A Case of Concern Embedded Search and Display

by Victor Lund on May 14, 2012

facebook

IDX for Facebook

There is some degree of discussion about the notion that the IDX rules may be expanded to support Embedded Search and Display on websites or displays not under the apparent control of the broker. I believe that this is too risky, too hard to control, and beyond the bounds of IDX as currently discussed. New thinking is needed and proposed herein. The foundation of new thinking is that MLSs may approve certain websites for embeddable display as a matter of local rule.

Embedded Search and Display Defined

Many real estate technology thinkers have discussed the suggestion of Embedded Search and Display. An embedded search and display is a technology solution that puts an application in a container, like an iFrame.

Matt Cohen of Clareity Consulting has described the notion of an embedded search and display as a solution to putting listings on sites like Facebook.

Cohen proposes that a Broker or Agent may embed an IDX compliant solution under their actual control on a site not under the Displaying Broker’s apparent control.

Cohen suggests that this method is prudent to address the interest our industry recognizes for publishing listings on social media sites, like Facebook. Consultant and legal counselor Brian Larson recognizes that if an Embedded Search and Display were on Facebook, the IDX data would be in a tidy container under the broker’s control, not published on the Facebook website.

This is a great thesis. This embeddable IDX display would solve the concern about a broker sending the IDX data to a third party, which is prohibited in the IDX rules. Here, Larson makes an important distinction that honors a core covenant of participant control outlined in todays IDX rules. Namely, if the embedded display is under the control of the broker and the data is not being provided to a third party, the data it is safe even when presented on a website not under the control of the IDX participant.

Although this construct would keep the data safe, it does not go far enough. The genesis of intent in the IDX rules, in not allowing an IDX participant to provide data to a third party, was somewhat designed to address the notion that a broker may not “resell data,” or otherwise benefit from the data set at the expense other participant beyond usage on their own consumer website. While I do not believe that an embedded display on a broker’s Facebook page would offend the genesis of intent in protecting IDX data, there are many sites that under the displaying brokers apparent control that would offend.

In my town, the local Chamber of Commerce website is built using a social media technology platform. So is our local newspaper. People may create profiles and accounts; connect with friends and share information and messages. They are both very social, but less than that, they are other displays or sites not under the control of the displaying broker. An embeddable display by one broker on any of these sites would offend other participants in IDX.

Also, in our areas are many other websites like tourism websites, lifestyle magazine websites, banking websites, and home improvement websites where brokers would want to deploy the embeddable display. Like newspaper and Chamber of commerce websites, there would be quite a benefit to a broker who negotiates her embedded IDX display. This is a dilemma. For this reason, I argue that the intent of the IDX rules was never intended to allow a participant to display IDX data on any website that is not fully under the control of the broker.

Can we define specific allowable sites that may be approved for embeddable display?

The only possibility to circumvent this dilemma is by defining other sites where embeddable displays is allowed. The goal of the IDX rules expansion is to allow listings to be marketed on social media. But defining social media is difficult, or perhaps impossible.

Cohen and Larson have followed a line of reasoning that Social Media is a term that is do difficult to describe. I join Larson and Cohen in their suggestion that the task of defining Social Media broadly enough to be inclusive, and specifically enough to prevent abuse, may be too daunting for a consensus driven set of rules.  It is very difficult to define social media beyond the prudence of suggesting language like A social media website is a website that reasonable consumer viewing the display would conclude that it is a social media website.

There is another tidy construct for embeddable displays that may be more suitable. As a matter of local rule adoption, an MLS may authorize certain embeddable displays on other sites that are not under the apparent control of the participant. Participant may submit an application to have a site considered. Moreover, the MLS will create and publish a list of approved sites to all of its participants whenever a new site is added. From time to time, the MLS may also repeal prior approved sites without cause.

Alternatively, the industry could do nothing and maintain that the existing rules.

Today, a broker representing a seller has been extended the liberty to market a listing by virtue of the listing agreement. As such, the broker is given great latitude in selecting publications. As such, there is no argument that a limitation to the usage and display of IDX would inhibit any broker from marketing a seller’s listing on social media or anywhere else.

Conclusion

The construct of allowing IDX participants to use and embeddable search and display is an excellent solution to expand the broker’s application of providing a search solution to its customers. The effort to define which websites are allowed to display the embeddable search is too elusive. WAV Group suggests that the NAR MLS committee consider providing broad language that provides local MLSs and Associations the discretion to approve or disallow certain specific sites as it deems fitting.

Under no other circumstances should any participant be allowed to display IDX on any website or display that is not under their exclusive control.

For Comments and Questions, please contact Victor Lund, partner, WAV Group. victor@wavgroup.com or 805-709-6696

Note: Larson and to some degree Cohen believe that the industry needs some guidelines. And I fully agree. The guidelines would allow MLSs to curate some consistant policy and prevent brokers who are participants in multiple MLS from dealing with inconsistency. (This would be a great contribution by the Council of MLS). I hope that they will share their comments here on on their blog(s).

Larson Blog on this issue: http://www.mlstesseract.com/2012/05/new-nar-idx-policy-proposals-part-2.html

Cohen Blog on this issue: http://www.realtown.com/clareity/blog/idx-social-media-policy-draft-april-2012

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Matt Cohen May 14, 2012 at 2:53 pm

Victor, way to move the discussion forward :-)

But regarding: “A social media website is a website that reasonable consumer viewing the display would conclude that it is a social media website.” and having MLSs maintain individual lists, I’m not sure I’m on board with that – I don’t think it’s prudent to have local MLSs trying to guess what reasonable consumers might think a social media site is. We would be setting our industry up for an inconsistent patchwork of decisions and also be potentially setting ourselves up for some individual MLSs taking actions that would be considered illegal boycotts. It would be better to define the allowed circumstances for limited IDX uses on sites that are not apparently (but actually) Participant control, and do so a single time.

Assuming that some definition within policy to address your concern – or at least guidance provided alongside it – is needed, here’s my first attempt at a definition: Individual Linking and Embedded Search & Display are allowed on social media displays under a Participant’s actual control which are primarily focused on people building both personal and professional social networks and interacting with those networks. These social media displays are distinct from those websites and displays, either individually or in combination with an associated websites and displays, are used primarily to transmit and/or advertise either listings or real estate related services.

Perhaps by singling out real-estate-focused websites there might be a question of an alleged boycott, where some MLSs might be perceived as using this rule to disadvantage competitors. I’m certainly open to ideas how to avoid that issue. But this is exactly why the definition needs to be refined once, with appropriate legal counsel, and not inefficiently and inconsistently by each MLS. Let’s do this once and get it right!

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Victor Lund May 15, 2012 at 8:22 am

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