Friday Flash: Chaos theory

Chaos theory holds that initial events in any system – even small ones – can determine disproportionately outsized effects in the future.

The ListHub-Zillow breakup, coming at the opening bell of 2015, hit me that way. It’s going to shape things to come; I just can’t tell you how exactly.

Some have shrugged this off as inevitable. But so is the next big California earthquake. Just because we all saw it coming doesn’t mean it won’t shake things up. It will. Props to News Corp. for keeping things interesting.

Zillow will lose a ton of listings, and this will hurt. You can’t sell an ad on a listing that doesn’t exist. But if you and I saw this breakup coming, Zillow did too – and prepared accordingly. They’ve been acquiring industry talent for two years and just happened to have a nice direct feed dashboard ready on the day the ListHub shoe dropped.  

It’s going to be laborious to go MLS to MLS negotiating for feeds (note today’s announcement for the Cape Cod and Islands MLS – 2,300 members), but they have the capacity to do it. It’s just a matter of time.

In other words, Zillow will probably be OK in the long run.

And ListHub? I think it’s pretty much done at this point, sacrificed to a larger cause. Take away Zillow and Trulia as “publishers” within the ListHub system and you’re left with stuff like and (seriously).

The dream of a “neutral” clearinghouse for listings pretty much died this week, and herein lies the real uncertainty. Forget about Zillow and Trulia. Forget about What we have here now, folks, is a vacuum – a real estate black hole of inscrutable magnitude.

What will fill it?

Perhaps Project Upstream, the broker-driven project to aggregate listings before they are sent to the MLS and public portals, fills the void. Could Zillow keep Retsly arms-length enough to convince brokers and MLSs to use it for consuming and distributing listings broadly?

Or will the new listings cosmos be a multitude of direct but partial feeds?

I don’t know. But the future of real estate listings in the digital world began this week.

Embrace the chaos.