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May 25 2011

01:02

‘Documentation is like sex: when it is good, it is very, very good; and when it is bad, it is better than nothing’

You may have noticed that the design of the ScraperWiki site has changed substantially.

As part of that, we made a few improvements to the documentation. Lots of you told us we had to make our documentation easier to find, more reliable and complete.

We’ve reorganised it all under one contents page, called Documentation throughout the site, including within the code editor. All the documentation is listed there. (The layout shamelessly inspired by Django).

Of course, everyone likes different kinds of documentation – talk to a teacher and they’ll tell you all about different learning styles. Here’s what we have on offer, all available in Ruby, Python and PHP (thanks Tom and Ross!).

  • New style tutorials – very directed recipes, that show you exactly how to make something specific in under 30 minutes. More on these in a future blog post.
  • Live tutorials – these are what we now call the ScraperWiki special sauce tutorials. Self contained chunks of code with commentary that you fork and edit and run entirely in your browser. (thanks Anna and Mark!)
  • Copy and paste guides – a new type of reference to a library, which gives you code snippets you can quickly copy into your scraper. With one click. (thanks Julian!)
  • Interactive API documentation – for how to get data out of ScraperWiki. More on that in a later blog post. (thanks Zarino!)
  • Reference documentation – we’ve gone through it to make sure it covers exactly what we support.
  • Links for further help – an FAQ and our Google Group. But also for more gnarly questions asks on the Stack Overflow scraperwiki tag.

We’ve got more stuff in the works – screencasts and copy & paste guides to specific view/scraper libraries (lxml, Nokogiri, Google Maps…). Let us know what you want.

Finally, none of the above is what really matters about this change.

The most important thing is our new Documentation Policy (thanks Ross). Our promise to keep documentation up to date, and available alike for all the languages that we support.

Normally in websites it is much more important to have a user interface that doesn’t need documentation. Of course, you need it for when people get stuck, and it has to be good quality. But you really do want to get rid of it.

But programming is fundamentally about language. Coders need some documentation, even if it is just the quickest answer they can get Googling for an error message.

We try hard to make it so as little as possible is needed, but what’s left isn’t an add on. It is a core part of ScraperWiki.

(The quote in the title of this blog post is attributed to Dick Brandon on lots of quotation sites on the Internet, but none very reliably)


May 18 2011

10:13

All recipes 30 minutes to cook

The other week we quietly added two tutorials of a new kind to the site, snuck in behind a radical site redesign.

They’re instructive recipes, which anyone with a modicum of programming knowledge should be able to easily follow.

1. Introductory tutorial

For programmers new to ScraperWiki, to a get an idea of what it does.

It runs through the whole cycle of scraping a page, parsing it then outputting the data in a new form. For a simplest possible example.

Available in Ruby, Python and PHP.

2. Views tutorial

Find out how to output data from ScraperWiki in exactly the format you want – i.e. write your own API functions on our servers.

This could be a KML file, an iCal file or a small web application. This tutorial covers the basics of what a ScraperWiki View is.

Available in Ruby, Python and PHP.

Hopefully these tutorials won’t take as long as Jamie Oliver’s recipes to make. Get in touch with feedback and suggestions!


May 16 2011

11:09

It’s SQL. In a URL.

Squirrelled away amongst the other changes to ScraperWiki’s site redesign, we made substantial improvements to the external API explorer.

We’re going to concentrate on the SQLite function here as it is most import, but as you can see on the right there are other functions for getting out scraper metadata.

Zarino and Julian have made it a little bit slicker to find out the URLs you can use to get your data out of ScraperWiki.

1. As you type into the name field, ScraperWiki now does an incremental search to help you find your scraper, like this.

2. After you select a scraper, it shows you its schema. This makes it much easier to know the names of the tables and columns while writing your query.

3. When you’ve edited your SQL query, you can run it as before. There’s also now a button to quickly and easily copy the URL that you’ve made for use in your application.

You can get to the explorer with the “Explore with ScraperWiki API” button at the top of every scraper’s page. This makes it quite useful for quick and dirty queries on your data, as well as for finding the URLs for getting data into your own applications.

Let us know when you do something interesting with data you’ve sucked out of ScraperWiki!


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