I've written a couple posts about using online services to automate tasks like creating RSS feeds from a site that doesn't provide them and using IFTTT to keep a journal.  Another popular tool for web automation is Yahoo Pipes.  From the Pipe's homepage:

Pipes is a powerful composition tool to aggregate, manipulate, and mashup content from around the web.

It may be an over-simplification, but Yahoo Pipes essentially grabs content from the web, usually in the form of RSS, and manipulates it in ways that you tell it to.

The problem to solve

I want to find out when new iPhone apps come into the iTunes store that might be of interest to me as an optometrist.  I sometimes read about new ones in my journals or, more likely, on my social networks.  However, maybe I want to be the FIRST person to hear about the latest and greatest eye care app.

A solution

Apple has a page on their site that allows you to create RSS feeds to alert you when new media becomes available in iTunes.  It lets you do some customization, so I created an RSS feed that would be populated with new IOS apps.  I customized it like so:

I decided to find apps in all genres.  An optometry app might be listed as medical, but when I submitted my apps I also considered listing them as reference or utility.  

Clicking the Generate button will give you an RSS feed URL:


Copy this to your clipboard.

However, there was some pretty severe limitations on how much we were able to customize this feed.  If you plug it into you favorite RSS reader (like Google Reader) you'll get probably get 250 listings for fart apps.  So, how can we customize this further?  Why, Yahoo Pipes, of course!

Go to Yahoo Pipes, log into your Yahoo account, and "Create a new pipe".  On the Pipes Editor page, drag the Fetch Feed resource from the left hand column into the workspace. Note:  If you're not seeing this column click the arrow button on the left hand side of the page (see circled item below).

Paste the iTunes RSS URL into the text box in the Fetch Feed window.  To test the feed, click on the top of this window (it'll turn gold as it is in the image above) and the content of the feed will show up in the pane at the bottom of the page.  It's working, but there's a lot of apps unrelated to eye care!  We need to filter these results.

So, we go back to the tools in the left hand column and find filters - it's under the operators heading. Drag this tool under your Fetch Feed window.  We need to conned everything, so drag a  from the circle on the bottom of the Fetch Feed window to the circle on the top of the filters window - this will create a "pipe" connecting the two.  Do the same thing from the filters window to the pipe output window.  

Now, let's add some filters. We'll have better results if we try permitting things that are eye care related than if we try to block all the things that are not eye care related, so we'll choose the permit option.  Make sure you choose the any option  - if you make a lot of rules it's unlikely that any of the feeds will meet all of them, and consequently nothing will pass through your filter. For my first rule I decided to permit items where the description contains the word optometry.  By clicking the (+) button I added similar filters for the words optometrist, ophthalmology, and ophthalmologist.

By clicking on the Pipe Output title you can see the results of your filter.  I did this and . . . got nothing.  Well, that's not totally unexpected - what are the odds that an app was released today with one of those keywords?  I decided to add a few more and came up with this:

I clicked the Pipe Output again and . . . got a hit!  The App For Learning Optics app passed through my filter.  Not only did something get through, it's fairly relevant!  Note: your results may vary depending on what is coming through the RSS feed when you test it.

Google Reader button

Google Reader button

So, what should we do with this?  Give it a title (Optometry Apps RSS), hit the save button, then click the run pipe link.  This will take you to another page that shows the results of your pipe. It also gives you the ability to get the filtered data in multiple ways, including as an RSS feed.  I chose the Google Reader button and added it to, er, Google Reader.  When I go to Google Reader I see my Optometry Apps RSS feed complete with the result that made it through my filters.   Even better, it shows up in Flipboard on my iPad since I've connected that to my Google Reader account.

If you don't want to repeat this whole process, feel free to use the feed that I've created.


This was really meant to be an exercise in using Google Pipes and RSS (i'm not really desperate to immediately find out about new optometry apps).   But, is this practical or useful?  Only time will tell.   I'm not sure if my filters will catch the  IOS apps that I want it to.  It really depends on how well I set up my filters, which I'll probably have to experiment with for a while.  

Oh, for extra credit: If you really, really want to be the first person to find out about new IOS eye care apps, you could take this RSS feed and use IFTTT to alert yourself with a text message when a new app pops up in your feed. Or, get really creative and have a light turn on in your house.

AuthorTodd Zarwell