What is a bot? Automation software explained

A bot, short form of robot, is a piece of software designed to complete tasks and / or simulate human activity. Typically the tasks a bot is programmed to do are menial and repetitive, but it can work 24 hours a day, at blazing high speed, and with minimal costs. If this sounds somewhat vague, it's because it needs to be. The term bot is used for hundreds of different types of programs, and some programs that should be labelled as bots, are not. This article will deal mostly with bots of the internet flavor.

Web crawlers / web spiders

Web spiders are bots that browse the internet autonomously, following links as it finds them or working from a database of internet URLs. Typical functions of a web crawler include;

  • Building and maintaining a searchable index of files on the web for search engines. You have probably already heard of Googlebot!
  • Harvesting e-mail addresses or other contact information, for less than savory purposes . . . unless those former Nigerian presidents promising riches really are on the up-and-up.
  • Generating statistics about web sites and the internet in general.
  • Inserting spam into forums, blog comments and other interaction features. These spam bots are variously known as comment bots, forum bots, etc based on their specialized role, and believe me they specialize . . . they get past even CAPTCHAs eventually if the incentive is good enough, such as it is with the ubiquitous vBulletin and WordPress driven web sites. By the way, do you want to know the solution to this menace? Custom write your own web site CMSs, or at the very least, the human-validation protection and the input field names. The people who write these bots profit the most by targeting widely distributed software, and they can't be bothered to code something just for your one web site (unless it's Yahoo or something!).
  • Scraping (copying) content to other web-sites, often for purposes of bringing in traffic from search engines. These bots, known as scrapers, tend to mashup the content they find by small micro niches or terms, and some even wholy reformulate the texts by means of article spinning. Scraping can be a major loss for people whose web sites are less optimized (PR, etc) than the spam versions, but it should be mentioned that some scrapers only take excerpts and reciprocate with a link to your web site.
  • . . . And lots more! Examples of miscellaneous web crawlers: The Waybackmachine (ia_archiver), which saves copies of the web sites it encounters for public archival purposes.

Most good-natured web spiders allow you to decide the extent of its activity on your site by looking for robots.txt in your domain name's root folder, and following any restrictions which may have been put inside (by you). See robotstxt.org for full information on this.

Forex bots

Common terms and alternate names . . . : Forex robots, currency trading bots, forex machines, auto forex, auto traders, auto trading, scalping bots, automated trading.

Fun fact

According to this Celent report, 14% of all global currency trade was done by bots in 2005.

A forex bot is a piece of software that automatically trades on the foreign exchange market (forex, FX or just currency market) according to one or more methodologies or formulas, in an effort to make money for its owner. It is argued that since bots are not hampered by feelings and hunches, and can objectively analyze a lot of information, that they can make better Forex traders than humans.

In theory, a person with no knowledge of currency trading could amass huge wealth by means of a Forex robot. However, reality sets in: the market is flooded with bots created specifically to serve as marketable products. If you have no knowledge upon which you can pick a bot with sound methods, and then to operate it safely, you are going to end up losing your money with some MLMer's brain fart bot whose trading actions are more or less random (if it works).

Chat bots

Originally a fun toy -- and who hasn't killed some time with CleverBot? -- chat bots are now mostly used to automate customer service as well as spam accounts on dating and social sites.

Cheat bots

I'm sure you've heard at least one of these terms before: Aimbot, farming bot, gold bot, speed bot, levelling bot . . .

Chances are that if something advantageous in a popular game can be done by a program, that program exists and it comes in multiple colors (so to speak)!

IRC bots

IRC bots are programs that are designed to connect to an Internet Relay Chat server and join one or more of the chat rooms within. They then idle (stick around!), and can carry out usually useful (and sometimes nefarious) tasks, such as;

  • Keeping a permanent presence while holding certain chat room privileges, to safekeep them for the bot's owner while he/she may be away.
  • Monitoring the chat and its users, and saving the chat logs.
  • Accepting chat commands to carry out tasks, serving files (XDCC bots), or responding in a predefined manner. Trivia bots are a common example of these command-driven IRC bots, but there are also bots that can retrieve information from the web, perform math and much, much more.
  • And, you guessed it: spamming.

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