The XBroker: October 2007

DarWidgetry. A Strategy for Real Estate to Evolve WITH Technology

Zillow, Trulia, Google, Yahoo, and a slew of other real estate listing (and other) information providers out there demonstrate the want/need for alternative ways to locate and act on property listings instead of using a traditional Realtor and their antiquated methods. The genesis can be traced back to Google’s opening of their mapping API, catalyzing the map mash-up based user interfaces that prove to be a more intuitive way to search, find, and see listings. Innovation rarely comes from within, so you can’t fault the NAR and their legion of subscribers for falling asleep at the wheel. Although their strategy of smash and smear these new technology based companies wasn’t pleasant or becoming to watch…

What’s interesting is how each of these companies has gone about trying to fill the gaping void between tradition and innovation. It’s been a mad rush to engage the consumer and/or the professional in the spirit that somebody will come away as the perceived champion of what could be called ‘Project MLS, 2.0’. He who has the most listings wins, right? Kind of…there is a lesson that hasn’t been learned (IMHO) — one that says consumers aren’t looking for a destination site as the end all/ be all place to research real estate. knows this, Microsoft found this out, and the other players seem to now be in a mad scramble to invent and/or implement the next killer application to add to their site - e.g. Trulia Voices, Zillow’s wiki and pending foray into the mortgage arena, syndication tools et - all as a way to set them apart from the competition.

In the end consumers will always shop alternatives; trying to be “The Destination Site” in any vertical using the web is a continually expensive process. Big Business died at the end of the Industrial Age, yet there are still businesses trying to practice archaic models and destination sites are in-line with out-of-date. The business of real estate and mortgage services is a cottage industry; new technologies and business models should adapt to this paradigm instead of develop in spite of it. Don’t get me wrong, I think any of the sites mentioned above are better alternatives to what real estate and mortgage search was, even 18 months ago, however they seem to be a new skin to an old cat.

IMHO: The future of real estate search and marketing (as well as other info based industries) does not lie in the realm of destination sites, it lies in the widgets, or small snippets of code that can be plugged into a greater platform. Today, widgets typically offer incremental improvements to a web-blogsite, tomorrow’s versions (by their very Darwinian nature) will be larger more robust chunks of code that can be plugged into the same (or evolved) web platform. Because widgets are typically developed in an open source type environment, their advances and improvements comes from the minds of many, not just a few. Technology that once required $10M in development costs can now be developed and implemented at pennies on the dollar.

To date, I have only seen a (very) few widgets that actually cost money e.g. Inman Innovation Award Winner Altos Research…this is going to change. When it does, a new sub-industry of progressive, easily adoptable, easily implementable technologies that get to market in a fraction of the time will seem to manifest itself almost overnight. What’s available today are first generation, embryonic versions of what they can be. As enough of them permeate the market, it’s not difficult to imagine people will start mashing them up to create new widgets all together for a second generation and on from there…

For those not familiar with what a widget is in practice: Meebo, MyBlogLog, Deans FCK word processing editor, even Truia and Zillow provide widgets. They even have frontend and backend functionality, e.g. Deans FCKEditor adds backend functionality while Meebo adds to the consumer facing front side of a web site. The difference between what is popular widget functionality today and what it is tomorrow can be seen by comparing Altos to MyBlogLog. MBL adds an innovative way to add a social networking aspect to your site, allowing everyone to see who (from MBL community) is reading your blog…randoms, inter-industry professionals, highly respected pundits..Altos’ widget adds a property valuation tool to a blog-site using an innovative system to aggregate, crunch, and redisplay local housing valuation trends. It’s a great marketing and analytical tool Realtors, and the info can be used in potent off line material like charts and spreadsheets.

So, if this ‘theory’ could be construed as possible, which it assuredly is…How long will it be before a map mash-up or intuitive UI of similar ilk to the big Z, Trulia, finds its way into a widgetized format for real estate professionals to host within their own domain?

Real estate professionals already have access to unadulterated MLS data, precluding said sites single largest hurdle to obtaining good current listing (and sold) data. WordPress is open source that allows collective brain power to develop at the speed of light compared to even the most well funded companies. The aggregate independent talent pool is far greater than any one company…not to repeat myself but, innovation rarely comes from within. The analogy’s are already out there as to this strategy’s viability.

The advent of the open web-logging platforms (blogs) like WordPress and TypePad represent an evolution of the web, allowing it to get much smaller, smarter, and more personal, if you will. In one sense or another when your hear ‘Web 2.0′, which sounds like fingernails across a chalk board to some people, this is pretty much what it means. Due to these platforms open nature, programmers of all skill levels have developed widgets (or gadgets if your Google) that add incremental functionality for anyone with a small bit of technology acumen. Facebook has become the rage of general social networking by walking down this path of communal development, growing at a rate that now far exceeds MySpace. Their product is much better because of it…MySpace has the putrid petri dish of web-cams and pedophiles stigma, while I actively engage my Facebook account. One tried to become an Empire, was first to market, and is now succumbing to someone that does it a little better and alot faster.

The strategy of controlling and confining information in the Information Age is futile, even the most staunch advocates of the NAR recognize this, proven by their strong turn out at this past August’s Inman Connect San Francisco. Realtors and mortgage professionals who less than a year ago told me (and many others) that ‘they’ve seen these fads come and go, no technology is going to replace us!’, are now doing an about face…putting down the Kool-Aid and paying attention to how their respective industry is going through a dramatic paradigm shift, as well as learning how to adopt and adapt.

These industries are being blown to bits, very small ones…I believe it is Seth Godin that wrote, ‘Small is the new big’. I didn’t read the book, but the title sure does resonate…A ‘Blog-Site’ isn’t just a blog anymore…it’s an open platform that can be easily configured to help the real estate and mortgage professional grow in harmony with technology, instead of moving against it.

*Disclaimer* I’m currently only involved with one company, called Realespace,that looks to promote advanced widgetry specifically for the real estate and mortgage verticals.

This post was originally submitted to Geek Estate and Drew Myers, who rightfully saw a conflict between my post and Geek Estates philosophy: Objective Opinion. My subjective involvement in a company that will become sqaurely involved in the opinions of this post, pretty much disqualifies it. Regardless, the Geek Estate Blog has some great writers and content…it’s made my RSS Feed Top 20 :)

Comment balloon 2 commentsJeff Corbett • October 24 2007 11:18AM
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