It’s the summer of 2022, and web scraping continues to make headlines. It may not be the most popular data collection technique yet – it’s still inaccessible to most small businesses. Even so, scraping has got us all excited about what’s next.
Here’s where data scraping currently is, plus a few thoughts on where it’s going.
What is web scraping, again?
Also called data extraction, web scraping is the practice of harvesting large quantities of data from the web. Step-by-step, it’s very similar to how average internet users collect online data for, say, research and copy search results to their computer. Only web scraping is fully automated.
To maximize output, data collectors use designated scraping tools.
Data scraping has incredible potential and many possible applications, but it is still mostly used by aspiring companies to extract and analyze market, consumer, and competitor data.
Web scraping in the past vs. now
The principles of web scraping date back to the first days of the World Wide Web.
The very first web scraping tool, the Wanderer, was invented in 1993 to help tech pioneers measure the size of the internet and generate an index of web pages. Sounds familiar? Even though this was not the author’s primary goal, the Wanderer laid the ground for a modern search engine.
This tech was immediately used to make JumpStation, the grunge godfather to Google.
However, data extraction as we know it was born a decade later, with BeautifulSoup – the world’s first HTML parser, which paved the path for today’s Python web scraping. This was in the early 2000s. It took 20 years for web scraping to become a complex methodology with futuristic potential.
What is the current state of scraping?
One thing is for sure – data scraping is never dull.
Recent developments in the field of data extraction have been so dynamic that it’s currently hard to tell whether data scraping will become the new staple or cease to exist (it will probably be the first). Most of all, web scraping is fighting to overcome more than a few make-or-break challenges:
The continuous struggle with anti-bots
As a way to protect their own and their users’ data, websites are advancing the field of anti-bots. During the last couple of years, their defense measures have taken the shape of mouse movement analysis, canvas fingerprinting, and complex browser and TCP fingerprinting with webRTC.
Web scrapers are still learning to bypass Cloudflare, DataDome, and PerimeterX.
Web scraping is legal
The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) defines web scraping as a legal practice. More precisely, it states that scraping from any website with publicly available data is not forbidden by the law.
The emergence of AI-based scraping APIs
In 2022, the only truly exciting news and the most impactful development in the data scraping field is AI’s long-awaited arrival. Artificial intelligence means unstoppable progress for web scraping parsers and their developers. From now on, AI will be the main focus for data collectors.
The most significant data feed providers are already implementing AI-based solutions.
Python web scraping in 2022 and beyond
There are no changes here – Python web scraping remains as powerful as ever.
Web collectors still rely on the winning combination of Python Requests and BeautifulSoup to deliver the best scraping results. Python Scrapy is just as effective but slightly less in demand due to its contender’s ease of use. Both are highly reliable and, despite the competition, peerless.
Other popular choices include:
Speaking of competition, a few web scraping libraries have been able to come close to Python without replicating its success. Node.js is still at the forefront of second-tier solutions, with Java, Golang, PHP, and Ruby at its heels. In 2023, extensions will be the cornerstones of improvement.
It’s always exciting in the vast and dynamic field of data scraping. During the next few years, the tech and best practices will be further improved with artificial intelligence. We’d like to say that bypassing anti-bots will be easier, but that’s highly unlikely due to the cat-and-mouse nature of their relationship.