Justin Li


Gooey Pipes

2008-02-16

It's a stroke of fate that I first found this topic in an article from my RSS reader, and now it seems I'll be working on a prototype of such a system for HCI. It's a really cool idea, actually.

First, I should probably explain what pipes are, and how they can be gooey. Pipes, in computer science, are means of transforming the output of one program into another program's input. For example, I could have a program that does searching (grep), and I want to sort the search results (sort), and finally display only the unique ones (uniq). In a terminal, this would be:

grep | sort | uniq

Note the "pipe" symbol, also known as the "vertical bar" or "OR" in most computer programming languages. This is why it's known as a pipe; it also makes sense that information is put in a pipe and literally redirected to another program.

The power of pipes is fairly obvious, but notice that all the pipes above are in text. There is currently no way to provide the same power and flexibility graphically. That is, it would be cool if we could make some GUI gooey pipes.

There are some existing programs which replicates this process in various ways. One is Apple's Automator, which not only allows piping, but also primitive looping. The other is Yahoo!'s Pipes, which only works with online data sources. It would, indeed, be interesting to see such tools being used on the desktop. The article also has a point about putting multiple streams of data together, which is not really possible (unless you write to variables or files) in a terminal.

Let's see what we come up with.

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