Compare/Contrast: Microsoft vs. Google vs. Yahoo Search API Terms of Service

September 14th, 2009

Pete Warden is an entrepreneur working on ways to find the value in one’s social networks through his company Mailana. We’ve only met online, though I hope one day we can connect in person because I like what he’s doing a lot.

Pete blogged last week about why he switched from Yahoo’s search API to Bing to Google. I wouldn’t know a REST interface from a stick in the ground, but he makes a point about terms of use where I can definitely weigh in.  For kicks, I looked up the terms of use for Yahoo BOSS, Bing and Google search APIs.  It is fascinating to me that the terms are substantially different.

I won’t go into all the differences in great detail and readers certainly should not take this listing as comprehensive in any way, but for example:

Delivery of Search Results.

Google cares a lot about this.  They say that developers can not reorder search results or intermix results from other sources. No surprise here; integrity of search results is key to public acceptance.
Bing is almost identical to Google. 
Yahoo
asks developers to acknowledge that reordering may affect “relevance or performance” and leaves it to the developer to decide what to do about it.

Yahoo really surprises me here.  I read the TOS 4 times to be sure I wasn’t missing something, but they seem to accept a laissez faire approach that would let me reorder search results or insert paid listings.  There is some language about the way queries and search results should be presented that might be read to limit this a little, but it is nowhere close to Google or Microsoft’s blanket proscription.  It is also possible that some other document adds this restriction, but I couldn’t find it on quick review.

Integration with other products.

Google says that search results can only be overlaid on Google maps and that Google retains the right to insert ads in search listing, which is a fairly narrow set of restrictions.
Yahoo puts a blanket prohibition of use of any Yahoo APIs “in a product or service that competes with products or services offered by Yahoo!”.  That seems incredibly broad and hard to understand to me.
Bing mentions MSFT’s Virtual Earth maps, but doesn’t make a big deal of other online products.

I am a little surprised that Google doesn’t mention any of its other products, but maybe there are technical reasons around use of the APIs that make it unnecessary.  Yahoo has so many properties doing so many different things (and Microsoft so few) that the language on this item doesn’t surprise me at all, though I wonder how a developer could possibly know its product doesn’t compete with some Yahoo product somewhere.

Content.

Yahoo offers a long list of content its APIs can’t be used to promote, including spyware, cigarettes, illegal drugs and paraphernalia,  pornography, prostitution, body parts and bodily fluids, and professional services regulated by state licensing regimes.
Google tells developers not to upload, post, email, transmit or make available inappropriate, defamatory, infringing, obscene or unlawful content.
Bing says only that developers may not “promote or provide instructional information about illegal activities or promote physical harm or injury against any group or individual”.

Bing is the clear winner here for porn sites in need a search API.  Google runs a close second with its local-standards-dependent “inappropriate” and “obscene” restrictions, and Yahoo is by far the most family-friendly search API.

On a serious note, it looks like Yahoo would not allow my law firm to use its search API on our web site.  I can’t see the rationale for this whatsoever, but the point is duly noted.

This was an interesting exercise.  Search products look awfully similar from the outside and it is easy to lump them all in a basket.  The companies behind them have different motives for making the APIs available and it is instructive to review the requirements.

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Reblog Flowing Data: US Oil Doesn’t Come From Where You Think it Does

November 21st, 2008

Flowing Data has a map graphic this morning that makes two great points.

US Oil Doesn’t Come From Where You Think it Does | FlowingData

First is that most US oil comes not from the Middle East but from Canada.  Did you know that?  It may not be a geopolitical bombshell but it’s a fascinating tidbit nonetheless.

The second point is how easy it can be to find data, chart it and publish it on the web.  The post says the map came from Department of Energy data that one person dropped into an online database and cranked out into a map.  Good stuff- go web!

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Website Terms of Use – You Mean People Actually Read Them?

June 3rd, 2008

Twitter and Adobe both got dinged this year for making statements in their Terms of Use that neither company exactly meant.  Twitter’s said that it reserved the right to “to warn and/or ban people who use their service to “abuse, harass, threaten, impersonate or intimidate other Twitter users”.  Adobe’s gave Adobe a license to use any photos anyone edited with Photoshop Express online service- for any purpose.

When faced with a request to warn and/or ban an alleged Twitter stalker, Twitter realized it didn’t want to take such an aggressive editorial stance at all and would rather let users be responsible for their own content.  Adobe corrected itself to say it didn’t plan to use anyone’s photos for just anything, so both statements were really mistakes.

As others have pointed out, terms of use are not complicated.  They do need to be correct for the situation, though.  Twitter and Adobe probably just grabbed someone else’s terms without a lot of thought and got nailed on it.  AOL got nailed much worse by the Ninth Circuit for changing terms mid-stream without properly notifying users of its newly-acquired Talk America service.

The mild irony is that any good lawyer would also grab other sites’ terms of use, but instead of finding one set, s/he would take a look at a few sites, pick and choose the best/most applicable provisions and create something tailored to the site’s actual business.

All of which goes to prove the old saw- haste makes waste.  It frequently doubles the legal fees too.

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The Social Network Dance

December 19th, 2007

I’ve recently started to receive a surge of invitations to yet another professional social network (which shall remain nameless). I still haven’t figured out how Open Social or anything like it will actually affect life in the real world. Will I suddenly be on people’s networks in lots of places after making one uber-connection? That seems desirable and undesirable at the same time.

Still, I know this. I checked out the social network for which I am currently receiving invitations. I can’t figure out if it is useful or not. However, I do know that building my “social graph” on any network is time-consuming. As a result I am accepting these invitations on the off chance that the network turns out to be valuable someday. Is the alternative to Open Social just to be “easy”?

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The Bubble Song and Why it is Going to Drive me Crazy

December 6th, 2007

VentureBeat linked to a really clever video parody of the current web scene, linked below. I watched the whole thing, which is rare for me. The thing that is driving me crazy, though, is that I can almost, but not quite, place the tune to which the lyrics are set. If anyone can help me out please put a note in the comments.

Update: about 20 second after posting this I figured it out.  The tune is Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start the Fire.  I feel much better now.

[youtube fi4fzvQ6I-o]

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The SoCal Fires are Going to Drive Twitter Mainstream (a Little)

October 23rd, 2007

I was in college when the first Gulf War happened, and I remember the school setting up a TV to show the round-the-clock (a new concept then) coverage on the upstart CNN network. People more media-savvy than I credit CNN’s rise in esteem and viewership to that coverage.

The fires tearing through Southern California are relevant to a much smaller population, to be sure, and I doubt Twitter will benefit to even 1% the same degree in absolute terms. However, many people- and media outlets- that previously dismissed it as a toy or a distraction are going to start paying attention because it is actually a convenient vehicle for distributing news in disaster environments. It is:

*Lightweight. It works nicely even on a mobile browser. No TV or computer required from the sending or receiving ends.
*Easy to update. It’s type-and-go. No setting up cameras or preparing to broadcast.
*Easy to aggregate. Tracking makes it possible to pull in tweets from lots of sources on the same subject.
*And perhaps most important, short (or “pithy” if you prefer). The problem with reporting disasters is that there usually isn’t much to report from minute-to-minute. Twitter lets networks broadcast tidbits as they become available.

Imagine if the news crawl at the bottom of a network broadcast was actually a Twitter feed. They serve basically the same purpose, and then there would be a place to find the crawl text one missed because one was watching the top part of the TV screen.

I’m not saying Twitter is suddenly going to be on everyone’s lips everywhere, just that people are going to realize it can be a really useful adjunct to other media distribution systems.

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Jumpstart Automotive Media Case Study on Startup-Review.com

October 17th, 2007

I wrote a case study on Jumpstart Automotive Media for Startup Review that published last night. Jumpstart is a vertical ad network focused on the automotive segment. It was founded in 2000 and sold this year, so it’s a timely piece given the proliferation of vertical ad networks over the past couple of years.

Mitch is also an extremely savvy and articulate guy. He knows well why his business worked and has some good thoughts for entrepreneurs, especially in regard to finding one’s niche, staying true to a goal and the importance of hiring top-nothc people.

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