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Companies have already started to realize the intrinsic value that web data can offer to an organization. However, majority of the companies considering web scraping and web data integration either opt for an in-house system or outsource it to a DaaS provider who will deliver data the way you need it. Outsourcing the whole process and hiring in-house talent, both come with their own pros and cons. This post covers when in-house web crawling makes sense for a company and the top five Common Mistakes of Web Scraping System.
Build a web scraping system when you are able to check off the following:
- The requirement is so extraordinary that the current set of tools or service providers won’t be able to fulfill the same
- The company has sensitive security requirements, policies and very specialized operational process
- The company has the financial resources, technical talent and operational know-how necessary to build a scalable crawling infrastructure
- The data requirement will not have regular incremental or complete crawls and maintenance won’t be a big deterrent
Now we’ll discuss the common issue to avoid when building an in-house web scraping system.
Technical talent and a large team
Considering the current level of sophistication in the AI system, we have found that frequently manual intervention is required to truly access high-quality data without losing out on the coverage. A large team will help companies as the team should comprise of developers, business analyst, sustenance engineers, and QA engineers.
Note that this team should be fully dedicated to the crawling project if you need to match the in-house team with the enterprise-level service providers. The entire team will be involved in setting up the complete infrastructure and work on different elements such as HTTP fetching, proxy setup, extracting, deduping, database management.
If a company reassigns current engineers or IT talent to set up an in-house web data extraction system, it must also consider the trade-off costs. If your organization’s engineers or IT team are already occupied with day-to-day processes or other ongoing projects, evaluate if building a custom software should be given importance.
Try to answer the following questions:
- Will the primary solution go to backseat?
- What are the costs of delays for the new features, new service or bug fixes in the current systems?
- Will your clients be impacted?
Web scraping does involve certain legal risks if you don’t know what you’re doing. There are websites that explicitly state their disapproval of automated web crawling and scraping. You should always check the source website’s Terms of Service and Robots.txt to make sure it can be safely scraped. If they are not, you are better off without crawling such sites.
There are also certain best practices while web crawling that you should follow like hitting the target servers at a reasonable interval so as to not harm them and not get your IP blocked. It’s better to outsource the process if you don’t want to take risks with your data acquisition project.
Scaling and upkeep
Maintaining a web scraping setup can easily become quite complex for your team. Since the crawlers entail modification every time a source website changes its structure or design, your team would be spending good amount of time in maintaining the same. And quite certainly websites undergo changes — most of the changes aren’t cosmetic and hence would go unnoticed if you aren’t monitoring them the right way.
Also, the system becomes exponentially complex when the data requirement touches millions of records per day or week. At this stage, a highly scalable data infrastructure can fulfill the requirement which has many moving pieces as discussed above.
Deviating from core business
The focus of a company should primarily be on its primary business without which the business will suffer. Considering the complexity of the crawling process, it is easy to get lost in the complexities and end up losing a lot of time trying to keep it up and running. When web scraping is outsourced, you will have a lot more time to focus and work towards your business goals apart from data acquisition.
Web crawling certainly is a niche process that requires high technical expertise. Although crawling the web on your own can make you feel like you’re independent and in control, the truth is, all it takes is a small change in the source website to turn everything upside down. With a dedicated web scraping provider, you get the data you need in your preferred format, without the complications associated with crawling.