The Use of Web Scraping Services in Research
In a world where information is being spread at the speed of light through the Internet, it’s becoming incredibly difficult not only to keep track of it all, but also to tell the truthful data from the false one. This is when web scraping services come to the fore to help you and make the situation much easier for you to solve. Web scraping services are especially effective when it comes to research as they help you collect precise and filtered data.
But what are web scraping services? What’s the essence of web scraping itself? To answer these questions let’s first have a look at the definition of the term web scraping.
Web scraping, also known as data scraping, or web harvesting is the extraction of data from websites, in other words by means of web scraping services or web scraping tools you will be able to import data from a website (websites) into a spreadsheet or a file and have it at hand on your device.
Here are a few reasons why web scraping services are considered highly efficient and helpful, and are growing in popularity:
- Convenient: Web scraping is highly convenient and comes in handy. It will release you from having to copy and paste the information you need from websites in order to have it at hand. Websites don’t let you save a copy of the data they offer and you don’t always have Internet or might not even remember the website name you used.
- Time-Saving: The process of web scraping is automated which is time-saving. You don’t have to do manual copy and pasting, especially when it’s about huge amount of data. The web scraping service will automatically extract the information from a number of pages or websites according to your preferences.
- Multi-Functional: Together with the rise of the popularity of web scraping services, new functionalities are added to them. You can now extract information from any website and have ready-made statistics. These services are especially beneficial for businesses that want to track the latest innovations in their field or want to know what their competitors follow.
- Easy Data Filtering: After having the data you needed at your disposal, it will be much easier to filter it and choose the information which you need.
- Financially Beneficial: Web scraping is a cheap way of accumulating data for many startups. With web scraping services you won’t have to pay a bunch of money to hire a researcher or a team of developers for doing the data extraction. Web scraping services are much more affordable.
Web Scraping Services and Research
A huge amount of research has been carried out based on the data collected as a result of web scraping. These research studies were on a number of different subjects and have come out with interesting statistical information and productive results.
Below we have chosen a few prominent research studies to display how scraped data can be used for research:
Tinder Selfies & AI Experiments
It would never cross the minds of Tinder users that someday their selfies that were meant to attract a potential partner, would be used in a research using web scraping services, more precisely for creating a facial dataset for AI experiments. The research was carried out by Stuart Colianni who, after uploading the facial dataset, said that it was made by using the API of Tinder for scraping 40.000 profile photos.
The data set is named People of Tinder. Colianni explains his choice of Tinder for this experiment saying that Tinder offers easy access to thousands of people located nearby which is a true source of creating a facial dataset. According to him, the above mentioned opportunity became possible to bring into fruition due to web scraping.
The many disappointments that he has had when creating other facial datasets because they were too limited in structure, were what drove him to find other ways for successful research. The huge amount of data that was available on Tinder came in handy considering the fact that it could be easily collected and filtered via web scraping.
Restaurant Menus Scraped for Research Purposes
Web scraping turned out to be useful even in restaurant business. There is a huge amount of data available on the web regarding a number of different restaurants, their menus, the dishes they offer, etc. This information is a great source for research.
There are many social sites and websites such as Yelp, Urbanspoon and Zomato that are a source of getting an idea about a number of different restaurants and their menus. However, those turned out to be not enough for Daniel Epstein – an entrepreneur and traveler. He wanted a search engine where you could type in the name of a food item and see such information about it as prices, location and other details. Thus, he decided to do his own research using a web scraping service.
Having scraped menus from Allmenus.com, he gained all kinds of different menu items, their prices and details and of course, the restaurants (together with their locations) which offered these items. Eventually, after filtering the unnecessary items, he got a list of nearly 500.000 menu items. The majority of the latter were “located” in Manhattan, NYC.
This information allowed him to create a customized app which lets the user filter the menu not only by cuisine, but also by ingredient and even by the cooking method.
Charts of Billboard Hot 100 Scraped
Michael King decided to use Billboard Hot 100 to study the ways in which the pop musicians have been ranked over the years and what common patterns they have. The Billboard Hot 100 chart was created in 1958 and comes with a rich history of ranking singles. The amount of data is huge, but manageable – nearly 400.000 total entries.
So, as a result of scraping the data from the chart, we can single out a few methods by means of which a single’s success can be measured:
- The first is the Area Method – This implies finding the area where the given single was in the top 10.
- The next is the Exponential Method – In this case, a certain value is chosen for a given single according to which the ranking is carried out. As a result, every single is scored each week by means of this value, and eventually, the overall score of the single is summed up for all the weeks it has been on the chart. The scoring results can also be used to measure an artist’s career and see how successful it was and what changes it underwent over the years.
As you can see, in terms of research, data scraping can be a highly efficient method for reaching the needed or expected results.
Web Scraping Services in Terms of Legality
The accumulation of data for different purposes from websites can be a delicate subject when it comes to its legal side. A law about the way companies gather, preserve and use the data of their users came into effect on May 25, 2018 – it is the privacy law of the European Union called General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
The law is aimed at the security of all sides of the data collection process and it will help you avoid any possible legal issues in the future. To help you understand what the wrong usage of data can lead to, we have collected a few examples of lawsuits or attempts of legal disputes against people who used a website’s data in exploitation purposes:
- Legal Claims of OkCupid: Three Danish researchers had gathered information about nearly 70.000 users of the dating site OkCupid. After they released the data, it became obvious that neither the owners of OkCupid, nor its users were aware that their personal information (which included usernames, ages, gender, religion, personality traits, answers to different personal questions) was going to become public.That was an obvious violation of social science research ethics. Despite the fact that no one’s real name was revealed, anyone with the above-mentioned information could have enough clues for finding out their identity. OkCupid’s team has already mentioned that the researchers violated the CFAA law and their terms of service and they are already taking legal actions against the incident.
- Legal Claims of Tinder: As a result of a research study which used 40.000 profile photos of Tinder users without getting their consent, Tinder is about to take legal actions as it declared the actions taken in the purpose of this research to be a violation of its Terms of Service.
There have been many other examples where legal actions took place because of the violations of the rights of website owners. This proves the fact that you need to be careful when extracting data from a website – always consider the rights of the website owner!
However, if you trust the whole process of data scraping to the specialized web scraping services, you will not have to worry about having any legality issues. The services will handle that and provide you with safe and secure data scraping that doesn’t violate or harm anyone’s rights. Web scraping services take the responsibility of giving you all the data that you need in the highest quality manner and by following all the legal guidelines.
Thus, if you are planning to carry out your own research and don’t know where to start the data collection considering the volume of information available on the web, simply trust that process to web scraping services. This will let you focus on more important parts of your research while having the right data at hand.