An Alexaholic Moment: Visual Search Engine ManagedQ Gets Snapped


This morning brings another cautionary tale for anyone trying to build a Website or a business using data from another site. Visual search engine ManagedQ is broken right now because it took images of Websites from another visual search engine, Snap, without permission. (See screenshot above). Sound familiar? Alexaholic (now Statsaholic) ran into similar trouble with Amazon a year ago for taking graphs from Alexa before they were officially available through its API (read more about that dispute here).

It is unfortunate that Snap effectively disabled ManagedQ, which is run by a few programmers out of a basement in Palo Alto. But it goes to show that just because data is becoming more freely available on the Web, you still have to be careful about building a business on another company’s data. It appears that ManagedQ based its visual previews entirely on Snap’s images. As I wrote in a review last month:

Every time you do a search on ManagedQ, a grid appears on the right of the first six results so you can visually see what is on the other side of what is normally a blue link. If you click on one of the images, it opens up a larger, browsable window still within ManagedQ. The idea is that you can surf the Web without leaving the search application.

The way ManagedQ was using the images violated Snap’s terms of service (TOS), according to Snap CEO Tom McGovern. Snap does distribute these images through its Snap Shots widgets. (We use them on TechCrunch. If you mouse over any external link in this post, an image of the Web page on the other end will pop up). After coming across the site, his engineers figured out that ManagedQ was taking the images from Snap without any attribution or link, and cloaking the fact that it had done so. After contacting ManagedQ and not getting a response, McGovern ordered his engineers to block the site’s access to Snap’s images. Warns McGovern:

Folks really need to use services per the TOS. Otherwise they will go the way of ManagedQ or Alexaholic.

Ouch. At least his engineers didn’t replace the Website snap shots with goatse images. But the reaction does seem a bit harsh, especially for a tiny site like ManagedQ. Was McGovern justified in his response? Here’s what ManagedQ looked like before:


Update: ManagedQ founder David Stat has provided the following comment on their shutdown at the hands of Snap:

As we’ve been developing ManagedQ, we looked at several different
thumbnail services and decided on Snap due to their speed and high image
quality. ManagedQ is an experiment with visual Search, not a high volume
Search site. As such, we believed that Snap would not mind our use of
their service and may even encourage its novel and interesting
application. Before using Snap for our site, however, we performed a
traffic analysis and found that ManagedQ would consist of only about
0.01% of Snap’s traffic at most – hardly a share that would affect them
in any meaningful way.

It is most unfortunate that Snap has decided to block us, but I
understand that they are perfectly within their rights to do so. We did
not, however, receive a notice beforehand. We would certainly be
interested in pursuing an agreement with Snap that is outside the bounds
of their normal TOS, but we haven’t yet done so because we thought
ourselves too small for them to consider such a partnership.

Our focus is on continuing to create a new Search Experience with broad
appeal. We believe data should be open by default. We are at a loss
as to why a relatively big startup like Snap would feel threatened by a
small Search experiment like ManagedQ.

Update 2: Snap CEO Tom McGovern has also added these remarks to the situation:

We want sites to use the service in an unadulterated manner where the
actual Snap Shot is shown. There are lots reasons (server load,
business model, end user confusion) that this is important to us. For
developers that are working on a project or offering a commercial
service there are many other companies that offer a developer API
(Girafa, thumbshots, Alexa).