When Bryan Murray set to work on the supergoals.com Web site he was determined that the servers contributing data to the project would play together as a single team, writes Guy Campos.
Supergoals.com is the football Web site of The Sun and the News of the World newspapers and it depends on two third-party data streams: one covering live results and match reports from the Press Association and another covering league tables from information company Paradigm.
Murray, an e-developer at online design agency Xceed, wanted the integration of these two data streams to be as flawless as a pass by Liverpool footballer Jamie Redknapp.
To make this happen, one of the team of eight developers he led on this three-week project wrote a Perl script to transfer data from the Press Association server to an Oracle database sitting behind the site.
A Vignette content management system running on a Unix platform then takes this data and uses it to create a cache of supergoals.com pages. When users click on supergoals.com they receive pages from this cache, as generating a fresh page from the database on every click-through would slow down the Web site's performance, given the level of hits expected by a large football site. To ensure that users view up-to-date news the live results pages are updated every 30 seconds from the database.
Integrating data from the Paradigm server with supergoals.com required even niftier footwork. The league tables are available as Web pages from Paradigm but Murray did not simply want to display somebody else's Web pages inside a frameset.
With frames, the user would not be able to bookmark a specific league table. Frames could also confuse the user by offering up two sets of navigation tools - one on the supergoals.com frame and another on the Web page included within it.
To beat this block, Murray wrote a script in the old Unix TCL (pronounced "tickle") language used by the Vignette system. This script strips the Paradigm data of its unwanted Web page and navigational HTML tags and adds in those tags required by a supergoals.com page.
For Murray, seeing the integration work was the best part of the project - a bit like watching Liverpool win the European Cup 3-1 in 1977, with Tommy Smith heading in the second goal.
The worst part was testing the live results feed and seeing Liverpool lose a three-goal lead against Southampton, with that ingenious little Perl script helping to update the bad news every 30 seconds.
Name: Bryan Murray
Job title: e-developer at online design agency Xceed
Qualifications: Phd in superconductivity, masters in electronics
IT skills: ASP, Vignette with TCL, Perl, Cgi-script, C
Hobbies: Solving Goldbach's Conjecture, a mathematical puzzle with a £1m reward
Favourite book: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Favourite pub: I like them all too much to have a favourite
Wilson on Wilson: Lost in space
This was first published in October 2000