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.