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