But... I... like... the... PAIN! Our secret addiction to 'free' APIs

Tut, tut – will you app developers NEVER learn to say no?


Yahoo! is killing off several services to focus on "search, communications and digital content", it's said.

Wait, Yahoo! has a search engine? Who knew? What Yahoo! won't have in the very near future is a developer favorite by the name of Yahoo! Pipes.

Yahoo! Pipes has always been something of an odd duck, not just within the company, but on the web at large. There's no migration plan for Pipes users and no real way to get your data out of Pipes, because there'd be nowhere to go with it. Pipes is unique and come September 2015, it will be gone.

Pipes' oddball status was summed up by one commenter in the Pipes forum, who drolly wrote: "I'm also somewhat curious how much staff time will be saved in discontinuing a service that already received no updates."

It's true, Pipes has been abandonware for some time. In that sense, the news of its demise is not unexpected. But that's part of what makes Yahoo!'s decisions so puzzling to those who use it: if seemingly nothing is being done with it, why bother shutting it down?

Whatever the reasons may be – if there even are actual reasons – thousands of developers and users out there who use Pipes to build RSS feeds, aggregate news, create maps and the hundreds of other things you could do with Pipes will soon be out of luck.

That's bad for users, but the effects don't stop with users and developers. All that stuff, all those applications and aggregated feeds that depend on Pipes will also cease to function shortly. Every web service shutdown creates a ripple that affects the web as a whole.

This isn't new. Especially for Yahoo!. The company has already killed off the once-popular Delicious bookmark hosting service and countless other APIs. Yahoo! Maps is also on the chopping block with Yahoo! Pipes, which means any developers relying on that API will need to look elsewhere.

While Yahoo! happens to be an egregious example of the bizarre "build it (or buy it), ruin it, shut it down" business strategy, but it's hardly alone.

Google has also hyped countless new services, only to shut them down a few years later. Remember Google Reader? Wave? Knol? Buzz? Notebook? Talk? Then there's Microsoft: the Redmond giant has killed off Silverlight and the third-party Skype API, and it looks like even Internet Explorer will soon be a thing of the past.

Perhaps the most famous example of ever-shifting APIs is Twitter. The company initially embraced developers with a very open set of APIs which played a key part in popularizing the fledgling social network. Then Twitter abruptly changed its mind, shut them all down, locked developers out and killed off most the ecosystem that had developed.

Later, Twitter seemed to reverse course slightly and begrudgingly allowed a select few big names privileged access, but by then most developers seemed to have learned the lesson – don't build a business on the Twitter API.

There's much ink spilled in the tech press about the "permanence" of things on the web, but for developers at least, the lesson of the web is about transience, not permanence. Easy come, easy go.

What's perhaps most curious about all this is that developers keep coming back for more. In the not-too-distant future, Yahoo! will announce some new services with a new set of APIs – presumably related to "search, communications and digital content" – that will convince hundreds, maybe even thousands of developers to jump in and start building things that rely on whatever APIs and tools this new service offers.

Even if, as with Twitter, developers are done with Yahoo!, there will be something that gets us. Even as I write this, eager developers are busy incorporating Google's new Photos service into their apps.


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