Rising from lows of two hundred thousand websites a decade ago, the internet today holds data from over 1.7 billion websites. Ten years ago, content might have been king, but today, internet enthusiasts say that data is the modern-day equivalent of oil. The most valuable resource now is not oil but data.
Businesses that have technologies that extract and harvest data have become some of the most valuable there are in the world. In the future, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Big Data and machine learning businesses harnessing the power of data will rule the world economy.
For this reason, the most insightful business owners have initiated data harvesting to keep up with the competitive and innovative business environment. One tool that is commonly used by business owners to perform data mining and harvesting are web-scraping tools.
What is universal scraper?
A web scraper is an AI-powered code or bot that automates the traditional computer copy and paste function. These tools are also commonly referred to as web crawlers or data scrapers. Both the crawlers’ and the scrapers’ core function is data extraction from online sources.
They nevertheless, operate differently. Web crawlers, often referred to as spiders, are bots that browse and index web page information by tracing web page links. Large search engines such as Bing and Google use spiders to index new web site information.
Scrapers, on the other hand, extract the data index by crawlers. Both tools, therefore, work in harmony in a process whose result is parsed and stored data in a computer or database.
Are there universal scrapers?
The web scraping process is not a by-the-books activity. Web languages, coding styles, and programming are diverse and mutate as technology advances. Nevertheless, unlike the past when every aspiring data miner had to code their web scraping bots, today there are universal scrapers that can tackle most site specifications.
A universal scraper simply requires an input of template targets to pull data from different websites. The most common scraper frameworks out there that can be customized as needed by businesses include Selenium or Beautiful Soup and Scrapy.
Various web-scraping limitations
While web scraping is an essential business tactic, websites place different anti-scraping tools to block the process. A business that needs to scale up the data mining process will, therefore, need to ensure that their universal scraper can meet challenges such as;
● Bot access limitations
Some websites have robot.txt files whose instructions disallow bot access. You need to ensure that every scraping site accepts scraping and if not, seek the website owners’ permission to scrape the data. If the target site owner is uncooperative, it is more ethical to search for a different website with scraping friendly terms if possible.
● Changing web site structure
While HTML pages offer an easy scraping process, web designers are continually coming up with new design standards making web page design very divergent. Changes in structure can affect the scraping ability of some scraping tools.
You should only use web-scraping tools from reputable providers to ensure that the tool is kept updated on any new web design language. Minor web page structure changes can significantly affect the tool’s data scraping ability.
● IP blockers
Websites have internet protocol address blocking mechanisms that keep bots from their pages. When the site’s surveillance systems detect a high percentage of requests from a single IP, they will ban, flag, or block the IP’s activity on the site. Web scraping is nevertheless a legal process.
It is, however, coming from the dark age of internet activities when many web scrapers would use bots unethically, causing adverse effects on the target web sites. Some malicious online users have also used bots to enact spam attacks causing Denial of Service errors.
Since most websites have suspicious IP blocking tools, a web scraper needs proxy servers with rotational pools of residential IPs to veil the scraping activity.
The Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart (CAPTCHA) is a very common feature on websites. The tool displays logical problems of images that can be solved by a person but not a bot.
The presence of CAPTCHAs on a site can block web scraping. To ensure non-stop scraping, some tools have CAPTCHA solvers that keep the process going.
● Honey-pot traps
Some site owners love to hunt down scraper bots, so they do place traps that net web-scraping tools. Honey-pot traps are links that remain invisible to the human eye but can be indexed by a web spider. If the scraper accompanying the spider accesses these links, the website security protocol will block its IP address.
Some robust web scraping tools have technologies that avoid honey pot traps by performing precise scraping of items rather than mass scraping. click here for a google search engine API tool
Web scraping is on the rise and despite the many challenges universal scrapers find, programmers are always creating a way out. It is your responsibility however to treat all websites with respect and to scrape data ethically.