By Luke Fitzpatrick
Web intelligence collection is the practice of extracting data from a wide variety of public online sources to optimize or improve business operations. While the extraction process is usually referred to as web scraping, intelligence is the end goal of all data collection and allows businesses to make data-driven decisions that help them stay ahead of the competition.
Getting access to such data is a complicated process. There are several stages, ranging from finding the necessary sources of information to parsing the collected data, each of which has its own challenges. Luckily, businesses no longer have to develop web intelligence solutions themselves. As the industry has progressed by leaps and bounds within a few short years, there are numerous providers that can provide unfettered access to real-time data from nearly any source.
One of the most advanced solutions for web intelligence collection is Oxylabs’ Web Unblocker. More than a regular data acquisition solution, the company boasts various artificial intelligence and machine learning improvements over the competition, creating the primary selling point for the product.
Most of Web Unblocker’s features focus on providing access to real-time data without facing any blocks. As many of these features are completely automated and handled on the side of the provider, customers can take advantage of data acquisition processes to their fullest extent.
A drawback that still exists, however, is that Web Unblocker has no user interface. Customers have to integrate the solution through coding, which might be a steeper learning curve for smaller teams. It does, however, handle most websites better than many of its competitors, allowing for a more reliable flow of data from sources to databases.
It should be noted, however, that Oxylabs specifically restricts usage of their products to publicly available and non-personal data. Some data sources might be restricted outright due to immense risks posed by improper usage of such tools. Make sure that your use case is legitimate, as you will have to provide it during the registration process and it will be reviewed by the company’s teams.
Web Unblocker is available for a one-week trial, so even if the product doesn’t suit your needs, there’s no risk in trying it out.
Smartproxy is a company that began its business cycle, as it may seem obvious from the name, as a proxy provider but has since expanded beyond providing infrastructure. Now the company has a wide variety of web intelligence collection tools called Scraper APIs.
While there’s no one optimal solution for Smartproxy’s assortment, they do separate their services into those for various industries. Additionally, the company offers a No-code Scraper, which uses pre-made templates and a visual interface to collect data. While it can be a bit slower than the code-based solution, it’s perfect for smaller projects.
They also make it a lot easier to understand whether their Scraper APIs will be up to the task due to the previously mentioned industry separation. An ecommerce scraper does exactly what it says on the tin, so there’s no doubt about its capabilities.
Finally, as Smartproxy does seem to tailor towards SMEs, their pricing is some of the most competitive in the market. There’s even a free playground where users can learn the ropes and see what results they can get from the Scraper APIs.
In Octoparse’s case, their tools are often called the same as the company. While they do offer pre-built datasets for certain industries, Octoparse is best known for its no-code scraping solution.
Unlike some of the other companies in the list, Octoparse offers a single web intelligence collection solution (albeit there’s a different version for enterprise-level companies) that’s a no-code scraper. As such, it has a highly visual interface that provides users with a click-and-collect interaction method.
As such, Octoparse is great for smaller projects, even if the enterprise-level solution is chosen. The upgrade provides access to significantly more features, most of which rely on providing cloud-based servers that can perform extraction much faster than most local hardware.
Finally, there’s lots of quality-of-life features included in Octoparse’s scraper, such as scheduling and various file export formats. These make it easier to collect data regularly, which is extremely helpful for projects that need long-term data.
As the company name might indicate, it’s a service that provides access to an API-based scraping solution. While there are several dedicated services, their general-purpose scraper API is the most widely used.
Like many other companies in the list, ScraperAPI’s solution manages most of the processes on its own end. While it does require some coding to access the solution, no proxy management, infrastructure maintenance, and anti-bot system evasion isn’t required by the customer.
While ScraperAPI’s solution might be less powerful than some of the other companies in this list (as it uses a smaller proxy pool and lacks AI integration), it’s definitely enough for smaller-to-medium-sized projects. Additionally, while there’s coding required, ScraperAPI provides a lot of resources for both regular users and developers, so the learning curve is definitely not as steep as for some of the entries in the list.
Finally, there’s both a free plan and a free trial available. Both give a set amount of credits (1,000 for the former and 5,000 for the latter) that can be freely used for any project. As such, some of the small projects may make use of the free plan, allowing them to collect data without spending a dime.
Another basic web intelligence collection solution that provides a no-code approach to data collection is ParseHub. Offering a single solution as a company may seem as it would be the weakest entry in the list, and while it cannot boast artificial intelligence integrations or any other fancy features, ParseHub still has a place within a business’ scraping arsenal.
One of its primary benefits is the no-code approach, which is based on an interface that allows users to click on data points that they want to be extracted. There’s no learning curve to the solution, but even so, ParseHub has plenty of materials for people who want to learn more about web scraping.
Additionally, there’s also a free version available, albeit quite limited in features. No scheduling or IP rotation is provided, with low-level customer support available if any issues arise. Still, the free plan can be a great introduction to basic online data acquisition processes.
Finally, it should be noted that ParseHub’s pricing is quite steep, as the entry point is well over $100 for the smallest paid plan. While it does give quite a lot of credits (pages, as the company calls them), it’s still a high price to pay for most smaller or medium-sized projects.
About the author
Luke Fitzpatrick has been published in Forbes, Yahoo News and Influencive. He is also a guest lecturer at the University of Sydney, lecturing in Cross-Cultural Management and the Pre-MBA Program.