Today we are launching the largest upgrade of Apifier to date —a new product called Actor together with a complete redesign of the website. Oh, and Apifier has been renamed to Apify! Note that all existing crawlers are safe and sound — nothing has changed for them.
In late 2014, we needed a web crawler for one of our consulting projects, but we couldn’t find anything suitable. So we decided to build a better crawler and it turned out that people really liked it. A few months later, our project was selected for the inaugural Y Combinator Fellowship programme and launched as Apifier from a small “hacker house” in Mountain View.
We soon realized that our users need more than a web crawler. For example, they want to process scraped data to remove duplicates, upload new contacts to their CRM or automatically send emails if a website changed. The only way to achieve these tasks was to set up various services outside of our infrastructure, interface them with our API and then spend valuable time maintaining this setup. So we went back to the drawing board and designed an open computing platform where these use cases can be solved with ease. We gave this project the codename “Actor” and today we’re launching it!
Our original vision was to build a tool that would enable people to turn any website into an API and with today’s launch we’re getting much closer to that vision. To mark this leap forward, we’re renaming the company from Apifier to Apify, which better suits to what we’re actually doing.
Oh, one more thing… Today we’re also launching a completely redesigned user interface. We hope you’ll like it!
Actor is a serverless computing platform built for web automation. A single isolated job is called an act, and it consists of a source code and various settings. You can think of an act as a cloud app or service, but we didn’t like those names so we picked a new, unique name.
Unlike traditional serverless computing platforms, the acts are not limited to the lifetime of a single HTTP transaction. They can run for as long as necessary, even forever. The acts can perform anything from a simple action, such as sending an email or cropping an image, to complex operations such as crawling an entire website and removing duplicates from a large dataset.
Each act has its owner and name, which together create its globally unique identifier, such as apify/hello-world. Here’s an example of an act:
The acts can be shared in a public library, so that other people can reuse them and avoid reinventing the wheel. There are already plenty of acts in the library and we’re adding new ones every day. We’re looking forward to seeing your acts too!
A detailed explanation of acts, their features and our future vision is coming soon in a separate blog post. In the meantime, you can read more here. Please note that the product is still in beta and under active development. We’d love to hear what you think of it!
Apifier → Apify
Since the early days of Apifier, our main vision was to build a tool that would enable people to easily turn any website into an API. Hence when we were picking a name, we quickly thought of the word apify (as in API-fy). As you can guess, apify.com was taken but when looking for alternatives, we found that apifier.com was available. Apifier is a guy who API-fies things — that’s close enough, so we bought the domain and moved on. But the word apify stuck in the back of our mind and we always hoped we’ll find a way to get it.
It must have been fate when the owner of apify.com contacted us earlier this year. Over the next couple of months, we negotiated the terms and eventually acquired the domain as well as a few corresponding trademarks. Now the question was — when and how to rebrand. We wanted to completely change the look of the app (more on that below), while making sure our current users would recognize it was still Apifier. So we decided to have the new logo visually similar to the old one, but not quite the same.
New user interface
Today it’s almost exactly two years since we launched Apifier from a small “hacker house” in Mountain View where Jakub and I lived during the Y Combinator fellowship. The first version wasn’t exactly beautiful and it couldn’t do much, actually one could argue that it barely fit the magical phrase minimum viable product. But hey, the product was live and people started to use it!
Although www.apifier.com had received a small revamp in 2016, we felt that the design and UX had reached their limits, as it became very difficult to evolve functionality and add new features. It was clear it was time for a complete redesign.
We decided to split the original website running at www.apifier.com into the public, static part running at www.apify.com and a functional part running at my.apify.com, in order to simplify the updating of the static content and to keep the functional part lean and clean.
The most important visual change in the app was the reorganization of the menus and sections to accommodate an increased number of pages and controls. We chose to move the main menu from the top of the page to the left-hand side, and to employ tabs rather than the vertical expandable sections that were in the old version. This change should help users to quickly navigate all parts of the app, while using the screen space more effectively.
Another important change is the unification of all the forms. We got rid of the auto-save feature from the crawler settings page and now all changes in all forms need to be committed by pressing the “Save” button. If a user forgets to save the form or the page is accidentally closed, the data is not lost and on the next page reload there’s a notification about the unsaved changes.
We really hope you will like today’s release — it’s actually our largest and most important release yet. As always, we’re looking forward to your feedback. If you have any comments or question, just ping us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Let’s apify the web together!
PS: Sadly, our robot mascot didn’t make it to the new design. So this is goodbye our friend and thank you for all the good work!