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Is Kimono the smartest web scraper yet devised?

Now here’s a lit­tle night­mare for an enthu­si­as­tic prod­uct man­ag­er. Your prod­uct requires a lot of data from mul­ti­ple pub­lic web­sites to func­tion prop­er­ly, but the time it takes to scrape it all up and clean it into use­able form is so oner­ous that it threat­ens prod­uct via­bil­i­ty. That’s exact­ly the prob­lem Colum­bia grad school alum­ni Prat­ap Ranade and Ryan Rowe faced a few years back when they set up, a web­site that told air trav­el­ers what movies would be screened in-flight. So they set to work on a solu­tion, and it’s final­ly been unveiled: Kimono, a smart data scraper.

The Moun­tain View-based start­up sucks up data from the unstruc­tured web using a point-to-click tool that deft­ly extracts infor­ma­tion even from web­pages with­out an API. And even­tu­al­ly, it’s going to allow even non-devel­op­ers with no under­stand­ing of APIs to track the data they need.

Smarter than its pre­de­ces­sors 

Tech-savvy prod­uct man­agers will prob­a­bly be aware that ear­li­er offer­ings in this field pur­port­ing to be “smart web scrap­ers,” like Needle­base and Dap­per for exam­ple, bit the dust, unable to grow beyond a niche audi­ence. But Kimono, says Ranade, is dif­fer­ent. It’s begin­ning by build­ing a devel­op­er user base and will reach out to non-tech­ni­cal users lat­er once this first phase has been estab­lished. The stan­dard approach from the com­pe­ti­tion has been the exact reverse of this strategy.

Ulti­mate­ly, the aim is to make data extrac­tion so sim­ple that any­one can do it. Users install a book­marklet in their browsers once they’ve signed up, and it does the Kimono mag­ic. As soon as it’s clicked, it morphs the site into a spe­cial state that lets users point to the items they need to track. Take movie times as an exam­ple: once you’ve clicked on movie titles and their sched­uled times, Kimono’s learn­ing algo­rithm sets about build­ing a data mod­el around the select­ed items.

Head­ing sky­wards 

Even the more sea­soned prod­uct man­agers will con­cede that Kimono’s ver­sa­til­i­ty is impres­sive. It can extract data to a .CSV file, to Excel, or to RSS as email alerts. The data can also be dropped as an embed on a web­page with the “Kimonoblocks” feature.

And it’s catch­ing on: in the one month since Kimono’s launch, it’s gar­nered ten thou­sand signups and thou­sands of active users.

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