Online platforms have become an integral part of any business activity. Any company that is intended to be relevant in the business world needs to establish a strong presence in the online environment, it needs an appealing website filled with niche information that attracts prospective clients and turns them into loyal consumers. In today’s hectic and competitive business environment, information is the key factor that helps a company make a difference, placing it on the fast track towards sustainability and profitability. To that extent, web scraping is one of the processes that makes a lot of sense for any type of organization, business or company, for it is the process of extracting information from websites with the aid of a web scraping program.
The interesting part is that a web scraping program is a very complex software that simulates human web surfing by either implementing low-level Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) or embedding certain full-fledged web browsers. The applications of a web scraping program are virtually limitless, especially in the modern age of information technology where the internet is the main source of information. However, the web data extraction technology has brought a revolution in the field of human-computer interaction, providing easy access to impressive amounts of data that can be converted into a usable form which serves the interests of the end user. The process is developed on a straightforward premise: the “spider” or “crawler” are able to aggregate information from the online environment by navigating the web, assessing the content of a website and then extracting pieces of data and saving them into a structured, working format. There is a wide range of companies that employ a web scraping program for different activities, like performing online research, tracking website data changes over a given time frame and many more. The program can be used for a wide variety of purposes, and it doesn’t have to be used just by businesses or companies, but by individuals as well, such as for searching fun games to play at a party. And while the program itself may not have been developed for this precise purpose, its great capacities are shown in the fact that it is able to look for even fun games to play at a party.
An advanced web scraping program is able to execute many other functions than the typical copy-paste. It is designed to navigate through a wide array of websites, to make decisions regarding the importance of specific pieces of data and then copy them into a structured database, spreadsheet or other format. The greatest thing is that there are many software packages available and some of them are able to extract information even from dynamic online platforms, like AJAX or Java Script websites. Web harvesting is typically performed using scripting languages such as Python or Perl, which represent an excellent platform for different harvesting methods like XPATH and regular expressions. However, it seems that using an advanced web scraping program is a bit difficult for an user who doesn’t have programming skills or good technical knowledge.
A basic web scraping programs works great for static websites, but nowadays, most online platforms are dynamic and thus, the content can be extracted and displayed dynamically depending on the series of actions performed on a web page. It is indeed very difficult to obtain information from this websites, but it is not impossible. The process requires a web scraping program that is especially designed to deal with highly dynamic online platforms and has incorporated a scheduler which can extract data from websites on set time intervals and thereby keep the extracted web data up-to-date. Furthermore, it can export data to many convenient data formats and it can be easily integrated to other business systems. All in all, a web scraping programs, regardless of its version, is the best solution for a cost effective data management and manipulation.