Proper Terms of Use Depend on Balance Between IDX and VOWs

Jul 15, 2009 Michael Wurzer

Following Brian Larson’s recent posts on the IDX scraping issue, he and I spoke on the phone for a bit (well, Brian and I never talk on the phone for just a bit) and during that discussion I suggested:

  • Terms of Use.  MLSs providing IDX feeds should require a terms of use document be placed on the site hosting the IDX data, just as is required for VOWs.  At a minimum, those terms of use should prohibit any misappropriation of the data and give the MLS the third-party beneficiary right to pursue claims against any party misappropriating data from the IDX site.
  • Revisit IDX Data Fields. It’s hard to put the genie back in the bottle, so to speak, but the availability of VOW data feeds now squarely raises the question of whether the IDX data set should be reconsidered.  More specifically, with VOW feeds now being available in all MLSs, is there reason to consider changing the IDX data set to only those fields considered an “advertisement” so that the issues of indexing and scraping are less of a concern?  As I’ve suggested on Brian’s blog (MLS Tesseract), the purpose of IDX is to put listings on the open web and the way people find stuff on the open web is through search engines, which means indexing.  Instead of preventing indexing, perhaps a solution is to limit the amount of data in an IDX feed so that the terms of use can be crafted in a way that provides proper protection given the reality of the open web?  The reality is that IDX policies have been expanded to include more and more data over the last several years because the VOW litigation was on-going.  Now that the VOW litigation is settled, however, and there’s a way to provide the data consumers demand, perhaps the expansion of IDX data feeds should be re-considered to better fit the terms of use that can be enforced practically?
  • VOWs.  I know, I know, consumers hate to register.  Get over it.  VOWs (requiring users to register and identify themselves) are critical to crafting a proper terms of use balanced between the open web and consumer access to data.  The difference is clear — IDX is open to the world, VOWs are open to consumers willing to identify themselves.  The data you can provide through a VOW is pretty much the entire MLS and that means consumers can get what they want, they just need to show they are a real person and agree not to steal the data.  Is that too much to ask?  What other terms should there be?

For those who’ve been reading the FBS Blog for some time, you’ll know I’m a big proponent of the web and working with MLSs and their members to make the most of it.  Crafting a balance between the data available in IDX and VOWs and the terms of use for each is important for MLSs to fully embrace the web and help members engage with consumers on the web.