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What Is Web Scraping?
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What is web scraping?
Put simply, web scraping is a technique of collecting valuable data from websites and saving them in a well-structured format; a database, spreadsheet, CSV or XML file etc. The purpose of the process is converting the data from format that's meant to be readable for humans (web site) to a format readable for computers so that the collected data can be easily stored, processed, analyzed and so on.
The web scraping process is performed automatically by specially designed programs called web scrapers or web harversters. The way they work is somewhat similar to how web spiders used by Internet search engines operate: they "crawl" the targetted website (visiting its pages the same way a human user would) and inspect its content lookin for relevant information. The data to be collected are identified in the websites' HTML source (typically using so called XPath expressions, regular expressions or other means of text analysis), extracted, processed or reformatted if necessary, then saved. Because web scraping bots operate much faster than humans (often processing tens of pages per second!), they can scrape large amounts of data in a fraction of time the same job would take a human, not to mention their accuracy rate is also much greater.
Web scraping is used to collect all kinds of data from the web: business or marketing leads (names, addresses, emails, phone numbers) from business directories of all kinds (websites like Yellowpages, Yell or Google Places), statistical data (e.g. sports scores or betting odds), product details and prices (Amazon, Ebay, online stores), geographical data (Google Maps), the list goes on and on.
Rather than wasting money on "universal" data extraction software and spending time on trying to learn how to operate it, it is often a better idea to hire a programmer or a company specializing in web scraping services. These are people experienced in writing extremely fast web scraping bots customized for a specific source and able to bypass any data protection techniques this source can implement. They will get you the data you need in a fraction of time and cost you'd have to spend trying to get this done yourself.
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