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(June 20, 2001) We're thinking about lobbying Capitol Hill for a "technologies with disabilities act". Some of what passes for gee-whiz material turns out to be missing the gee....it's all whiz and no bang, so to speak. Spidered job posting (do nothing recruiting) is rapidly rising to the top of our list.

An incredibly automated method for clogging the communications channels with nonsense, job spidering (job scraping) is better understood as a marvelous research tool than as an innovation in online recruiting. It's great for counting jobs and creating alternative approaches to economic modelling.

An earlier article on this subject raised a number of fundamental questions from readers. Spidered job postings (as provided by bulk suppliers like CareerCast, Zycus and FlipDog) is a technique pioneered by Junglee in the early stages of the Online Recruiting Industry. The spidering company identifies the URLs of employment areas on corporate websites (and, sometimes, other job boards). A list of these URLs is "fed" to "spiders" (software that visits the URLs and grabs all of the text). The text is then processed in a variety of ways to reduce it to job listings in the database. The results are presented in a single database (FlipDog), as a network of job boards (CareerCast) or in the flow of other data (Zycus).

>From the corporate recruiter's perspective, the fantasy of the elimination of administrative rework is what's being sold. In theory, all a recruiter has to do is to post jobs to the company's website and all else is automatically completed through the magic of modern technology. If only the system could automatically know where the poster wanted the jobs distributed (that requires a Job Advertising Distribution Service and administrative attention to each job, however).

In addition to nonsensical clutter (see these jobs in "Mill Valley, CA" as provided by CareerCast versus no Mill Valley Jobs from FlipDog), the very technique poses intellectual property issues galore.

We rarely see a corporate website that doesn't include a copyright statement on the front page. The job spidering tactics employed by CareerCast and FlipDog (Zycus appears to only operate on a customer's specific request) raise all sorts of ownership and permission issues. It's surprising, frankly, that so many newspapers are using the approach. With intellectual property protection at the core of their enterprises, we wonder how they sanction investment in and participation with companies that pay so little attention to ownership issues. (Requiring permission in advance of spidering would put the little companies in this sector out of business immediately.)

We're guessing that TMP's recent acquisition of Flip Dog must mean that the company is willing to have it's jobs databases spidered (in spite of what the membership agreement says). After all, the same issues of data ownership apply to all companies being spidered whether they are a job board or an employer. It gets worse.

We see some evidence that cookies are being used across these fledgling networks. While the automatic completion of our zip code is a convenience, we wonder if the job boards that are "powered by" one company or another have a real grasp of how much of their data is being concentrated beyond their control. Certainly, as managers of huge chunks of data, Cowboy technologists often overstep their bounds when acting on behalf of their customers. Fortunately, the hands off approach to these vendors (by their customers) puts liability an arms length away.

LIke bicycles with wings or other technical silliness, we are in a phase of development that produces approaches that will seem laughable somewhere down the road. It's healthy experimentation and early conceptualization. Like most experiments, the predictable failures often produce the insight required to move the industry ahead. So, we salute the hard working engineers involved in job scraping, we know that the "bike won't fly".

- John Sumser © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.

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