Scraping GreatSchools

By Enrico Manlapig in modeling

June 30, 2021

contemporary aboriginal art

Emu Dreaming by Raymond Walters Penangke. Used with permission

I’m always in two minds about web-scraping. You can feel like a wizard when you you can identify parts of a webpage and make them appear somewhere, transformed, all without opening a browser. At the same time, it feels icky. The designer clearly intended you to experience their page in a certain way so it feels wrong to pick it apart to consume the bits you like. You wouldn’t do this to a beautiful and lovingly crafted piece of nigiri sushi.

This dilemma is for chewing over another day.

Today, I’m planting a new seed and this post will outline some of the things I’ve learned. I’m preparing for Decision Lab project that will be exploring the local market for faith-based schools. As part of this exercise, I’m writing some R scripts to help them scrape local school information from

At this point, I have scripts to scrape a listing page and review pages.

At first, it was hard to get started because the data was being dynamically generated by some JavaScript. I didn’t want to go down the RSelenium path because that seemed overwhelming. I learned, though, that you can point rvest at the script’s xpath and then use V8 to execute the script. Very clever!

The review pages were trickier. I could still use the rvest + V8 move to grab the data but there were two little wrinkles. First, the page would expand when you scrolled down. If I blindly scraped the page with rvest, I’d only get the first few reviews. The second issue was that each review was initially presented collapsed. You would need to press a “more” button to expand the review. Since this required some actual window work, I concluded there was no way to do this with rvest alone so I jumped into the RSelenium pool. Thankfully, it was surprisingly straightforward to scroll and click in the client browser.

At the moment, I have everything driven by RMarkdown document for no particular reason. I would like to try rolling this material into a package, which I think will be a kinder tool for the students.

One last thing before I leave the garden for the day, I was practicing bowing and nodding to the website because I wanted to be (and use) polite. As I said earlier, I am a little bit bothered by this practice. But that’s for another day.

Hmm… Now I want some sushi 🍣

Posted on:
June 30, 2021
2 minute read, 416 words
R modeling web scraping decision lab consulting
See Also:
Trying package development
Decision Lab
Modeling through the pandemic