Tarpipe is one of the most curious experiments in social media that I've seen lately. It takes personal content (e-mail messages, primarily) as input, and can shunt it to one or more desinations, transforming it in the process. For example, I created a Tarpipe e-mail address that will take a pictures I send it and posts it to Flickr, update Twitter with a link to the Flickr page, and put the picture and the Twitter URL in an Evernote record for me. All I have to do is send the e-mail.
Tarpipe looks a lot like Yahoo Pipes. They work in similar ways: Users drag service and function boxes around on the workspace and connect them with blue tubes to control the flow of data. But Yahoo is about taking inputs from several sources and then creating a universal RSS output. Tarpipe is more about directly updating personal content services like Twitter, Flickr, Friendfeed, Delicious, and Evernote, which Yahoo Pipes doesn't do. The service has the potential to be the answer to the lament I first talked about in The looming crisis: Personal syndication overload.
The app will currently update several personal services: The ones I mentioned, plus a few others like Tumblr, Plurk, and Jaiku. But one problem with the system right now is that, unless you are a programmer, it's inflexible as to inputs. You can e-mail Tarpipe items, and manipulate that data. You can also use an online form for input, but you cannot create complex workflows around form data, other than to direct it to the services you've connected to your account. (The developer interface is apparently quite robust, though.)
One thing end users can't do, at least not yet, is ask Tarpipe to monitor a personal RSS feed (like a Twitter account) and then process that for further transmission to other services. RSS "slurping" is coming, Tarpipe creator Bruno Pedro told me.
That's one of the things I'm waiting for. I would like to continue to use the input methods I'm comfortable with (for Twitter, that means Twhirl) and have Tarpipe selectively send my output to other sources based on content (perhaps using hashtags).
The other thing I'm waiting for, which Pedro is working on, is community aggregation. When this is running, you'll be able to monitor and reply to your audience as they comment on your posts. This solves the issue of fractured community for people who contribute their work or thoughts to multiple sources. The concept is this: Tarpipe will track all the items it posts on your behalf. It will monitor those posts at their new homes for replies from other users. It will be able to notify you of those replies so you can participate in discussions that spring up. (Related: MyBlogLog; Typepad Comments.)
The system may also help you connect conversations together that are on different services. For example, if I use Tarpipe to post a photo to Flickr and a link to the photo on Twitter, and then the conversation picks up Twitter, Tarpipe may be able to attach that discussion to the Flickr page.
Pedro told me that Tarpipe may also get features to help its users meld their social networks together on the various services they are signed up for. He calls this the "unified social graph," and says, "You'll be able to follow your social network, invite your contacts to Tarpipe and send messages to specific people."
And finally, he's working on adding new content destinations to Tarpipe, like Facebook, Myspace, Hi5, Picasa, and video sharing services. Richer programmatic access (more APIs) is in the works, too.
An interesting effort
Tarpipe is not done. It's too hard to use, and key parts of its feature set have yet to be built. It is, though, an extremely interesting middleman service for handling what is becoming a real problem for a lot of people: Personal content management not just for what we read, but for what we create.