Friday, July 24, 2009

MLS Hell: Coping with Data Normalization in an Abnormal Industry

I am so excited to be part of Inman's Real Estate Connect San Francisco 2009 ConnectTech Workshop. Specifically, I will be on the panel titled "MLS Hell: Coping with Data Normalization in an Abnormal Industry". The full panel card is as follows:





David Harris, Director of Data Management, eNeighborhoods


Mark Tepper, Vice President of Business Development & Sales, Homefinder.com

This is just one of a full day of technical focused sessions on August 5th. The entire workshop is moderated by my good friend:


Dan Woolley, cofounder of W&R Studios, creators of Dwellicious.

It's shaping up to be a great conference. Mark, Chris and I have all compared notes to ensure you get the most comprehensive and info-packed presentation on all the issues and solutions the three of us have encountered when interacting with the hundreds of MLSs throughout the country. But don't let the technical nature of the session scare you off, I think the topic can appeal to a wide variety of participants:
IDX/MLS data vendors will obviously be able to walk away with tips and lessons learned that they can implement in their operation.

Brokers and Agents can observe what goes into MLS data implementations and get some great tips on how to evaluate your solution/vendor rates against some of these concepts.

MLS Operators can get insight into the how "the other half" operates and can get great ideas on how to design your data solution to best benefit your membership.

Other industry operators who may not currently work directly with MLS data but interact with listing data from other sources can see first hand if the benefits from direct access outweight the investment necessary.

You'll have to come to the session to get all the good ideas/information we will be serving up, but I thought I would offer a sample here. Recently, the twitterverse had a brief discussion on a geographical representation of the MLS network.





I chimed in with our map:


But the idea stuck with me so I wanted to do a little more work. Microsoft Map Point turned out to be the best tool for mapping a large amount of data. So I first mapped our MLS network (570 and growing) with dot sizes based on the number of active listings (sorry, not interactive... yet):



And then decided to map all of the actual listings (4.3 million and growing) grouped by county. Think of it as a green heat map, the darker the green, the more listings:



If this is cool stuff, come to our session at Inman to get much, much, more...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Devolution of the NAR National Database...

NAR announced that it has chosen Move, Inc. for development of the application that will become "the artist formerly named TREC/REAL" now going by the name RPR (Realtor's Property Resource). Sounds like a shady character that takes on many aliases to mask their activites. Several people have already commented on the fact that this selection did not seem to involve any type of RFP process. Nothing like no-bid contracts to build confidence in a membership organization.




In the initial stages the national database concept had some very altruistic goals: mainly to become a shared resource of true property information. Making this data available free to its members in many different formats and feed types would solidify NAR's place as an extremely beneficial service for its members. Instead, it seems there are comments from people close to the project that "We don't know how the model is going to work, yet," when discussing the revenue model.

Move, Inc. has been successful building online brands, not backend data aggregation systems. I have to believe that there is a website in the works here. One where agents are upcharged to claim recent sales and active properties, leads are captured and sold to the highest bidder... rinse, repeat.

What should the RPR be?
A massive centralization of data into a property database with the goal of turning the data into a commodity... equitable, uniform, and accurate... universally. Then allow the innovators to develop products and services to address every niche of implementation. With the vision of the consumer finding every qualified property when they search, no matter what search tool they use.

Where is the RPR heading?
A centralized, single interface that will attempt to become a national MLS that will not fairly display (nor distribute) its consolidated database. Instead, they will sell their influence to the highest bidder. This will do one thing... discourage innovation.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Future of the MLS? Are We Ignoring the Elephant in the Room?

preface: I have been away from the blogging scene for far too long. The "Future of the MLS" topic seemed a perfect opportunity to throw my hat back in the ring.

A brief recap of the posts on the "Future of the MLS":

Matt Cohen - Posted "MLS and the Future of Listing Distribution" way back in the ancient days of 2007. Matt highlights some of the key issues around listing/content distribution that brokers and MLS's need to consider. Most of his comments have a protectionist slant and are commingled with some self promotion.

Brian Larson also hits many of the same issues with his white paper "Tales of an Industry Lost at Sea" from May, 2008. He paints the MLS actions in a reactionary light, acting more on a "me too" strategy instead of a coherently thought through one (that would obviously benefit from his firms' consulting services).

Saul Klein takes a more holistic approach to the MLS future. He does a good job of summarizing so many of the issues facing MLS's including listing syndication, sold data, security, public services, transaction management, agent ratings, etc. (including a glancing blow at "social networking"). His article seems to ramble on these issues with 3 or 4 cleverly inserted plugs for Point2 and RealTown, but doesn't really offer anything new except calling MLS influencers "to action" who haven't acted yet.

Greg Swann gets his undergarments in a wad in uncovering a secret collusion between Saul and NAR to promote the "National Real Estate Library / Archive". I frankly don't give them that much credit. His focus on the "single point of entry" statement is incorrect. I read it as single point of entry for "each agent" versus each agent going to many sites and cutting and pasting. Not a national point of entry (unless you take Saul's title literally "The" MLS of the future... in singular)

Mike Wurzer is my brother-in-arms when it comes to promoting THE common standard known as RETS as a key piece in the MLS's future. In fact, the NAR MLS Policy Committee expects the MLS's to have RETS as a part of their system by June 2009.

Ok, ok, ok, so enough with the roll call and get to the "Elephant in the Room" comment, right? Well, here goes....

The internet is the most competitive environment in the planet for what... your eyeballs.

Listing data will be a commodity (if it isn't already). Not saying it isn't necessary, just putting it in the class of tap water and electricity, everyone will have it but life would still suck without it.

The "MLS" exists for the benefit of its dues paying members, drifting from that core concept will get you confused with the Zillow / Trulia gang (an exciting party until the money runs out).

And those dues paying members want what? To make more money faster by using the MLS. And if you look at it from that perspective, almost everything from listing data quality, system security/reliability, IDX, etc either play to the speed or value aspect.

But what kills me is that the typical MLS system takes the most "social" species on earth, the Realtor, and puts them in a virtual sound proof, solid walled cube the moment they log into the MLS. The number of agents that login to the MLS at least once a day is dramatic; Facebook/LinkedIn/Etc spend millions to try and achieve the "stickiness" that the MLS has enjoyed since day one. Mike posted a story about some "MLS Juice" that his blog got from a one time link from the homepage of the FlexMLS system.

Does no one else really see the power of allowing these users to interact in meaningful ways "within" the MLS (and yes, I know about reverse prospecting... but is that all ya got?) I will post a few ideas here just to illustrate what I am talking about:

  1. Imagine the listing agent setting their "status" to online within the MLS so that agents looking at their listing (possibly with a prospect) can jot a quick note to them and get a question answered on the spot.
  2. Imagine being able to review search criteria by time frame/ geographic area / etc. so that as you are working with a listing you can let your owner know what is hot and what is not, and who is getting the most "juice".
  3. How about being able to "watch" your competition and see how much "traffic-share" you have against them and compare the number of times your listing is "saved" versus theirs, etc. Almost like doing SEO within the MLS.

To me, this is what the "next generation" MLS system will do: mine its treasure chest of usage activity and present it to the membership in ways that will make them more productive and profitable.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

"Social Saturation" covering Beer with Bloggers at Inman

First of all, I loved all the coverage of Inman Connect New York last week. Between all the blog posts, message boards, and live Twitters, it allowed me to feel like I was there listening to the speakers myself. Bill Wendel as RealEstateCafe used Twitter during the conference to ask questions via proxy, very nice use of technology.

But probably the highlight of all the coverage was the multiple-angle almost real-time coverage of the Beer-with-Bloggers event. Here are some highlights:


Daniel Rothamel of RealEstateZebra.com posted this video recap of the event







Around the 45 second point of this video, this picture was taken by Jeff Turner



And the video being shot by Rudy Bachraty of Sellsius that appears in the zebra video is posted here:



Jay Thompson of PhoenixRealEstateGuy.com pointed me to a video by Rachel Natalie Klein




And the flash you see around 53 seconds into this video was this photo from Jeff Turner:


So this is what happens when you get a bunch of uber-documentarians together for one event. What's next? Live streaming videocast from the event in real time... we will see in San Francisco I guess.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

My thoughts on the recent Zillow, Trulia, and Yahoo! news release...

Zillow has officially posted a news release about "the adoption of a new standard data format for the distribution of real estate listings online." Titled:

Yahoo!, Zillow.com And Trulia Adopt Common Real Estate Listings Data Standard

Some of the key points that I want to highlight:

Leading online real estate companies Yahoo! Real Estate, Zillow.com, and Trulia.com today announced the adoption of a new standard data format for the distribution of real estate listings online. With this standard, real estate franchisors, brokers, multiple listings services, and other listings providers will be able to distribute their listings data to several of the leading real estate sites in one common format, making it easier to get critical information to consumers faster and more efficiently.

....

With this new standard, it will be much easier for brokerages and listings providers to distribute their listings in one format to the largest online real estate companies.

...

The data feed specification will be based on the XML format and will comprise all the requisite components of a listing, such as address, price, square feet, beds, baths, and additional descriptions of the home. Where as today, brokers and listings providers would need to create upwards of a dozen different formats for one listing, the new standard model will significantly reduce the amount of time spent preparing the content for distribution online

and finally...

The companies participating in the new standard will work in close collaboration with the Real Estate Standards Organization to ensure that the data specification interoperates with the Real Estate Transaction Standard (RETS).
[emphasis added by me.]

I guess the most important question I have in my mind, what is wrong/missing/etc. with our current Listing XML schema? Don't make something that "interoperates" with RETS.... use RETS! And if you need something added/changed, let's talk about it. If an entirely new payload needs to be developed, let's consider it.

I was really excited when TechCrunch posted an announcement concerning Zillow and included:

The other big news is that Zillow is joining Yahoo Real Estate, Trulia, Oodle, Homes.com, Realestate.com, Vast.com and others in adopting a standard way for brokers and multiple listings services (MLSs) to send in their real estate listings in a feed format. That way brokers can use the same data format for all the different real estate search engines and Websites. It is called the Real Estate Transaction Standard (RETS). That should make it easier for brokers to propagate their listings everywhere.

But then David Gibbons from Zillow posted this comment:

Erik -
A minor correction; RETS is not the standard listings distribution format. RETS is a real estate data standard used for broader use cases than just listing information. We have however partnered with the RETS group to ensure that these standards will be interoperable. (emphasis again by me)
Which prompted TechCrunch to make this correction:
[Correction: RETS is actually a different, pre-existing, standard that the new listing feed standard will interoperate with].

Is everyone confused now? I am. In my opinion, RETS is not a "different, pre-existing standard" to the one that Zillow, Trulia, and Yahoo! "plan to launch ... later this year. " It can be the exact same thing.

I know that Mike Wurzer (RESO Board Chairman) is meeting with ZYT while at Inman Connect NY and the discussions are just beginning, but I wanted to comment on the press release today and let the Real Estate Data Community know that there are other options.

RETS is in use in several hundred MLSs already, which means thousands of brokers and agents have already invested in data distribution tools based on RETS, and would rather have that investment be used by ZYT instead of having to start all over again. If you feel that you would benefit from ZYT using RETS versus creating a separate protocol, the best way I see to make your feelings known is to email the address they set up specifically for this project feedstandard@yahoo-inc.com.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Jott is my personal dictation assistant...

Liz Caraway introduced me to Jott with this post, and I haven't stopped since.

How often have you received a text message asking you a question while driving and not able to respond without risking life and limb? Now, I can call Jott's toll free number (1-866-JOTT-123) from my registered cell phone number, speak the person's name I want to text, and then say up to a paragraph of words and Jott will transcribe it to an SMS message to them.

Adding my friends to my contact list was easy, Jott provides a field for me to type the phonetic spelling of their name. I can use Jott to post updates to my Twitter and even my blogger blog.

The most amazing thing about this service is the amazing accuracy of the transcription. Here is an example one that I sent to a friend tonight:

"Hey Jay, I left the office before I got your text about the 360(?). Do you want me to pick one up at Wal-Mart or Sam's Club. Just call me otherwise."

Jott heard "three sixty" and converted it to 360 (added the ? to indicate it wasn't sure). Notice how my friend's name is capitalized, and Jott recognized the proper names of Wal-Mart and Sam's Club... very cool. Plus, I didn't say "stop" or "period"... it interpreted the inflection in my voice. It didn't catch that I asked a question, but I can live with that.

Now the best part of all.... its free....

David

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Calling all to the RETS workgroups...

I know, sounds exciting eh? But seriously, if you (or someone you know) could participate, it would be great. I am sure many of you now know that NAR has a new rule “Realtor owned MLSs must comply with the current version of the RETS specification by June, 2009”. I bet that sounds as vague to you as it does to me. So, the RESO Board is calling all interested parties to participate and help make sure that the way we put this new rule into practice is best for all.

Workgroup membership does not necessitate any travel. Periodic conference calls and online discussions is where most of the activity will take place. At a minimum, I recommend giving it a try, and if it doesn’t work for you, have your name removed, no harm done.

So, everyone is now saying “Where do I sign up?” right? And here it is:

http://www.rets.org/cms/workgroup/sign-up

Check off the one (or ones) you wish to participate in. If you have questions about the workgroups, comment on this post and I will get them answered for you. Some groups are brand new, so part of the first activities will be to better define their “charter”

Thanks in advance,
David Harris
FMLS
RESO Board Member