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Google’s OpenSocial and the future of the MLS

Brian published this post back on November 6th, 2007. The observations he made then about the social implications and viability of the MLS resonate today — Marc

I’ve been chewing on the idea of Google’s OpenSocial for the past few days. I’d like to draw some direct connections to real estate, but I’d be stretching. As big a deal as it is in the wider world, it seems but a tangent to the real estate sphere at the moment.

Social networks surely hold opportunity for real estate practitioners. ActiveRain has demonstrated that. But the consumer-facing prospects have yet to come into focus. While examples of blogging success abound, cases of leveraging mass-market social networks to grow a real estate practice are next to non-existent (if you’re aware of one, I’d love to hear about it). And while it is certain that some online real estate companies will develop applications using the OpenSocial APIs, I don’t see any game-changing moves on the horizon.

The real value of the OpenSocial announcement for real estate is thus instructive. An object lesson on what might be – for MLS organizations and the NAR in particular.

Here’s one way we might look at this:

Consider that the MLS is really a social network. Its value has always been much more than as a warehouse for listings. It’s the marketplace, the cooperative — the network of people with similar interests doing business — that gives it its juice. Hang a few features off the core interface, say, a facebook-like profile with professional preferences and other elements of the “social graph”, and the decidedly uncool MLS starts looking pretty hip – and much more valuable.

This would be a “socialized” MLS. But one that is still walled in, limited by its increasingly problematic geographic boundaries. But what if NAR ceased conjuring a fantastical “gateway” that will take years to build and created a series of APIs — children of RETS, if you will – that enabled vendors and MLS organizations themselves to inject simple applications into Web-based MLS systems?

Rather than drawing yet another circle around the outside of the listings world, why not create new pathways into it and let a thousand flowers bloom, as they say?

In this scenario, MarketLinx, Paragon and Rappattoni and the like are the real estate equivalents of LinkedIn, Orkut and Friendster – the parties who adopt the API protocols. Like OpenSocial, these APIs would respect the business and community rules of participating partners. Data integrity and ownership would be protected and worlds of new value would be unlocked for MLS organizations and their members.

Michael Wurzer over at FBS Blog has examined these issues with far greater insight than I have here. And there are MLS organizations cooking up progressive initiatives. But from my position on the periphery, it looks like far more need to embrace and advocate for the ethos represented by OpenSocial if they are to remain competitive.

Brian Boero

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7 Responses to “Google’s OpenSocial and the future of the MLS”

  1. Frank Jewett says:

    The key limitation on industry MLS systems is how ______ talent the people creating those systems have and how ______ time they spend listening to brokers, agents, clients, and consumers to understand their needs.

    Software for software engineers?

  2. Frankly says:

    Frankly, I'm working on integrating Facebook with MLS searching. Why not let your friends see your "favorites" and let them comment?

    I can see it now, "Oh that area is great " or "are you sure you want to be that far from the bars"

    Frank Borges LL0SA- Va Broker
    http://Blog.FranklyRealty.com

  3. Judith Lindenau says:

    The excitement that this blog raises in me, Brian, is that at last someone is looking in the right direction for futuring models. That direction, I think, is the 'outside world', the environment outside the legacy systems and traditional MLS geographical and membership boundaries. To look carefully at what our members are experiencing in the way of non-real estate applications in marketing, searching, sales, and information delivery–this is where the futuring needs to be. And that was the intent of my maligned comment of 'don't bring the same voices to the futuring table.' In your post, you are clearly looking at Facebook and Google and others, and asking the question, "What's here for us to learn?" That's a different question from "can we take a social ap and drop it into a real estate environment". The question being asked is, "How can we take some of what's meaningful in programs such as Facebook and use them to full advantage in the real estate community?" Thanks for asking those questions, Brian.

  4. Tom Townsend says:

    Great post; and right on the heels of this is the news today that Zillow signed an agreement with RE/MAX Allegiance to add their listings into the fold and then HomeScape today announced an agreement with Real Living that will add an additional 13,000 listings into their system. I sure hope that NAR is taking notes as the MLS landscape has to change from it's current monopolistic ways. Change is good and I like your concept. It's good for Brokers & Agents, good for the consumer and it will spur competition and advances in the marketplace.

  5. Tim White says:

    A splendid vision Brian–perhaps even a defining thought experiment as we peer into our future as an industry. The key difference being that the technologists outside the industry have been catalysts for shaping behavioral changes among the general consumer audience–leading the way from the top down. It is this kind of leadership–one that initiates change at the most important behavioral level–that real estate technology leaders need to imitate and promulgate, especially around the core technology of the MLS. Your partner in crime (Davison) decries the need for chasing ideals–which is great. What we really need is a practical 2.0, approach that can engender a real change in how we practice, share, interact, behave and dance with consumers on a stage that has already been built and that is waiting for us to climb aboard (The Cluetrain). I'm in…

  6. David Harris says:

    Brian,

    I am glad to see others are visualizing the "socialized MLS" concept. As I have mentioned before, the listings are a commodity now. Home owners, sooner or later, will hire an agent to assist in selling their home, not for the MLS "listing" but for the agent's experience, track record, and connections. A "socially enabled" MLS will allow agents to do what they do best… network!

    David Harris
    futureofrealty.com

  7. Judith Lindenau says:

    The excitement that this blog raises in me, Brian, is that at last someone is looking in the right direction for futuring models. That direction, I think, is the 'outside world', the environment outside the legacy systems and traditional MLS geographical and membership boundaries. To look carefully at what our members are experiencing in the way of non-real estate applications in marketing, searching, sales, and information delivery–this is where the futuring needs to be. And that was the intent of my maligned comment of 'don't bring the same voices to the futuring table.' In your post, you are clearly looking at Facebook and Google and others, and asking the question, "What's here for us to learn?" That's a different question from "can we take a social ap and drop it into a real estate environment". The question being asked is, "How can we take some of what's meaningful in programs such as Facebook and use them to full advantage in the real estate community?" Thanks for asking those questions, Brian.