Tag Archives: scraperwiki

ScraperWiki has rediscovered its old free scraping tool – and is now calling it QuickCode

A screenshot from before the 2013 relaunch of Scraperwiki

A screenshot from before the 2013 relaunch of Scraperwiki

7 years ago ScraperWiki launched with a plan to make scraping accessible to a wider public. It did this by creating an online space where people could easily write and run scrapers; and by making it possible to read and adapt scrapers written by other users (the ‘wiki’ part).

I loved it. The platform inspired me to learn Python, write Scraping for Journalists, and has been part of my journalism workflow since. Continue reading

MPs’ CVs now available in the Democracy Club App

democracy_club screenshot

The developers group Democracy Club have created an app which collects the CVs of candidates standing in the general election.

Democracy Club CVs is intended to help constituents get access to information on their candidates’ experience and background.

Users can also use the site to ask candidates for their CVs by sending an email or tweeting them. Continue reading

5 tips for a data journalism workflow: part 2 – anticipating problems and collaboration

In my last post I wrote about how using feeds and social bookmarking can make for a quicker data journalism workflow. In this second part I look at how to anticipate and prevent problems; and how collaboration can improve data work.

Workflow tip 3. Anticipate problems

A particularly useful habit of successful data journalists is to think ahead in the way you request data. For example, you might want to request basic datasets now that you think you’ll need in future, such as demographic details for local patches.

You might also want to request the ‘data dictionary‘ for key datasets. This lists all the fields used in a particular database. For example, did you know that the police have a database for storing descriptions of suspects? And that one of the fields is shoe size? That could make for quite a quirky story. Continue reading

2 how-tos: researching people and mapping planning applications

Mapping planning applications

Sid Ryan’s planning applications map

Sid Ryan wanted to see if planning applications near planning committee members were more or less likely to be accepted. In two guest posts on Help Me Investigate he shows how to research people online (in this case the councillors), and how to map planning applications to identify potential relationships.

The posts take in a range of techniques including:

  • Scraping using Scraperwiki and the Google Drive spreadsheet function importXML
  • Mapping in Google Fusion Tables
  • Registers of interests
  • Using advanced search techniques
  • Using Land Registry enquiries
  • Using Companies House and Duedil
  • Other ways to find information on individuals, such as Hansard, LinkedIn, 192.com, Lexis Nexis, whois and FriendsReunited

If you find it useful, please let me know – and if you can add anything… please do.

Two reasons why every journalist should know about scraping (cross-posted)

This was originally published on Journalism.co.uk – cross-posted here for convenience.

Journalists rely on two sources of competitive advantage: being able to work faster than others, and being able to get more information than others. For both of these reasons, I  love scraping: it is both a great time-saver, and a great source of stories no one else has. Continue reading

Create a council ward map with Scraperwiki

Mapping council wards

With local elections looming this is a great 20-30 minute project for any journalist wanting to create an interactive Google map of council ward boundaries.

For this you will need:

Aggregated Local Government Verticals Based on LocalGov Service IDs

(Punchy title, eh?!) If you’re a researcher interested in local government initiatives or service provision across the UK on a particular theme, such as air quality, or you’re looking to start pulling together an aggregator of local council consultation exercises, where would you start?

Really – where would you start? (Please post a comment saying how you’d make a start on this before reading the rest of this post… then we can compare notes;-)

My first thought would be to use a web search engine and search for the topic term using a site:gov.uk search limit, maybe along with intitle:council, or at least council. This would generate a list of pages on (hopefully) local gov websites relating to the topic or service I was interested in. That approach is a bit hit or miss though, so next up I’d probably go to DirectGov, or the new gov.uk site, to see if they had a single page on the corresponding resource area that linked to appropriate pages on the various local council websites. (The gov.uk site takes a different approach to the old DirectGov site, I think, trying to find a single page for a particular council given your location rather than providing a link for each council to a corresponding service page?) If I was still stuck, OpenlyLocal, the site set up several years ago by Chris Taggart/@countculture to provide a single point of reference for looking up common adminsitrivia details relating to local councils, would be the next thing that came to mind. For a data related query, I would probably have a trawl around data.gov.uk, the centralised (but far form complete) UK index of open public datasets.

How much more convenient it would be if there was a “vertical” search or resource site relating to just the topic or service you were interested in, that aggregated relevant content from across the UK’s local council websites in a single place.

(Erm… or maybe it wouldn’t?!)

Anyway, here are a few notes for how we might go about constructing just such a thing out of two key ingredients. The first ingredient is the rather wonderful Local directgov services list:

This dataset is held on the Local Directgov platform which provides the deep links into Local council websites for a number of services in Directgov. The Local Authority Service details holds the local council URLS for over 240 services where the customer can directly transfer to the appropriate service page on any council in England.

The date on the dataset post is 16/09/2011, although I’m not sure if the data file itself is more current (which is one of the issues with data.gov.uk, you could argue…). Presumably, gov.uk runs off a current version of the index? (Share…. 😉 Each item in the local directgov services list carries with it a service identifier code that describes the local government service or provision associated with the corresponding web page. That it, each URL has associated with it a piece of metadata identifying a service or provision type.

Which leads to the second ingredient: the esd standards Local Government Service List. This list maps service codes onto a short key phrase description of the corresponding service. So for example, Council – consultation and community engagement is has service identifier 366, and Pollution control – air quality is 413. (See the standards page for the actual code/vocabulary list in a variety of formats…)

As a starter for ten, I’ve pulled the Directgov local gov URL listing and local gov service list into scraperwiki (Local Gov Web Pages). Using the corresponding scraper API, we can easily run a query looking up service codes relating to pollution, for example:

select * from `serviceDesc` where ToName like '%pollution%'

From this, we can pick up what service code we need to use to look up pages related to that service (413 in the case of air pollution):

select * from `localgovpages` where LGSL=413

We can also get a link to an HTML table (or JSON representation, etc) of the data via a hackable URI:


(Hackable in the sense we can easily change the service code to generate the table for the service with that code.)

So that’s the starter for 10. The next step that comes to my mind is to generate a dynamic Google custom search engine configuration file that defines a search engine that will search over just those URLs (or maybe those URLs plus the pages they link to). This would then provide the ability to generate custom search engines on the fly that searched over particular service pages from across localgov in a single, dynamically generated vertical.

A second thought is to grab those page, index them myself, crawl them/scrape them to find the pages they link to, and index those pages also (using something like tf-idf within each local council site to identify and remove common template elements from the index). (Hmmm… that could be an interesting complement to scraperwiki… SolrWiki, a site for compiling lists of links, indexing them, crawling them to depth N, and then configuring search ranking algorithms over the top of them… Hmmm… It’s a slightly different approach to generating custom search engines as a subset of a monolithic index, which is how the Google CSE and (previously) the Yahoo BOSS engines worked… Not scaleable, of course, but probably okay for small index engines and low thousands of search engines?)

Mapping the Tesco Corporate Organisational Sprawl – An Initial Sketch

A quick sketch, prompted by Tesco Graph Hunting on OpenCorporates of how some of Tesco’s various corporate holdings are related based on director appointments and terminations:

The recipe is as follows:

– grab a list of companies that may be associated with “Tesco” by querying the OpenCorporates reconciliation API for tesco
– grab the filings for each of those companies
– trawl through the filings looking for director appointments or terminations
– store a row for each directorial appointment or termination including the company name and the director.

You can find the scraper here: Tesco Sprawl Grapher

import scraperwiki, simplejson,urllib

import networkx as nx

#Keep the API key [private - via http://blog.scraperwiki.com/2011/10/19/tweeting-the-drilling/
import os, cgi
    qsenv = dict(cgi.parse_qsl(os.getenv("QUERY_STRING")))

#note - the opencorporates api also offers a search:  companies/search

def getOCcompanyData(ocid):
    return ocdata

#need to find a way of playing nice with the api, and not keep retrawling

def getOCfilingData(ocid):
    print 'filings',ocid
    #print 'filings',ocid,ocdata
    #print 'filings 2',tmpdata
    while tmpdata['page']<tmpdata['total_pages']:
        print '...another page',page,str(tmpdata["total_pages"]),str(tmpdata['page'])
    return ocdata

def recordDirectorChange(ocname,ocid,ffiling,director):
    print 'ddata',ddata
    scraperwiki.sqlite.save(unique_keys=['fid'], table_name='directors', data=ddata)

def logDirectors(ocname,ocid,filings):
    print 'director filings',filings
    for filing in filings:
        if filing["filing"]["filing_type"]=="Appointment of director" or filing["filing"]["filing_code"]=="AP01":
            director=desc.replace('DIRECTOR APPOINTED ','')
        elif filing["filing"]["filing_type"]=="Termination of appointment of director" or filing["filing"]["filing_code"]=="TM01":
            director=desc.replace('APPOINTMENT TERMINATED, DIRECTOR ','')
            director=director.replace('APPOINTMENT TERMINATED, ','')

for entity in entities['result']:

The next step is to graph the result. I used a Scraperwiki view (Tesco sprawl demo graph) to generate a bipartite network connecting directors (either appointed or terminated) with companies and then published the result as a GEXF file that can be loaded directly into Gephi.

import scraperwiki
import urllib
import networkx as nx

import networkx.readwrite.gexf as gf

from xml.etree.cElementTree import tostring

scraperwiki.sqlite.attach( 'tesco_sprawl_grapher')
q = '* FROM "directors"'
data = scraperwiki.sqlite.select(q)


for row in data:
    if row['fdirector'] not in directors:
    if row['ocname'] not in companies:

scraperwiki.utils.httpresponseheader("Content-Type", "text/xml")


print tostring(writer.xml)

Saving the output of the view as a gexf file means it can be loaded directly in to Gephi. (It would be handy if Gephi could load files in from a URL, methinks?) A version of the graph, laid out using a force directed layout, with nodes coloured according to modularity grouping, suggests some clustering of the companies. Note the parts of the whole graph are disconnected.

In the fragment below, we see Tesco Property Nominees are only losley linked to each other, and from the previous graphic, we see that Tesco Underwriting doesn’t share any recent director moves with any other companies that I trawled. (That said, the scraper did hit the OpenCorporates API limiter, so there may well be missing edges/data…)

And what is it with accountants naming companies after colours?! (It reminds me of sys admins naming servers after distilleries and Lord of the Rings characters!) Is there any sense in there, or is arbitrary?

Tinkering With Scraperwiki – The Bottom Line, OpenCorporates Reconciliation and the Google Viz API

Having got to grips with adding a basic sortable table view to a Scraperwiki view using the Google Chart Tools (Exporting and Displaying Scraperwiki Datasets Using the Google Visualisation API), I thought I’d have a look at wiring in an interactive dashboard control.

You can see the result at BBC Bottom Line programme explorer:

The page loads in the contents of a source Scraperwiki database (so only good for smallish datasets in this version) and pops them into a table. The searchbox is bound to the Synopsis column and and allows you to search for terms or phrases within the Synopsis cells, returning rows for which there is a hit.

Here’s the function that I used to set up the table and search control, bind them together and render them:

    google.load('visualization', '1.1', {packages:['controls']});


    function drawTable() {

      var json_data = new google.visualization.DataTable(%(json)s, 0.6);

    var json_table = new google.visualization.ChartWrapper({'chartType': 'Table','containerId':'table_div_json','options': {allowHtml: true}});
    //i expected this limit on the view to work?

    var formatter = new google.visualization.PatternFormat('<a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/{0}">{0}</a>');
    formatter.format(json_data, [1]); // Apply formatter and set the formatted value of the first column.

    formatter = new google.visualization.PatternFormat('<a href="{1}">{0}</a>');
    formatter.format(json_data, [7,8]);

    var stringFilter = new google.visualization.ControlWrapper({
      'controlType': 'StringFilter',
      'containerId': 'control1',
      'options': {
        'filterColumnLabel': 'Synopsis',
        'matchType': 'any'

  var dashboard = new google.visualization.Dashboard(document.getElementById('dashboard')).bind(stringFilter, json_table).draw(json_data);


The formatter is used to linkify the two URLs. However, I couldn’t get the table to hide the final column (the OpenCorporates URI) in the displayed table? (Doing something wrong, somewhere…) You can find the full code for the Scraperwiki view here.

Now you may (or may not) be wondering where the OpenCorporates ID came from. The data used to populate the table is scraped from the JSON version of the BBC programme pages for the OU co-produced business programme The Bottom Line (Bottom Line scraper). (I’ve been pondering for sometime whether there is enough content there to try to build something that might usefully support or help promote OUBS/OU business courses or link across to free OU business courses on OpenLearn…) Supplementary content items for each programme identify the name of each contributor and the company they represent in a conventional way. (Their role is also described in what looks to be a conventionally constructed text string, though I didn’t try to extract this explicitly – yet. (I’m guessing the Reuters OpenCalais API would also make light work of that?))

Having got access to the company name, I thought it might be interesting to try to get a corporate identifier back for each one using the OpenCorporates (Google Refine) Reconciliation API (Google Refine reconciliation service documentation).

Here’s a fragment from the scraper showing how to lookup a company name using the OpenCorporates reconciliation API and get the data back:

ocrecURL='http://opencorporates.com/reconcile?query='+urllib.quote_plus("".join(i for i in record['company'] if ord(i)<128))
    print ocrecURL,[recData]
    if len(recData['result'])>0:
        if recData['result'][0]['score']>=0.7:

The ocrecURL is constructed from the company name, sanitised in a hack fashion. If we get any results back, we check the (relevance) score of the first one. (The results seem to be ordered in descending score order. I didn’t check to see whether this was defined or by convention.) If it seems relevant, we go with it. From a quick skim of company reconciliations, I noticed at least one false positive – Reed – but on the whole it seemed to work fairly well. (If we look up more details about the company from OpenCorporates, and get back the company URL, for example, we might be able to compare the domain with the domain given in the link on the Bottom Line page. A match would suggest quite strongly that we have got the right company…)

As @stuartbrown suggeted in a tweet, a possible next step is to link the name of each guest to a Linked Data identifier for them, for example, using DBPedia (although I wonder – is @opencorporates also minting IDs for company directors?). I also need to find some way of pulling out some proper, detailed subject tags for each episode that could be used to populate a drop down list filter control…

PS for more Google Dashboard controls, check out the Google interactive playground…

PPS see also: OpenLearn Glossary Search and OpenLearn LEarning Outcomes Search

Exporting and Displaying Scraperwiki Datasets Using the Google Visualisation API

In Visualising Networks in Gephi via a Scraperwiki Exported GEXF File I gave an example of how we can publish arbitrary serialised output file formats from Scraperwiki using the GEXF XML file format as a specific example. Of more general use, however, may be the ability to export Scraperwiki data using the Google visualisation API DataTable format. Muddling around the Google site last night, I noticed the Google Data Source Python Library that makes it easy to generate appropriately formatted JSON data that can be consumed by the (client side) Google visualisation library. (This library provides support for generating line charts, bar charts, sortable tables, etc, as well as interactive dashboards.) A tweet to @frabcus questioning whether the gviz_api Python library was available as a third party library on Scraperwiki resulted in him installing it (thanks, Francis:-), so this post is by way of thanks…

Anyway, here are a couple of examples of how to use the library. The first is a self-contained example (using code pinched from here) that transforms the data into the Google format and then drops it into an HTML page template that can consume the data, in this case displaying it as a sortable table (GViz API on scraperwiki – self-contained sortable table view [code]):

Of possibly more use in the general case is a JSONP exporter (example JSON output (code)):

Here’s the code for the JSON feed example:

import scraperwiki
import gviz_api

#Example of:
## how to use the Google gviz Python library to cast Scraperwiki data into the Gviz format and export it as JSON

#Based on the code example at:

scraperwiki.sqlite.attach( 'openlearn-units' )
q = 'parentCourseCode,name,topic,unitcode FROM "swdata" LIMIT 20'
data = scraperwiki.sqlite.select(q)

description = {"parentCourseCode": ("string", "Parent Course"),"name": ("string", "Unit name"),"unitcode": ("string", "Unit Code"),"topic":("string","Topic")}

data_table = gviz_api.DataTable(description)

json = data_table.ToJSon(columns_order=("unitcode","name", "topic","parentCourseCode" ),order_by="unitcode")

scraperwiki.utils.httpresponseheader("Content-Type", "application/json")
print 'ousefulHack('+json+')'

I hardcoded the wraparound function name (ousefulHack), which then got me wondering: is there a safe/trusted/approved way of grabbing arguments out of the URL in Scraperwiki so this could be set via a calling URL?

Anyway, what this shows (hopefully) is an easy way of getting data from Scraperwiki into the Google visualisation API data format and then consuming either via a Scraperwiki view using an HTML page template, or publishing it as a Google visualisation API JSONP feed that can be consumed by an arbitrary web page and used direclty to drive Google visualisation API chart widgets.

PS as well as noting that the gviz python library “can be used to create a google.visualization.DataTable usable by visualizations built on the Google Visualization API” (gviz_api.py sourcecode), it seems that we can also use it to generate a range of output formats: Google viz API JSON (.ToJSon), as a simple JSON Response (. ToJSonResponse), as Javascript (“JS Code”) (.ToJSCode), as CSV (.ToCsv), as TSV (.ToTsvExcel) or as an HTML table (.ToHtml). A ToResponse method (ToResponse(self, columns_order=None, order_by=(), tqx=””)) can also be used to select the output response type based on the tqx parameter value (out:json, out:csv, out:html, out:tsv-excel).

PPS looking at eg https://spreadsheets.google.com/tq?key=rYQm6lTXPH8dHA6XGhJVFsA&pub=1 which can be pulled into a javascript google.visualization.Query(), it seems we get the following returned:
google.visualization.Query.setResponse({"version":"0.6","status":"ok","sig":"1664774139","table":{ "cols":[ ... ], "rows":[ ... ] }})
I think google.visualization.Query.setResponse can be a user defined callback function name; maybe worth trying to implement this one day?