18

April

2014

1

Library Hacks: Automate the Web

by Richard Naples

Computers ready for test and inspection at Computer Research factory Annual Report, The National Cash Register Company, 1953

Bet she’d love some automation.

If you find yourself repeating the same task over and over again while online, then you might benefit from some of these helpful tools! Whether you’d like to automate something between different web services or speed up your routine web duties, there is bound to be something here that could help! Below are three different kinds of services out there to help speed up and automate tasks performed routinely on the web.

 Connection Services

If This Then That

IFTTT.com is a web service that helps you connect many sites from across the internet with a simple “if this then that” statement. Whether you are looking to automatically save all your posted Instagram pics to dropbox, or want a text message with the weather every morning, this is definitely worth checking out. While I haven’t used it for research, I could see how easy and convenient it would be to create a recipe that sends you an email alert any time a site with an RSS feed is updated. Or, link an RSS feed to your Evernote account so that new article alerts go directly to Evernote. Of course, using it to escape awkward encounters is reason enough to try it! I encourage you to give it a try, and if you have a suggested recipe, let us know in the comments! Other sites like Zapier.com, wewiredweb.com or cloudwork.com function in very similar ways, but with slightly different apps you can use to connect.

Macros

Help automate regular web actions with iMacros

If you’re constantly going to a certain set of websites and performing the same functions on a regular basis, it might be worth looking at the plugins at imacros.net. The plugin allows you to record a macro with your browser and bypass those pesky repetitive tasks like filling out forms or entering search strings. I use iMacros for regularly downloading web stats, and I know of at least one other colleague using it for bibliographic work. So if you’ve got a complicated search string you regularly use, but don’t want to set up email alerts, this might be worth checking out. While it’s great for developers and has a suite of fancy tools, I didn’t find it any more difficult than recording a macro in Word or Excel. If you know of any alternatives or have used iMacros in a way you’d like to share, leave us a comment!

Scraping & APIs

Scrape the web with import.io

One more site I’d like to spotlight  is import.io. A relatively new site, import.io lets virtually anyone scrape the web for structured data. You can virtually turn any website into an organized spreadsheet of data! You can even use it to make an API. Basically, you download their browser, load the site you’d like to scrape, then follow their instructions to train import.io on how to recognize the different bits of data you’d like to keep. I’m still experimenting with import.io and imagining the many uses it could hold for those in the library world. To test it out, I was able to scrape results from our catalog into a spreadsheet in a matter of minutes. If you’ve ever wanted to build an API out of your data, this might be the way to go.

Have any tips or tricks you’d like to share? Know of any amazing new tools out there that you’d like others in the library world to know about? Have a question about library hacks or wondered if something’s possible? We’d always love to hear, so let us know in the comments!

One thought on “Library Hacks: Automate the Web

  1. Kieron Smith

    IFTTT.COM is amazing. I use it to track my phone calls and sync them to Google Drive. Really for business purposes but its fantastic. They are added to a spreadsheet and it makes it so easy to keep records.

    Reply

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