What is web scraping?
Web scraping is a technique used to gather huge amounts of data from the internet. In layman terms, web scraping can be understood as copying huge volumes of data into a local database from across the internet. This data can then be utilized at a later stage for various purposes.
How vast is the internet?
Ever since its initiation in 1990, the world wide web has expanded to now encompass humongous amounts of data. In the initial stages, content developers for the website were responsible for creating and publishing data on the respective websites. For example, a content developer for msn.com would publish articles on various topics on the website which would be aimed at and developed for the reading audience. Also, there might or might not have been options for the readers to leave comments or feedback. At this stage, a high proportion of the data was developed by the website.
As the world wide web evolved, users and readers were given more leeway in generating the content present online. This started with chatting sessions coming into the fray. Users would enter chat sessions with each other and generate tons of data to be store over the internet.
But the real change came in after social media websites became popular. These led to users creating content offline and then uploading the same to these websites. As a result, these social media websites are now the primary source of user information, their likes, dislikes for organizations who want this kind of data to create services.
What are web scrapers?
Web scrapers are tools or pieces of code that ‘crawl’ the internet for looking through and then storing data onto a locally placed database. They can be either simple tools or complex codes. The usage of either depends on how excessive your demand for data is. Web scraping tools are used when the usage is one time and the demand for data is not very excessive. Code pieces are run when the demand is dynamic and if some kind of automation is to be brought in.
For the average user, coding scrapers would be a little daunting and as a result, they must bank on web scraping tools to do the job for them. In what follows below, we will discuss seven different web scraping tools that can be used by the average user to scrap data from the web.
This is an extension that has been developed for the open source web browser Mozilla Firefox. This can be downloaded and used by visiting the add-ons store present in the Firefox Menu. Armed with this add-on, your web browser, Mozilla Firefox, can scrap the internet as per instructions given by you. The major advantage with this is that it doesn’t require any programming skills to be used and is very easy to learn. Moreover, it comes free and can be quickly used to scrape data out of the web.
Web Scraper Chrome Extension
Like the Outwit Hub present on Firefox, this web scraper is available for scraping the web as an extension on the Google Chrome web browser. However, it offers the ability to dynamically scrap data from the website thus offering a strength that a lot other web scraping tools do not possess. The data can then be downloaded into .csv files which are easier to work with.
Having listed the pros for this web scraping tool, we now come to the cons. The only con that we want to point out for this web scraping tool is that you won’t be able to automate and schedule web data scraping using this web scraping tool. Having said that, this tool can prove to be very effective for most of your web scraping requirements.
Of the tools discussed till now, Spinn3r works a little differently. It continuously scraps the web and therefore has a frequently updated database. This data is then stored in JSON format. Its firehose API does the crawling and indexing and mainly scraps and scans through media websites. The user can use its admin console and search the data that Spinn3r has scraped and stored in its database.
All the tools discussed above can be used to handle fairly simple scraping tasks. However, if something a little more complex is required then Fminer is the tool for you. Its user interface is very intuitive and therefore very easy to use. Fminer can crawl and scan through simple web pages and complex pages with equal easy even if multiple-layered crawls are required.
If space crunch with the scraped data is an issue for you, Dexi.io is the scraping tool that you should be looking at. Firstly, it doesn’t require any download and can be used directly from the browser. It allows for real-time scraping and the data, instead of requiring space on your local server can be stored to Box.net or to Google drive hence saving space on your servers. The data that is hosted on Dexi.io’s servers will be stored for two weeks post which it will be archived.
Another advantage that Dexi.io offers is that you can be anonymous while scraping the data using proxy servers.
Octoparse is a visual tool that allows the user to use point and click to teach it how to scan and scrap a website. It then mimics what the user has taught it and scrapes the website either on the local machine of the user or on the cloud.
With all these web tools available for the common user to scrap the internet, this task has become easier. However, most of these tools come with their limitations. Most of them lack the capability for dynamic scraping requirements and cannot be automated for repeat usage. For these requirements, the user would have to look at coding techniques or reach out to experts in order to get the scraping task completed.