Web scraping is as old as the web itself, it is a very widely known term in the programming world, and in online businesses in general. Scraping allows you to gather multiple sources of data in one compact place, from within which you can make your own data queries, and display information however you like.
In my personal experience, I’ve seen web scrapers being used to build automated product websites, article directories and full-scale projects that involve a lot of interaction with data. What do all of these have in common? Money. The average person looking for a web scraper will be thinking in terms of money.
Are you a PHP coder? Take a look at these libraries that are for working with the HTTP protocol and also for scraping content.
What other uses are there for web scrapers, which are the most common ones? Funny to think about this, the first thing that came to my mind when thinking of other uses for scraping was a tweet that was sent out earlier this year by Matt Cutts, one of the people behind Google’s spam team.
“If you see a scraper URL outranking the original source of content in Google, please tell us about it.” – Matt told his Twitter fans. Just a few moments later, Dan Barker – an online entrepreneur; made a quite amusing reply to show what the real problem with Google is:
I thought it was pretty hilarious, as did 30,000 other people who took the time to retweet that statement. The lesson here is that web scraping is all around us. Try to imagine a world where a price comparison website would need to have a separate set of employees, just to have them check the prices again, and again, for each new request. A nightmare!
Web scraping has many sides to it, there are certainly many uses for it as well, here are a few examples (feel free to skip this to get right into our list of web scraping tools) that I think define what scraping is about, and probably shows that it’s not always about stealing data from others.
- Price Comparison — Like I said, one of the great uses for scraping is the ability to compare prices, and data in a more efficient manner. Instead of having to do all the checks manually, you can have a scraper in place; doing all the requests for you.
- Contact Details — You could consider this type of scraping as something on a thin line, but it is possible to scrape for peoples details; names, emails, phone #’s, etc,. by using a web scraper.
- Social Analysis — I think this one is getting less attention than it deserves, with modern technology – we can really immerse ourselves in the life of others, and by scraping social websites like Twitter or Facebook, we can come to conclusions of what different groups of people like. (It goes a lot deeper than that!)
- Research Data — Quite similar to what I said above, large amounts of data can be scraped in one place and then used as a general database for building amazing, and informational websites or products.
these all were on the top of my head, having a quick look online led me to this blog post, you’ll find a few more suggestions on the uses of web scraping there.
Some people will scrape the contents of a website and post it as their own, in effect stealing this content. This is a big no-no for the same reasons that taking someone else’s book and putting your name on it is a bad idea. Intellectual property, copyright and trademark laws still apply on the internet and your legal recourse is much the same. — Justin Abrahms, QuickLeft
It is not that hard of a thing to do, to imagine a fellow webmaster being frustrated over a company that has stolen all of his data, and is now making a huge profit out of it. The worst part? In many cases, it is near next-to impossible to prove that these people are doing what you know they are, scraping, and using your data.
I think that covers my initial introduction to web scraping, and my last piece of advice is this – learn Python; it is one of the most common programming languages used for scraping, extracting and organizing data. Luckily, it is also incredibly easy to learn, and with the use of different frameworks – getting up and running will be a breeze.
I love what these guys are doing, and even more so when I look at the free price-tag of this product. Enterprises who are looking for more flexibility and algorithmic access can get in touch with the sales team, while everyone else enjoys the product free for life.
Their web scraping tool is available for all major operating systems (Mac, Linux, Windows), and comes equipped with an amazing set of features. I’m particularly fond of Authenticated APIs, Dataset’s, and Cloud Storage. But, the crown jewel is their own blog – a place where you can find user feedback, and a great number of tutorials and how-to guides.
In my experience, I found that scraping a website like ThemeForest turned out to be incredibly easy, but I quickly grew tired of the idea and so didn’t really continue to explore the possibilities. I’d love to hear your own stories about Import, and whether you think it is one of the best free tools for scraping out there.
Kimono is a platform (supported by a bookmarklet) that enables you to turn any website into an active API. It’s actually quite interesting technology, and I highly suggest to take a look at the types of software and apps that have been built with Kimono. It makes things like data visualization a very easy process to do.
You don’t need to write any code or install any software to extract data with Kimono. The easiest way to use Kimono is to add our bookmarklet to your browser’s bookmark bar. Then go to the website you want to get data from and click the bookmarklet. Select the data you want and Kimono does the rest.
It’s going to be a little bit harder to master this tool, but there is an extensive section of video tutorials to help you get started, now that I think about it – I’ve reignited my passion for it as well, and look forward to playing around with it, at least a little bit.
Scrapy is a fast high-level screen scraping and web crawling framework, used to crawl websites and extract structured data from their pages. It can be used for a wide range of purposes, from data mining to monitoring and automated testing.
Like I said, Python is quite famous for being easy to learn and easy to use when it comes to scraping the web. Scrapy gives you all the necessary tools, documentation, and examples to help you get started within minutes. You’ll need Python installed, and some basic understanding of the command line.
The lack of a GUI (graphics interface) makes this tool less appealing to the beginner class, but it is a widely used web crawling tool (very possibly, the most widely used) that can help to achieve large proportions of websites in a matter of seconds. It’s flexible, powerful, and is built alongside the popular Apache Solr search server.
Nutch is open-source, and offers both modular and pluggable interfaces for concluding crawling matters. You could easily build your own search engine if you wanted to. I’m fond of this installation guide, which is extended into further detail if you’re interested in giving it a shot.
Scrapinghub is a very advanced platform when it comes to crawling the web using ‘spiders’. Their platform enables you to launch multiple crawlers at a time, without the requirement of deep monitoring of what is going on in the background. You simply give it the necessary data that it needs, and it will do the rest by itself. Everything is stored in the Scrapinghub – highly available – database and retrievable from our API.
I really like their latest open-source product, it is called Portia and it will enable you to do some custom scraping on your own, mostly to get a feel of how a visual web scraper works, and what kind of data it is possible to scrape and archive.
Anything you do online can be automated with UBot Studio. It will help you collect and analyze information, synchronize online accounts, upload and download data, and finish any other job that you might do in a web browser, and beyond.
UBot Studio was recommended for this list by one of the people who have left a comment on this post. I didn’t think much of it at first, but after having taken a second look, UBot Studio looks like a fairly promising platform that can change the way you or your business, interacts with the daily tasks of the web technology.
The number of things that UBot Studio can help you do is growing with every release:
- You can create a network of blogs and manage them automatically with UBot.
- Easily create user accounts on the most popular social networks with a single click.
- Update your blogs and social networks automatically from one single window.
- Mass upload videos to the most favorite video sites on the web.
- Conduct research tasks that can yield insight about keywords and their according niches.
- Works with popular platforms such as WordPress, Blogger, and even cPanel for all your hosting needs.
- …. and so many more features that you can find here.
It definitely is a little bit different from other scraping tools that we have on this particular list, but with such a wide array of features, I think this particular platform deserves to be noticed. Unfortunately, it won’t be free to use it, but if you’ve been looking for a similar solution for your projects, perhaps this is the one to go for. We don’t use affiliate links, so it’s up to you to decide whether UBot Studio can help your business.
Apps & Tools for Crawling the Web
You’ve got a lot of choice right now, find the right tool that works for you and keep playing with it. I think that there is a lot of good that we can do, by using these tools for the right reasons. Honestly, I just don’t see the point in scraping Wikipedia’s full archive of pages, and then submitting them on your own blog.
Find something meaningful, something that would impress others and try and work it out. The least of our worries should be the ability to do it, as there are more than enough tutorials and guides out there; on how to use these tools for the maximum potential.
I hope that you’ll find something worth your time, but I also encourage you to share your own tools that you use for web scraping, and I’d love to try them out myself.