What's Wrong With Web Sites?
part 1 - Why Give It To Me if I Can't Use It?

by Sheldon Wolfe, RA, CSI, CCS, CCCA

some manufacturers won't let you use what you find at their web sites 

part 2
how about 
some useful information?

part 3
getting it right

Let me begin by thanking all of those manufacturers who have taken the time to develop useful web sites. Only a short time ago, it was difficult to find specification information on the web; today, the number of sites is large enough that I search for and find product information daily. As noted in the October 1999 GUI Bytes column (talk to me!) I use the phone when I need a quick answer or when I need to discuss something in detail, but the Internet has become a reliable source for product information, specifications, and installation recommendations.

Unfortunately, some sites contain user agreements that are unreasonable at best. The following examples come from a popular site, but are also found elsewhere. This site provides a valuable service by publishing both the hardcopy and Internet versions of product information, for which they deserve credit. But let's take a look at what they require before you can use that information.

"you...agree to be bound by all of the terms of this Agreement."

So far, so good. If I want to use a service, I should be willing to agree to how it should be used. As with many such agreements, you also agree to whatever changes may take place in the future. I guess that's o.k., too, as long as I know when something changes, and I can again decide if I want to use the service.

However, [the site owner does] not agree to tell you when something changes. Instead, "changes can be accessed by visiting the web site" and requesting notification of the changes. Apparently, you have nothing better to do than check in each morning and ask for a copy of the agreement. Who knows, maybe the next change will allow them to send you a bill for their service.

you can't use the information you find here

You're kidding, right? Surely no one would organize a vast collection of information, make it readily available, and then tell you that you can't use it! Well, that's just what this site does. I suspect this was not their intent, but in their eagerness to cover their own back ends, they have made the web site unusable.

"Content received through [this site] may be displayed, reformatted, and printed for your personal, non-commercial use only."

Excuse me, but I don't write specifications to read to my children.

"You agree not to reproduce, retransmit, distribute, disseminate, sell, publish, broadcast or circulate the content...to anyone...without [our] express prior written consent..."

So, before I use any of the product information - which the manufacturers have paid dearly to get into my hands - I have to get together with someone and sign an agreement. I don't think so.

"You agree not to (1) copy, disclose, publish, distribute...information contained in [this site] to any third party including...subcontractors except as permitted by a written agreement other than this document..."

Again, before my specifications can actually be put into use, we need an agreement. Hmm, is this the same one I need just to use the information, or is this a separate agreement?

And for those of us CSI members who like to share product information and specifications, we cannot "directly or indirectly compete with [the owners of this site], or other publication of [these companies]..." This may be a bit of a stretch, but if I pass on information am I not competing with them in its efforts to control distribution of information? What if my web site contains links to manufacturers? What if I offer a compilation of product information or a list of resources?

Specifiers aren't the only ones who can't use the site. Industry members should know that they cannot "use [this site] as a source for leads to construction related information for dissemination of any product or service..."

Finally, there is the usual disclaimer.


So, in summary:

  • You can use the information for personal use only.

  • You can't use the guide specifications.

  • You can't let anyone else know what is on the site.

  • You can't let the subcontractors know what you learned at the site.

  • You can't use the names, addresses, phone numbers, etc., to get other information.

  • You can't rely on what you get.

So what's the point?

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1999 Sheldon Wolfe, RA, CSI, CCS, CCCA
on the web at www.CSI-MSP.org