Working Hard To Generate API Value Within An Entrenched Legacy Industry Like Real Estate
12 Sep 2015
I preparing a talk this week in Portland, OR, at the IDX Developer Summit. IDX serves the real estate industry, providing real estate professionals access to hundreds of multiple listing services (MLS) groups, from around the United States. If you are a real estate broker or agent, and you need real estate listings on your site, IDX is how you do this--they are leading player in the space.
If you aren't familiar with the world of real estate data, it has been long controlled by a network of MLS groups, totaling almost 2000 (I think), spread around the nation. These MLS organizations tightly control their data, deciding exactly who has access to it, and exactly how it can be used, and how it MUST be displayed in print and across the web. This is a process that has long existed, prior to the existence of the web, but since 1995, it is mechanism that has gotten even more strict, and litigious, seeking to maintain their control over a very valuable, and increasingly digital layer of our physical worlds.
When it comes to APIs, the real estate industry is the OG API provider, making data available via FTP locations as soon as the web was a thing. However, when it comes to the core principles of what makes APIs work, the real estate industry is the anti-API. MLS hoard facts, something that cannot have copyright applied, but if you are litigious enough, it is something you can defend. The address, and details of residential and commercial property is data that should be accessible to everyone, but MLS groups, and National Association of Realtor (NAR) have created a cartel, that prevents this from ever being a reality. Think what the Record Industry Association of America (RIAA) and record labels have done to music--the MLS and NAR do this to real estate.
IDX has struck a balance between hundreds of these MLS organizations, allowing them to process their prized data, and enable real estate agents and brokers to publish this data on their websites using seamless and often embeddable tooling, that adheres to the distribution, and branding guidelines set by the MLS. IDX provides a bridge between the online digital world, and this legacy world of data control, potentially providing the real estate industry with the online tooling they will need to be successful.
Ok, if the MLS, NAR, and real estate industry is the anti-API, what the hell am I doing speaking at a real estate industry developer conference? Well, I was the original tech founder of IDX. ;-) I build the original system for pulling real estate data, targeting the first handful of MLS organizations. I exited the company sometime around 2005, and my technology is long gone (thank god), and my two co-founders have gone on to do some very interesting things, building a thriving company in a very difficult space.
I won't be going to the IDX Developer Summit to talk shit on the MLS and NAR, I will be helping to inspire the developers, about how much opportunity is available out there right now, even in the real estate industry. There are a lot of open data, and Internet of Things related opportunities emerging when it comes to residential, and commercial buildings, as well as neighborhood, and city level development possibilities. My objective is to help them understand the realities of the space they exist in, and still build value within, and around an industry that is so entrenched when it comes to data sharing--it can be done!
I also hope to get them to use my nationwide MLS API, and bypass the MLS and NAR system. Just kidding!! If you have ever worked in the industry, this is the question every newbie asks, "can't I just get access to the nationwide MLS?". ;-)
I am actually really honored to be speaking at the IDX Developer Summit this week. My buddies Chad and Jeff have done some good work, in a very difficult industry--I am proud of them.