s being published in your areas of interest. You can subscribe to feeds from your favorite blogs or create feeds for valuable database searches. However, feeding publication alerts into your email may result in their eventual burial. You think you’ll read it later, but the queue grows longer and the article is forgotten.

A feed aggregator, such as Bloglines, serves as a kind of warehouse where you can store literature for later reading. And as a web-based aggregator, Bloglines is accessible from any computer with Internet access.

feed_icon2Want to try? Go to, enter your email address, and create a password. That’s it, you’re ready to go. Now all you need to do is keep an eye out for subscription opportunities, often indicated by this orange icon. Here are two examples of how to begin subscribing.

Subscribing to a blog:

  • Click the orange icon
  • Select your feed reader of choice (i.e. Bloglines)
  • Click subscribe now
  • You will be directed to your Bloglines account
  • Create and name a new Bloglines folder
  • Set your display options

Subscribing to a database search:

  • Create the search
  • Click the orange icon
  • Copy the new feed’s URL
  • Go to your Bloglines account
  • Choose to add a new feed
  • Paste the feed URL into the box provided
  • Click subscribe
  • Create and name a new Bloglines folder
  • Set your display options

It’s that easy. Start collecting multiple feeds in one convenient location. You’ll stay informed and your email will be less cluttered.