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Scorecard One for Mashups

The American Lawyer published their Corporate Scorecard package today, including more than 50 charts of complex data about how law firms ranked in the many areas of the industry (IPOs, bankruptcy, etc). The charts look good and are easy to read, and can be resorted, scrolled or paged as necessary. The editors have a fully-functional data CMS that allows them to edit, format, filter and combine data, share it with each other and with outsiders, and then publish it quickly.

And I put the whole thing together in less than two months, working much less than full time -- probably about ten days of work overall. Most of it already existed. The sophisticated data CMS is Google Spreadsheets. The charts are Google Visualization widgets, although they could also be custom-built Flash elements or other presentations. I wrote a back-end application in PHP and Javascript that lets editors choose data and configure presentations, and another Javascript application that presents the data for readers.

It's not an expensive data management application. If Google goes down, it will stop working. (Unlike those expensive proprietary systems that never, ever go down.) Any editor that doesn't know how to use a spreadsheet will not be able to update the data. If someone hacks into Google Spreadsheets, they can change the data.

For some, those are legitimate concerns, but for most, they're outweighed by the fact that we dreamed this project up at the very end of last year and now it's done and working, and real editors are using it in a real newsroom, and real readers are seeing a much better presentation of data in The American Lawyer -- on the web, on their iPhones and iPads, on their Droids and Blackberries.

Creating this application was a pleasure -- editors with lots of ideas, firm deadlines, and the ability to make quick decisions. Designers who could work fast within tight constraints. And a production group that could fit this into their complex web CMS quickly and make it look good. This is the way news should work, and this is why I love this job.