Practical tips for scraping data

Posted to Coding  |  Tags: ,  |  Nathan Yau

It’s an unpleasant feeling when you have an idea for a project and the data you need is sitting right in front of you on a bunch of random-looking webpages instead of a nice, delimited file. You could either forget about your idea (which is what most people do), you can record manually, or you can take an automated route with a bit of scraping know-how.

I often find myself taking the tedious, manual route out, but sometimes scraping is clearly the best option. David Eads from the NPR Visuals Team describes how they use a model-control approach to scraping data.

Step 1: Find the data and figure out the HTML and/or JavaScript format and pattern. Step 2: Setup a way to parse and spit out the formatted data. Step 3: Optimize.

Oh, and before all that, make sure it’s legal.

Favorites

Graphical perception – learn the fundamentals first

Before you dive into the advanced stuff – like just about everything in your life – you have to learn the fundamentals before you know when you can break the rules.

Reviving the Statistical Atlas of the United States with New Data

Due to budget cuts, there is no plan for an updated atlas. So I recreated the original 1870 Atlas using today’s publicly available data.

Years You Have Left to Live, Probably

The individual data points of life are much less predictable than the average. Here’s a simulation that shows you how much time is left on the clock.

19 Maps That Will Blow Your Mind and Change the Way You See the World. Top All-time. You Won’t Believe Your Eyes. Watch.

Many lists of maps promise to change the way you see the world, but this one actually does.