We all know that data is both powerful and valuable, so it’s not surprising that so many businesses are eager to get their hands on it. There are a number of companies today built around data that they gather online. Many of them are doing very well indeed.
One of the most common ways of gathering information is data scraping. Once it’s set up, it provides an extremely cost-efficient way of sourcing large volumes of data. Web crawlers can traverse the internet in the same way that a human does – by visiting a website and then using hyperlinks to move around it.
However, there is a steep learning curve to data scraping, and even with the availability of pre-built tools, users still need to know what they are doing in order to scrape properly. There are general-purpose scraping tools available that are designed to be versatile and either directly usable or adaptable to any website.
For example, WebHarvy is a point and click web scraper designed to let users get started with their scraping projects as quickly as possible. With WebHarvy, users visit the website they want to scrape, click on the data they want, and the program takes care of the rest. While this is an undeniably simple approach, the simplicity comes at a price – WebHarvy can only be used to scrape data that you can see when browsing the website.
On the other hand, many businesses utilize data from a single source. In such cases, it makes more sense to develop a scraping tool to work specifically with the website in question.
Data scraping is a powerful technique for collecting large volumes of data. However, not everyone has the time or resources to execute a large-scale scraping operation. In some scenarios, it makes much more sense to simply buy the data that you need from someone who has already collected it themselves. Data brokers serve as middlemen, providing databases for sale to businesses that need specific kinds of data. These brokers may be scraping themselves, or they might be selling data they have collated from several sources.
Data acquisition involves converting a physical process into digital information, which sounds more complicated than it really is. Consider a thermometer linked to a computer. The computer can check the thermometer every five minutes and record the data; this is data acquisition in action.
Needless to say, most data acquisition is considerably more elaborate than this. For example, there are businesses that sell data about natural resources to mining companies. These businesses use a multitude of devices, instruments, and techniques to map and learn more about an area and the resources contained within it. All of this information is converted into a digital format and packaged in an easily navigable database.
How Is Data Used?
What we have outlined above are three of the most common methods of gathering data. Each of the techniques has its own advantages, drawbacks, and ideal use cases. Many businesses will use a combination of techniques to acquire the data they need. Regardless of where their data is sourced from, there is a growing number of businesses that are dependent upon a steady stream of information to be able to do what they do. For those with access to the right data, this presents a number of commercial opportunities.
Flight aggregators will use web scraping to gather information about flights and help users to compare them. These aggregators scrape their data from a variety of sources and use it to return flight information to the user. In some contexts, websites and online services can be quite hostile towards the idea of data scraping.
For example, social media platforms are caught in an eternal game of cat and mouse with bot makers as they try to limit or remove automation tools from their platform. However, in the case of price comparison and aggregator websites, there is a tangible benefit to the businesses being scraped – they make sales through the aggregator.
In such cases, the airlines whose data is being scraped will often facilitate the process by preparing all the relevant data so that crawlers need only navigate to a single page and download a single database.
Property listing aggregators perform the same function as flight scrapers, only for property rather than flights. However, a significant difference between the two is that the amount of data a potential traveler will want to know about their flight is much more limited than someone looking for a new home.
Someone who is thinking about taking a flight will be looking for the departure and arrival details, as well as any stopovers and the price of their flight. Beyond this, they might want to know what kind of plane they will be flying in and the carrier who will be flying them. On the other hand, someone looking for a new home will want to know about the property and the surrounding area in a reasonable amount of detail. This requires a more versatile approach to scraping and not all sources will provide the same data.
Social media platforms provide a wealth of personal data to scrapers, and there is a growing number of businesses that are scraping data from social media platforms and using it to profile their users. Similarly, marketing agencies can scrap review data from across the internet in order to inform businesses about how popular their latest products are and the impact they are having.
For those who have access to the right data, there is a lot of money to be made. As powerful data analytics tools also become more widely available, the possibilities for businesses are multiplying by the day.