Let’s face it, you can’t have a business without data! Information drives everything in life, especially business.  You must do market research to know where your company is going, what customers’ demands are, keep up with changes in the industry, etc. Businesses that don’t utilize such data won’t get off the ground.  You must also keep an eye on competitors.  Since we already understand the need for data in the private sector, the real question is how do we go about obtaining this data. We know that it all exist online, stashed away in hard to find places across the world wide web, but it won’t just up and voluntarily walk up to us and say “hi”, we have to dig for it by scraping.

Some small businesses might try an in-house approach because they believe it will save them money by being cheaper than paying for the data.  Others may consider it is better to do it in house because they will be in control of the data.  They may feel that they will know what they are looking for better than somebody else would.

Let’s Be Realistic Here

Doing it yourself may sound cool, but what all does this entail?  Somebody green to the business world may google words such as “how to data scrape yourself” and pull up all the articles saying, “you can do it”.  They will probably get all excited, spend two days reading articles and watch all the YouTube videos, and then reality sets in. They have to spend money on cloud based servers, allot money for bandwidth cost, then realize that they have to get a whole lot of servers that can tackle the job. Creating and monitoring scrapers is a tedious task.  A team of developers must be hired that can make scrapers and then establish the servers with the infrastructure that can run scrapers that can work smoothly. The scrapers will have to build in an open-source framework such as PySpider or Scrapy, these are based on python. The number of servers needed are based on the number of sites that must be scraped. The scrapers can be automated or run manually using various tools.

Once extracted, data will then need to be stored in a database such as HBase, MongoDB, or Cassandra. After storing it in a database, you will have to verify that the data is accurate and of good quality, this requires QA testing.  These tests will have to be done using regular expressions to verify that the data is consistent with a predefined pattern with alerts when it doesn’t, so that you can then manually inspect it. Now, finally at long last it can be integrated into your business.  But this isn’t the end.  Scraping has to be done constantly as data is always changing.

Anti Scraping Measures Taken by Sites will become a problem

Scraping on a regular basis will lead to problems such as anti-scraping tactics implemented by the sites that you scrape. Some of these tactics include IP blocking, they will thus blacklist your IP address and servers once they have figured out what is going on. Once this has occurred, the site will no longer respond when your servers make request.  After being blacklisted, you will have to set up rotating IP solutions or Proxies for the scraper to make request from.

Scrapers Are High Maintenance

As websites make structural changes over time, you will have to make adjustments in the scrapers. Changes in the websites that you regularly scrape will affect the results thus leading to inaccurate data or scraper crashes. Neglecting regular maintenance will result in bad data.

Old data will start to take up space and cost money so regular cleaning is required.  Systems will require upgrades to save any old data that is still relevant.

So, for a real quick recap, you need to

  • Hire developers
  • Create the scrapers
  • Then run your scrapers
  • Create databases for data storage
  • Overcome blacklisting with proxies and IP rotation
  • Data QA checks
  • Maintenance

There you have it folks, we can’t make it any simpler than that. Many of the steps and technical details have been abridged as time and space doesn’t permit us to delve any deeper. Realizing that scraping is something that will have to be done on a daily basis, before long you start to realize that scraping has become your new occupation.

You will then start to ask yourself, “Did I go into business to sell a product or service, or did I go into business to data scrape?”  The amount money invested into such an undertaking is of such a magnitude that it could bankrupt a small business.

Time is money, and when one considers just how much time has to be devoted to this task just to avoid hiring a third party, doing it yourself starts to sound self-destructive at worst and silly at best.

As if the time, trouble, and heartache of doing it Bob Vila style weren’t enough, you also have to contend with the problems caused by lack of expertise.  These include accuracy problems, incompleteness, and the potential of violating various laws that could result in prosecution or lawsuits. This diverts so much of the business’s time and resources away from running the business that the loss of productivity will be felt across the board.

When taking all this into consideration, turning to a third party for scraping services becomes a no brainer. The professionals know how to do proper data analysis for small business needs.  Letting the pros handle the job will boost data scraping results for whatever your needs may be while at the same time avoiding all potential risk of legal entanglements. They have the infrastructure to run the data analytics for small business because it’s what they do all day everyday. Analyzing the data with care should be the businessmen’s’ initiative, not dealing with the hassle of obtaining it. Please feel free to contribute in the comment section below.