Tim (littlebluedog) wrote,
Tim
littlebluedog

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Angie's List

Last March, I signed up for Angie's List, an online service offering consumer-provided reports on local service companies in several dozen US cities. I heard about this website via an ad on NPR.

The deal is that you can log in to find, say, a plumber in your area that other members have rated on a bunch of criteria (price, professionalism, punctuality, etc.). You can provide a report for an already-listed service company, or give information on a new one. The service companies, I gather, aren't permitted to give themselves reports.

According to a recent article, Angie's List currently has about 500,000 members, who collectively provide about 15,000 reports per month.

There are some other perks, as well -- Angie's List mails out a monthly printed publication (which I've never read), and gives you a prize if you get someone else to sign up (I got a pound of M&M's when cheekyassmonkey registered and dropped my name).

It's a fantastic resource for new homeowners (among others), and I've recommended it to dozens of people ... because it's a great idea, and it's free. Or was.

It's shifting to a paid membership scheme ... sometime. I've been informed several times now that my free "trial" membership is going to expire, a year after having initially registered. Paid memberships are $5 per month, or $50 per year. Not super expensive.

But ... free "trial," though?

Nothing on the website indicated any "trial" when I registered. In fact, I actually went looking, some months back, because I was impressed with the number of perks that came with a free membership, and got a little suspicious that I'd soon be charged for this kind of thing. I found nothing; no options to renew membership or upgrade, or any explanation that the service was anything but free.

So Angie wants cash for the service now ... this is really no biggie, except for the little matter of all of those user-supplied reports. At half a million folks generating 15,000 per month currently, in addition to the several hundred thousand? million? already contributed, I can't help but wonder who else using this service figured that the provision of the reports themselves -- the very commodity that the website is offering -- was the quid pro quo for using the service.

In that regard, I can't find any Terms of Service or other literature on the site regarding ownership of the reports (for example, here's the Membership Agreement, and here's the Security Statement).

This is interesting; more on that in a bit.

Granted, the Angie's List folks do quite a bit: in addition to imposing an intuitive UI and implementing great categorizational and rating schemes, all of the reports are evidently individually reviewed before being published, to prevent inaccuracy and/or abuse. And it is a terrific idea.

I just have a weird feeling about a company that would play it out like this. In addition to the "Hey it's free NOW but we're not telling you we plan to charge for it in the future" angle, there's also the highly questionable issue regarding the ownership of what's being sold.

On the former, I wonder how many people would have provided their reports in the first place, knowing they'd one day be charged for access to the service?

And on the latter, this seems really goofy to me. For example, if I don't want to pay a membership fee (or even if I do!), it seems like I can just ask the website to remove my reports from its database. I still own those reports, as far as I can tell. Not that my writing in my TWO(!) reports is that stellar, but if a good portion of their "free" members come to the same realization, it might put Angie's List in a rather awkward position going forward. Oh hi, yeah, you paid for membership, but we only have about half of the reports available now because we didn't make the legal stuff too clear.

Or at least it's not too clear to me after clicking around on the website for 15 minutes or so ... the fact that I might have missed some kind of click-through TOS of the "the content you provide is now owned by Angie's List, sucka" variety could mean (1) I'm stupid, or (2) there's none to be found.

Anyone want to recommend that Angie contact a good IP attorney? ;)
Tags: angie's list
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