For a long time—and especially around 1994, when the World Wide Web
was just getting its jumpstart—the Internet appeared to many as a vast pool
of information just sitting in cyberspace. People who used the Internet for
research “cast their nets” by entering queries into a search engine, and then
pulled in “fish,” in the form of information. Once they had the information
they needed, they didn’t bother to repeat the search, unless enough time
lapsed and the information changed.
Nowadays the Internet is in a constant state of flux. No longer a static repository
of information, Web content changes minute by minute. From bloggers
posting their thoughts online and news sources adding timely stories, to
Flickr users showing off their latest photographs and the explosion of online
video and podcasts, information is being added at a breathtaking rate.
This continuous flow of information provides an opportunity to not only
conduct Web searches of relatively constant information, such as a phone
number or the capital of Idaho, but to continuously monitor live information,
such as the expansion of area codes or the population growth of Idaho
over time, to stay abreast of topics that are of interest.
This idea of using ongoing information “trapping”—constant information
gathering that’s as automated as possible—instead of relying only on static,
single instances of Web searching is what this book is all about. And as
you’ll discover, many tools are available for trapping information.