Weaving a tangled web with IDX

Apr 15, 2011  |  Michael Wurzer

Controversy swirling around the National Association of REALTOR’s IDX policy is hardly new. The source of much of the controversy lies in the conflict between what non-NAR members are able to do with listings versus the restrictions on what NAR members can do with listings through IDX.

To review these issues, NAR’s MLS policy committee appointed a work group called the IDX Data Use Work Group, and that group recently published recommendations to (among other changes) amend the model IDX policy as follows:

Following publication of this recommendation, several smart people have said the language “by electronic means” is too broad and that allowing RSS for IDX may have negative repercussions. Here are my thoughts:

  • Right Intent.  The work group seems to have the right intent, which is to allow IDX to be a source of innovation and competition for brokers and agents.
  • The Devil Is In The Details.  Though the intent is heading in the right direction, I think the policy could use some refinement coupled with these changes to mitigate some of the concerns from the broad language.  I address a few of these below.
  • RSS. Allowing RSS feeds is a cool idea, but I wonder if some thought should be given to what goes in that feed.  To my way of thinking, there’s a big difference between including the entire listing versus the few fields that might constitute an “ad” for the listing.  Do consumers really want or need to see every field in the RSS feed?  Does the complexity and risks of the issue change if only certain fields are included?
  • Persistent Versus Transient Download.  The most common way of using IDX data today is for the vendor to download the entire IDX database to their own server and store (persist) it there to serve queries to their web site.  An alternative method is to only request the data from the MLS server when you need it (transient) and not store the results on your own server.  Many of the problems with the broad language “electronic means” is the result of the IDX data being distributed and persisted on so many different servers.  One way to allow more innovation without so many risks is to only allow transient queries for the IDX data via an IDX API built for that purpose.  That way, usage is more easily monitored and data access more easily terminated to address those concerns.
  • Terms of Use.  I’ve written about this topic before but the most important issue here is to ensure that proper terms of use are crafted and agreed to by all the parties using the IDX data.  More specifically, those terms of use need to vary depending on the data, with more strict rules covering the entire data set as opposed to perhaps the few fields that might make up an “ad” for the listing(s).  Terms of use also are critical to enforcing transient use of an API, but we shouldn’t underestimate the value of being able to enforce a contract.

In summary, the direction the work group is moving is the right one to allow innovation and competition, and yet some additional terms of use could be applied to ensure that the program survives that very innovation.  IDX is one of the best NAR policies ever crafted in the Internet age, and care should be taken with any changes.

12 Responses to “Weaving a tangled web with IDX”

  1. Matt Cohen says:

    RSS especially concerns me. Since RSS is a data transport mechanism designed to be ‘consumed’ by a program, rather than a form of display in its own right, it – as a broad category, with no specific limitations set on it – could facilitate increased misappropriation and misuse of the listing content.

    Electronic means is also, as you and others have said, far too broad.

  2. Victor Lund says:

    This recommendation is challenging in terms of trying to manage data.

    To allow the data to be broadly distributed to the internet by any electronic means is “too broad.”

    Michael and Matt – I think that we have had conversations before whereby you have both told me that the broker and MLS each have legal responsibilities to provide protections to the seller’s information. I believe that you have also stated to me that the broker and the MLS have the legal copyright to the data.

    How could they possibly honor their responsibilities and preserve their copyright if listing data goes out the door with no strings attached?

    How would the MLS prohibit the listing from continued display when a property contract expires, is withdrawn, goes under contract or is sold? That can be managed with IDX solutions on broker/agent websites, but I do not know how this would be possible when every MLS participant and subscriber are publishing the data without any data license agreement to the open web.

    Any ideas?

  3. How far have we come from the original concept that IDX was the exchange of listing data between MLS Participants in the same MLS? This once local cooperation is evolving into a universal exchange of listing data. What is unique about participating in my local MLS? Answer… soon nothing. So, if every REALTOR® can appear to be local, what is my special area?

  4. John Mijac says:

    Persistent Versus Transient Download…this is the shining light on the horizon from my point of view. If all IDX data could be handled by calls through an IDX API then there would be no issues with expired listings and divergent data. Victor, that answers all your concerns.

  5. Victor Lund says:

    I am a big fan of Server Side calls for data. There are three companies launching schemas for this next month. We will see where that goes.

    But on the topic at hand – RSS syndication of content seems like a mistake. I have no problem with a broker syndicating their own data, but I have a big problem with the concept of dozens or hundreds of identical syndications of RSS data of other broker’s data.

    Moreover, as Michael suggests – syndication of another brokers data with no terms of use or data license contract.

    The procuring broker who has that listing contract, curated the listing content, and entrusted it to the save haven of the MLS should not be subject to a brash recommendation by a committee to suddenly change the landscape and allow other parties to give it away.

  6. Victor Lund says:

    I always forget to read my posts before hitting the submit button – sorry for the grammer.

  7. Matt Cohen says:

    Regarding Transient Download / Server Side Calls solving accuracy issues on VOW and IDX sites – I audit a lot of such sites and data accuracy is not *usually* where they fail compliance. The accuracy issue is far more serious on websites that take listings from multiple sources rather than just updating via RETS from the MLS, and in those cases the problem isn’t the transport method for the data they get from the MLS. So, when it comes to IDX and VOW, I think Transient Download is a solution in search of a problem. Also, can you imagine getting all of the “Joe Webmasters” out there to transition to such a system and for agents and brokers to bear that cost? And can you imagine everyone being willing to rely upon the uptime reliability of one company’s RETS servers for every broker / agent website?

    • Michael Wurzer says:

      Matt, what I’m suggesting is that some of the changes being contemplated by the work group are more easily controlled through transient access. Mobile is a great example. A strict reading of the IDX policy today might prohibit a mobile application, and so expanding the definition to include other uses is the right idea and it’s hard to craft language that both allows innovation and is controlled. If, however, that broader language only applies to transient access to the data, the ability for the MLS to control the data mitigates some of the risk.

      To both your and Victor’s points, we need to stop thinking about “IDX data” as a monolithic, one-size-fits-all set of data and policy. Instead, we should be defining data sets like the “simple ad” I’ve referenced that I’m pretty sure many will agree is best published widely versus the deeper data of the entire listing. This is especially true now that so many MLSs have ignored the value of VOWs and instead expanded the IDX data set to include nearly the entire listing.

      Similarly, the terms of use need to be crafted to the use as well. Some uses such as web sites should be allowed to persist the data on their own servers and perhaps the newer uses should not. This is what I mean by refining the policy. We need to craft the terms to the use and the data and not require a one-size-fits-all terms of use.

  8. Matt Cohen says:

    Michael – we’re in total agreement about mobile platforms being able to manage using transient download. It’s some of the offline discussion of that tool as a one-size-fits-all silver bullet for other purposes (that it will solve all accuracy or info security issues) that I take issue with. As usual, I think we’re really in alignment on most things.

  9. This topic was discussed during committee at the NAR National meeting in November. The RSS topic was discussed there. I do believe that the ramifications of the old suggestions as well as this language has not been properly vetted.

  10. Ron Stephan says:

    Michael, don’t get me wrong, I have no issue with a broker or agent advertising their own listings which is the case in many of the examples you gave….however if they are advertising someone else’s listing they must have that listing broker’s permission (at least in Florida) and none of these electronic media (I could argue the case either way as to whether or not they qualify as a website) are currently approved for IDX. We in Jax do not have an issue with our members doing this as long as the full display gives the proper credit…….or unless the listing broker complains ……i.e. some illegal website List abuse……I do think its a bit disingenuous Matt, to suggest that Mike’s blog is opening syndication to a wild west …no holds barred distribution of data…perhaps you were up a bit late thinking about ways to create new products….Matt and Victor I don’t think anyone is suggesting the MLS would not have the same rules in place for electronic media like RSS… and …….I have many RSS feeds from different sources…all of which can have the proper disclosures on the pages that are displayed….if they dont pull the feed….are there some bad actors out there ….yes but for the most part members police each other and I don’t think a day goes buy when a memeber doesn’t call and ask if some rule is being violated…..in the old days the industry was “salting” the data so that the MLS could track where the data was going…..and I guess in some fashion that is being proposed again in the form of watermarking….hope it works better than the last attempts….but I’d hang my hat on a member complaining… as a better audit tool than “expensive” technical solutions

  11. Matt Cohen says:

    Ron, I have no doubt that any tool created by Michael would NOT open things to the ‘wild west’. But what others could do with RSS unless the policy were much amended is a different story.