Investigation into Configuration Methods for Adding External Data Sources to a Common Website, 10-R9849

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Principal Investigators
Lynne Randolph
Stephen Johns
Sam Slocum
Joshua S. Johnson
 

Inclusive Dates:  08/27/08 – 12/31/09

Background - Over the last few years, SwRI has developed a website that is fed from intelligent transportation system data from another SwRI process, center-to-center (C2C). While the data provided is both useful to the public and readily available in various Department of Transportation (DOT) districts in Texas, individual districts also require other data to be depicted. Understandably, districts were reluctant to embrace a common website that does not allow the inclusion of district-specific data. The development of a statewide website had been stalled, as the districts could not reach consensus on a set of common functionality or even how common functionality should behave.

Approach - This research investigated methods for allowing disparate entities to include diverse data on a common website. The objective of this project was to investigate and develop methods that would allow a statewide website to have a menu of functionality that each district could customize. These methods would involve easily picking and choosing functionality for a particular site and also allowing data from sources other than C2C to be displayed. As data from external sources is not under the direct control of the website, the potential for performance and security problems exists. Additionally, multiple browsers must be supported that required a more complex solution to ensure compatibility.

Accomplishments - The first part of the project investigated various methods that allow an end user to customize a website. These methods included existing tools that allow users to graphically build web site components (e.g., Google Mashups) or use web gadgets that can be created by users. Investigation showed that the capabilities of the end users of the website do not extend to the creation of these modules, nor are the modules full-featured enough to provide the information required. The alternative to an existing tool was to provide a customized method of adding new components. Additionally, methods for overlaying data feeds on websites were evaluated.

The project team assessed using Keyhole Markup Language (KML) or Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds with encoded geodata added as a layer on a Microsoft Virtual Earth site. This mechanism was already supported by Virtual Earth and allows icons and polygons to be placed on the map with embedded data. Information as to what is displayed when a user hovers over or clicks the item is also embedded in the files. For data that updates frequently, weather data for example, an update frequency was added to allow data to be refreshed.

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