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Thursday, 14 May 2015

Web Scraping: Startups, Services & Market

I got recently interested in startups using web scraping in a way or another and since I find the topic very interesting I wanted to share with you some thoughts. [Note that I’m not an expert. To correct me / share your knowledge please use the comment section]

Web scraping is everything but a new technique. However with more and more data shared on internet (from user generated content like social networks & review websites to public/government data and the growing number of online services) the amount of data collected and the use cases possible are increasing at an incredible pace.

We’ve entered the age of “Big Data” and web scraping is one of the sources to feed big data engines with fresh new data, let it be for predictive analytics, competition monitoring or simply to steal data.

From what I could see the startups and services which are using “web scraping” at their core can be divided into three categories:

•    the shovel sellers (a.k.a we sell you the technology to do web scraping)

•    the shovel users (a.k.a we use web scraping to extract gold and sell it to our users)

•    the shovel police (a.k.a the security services which are here to protect website owners from these bots)

The shovel sellers

From a technology point of view efficient web scraping is quite complicated. It exists a number of open source projects (like Beautiful Soup) which enable anyone to get up and running a web scraper by himself. However it’s a whole different story when it has to be the core of your business and that you need not only to maintain your scrapers but also to scale them and to extract smartly the data you need.

This is the reason why more and more services are selling “web scraping” as a service. Their job is to take care about the technical aspects so you can get the data you need without any technical knowledge. Here some examples of such services:

    Proxymesh (funny service: it provides a proxy rotator for web scraping. A shovel seller for shovel seller in a way)

The shovel users

It’s the layer above. Web scraping is the technical layer. What is interesting is to make sense of the data you collect. The number of business applications for web scraping is only increasing and some startups are really using it in a truly innovative way to provide a lot of value to their customers.

Basically these startups take care of collecting data then extract the value out of it to sell it to their customers. Here some examples:

Sales intelligence. The scrapers screen marketplaces, competitors, data from public markets, online directories (and more) to find leads. Datanyze, for example, track websites which add or drop javascript tags from your competitors so you can contact them as qualified leads.

Marketing. Web scraping can be used to monitor how your competitors are performing. From reviews they get on marketplaces to press coverage and financial published data you can learn a lot. Concerning marketing there is even a growth hacking class on udemy that teaches you how to leverage scraping for marketing purposes.

Price Intelligence. A very common use case is price monitoring. Whether it’s in the travel, e-commerce or real-estate industry monitoring your competitors’ prices and adjusting yours accordingly is often key. These services not only monitor prices but with their predictive algorithms they can give you advice on where the puck will be. Ex: WisePricer, Pricing Assistant.

Economic intelligence, Finance intelligence etc. with more and more economical, financial and political data available online a new breed of services, which collect and make sense of it, are rising. Ex: connotate.

The shovel police

Web scraping lies in a gray area. Depending on the country or the terms of service of each website, automatically collecting data via robots can be illegal. Whatever the laws say it becomes crucial for some services to try to block these crawlers to protect themselves. The IT security industry has understood it and some startups are starting to tackle this problem. Here are 3 services which claim to provide solutions to stop bots from crawling your website:

•    Distil
•    ScrapeSentry
•    Fireblade

From a market point of view

A couple of points on the market to conclude:

•    It’s hard to assess how big the “web scraping economy” is since it is at the intersection of several big industries (billion dollars): IT security, sales, marketing & finance intelligence. This technique is of course a small component of these industries but is likely to grow in the years to come.

•    A whole underground economy also exists since a lot of web scraping is done through “botnets” (networks of infected computers)

•    It’s a safe bet to say that more and more SaaS (like Datanyze pr Pricing Assistant) will find innovative applications for web scraping. And more and more startups will tackle web scraping from the security point of view.

•    Since these startups are often entering big markets through a niche product / approach (web scraping is a not the solution to everything, there are more a feature) they are likely to be acquired by bigger players (in the security, marketing or sales tools industries). The technological barrier are there.

Source: http://clementvouillon.com/article/web-scraping-startups-services-market/

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