Many of us seem to use these terms interchangeably but let’s make sure we are clear about the differences that make each of these approaches different from the other.
Basically, screen scraping is a process where you use a computer program or software to extract information from a website. This is different than crawling, searching or mining a site because you are not indexing everything on the page – a screen scraper simply extracts precise information selected by the user. Screen scraping is a useful application when you want to do real-time, price and product comparisons, archive web pages, or acquire data sets that you want to evaluate or filter.
When you perform screen scraping, you are able to scrape data more directly and, you can automate the process if you are using the right solution. Different types of screen scraping services and solutions offer different ways of obtaining information. Some look directly at the html code of the webpage to grab the data while others use more advanced, visual abstraction techniques that can often avoid “breakage” errors when the web source experiences a programming or code change.
On the other hand, data mining is basically the process of automatically searching large amounts of information and data for patterns. This means that you already have the information and what you really need to do is analyze the contents to find the useful things you need. This is very different from screen scraping as screen scraping requires you to look for the data, collect it and then you can analyze it.
Data mining also involves a lot of complicated algorithms often based on various statistical methods. This process has nothing to do with how you obtain the data. All it cares about is analyzing what is available for evaluation.
Screen scraping is often mistaken for data mining when, in fact, these are two different things. Today, there are online services that offer screen scraping. Depending on what you need, you can have it custom tailored to meet your specific needs and perform precisely the tasks you want. But screen scraping does not guarantee any kind of analysis of the data.