I’m intrigued by the broad sweep of the tagline: Openly writable shared metadata for everything. Everything!
I must know more. Mustn’t you?
The use of ligatures ﬁ and ﬂ (U+FB01 and U+FB02) is amusing and slick, as is the home page for the fluidinfo site. Everything is an invitation to try it and like it. It is all very cleanly done.
Dancing Around the Unsaid
Very clean, except for one little thing. What exactly is it? I see that it aggregates metadata and relies on domain names for decentralized establishment of authorities. But exactly what is it I am using, participating in, contributing to, and jointed-at-the-hip with when I sign up to play?
Hmm, it is a thing: a storage and search platform. There’s all this puffing about openly-writable metadata, sharing, and modern writable APIs. But at the heart there’s this platform thing. Is it just one platform thing or is this some federative arrangement that the API supports?
How Open is Open for fluidinfo?
The first step towards finding out what (and whose) game you’ll be playing in is to go to the sign-up form. Here’s the first clue that something is not straight about this, a kind of non-disclosing disclosure:
- “Sign up for API access to Fluidinfo.”
Very well, we are registering for access to Fluidinfo through a furnished API. It is not so much about the API as it is access to the Fluidinfo platform thingy
- “You’ll need your username and password to access the API.”
Well, all right. I think of Fluidinfo as what is being accessed, and an (here: “the”) API is the means of access or maybe the entry-point. I have come to think of an API as an interface behind which there may be any variety of services that accept that interface, but it appears we don’t mean one quite that high-flown. Here, we seem to need to think of the specific API by which the Fluidinfo platform is accessed. They are conceptually joined-at-the-hip.
It is clear to me, on arriving at this point, that I am invited to play in someone’s silo. At this point, I can’t tell if it is an “open-data” silo with an exciting API or is some other kind of fish with an exciting API.
Perhaps the Terms Are Important?
The terms and conditions linked from the sign-up form remove any doubt about what it is we are signing up for. The definitions at the beginning establish the essentials:
- Company: FluidInfo, Inc., the entity offering a data service.
- API: is how the data service is designated, confirming that we mean access to fluidinfo and “API” is never described or used in any other manner in the terms.
- Licensee: you or I.
Hmm, and I Am Giving Up What?
There are some promises that Licensee (you or I) must make as part of enjoying the use of the service. These are clearly spelled out. It is important to know what they are, along with other limitations:
- The limited license granted to Licensee is “to use the API for the purpose of making procedure calls to Company servers for storage, retrieval and/or manipulation of Licensee’s information (the ‘Content’).” Note that this is not anyone else’s Content, only our own.
(I think this is an unintended consequence of “retrieval” being lumped here, unless broader retrieval is by other than “the API.”)
- Licensee (that’s you and I) “will not patent anything that relates to, or builds up, extends, supplements, is based on or surrounds any aspect of any portion of the API.” Umm, well, API is the service offered by Company, so that might make some sense, although something broader may be reached for here.
- But not to worry. If we do happen to breach (2), we are also granting Company all rights to the patent. Well, at least it is not an exclusive grant, although it appears that Company can do whatever they want with it, including giving away licenses.
- It gets better. The API (here it is quite murky what the scope is here) and all intellectual property rights in it are the sole and exclusive property of Company and if, by some strange circumstance Licensee may have any interest in such intellectual property, it is hereby transferred and assigned to Company.
- I don’t think I need to look any deeper, but scrolling down to the item on Government Use I noticed this interesting statement: “The API is a ‘commercial item,’ ‘commercial computer software’ and ‘commercial computer software documentation.’ ”
I can’t recall any license for use of a free service, however silo-enclosed, that embroiled me in an intellectual property transfer. This has me worry that I haven’t been reading the fine print in other click-through licenses closely enough.
One advantage of the fluidinfo terms and conditions is that they are brief and to the point (though I still have trouble parsing “API”), so I could get the gist of them without lapsing into a coma first. How’s that for you?
One Last Word
Looking at the Fluid Info API Documentation, especially the HTTP API, it is clear that others could offer the same interface at their own access point (e.g., by specifying a different API host with whatever ports it will allow). This makes terms and conditions with respect to the “API” rather curious, and it also raises questions, for me, about what the reach of intellectual property claims with respect to the “API” is intended to be.