Scutter - Selection Policy - Politeness Policy

Politeness Policy

Crawlers can retrieve data much quicker and in greater depth than human searchers, so they can have a crippling impact on the performance of a site. Needless to say, if a single crawler is performing multiple requests per second and/or downloading large files, a server would have a hard time keeping up with requests from multiple crawlers.

As noted by Koster, the use of Web crawlers is useful for a number of tasks, but comes with a price for the general community. The costs of using Web crawlers include:

  • network resources, as crawlers require considerable bandwidth and operate with a high degree of parallelism during a long period of time;
  • server overload, especially if the frequency of accesses to a given server is too high;
  • poorly written crawlers, which can crash servers or routers, or which download pages they cannot handle; and
  • personal crawlers that, if deployed by too many users, can disrupt networks and Web servers.

A partial solution to these problems is the robots exclusion protocol, also known as the robots.txt protocol that is a standard for administrators to indicate which parts of their Web servers should not be accessed by crawlers. This standard does not include a suggestion for the interval of visits to the same server, even though this interval is the most effective way of avoiding server overload. Recently commercial search engines like Google, Ask Jeeves, MSN and Yahoo! Search are able to use an extra "Crawl-delay:" parameter in the robots.txt file to indicate the number of seconds to delay between requests.

The first proposed interval between connections was 60 seconds. However, if pages were downloaded at this rate from a website with more than 100,000 pages over a perfect connection with zero latency and infinite bandwidth, it would take more than 2 months to download only that entire Web site; also, only a fraction of the resources from that Web server would be used. This does not seem acceptable.

Cho uses 10 seconds as an interval for accesses, and the WIRE crawler uses 15 seconds as the default. The MercatorWeb crawler follows an adaptive politeness policy: if it took t seconds to download a document from a given server, the crawler waits for 10t seconds before downloading the next page. Dill et al. use 1 second.

For those using Web crawlers for research purposes, a more detailed cost-benefit analysis is needed and ethical considerations should be taken into account when deciding where to crawl and how fast to crawl.

Anecdotal evidence from access logs shows that access intervals from known crawlers vary between 20 seconds and 3–4 minutes. It is worth noticing that even when being very polite, and taking all the safeguards to avoid overloading Web servers, some complaints from Web server administrators are received. Brin and Page note that: "... running a crawler which connects to more than half a million servers (...) generates a fair amount of e-mail and phone calls. Because of the vast number of people coming on line, there are always those who do not know what a crawler is, because this is the first one they have seen."

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