Collecting Data from Web Pages with OutWit

Dmitri Popov

Productivity Sauce

Sep 01, 2008 GMT
Dmitri Popov

Web scraping is a clever idea, but extracting data from a Web page manually can be a real chore. The new OutWit extension provides a solution to this problem. Better yet, it allows you to save and export the scraped data, which makes it a great research tool. Although the extension is still at a very early stage of development, it has the potential to turn your favorite browser into a powerful tool for extracting and organizing data. The current version already boasts an impressive list of features, including data structure recognition, page and image link extraction, e-mail extraction, table and list extraction, and more.

Although OutWit is a rather advanced tool, using it for simple Web scraping is not particularly difficult. Let's say you want to extract data from the Population of the 5 largest cities in the EU table and export the data for use in a Calc spreadsheet. Press the OutWit button in the Firefox toolbar to open the OutWit Hub window. The left pane contains a tree of data types supported by the OutWit Hub. Navigate to page -> data -> tables, and you should see the data from the tables on the Wikipedia page. Locate and select the rows containing the city data (see screenshot below) and drag them onto the Catch pane at the bottom.

 

To save the selected data, choose the File -> Save Catch as command. To export the data for use in a spreadsheet, select all the rows in the Catch pane, right-click on the selection, and choose the Export Selection as command. OutWit can export the data in the Excel format only, but since OpenOffice.org Calc can read .xls files, that's not a big issue. In a similar manner, you can collect other types of data, including lists, email addresses, RSS feeds, images, and much more.

OutWit is actually more than just a mere Firefox extension. It is a platform that allows you to create your own Web data collection solutions called outfits. In fact, the OutWit Hub is an outfit built upon the OutWit kernel. Besides catching all sorts of data from a Web page, you can use OutWit Hub to create your own scrapers, and the following post on the OutWit blog shows you how to do that.

Comments

  • World coins

    Hobbies plays a key role for the people who really came to the earth for this purpose, one or the other day people around the world would be discussing about the people who have collected Many <a href="http://www.kkhobbies.com" title="World Coins">World Coins</a>,monuments, old stamps, old notes who will be positioned in the world of Guinness records.
  • INCREDIBLE STUFF!

    Love it! Since I installed it I've been using it all the time. They just released OutWit Images which is amazing too. Whatever you want to collect, photos of eva longoria or angelina jolie, data from wikipedia, news from tech crunch... You name it. Don't miss this extension, you won't regret the download.
  • Very cool FF3 version

    I tested the first beta on Firefox 2 a few months ago but I didn't realize they had released a FF3 version. It's stable, faster, and the ui is way better. I like it. Just the fact that if you go to any google image search result or wikipedia page it will find all the HiRes images behind the thumbnails and give you a full screen slideshow, is quite cool: Look for "Tiger", hit the slideshow button... et voila! It roars.
  • Great Add-On! Thanks for the tip.

    You are right, it's not just another FF extension, it's a whole application and platform. What I understood in the EULA is that the Kernel itself can't be modified. But as we can use it freely and build extensions around it, it seems fine. (That's what XBL is for.) The problem is that I couldn't find documentation about the API. So, before developing something, I think I'll wait a bit until they release some doc. For the time being, all the features they have exposed in the Hub are really cool. Nice tool.
  • Outwit

    Ouch, it has a nasty EULA.

    I'll stick to good old scrapbook for now...
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