Derived from the word “robot,” a bot is a software program that performs repetitive functions, such as indexing information on the Internet.
Bots are used for a variety of purposes. The most common form of bots are called spiders, which “crawl” the Internet, visiting webpages, indexing their content, and following links to other pages and other sites, with the goal of both mapping the Internet and indexing site information for search engines such as Google and Bing. Bots are also commonly used on chat forms or support websites to provide automated answers to common questions. These type of bots are often referred to as chatterbots, and can be programmed with pre-written, standard answers, or they can be used to provide responses to common inquiries, such as weather conditions or localized announcements and information. Bots can also be used by public forums to scan postings for inappropriate or offensive material. In fact, bots can be used to complete any number of consistent, repetitive tasks on the Internet.
Frequently Asked Questions
Aren’t bots bad?
Most bots are extremely helpful; unfortunately, the term “bots” has acquired a bad reputation due to its association with illicit and unpopular activities. Spambots scour the Web looking for contact forms, guest books, and other locations where users commonly leave contact information or email addresses, which the bot collects for the purpose of sending spam. Viruses and worms are bots that, once opened on your computer, perform automated actions such as searching for your personal information and transmitting it to a data thief, or simply creating an opening in your computer’s security system for the data thief to let himself in. Bots can also be used in Denial of Service (DoS) attacks, in which bots bombard a specific website with thousands or even millions of simultaneous visitors, for the purpose of shutting down the site or making it non-responsive to real users.
How can a non-programmer use bots?
Bots can collect massive amounts of information that would take thousands of humans to accomplish, or complete repetitive tasks at speeds impossible to humans. In fact, we benefit from bots every day, whether we’re searching the web with information collected by a spider or using an automated help form to get information. If you visit a travel site in search of a discount flight or hotel deal, chances are that site uses bots to search airline and hotel websites across the Internet and compile current rates to help you find the biggest savings. Bots can also be used to search the Internet for topics that might interest you, such as breaking news stories from your region, and present them in a single location, so you don’t have to browse every news outlet to find the articles you’re interested in. Many of the programs and services we use online take advantage of bots to compile information or complete complex tasks, making our lives easier.