The Internet is large, complex and ever-evolving. Nearly 90% of all the data in the world has been generated over the last two years. In this vast ocean of data, how does one get to the relevant piece of information? This is where web scraping takes over.
Web scrapers attach themselves, like a leech, to this beast and ride the waves by extracting information form websites at will. Granted “scraping” doesn’t have a lot of positive connotations, yet it happens to be the only way to access data or content from a web site without RSS or an open API.
Web scraping faces testing times ahead. We outline why there may be some serious challenges to its future.
With rise in data, redundancies in web scraping are rising. No more is web scraping a domain of the coders; in fact, companies now offer customized scraping tools to clients which they can use to get the data they want. The outcome of everyone equipped to crawl, scrape, and extract, is unnecessary waste of precious man-power. Collaborative scraping could well heal this hurt. Here, where one web crawler does a broad scraping, the others scrape data off an API. An extension of the problem is that text retrieval attracts more attention than multimedia; and with websites becoming more complex, this enforces limited scraping capacity.
Easily, the biggest challenge to web scraping technology is Privacy concerns. With data freely available (most of it voluntary, much of it involuntary), the call for stricter legislation rings loudest. Unintended users can easily target a company and take advantage of the business using web scraping. The disdain with which “do not scrape” policies are treated and terms of usage violated, tells us that even legal restrictions are not enough. This begs to ask an age-old question: is scraping legal?
The flipside to this argument is that if technological barriers replace legal clauses, then web scraping will see a steady, and sure, decline. This is a distinct possibility since the only way scraping activity thrives is on the grid, and if the very means are taken away and programs no longer have access to website information, then web scraping by itself will be wiped out.
On the same thought is the growing trend of accepting “open data”. The open data policy, while long mused hasn’t been used at the scale it should be. The old way was to believe that closed data is the edge over competitors. But that mindset is changing. Increasingly, websites are beginning to offer APIs and embracing open data. But what’s the advantage of doing so?
Selling APIs not only brings in the money, but also is useful in driving back traffic to the sites! APIs are also a more controlled, cleaner way of turning sites into services. Steadily many successful sites like Twitter, LinkedIn etc. are offering access to their APIs with paid services and actively blocking scraper and bots.
Yet, beyond these obvious challenges, there’s a glimmer of hope for web scraping. And this is based on a singular factor: the growing need for data!
With Internet & web technology spreading, massive amounts of data will be accessible on the web. Particularly with increased adoption of mobile internet. According to one report, by 2020, the number of mobile internet users will hit 3.8 billion, or around half of the world’s population!
Since ‘big data’ can be both, structured & unstructured; web scraping tools will only get sharper and incisive. There is fierce competition between those who provide web scraping solutions. With the rise of open source languages like Python, R & Ruby, Customized scraping tools will only flourish bringing in a new wave of data collection and aggregation methods.
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