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Is Data Free? Or Is There No Free Lunch?

Sep 8, 2007 Michael Wurzer

Dan Woolley writes over at Tzetze Fly about how easy Google makes querying their search results programmatically using Google’s various search APIs. Following on my post yesterday about terms of use, I thought I’d check into Google’s terms of use for the search API. This is relevant for MLSs, because there are many who suggest that agents and brokers should make their data more readily accessible, just like Google.

Here are a few of the more important terms of use:

  • You may use the API to enable end users of your site to designate Google Search Results for you to host and display in conjunction with other information that they upload or post to your site.
  • The API may be used only for services that are accessible to your end users without charge.
  • You will not, and will not permit your end users or other third parties to: incorporate Google Search Results as the primary content on your website or page.
  • You agree that you will not, and you will not permit your users or other third parties to: (a) modify or replace the text, images, or other content of the Google Search Results, including by (i) changing the order in which the Google Search Results appear, (ii) intermixing Search Results from sources other than Google, or (iii) intermixing other content such that it appears to be part of the Google Search Results; or (b) modify, replace or otherwise disable the functioning of links to Google or third party websites provided in the Google Search Results.
  • Google reserves the right to include advertising in the Google Search Results provided to You through the Service.

Basically, Google is preserving the integrity of their search results as well as their ability to make money off your use of the search results by including advertising. They also are preventing you from making money off the search results, although I was surprised that there wasn’t a provision restricting others from placing advertising on the same page as the search results. Perhaps Google feels this is covered by the requirement that the search results cannot be the “primary content” on the page. In other words, if you are placing ads on your site, and also including Google search results, the ads better relate more to your content than Google’s.

The most interesting use of Google’s API to date I’ve seen is Mahalo, which is competing directly with Google in the search space. Mahalo is human powered search, where there are a bunch of people assembling search result pages for common search terms like Britney Spears Comeback Single. But if you type in anything unusual, like Wurzer, you get a message saying, “We haven’t written a page for Wurzer yet” and then “Here are more results from our friends at Google”. Is this then the “most prominent” content on the page? I’d love to see what would happen if Mahalo became popular and started putting ads on these pages with Google search results.

Back to broker listing data: Does Google’s terms of use provide a good model for how brokers, agents and MLSs could or should make listing data available for others to use?