(Modified slightly on Monday, August 21, 2006, after considering issues of fairness and further introspection.)
On July 21, 2006, I was suddenly unemployed along with the rest of the development team at Provo Labs LLC, a Paul Allen (the lesser) venture. I didn't abandon the project even then. I looked for ways to keep the project alive. After all, I had spent months, including nearly every Saturday and Sunday, working on the code for this project. It was my baby. I was the only developer on it. A week or so after that fateful day in July, reality set in. I had no income and four children to feed. I had to find a job. And I did. A great job! The timing could not have been better.
The intellectual property transfer from Provo Labs LLC to the new company Phil Burns is starting had not yet happened. I had even contemplated using my company, NetBrick Inc, an S corp of which I am the sole shareholder, as a holding company for this new venture. But I had become impatient and as Phil put it, "emotional and panicky".
I had my doubts about the whole deal and so today I pulled myself out of the deal entirely in part because I had lost faith that we would successfully negotiate the intellectual property rights to this product, in part because I did not believe I would have time to continue working on the project, but mostly because I had come to believe that it would simply be the wrong thing to do.
Today I informed Phil and Paul that I will no longer be involved with the project as it stands and that I will deliver the code in its existing form. I did not share with them my reasoning behind my decision because I really did not want to engage them in a debate on the merits of my decision. We had already been down that road.
After I informed Phil and Paul by email, I did some online research--something I really should have done, and unbelievably did not ever do, prior to starting the project. From any of the big three engines (Google, Yahoo, and MSN), you can click one or two links to get to the following terms of service information.
"The Google Services are made available for your personal, non-commercial use only. You may not use the Google Services to sell a product or service, or to increase traffic to your Web site for commercial reasons... You may not take the results from a Google search and reformat and display them... You may not "meta-search" Google... You may not send automated queries of any sort to Google's system without express permission in advance from Google. Note that "sending automated queries" includes, among other things: using any software which sends queries to Google to determine how a website or webpage "ranks" on Google for various queries;
"meta-searching" Google; and performing "offline" searches on Google.
"In using the service, you may not:...use any automated process or service to access and/or use the service (such as a BOT, a spider, periodic caching of information stored by Microsoft, or “meta-searching”);"
Yahoo & Overture
"Except as expressly authorized by Yahoo! or advertisers, you agree not to modify, rent, lease, loan, sell, distribute or create derivative works based on the Service or the Software, in whole or in part."
Clearly, these search engines do not want you to use automated search software to mine their meta-data presented in search results and the results of other search related queries. It is clear that their intent is to only allow individual users through a normal web browser to access and use this information. Yahoo is more vague than the other two but the intent is still there.
I want to make it clear here and now that I believe that if I had made my concerns known to Provo Labs management more forcefully in the early days of this project, they would not have required me to work on it. They would have, I think, found something else for me to do. I hope this illustrates the flaw in my own character, which I hope to remedy in this, and does not leave the reader of this post to believe that Provo Labs LLC acted in an unethical manner.
Until that time, I'll continue my work at my new job and focus my personal coding efforts on my Forseti Project to keep my coding skills as sharp as I can. And I will take away an important lesson from this whole roller coaster ride: always examine and question the ethics of a project and then listen to your instincts.
If you'd like to comment and berate me here, go right ahead. I deserve it. If you're particularly vicious, I reserve the right to edit or remove the comment. If you've had similar experiences and stood up more valiantly, I'd like to hear about it and how it all turned out for you.