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Data and Web Scraping for Dummies

Welcome to the most interesting (and fun!) blog post on web scraping.

You will learn the whys and hows of data scraping along with a few interesting use-cases and fun facts.

Data and Web Scraping for Dummies

Welcome to the most interesting (and fun!) blog post on web scraping for dummies. Mind you, this is not a typical web scraping tutorial. You will learn the whys and hows of data scraping along with a few interesting use-cases and fun facts. Let’s dig in.

It is a universal fact that businesses thrive on data. There are many use-cases where businesses generate revenue by using data. I’ll discuss these in a while. But first, let’s try to understand the value of data through a recent Facebook-WhatsApp controversy. A couple of months ago, WhatsApp data privacy policy update made waves among the masses. The update revealed that WhatsApp shares users’ data (business accounts) with its parent company Facebook. Why would Facebook need this data? Facebook uses this data for targeted marketing and revenue generation. There is a reason why this social media giant provides us free service – 97.9% of Facebook’s earnings are from advertisement, and the user data helps Facebook to optimize its advertising efforts! Yes, nothing is free in this world. 

Fun (or not-so-fun) fact: WhatsApp was already sharing your data before the privacy policy. They just informed you recently because of Apple’s new data disclosure requirements!

Now, coming to the point – we have understood that data is precious for businesses, right? We are not Facebook, so where is our precious data?

where-is-my-data
Data is the Dragon

Data Sources for Businesses

There are two main sources of data: Internal Sources and External Sources. The internal sources include HR data, financial documents, sales data, etc. Organizations use data analytics and business intelligence to find Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for their business growth. On the other hand, there is an immense amount of open-source data (read big data!) available on the internet from which businesses can gain valuable information. How do you collect data from these external sources? (Hint: read the title again – Data and Web Scraping for Dummies).  Yes, you got it right! We get the data through web scraping. 

You might want to read how businesses put big data to work and a gentle introduction to business intelligence and data analytics.

Introduction to Web Scraping

Web scraping helps you to collect and transform the publicly available data on the web for further analytics. According to Wikipedia:

“Web scraping, web harvesting, or web data extraction is data scraping used for extracting data from websites. Web scraping software may access the World Wide Web directly using the Hypertext Transfer Protocol, or through a web browser. While web scraping can be done manually by a software user, the term typically refers to automated processes implemented using a bot or web crawler. It is a form of copying, in which specific data is gathered and copied from the web, typically into a central local database or spreadsheet, for later retrieval or analysis.”

Quite a complicated definition, right? Don’t worry – I have tried to simplify web scraping for dummies. Web scraping comprises of following three main processes:

Web Data Collection 

In this step, data is collected and extracted from the websites. You would first have to do some sort of web crawling to conduct web scraping. This data is initially collected in an unstructured format.

Data Parsing and Transformation

The unstructured data collected from the internet cannot be used directly for further analytics. Therefore, this collected data is parsed and transformed into a structured/understandable format. These include CSV, Excel, or JSON data formats. These datasets are cleaned and transformed for further usage. For this purpose, regular expressions, string manipulation, and various search methods are utilized.

Data Storage

You can scrape data from the website and store it into a CSV, JSON, or XML file.  Data scraping and storage depend on the amount of data and the nature of performed tasks. For instance, for a huge amount of data, you might want to consider the big data cloud service and storage option.

Fun fact (or nerd fact?): Web scraping and web crawling are not the same. Web crawlers just collect data from the web, while web scrapers not only collect the data but also transform and parse it for further processing!

Enjoying this article so far? You will also like our featured article: Why is Elixir Making Headlines?

Web Data Scraping Use Cases

Web data scraping can do wonders for your business! I am sharing a just few interesting use cases here:

Search Engines

Google is the biggest use case of web scraping. This tech giant wouldn’t have existed without web crawling and scraping. Every search engine uses web crawling and scraping techniques.

use-case-web-scraping-for-dummies 

ML and Data Science

ML and data science cannot work without the data. They require a large volume and variety of data to give quality outputs. Web scraping can help ML engineers and data scientists to build high-quality datasets for ML models. For example, GPT-3 is a powerful text generation tool that is trained on web data scraping.

Marketing and SEO

Web scraping is the favorite tool of the marketing and SEO team. For example, web and data scraping can help in lead generation. Businesses generate leads by finding valuable public information such as details of companies, addresses, contacts, etc. Web scraping can reduce your time and effort in collecting and storing such information from the Internet. It’s also the favorite tool of SEOs, they can get valuable information through web scraping such as high-ranking keywords, competitor analysis, etc. The significance of web scraping has been discussed in detail on this SEO giant MOZ’s blog.

Fun fact: Because we are talking about SEO here, readers might have noticed – I have used the term web scraping for dummies quite a few times in this article. This will help Google to scrape and rank my article, so bear with me 🙂

Threat Intelligence

Publically available data can also help in pro-active open-source threat intelligence. For example, we can find threats from darknet markets using specialized web scraping and data analytic techniques. Finding this idea fascinating? Read more about it on my Hacker Noon blog post.

Types of Web Scraping

There are three main ways to scrape data from websites – writing a simple code for smaller tasks, professional custom web scraping, or using automated tools and software for web scraping. If you want to start with writing your own web scraping program, try this detailed and easy-to-follow tutorial on data scraping in python by Felix Revert. Now let’s explore other two options:

Custom Web Scraping Services

There are various challenges in the way of large-scale data scraping. You need to manage captchas and site blocking tactics. You can use custom web and data scraping services from an expert outsourcing service provider. Outsourcing your data project to an expert web scraping company can cut both time and costs. 

Fun fact: A good software outsourcing company can cost you even less than handling freelancers! Always check expertise, reviews, and rates before finalizing your tech outsourcing partner!

Web Scraping Tools 

There are a variety of automated tools out there that can help you in web data scraping. Here is a list of a few web scraping tools with their key features:

BeautifulSoup

  • Language: Python
  • Easier, interactive interface.
  • HTML parser
  • Well documented tool
  • Tutorials easily available

Mozenda 

  • Cloud-based service
  • Amazing customer support
  • Ideal for big data scraping

Scrapy

  • A powerful, open-source tool
  • One of the oldest among scrapers – you can find many tutorials
  • Well documented
  • Powered by python

Octoparse

  • A GUI-based, easy-to-use tool
  • Point and click screen scraper
  • Option for the cloud
  • Customization options available

Wrapping up

“We’re entering a new world in which data may be more important than software.” – Tim O’Reilly, founder, O’Reilly Media.

I have written web scraping for dummies keeping in mind that my readers get a general idea of web scraping in a fun way. I’ll end this article with an important message. There are always legal and ethical implications in gathering, storing, and using information (even publicly available information). So it is wise to contact experts in the domain before using data for business. Happy web scraping!

 

 

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