Web Harvesting

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There are three ways we can extract more useful information from the Web.

The first technique, Web content harvesting, is concerned directly with the specific content of documents or their descriptions, such as HTML files, images or e-mail messages. Since most text documents are relatively unstructured (at least as far as machine interpretation is concerned), one common approach is to exploit what's already known about the general structure of documents and map this to some data model.

Another approach to Web content harvesting involves trying to improve on the content searches that tools like search engines perform. This type of content harvesting goes beyond keyword extraction and the production of simple statistics relating to words and phrases in documents.

Another technique, Web structure harvesting, takes advantage of the fact that Web pages can reveal more information than just their obvious content. Links from other sources that point to a particular Web page indicate the popularity of that page, while links within a Web page that point to other resources may indicate the richness or variety of topics covered in that page. This is like analyzing bibliographical citations—a paper that's often cited in bibliographies and other papers is usually considered to be important.

The third technique, Web usage harvesting, uses data recorded by Web servers about user interactions to help understand user behavior and evaluate the effectiveness of the Web structure.

General access-pattern tracking analyzes Web logs to understand access patterns and trends in order to identify structural issues and resource groupings.

Customized usage tracking analyzes individual trends so that Web sites can be personalized to specific users. Over time, based on access patterns, a site can be dynamically customized for a user in terms of the information displayed, the depth of the site structure and the format of the resources presented.

Kay is a Computerworld contributing writer in Worcester, Mass. Contact him at russkay@charter.net.

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WEB HARVESTING covers three main techniques for gathering information, with several subcategories of functionality.

Varieties of Web Harvesting
See additional Computerworld QuickStudies

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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