Web Scraping For Non-Programmers In Layman’s Terms
Updated: Feb 12
Web scraping is a powerful technology that can accelerate your business growth. However, people without a tech background are struggling to understand what web scraping really is and how they benefit from it. Here is a blog on Web Scraping For Non-Programmers In Layman’s Terms.
Let’s understand the web.
Web pages are built using text-based markup languages and contain a wealth of useful data. However, web pages are designed for human end-users to be accessed via a web browser not for the ease automated use. This human-friendly design makes it difficult to access this data because it is unstructured.
Markup languages: Markup languages are designed for the processing, definition, and presentation of text. The language specifies the protocol for formatting, both the layout and style, within a text file. The code used to specify the formatting are called tags. HTML is an example of a widely known and used as a markup language.
Ok, cool, What is an API.
Think of an API as the alternative user interface that software uses to interact with other software. An example would be Zomato using google maps API to integrate location services within their app. Only a small number of websites have API’s because it is difficult to build and maintain an API due to the cost and efforts involved.
What is web scraping and how it is done?
Web scraping is an automated way of copying data from a website and turning it into a useful format that computers can work on. The typical process of web scraping is as follows:
1. Fetch page – If you are on Amazon and you need to access the information on the books category, you ask the web scraper to request that page. The web scraper will go and fetch the page.
2. Parse – If you just right click and then click view the page source option on your browser, you can see the markup language. Parsing is a way to extract the information we need that is locked within the markup language.
3. Format – To make this into a useful format, a set of transformations need to be done, this is called formatting.
4. Storing the data – The formatted data needs to be stored in a database for accessing it later.
What is a web scraper?
A web scraper or a crawler is a computer program or software that does web scraping.
How do I use the scraped data?
You can get the scraped data in computer friendly formats such as CSV or JSON. There are many self-service tools like PowerBi, and Pentaho which you can use to analyze and transform the data without writing any code.
What are my options to get data from the web?
Code it yourself
If you have a capable technical team, you can build web scrapers using many programming languages and there are frameworks like the ones listed below.
You need to pay for Developers, Servers etc.
On average a developer needs 10 hours to code a web scraper and it takes 4-6 months to build a stable infrastructure to run these web scrapers.
You need to build systems for maintenance and Q&A.
In layman terms, Code it yourself is building a car by buying its parts online and assembling it.
You build the car by hiring a team of mechanics and appoint a driver to run it.
You have control over data extraction.
You have ownership and access to source code.
Very costly compared to DaaS and DIY tools.
Time to market is slow.
Lack of expertise can hurt.
Need a lot of human resources.
DIY tools make it possible non-tech guys to get data from websites. In theory, a guy with basic computer skills should be able to configure DIY tools. In most cases, you’ll end up hiring a developer to modify the data and write scripts to get the data the way you need it.
Customizations and modifications will be necessary depend on what you do with the data. Examples:
You need to pay a monthly/yearly subscription to get a license.
Customization of Data requires a developer and it can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days to get it done properly.
You need people and tools to do Q&A.
You need a full-time tech guy to monitor the health of data extraction.
You need custom programming to extract data from websites with anti- scraping technologies – This also requires a full-time developer to function smoothly.
You have control over data extraction process.
DIY tools reduces the technical barrier to extract data from websites.
Access to source code.
Steep learning curve.
It doesn’t work with complex websites.
You need tech resources to manage and monitor data extraction.
Costly compared to DaaS.
No access to source code.
Self-service tools are like renting a car. You rent a car and drive yourself or appoint a driver to run it. You pay a monthly rent and pay the salary of the driver. If the car breaks down, you wait till the company fixes the problem.
Data as a Service
Data as a Service is the cousin of Software as a Service. DaaS enables people to get data in a ready to use format. This is the best option for those who want to focus on using the data rather than managing the data extraction. You can directly plug data streams into your analytics tools or your apps.
Cost: You need to pay a monthly subscription for getting data. Benefits:
Most cost effective option.
No resources required.
Pay only for what you actually get.
No or little control over data extraction process.
In layman terms Data as a service is like Uber, get a ride when you need it and you pay for the distance traveled. No need to take care of the maintenance or anything.
There are different ways to get web data for your business. It is up to you, what to choose.
List your priorities and choose wisely. Wise men won’t buy a coffee shop just to drink coffee
Having trouble understanding any of these? Get in touch with us.