Scorecard's capacity to deliver customized, reliable and up-to-date information is derived from its sophisticated integration of environmental science with web technology. Oracle Magazine has spotlighted Scorecard as "an extremely robust, interactive Web site" that is "at the leading edge of what becomes possible when databases and web technologies are combined." The site makes the delivery of interpretable, personalized environmental information appear easy, but the service utilizes state-of-the-art technology from several fields to make this possible.
Scorecard is powered by GetActive Software, a company founded by the technical team that built the Scorecard web site. GetActive provides content and communications services to membership-based organizations. We manage complex databases so that groups can provide localized community content to their audiences. Our communication services enable organizations to build strong relationships with supporters via online outreach, advocacy and fundraising. GetActive also powers the largest aggregation of political activists concerned about the environment, ActionNetwork.
ARCHITECTURE GROUNDED IN INFORMATICS
Scorecard integrates over 400 diverse environmental and demographic datasets, making it one of the most complicated and advanced sites on the web in terms of informatics. The project utilizes scientific and information processing standards to ensure the integrity of its data products. Ontologies from various knowledge domains (such as environmental science or geospatial information processing standards) are employed to structure data acquisition and dataset integration. With this infrastructure, it is possible to reliably link information about the health effects of a chemical from a scientific resource with information about emissions of that chemical from a governmental resource. It also becomes easy to associate a user's zipcode and topic preferences with specific environmental content.
DATA ACQUISITION AND PROCESSING
To remain reliable, updates and modifications to source datasets must be quickly reintegrated into the system. Scorecard employs a variety of data management techniques that minimize the resources required for ongoing data maintenance. Detailed data processing models specify how to propagate newly updated data throughout the system. Robots and spiders are utilized to acquire current data dynamically from the web whenever possible, completely eliminating the need to import external datasets and maintain internal versions of this information.
DATABASE-BACKED WEB PUBLICATION
Scorecard utilizes a dynamic publication system: web pages are put together on-the-fly from our Oracle relational database management system. Each page request runs a tcl program that queries our database to retrieve the data required to provide content for a page. With Scorecard, Oracle accesses over 7 GB of data (distilled down from over 100 GB of contributing datasets) to process queries and then deliver the customized page to the user's browser. Dynamic publication capacity is critical: there are over 1 billion potential pages that Scorecard can produce. If these were static files requiring regular hands-on maintenance to modify or update, the service would quickly become stale and inaccurate. Read more about how Scorecard was built.
OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE ENVIRONMENT
Scorecard relies largely on open-source software for its performance and extensibility. The site uses AOLServer as its web server (the same software that currently powers America Online). Many of the site's core functions (user administration and tracking, discussion forums) are based on components of the Arsdigita Community System, an open source tool kit. Scorecard has returned important technology innovations to the open source community, most notably the Practical Map Server - one of the most interactive and powerful mapping services on the web. Working in an open source environment offers tremendous advantages, because it enables site development to quickly benefit from solutions others develop to provide common web services.