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“Agent Sued for Trulia Voices Answer” – In My Opinion, It’s Possible

Got Your Attention

For the record, no one to my knowledge has been sued for the answers they provide as part of their participation in Trulia Voices. But that little fact is not nearly as interesting as your instant reaction to the headline:

  1. “Holy s%&^!”
  2. “It only was a matter of time.”
  3. “Dalton’s at it again.”

Earlier this week, someone here in the Phoenix area asked whether she should continue paying rent now that the owner of her property is in foreclosure. Advice flew fast and furious, though little of it came from agents here in the Phoenix area – the very folks who presumably have the better grasp on local laws.

(We also were greeted with the advice to not trust any advice given in a blog, so we probably all should pack up our tents and head back to Twitter.)

Being that I’m a real estate agent, I see possible lawsuits in my sleep. If I say that a home faces southeast and further investigation shows it really faces south-southeast, I can be the target of some lawsuit-happy attorney and their client.

So forgive me for wondering if I’m absolved from any legal pursuit when I answer a question in Voices? Is it sufficient to say, “this is just my opinion” and then conclude the sentence with theories about aliens having come down from Saturn to sink the market? Or does the “this is just my opinion” caveat carry about as much legal defense as my 9-year-old crossing her fingers, nixing her affirmative answer when I ask if she’ll be cleaning her room before she goes to college?

Blatant SEO Play

If there are people who believe these answers coming from around the nation to help someone in Phoenix (or your own hometown) are designed to be of primary benefit to the person asking, raise your hands.

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Really?

Now how many of you see the practice as either a blatant SEO or an opportunity to bloat the numbers on your Trulia profile?

Okay then.

As I told everyone from Trulia I saw last summer, the flaws are not in the platform but in the use of that platform. So long as there are out-of-state agents answering questions with “I couldn’t find Anthem with a map and a compass, but e-mail me and I’ll refer you to someone” … as long as you have local agents who respond to questions on a specific property by providing information on their expertise and never talking about the property in question … and as long as you have people answering questions without having to take any responsibility for the answers they give, Voices will fluctuate between occasionally useful and outright dangerous.

That’s just my opinion, though. Don’t hold me to it.

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Written By

Jonathan Dalton is a Realtor with RE/MAX Desert Showcase in Peoria, Arizona and is the author of the All Phoenix Real Estate blog as well as a half-dozen neighborhood sites. His partner, Tobey, is a somewhat rotund beagle who sleeps 21 hours a day.

41 Comments

41 Comments

  1. Ines

    January 19, 2009 at 10:21 am

    @papagrande – it gives me chills when I see some of the answers, but reality is that the questions have dwindled and there is not a lot of content and relevancy lately in Trulia Voices IMHO

    In my area the questions are about specific listings “is this still available? – can I see more photos?”…..nothing I would ever answer.

    On a positive note, our buyer’s agent closed her first Trulia Voices deal on Friday – woo hoo!

  2. Ryan Hukill

    January 19, 2009 at 10:47 am

    I certainly can’t argue with any of the points you’ve made, nor would I want to. I don’t see much value in Trulia voices, and find it quite frustrating to see out-of-state agents giving advice to my local consumers when they’ve probably never even passed through Oklahoma, much less developed any sense of our local real estate market. Therefore, I find it better for me to just steer clear of that liability trap.

  3. Jonathan Dalton

    January 19, 2009 at 11:11 am

    Ines – I see most of the same questions and what’s interesting is when agents jump in to give bad information. I wrote about one of these questions on my blog yesterday.

    Ryan – I like the theory of it but don’t see where the consumer’s getting what they expect out of the forum. I could be wrong.

  4. Jim Duncan

    January 19, 2009 at 11:11 am

    # 3 and #2 – in that order.

    In practice, why not highlight the answers from agents that are actually in that market?

  5. Jonathan Dalton

    January 19, 2009 at 11:17 am

    Jim – an excellent idea. And man, you’re hard to fool. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Rudy

    January 19, 2009 at 11:21 am

    Hi JD!

    First off, I just want to share my original comment from the recent thread where this originated with those here:

    https://www.trulia.com/voices/Foreclosure/How_does_a_renter_deal_with_a_foreclosure_on_the_h-78797

    “Good morning all!

    First off, I’d like to thank all those who take the time out of their day to contribute their thoughts and opinion on Trulia Voices. That being said, I’d love to see the dialogue remain positive, helpful, informative and educational. Constructive criticism is always welcome. As professionals, I don’t see a benefit of being negative or defamatory to each other in a community forum such as Voices. I understand we all have varying points of view and things may get heated from time to time. Just remember that what you write online can stay there for a very long time. Consumers are also watching and reading the threads. They may be turned off by any negative tone a comment may have.

    The written word is powerful. It is has lots of room for misinterpretation. Sometimes it may be best to call or email someone directly to discuss a specific comment or viewpoint. At the end of the day, I just want Trulia Voices to continue to be a place where consumers and agents can help each other.

    On the issue of agents answering questions from other states: If the question is generic enough I see no problem with agent sharing their opinion and experience. However, if the question if very specific, e.g. at the neighborhood level, local market conditions, local laws etc…..I think it’s best if an agent who currently lives/works in the area or has lived/worked in the area shares their expertise. Having an open forum to discuss issues and topics is what it all about.

    I genuinely believe that agents who offer their expertise and opinions whether it be at the hyper-local level or nationwide, are doing so because they want to help and learn from others. Real estate is local, but it’s also national and global. I have heard from a number of agents who have built huge nationwide referral networks all by participating on Trulia Voices – both locally and nationally. And I’ve heard of consumers who valued the genuine answers and expertise shared by an out of town agent so much that they asked them for referrals for a local agent. So I don’t think just because you live in the area where the question is being asked makes you the defacto expert on real estate. Nor do I think there should be any limits placed on where you can or cannot answer. There are varying levels of expertise – some have more than others.

    Note: If you find a comment or thread offensive in any way, please flag it. Flagging does work. On regular business days over 90% of flags are taken care of within 24 hours…..Help us help you!

    Everyone’s Voice Counts!”
    ——————————————–

    Secondly, you know I understand your points JD as I hope you do mine. But what it all boils down to for me is how can we help consumers and agents better connect with each other? Does that happen by limiting/restricting who can contribute/participate where? If so, should the same apply to blogs and other social networking mediums?

    Here’s a thought I’d like your feedback on: What if we were to offer the ability for consumers and agents to have private – non-public conversations on Trulia Voices?

    Rudy
    Social Media Guru @ Trulia

  7. Kris Berg

    January 19, 2009 at 11:36 am

    My personal favorite this week: https://tinyurl.com/7kjwga

    I can’t begin to tell you how many things are wrong with this exchange.

  8. Jonathan Dalton

    January 19, 2009 at 11:45 am

    Rudy – private conversations probably could go either way, just like the public ones. But I think it’s an intriguing idea.

    You know I respect your opinion and I’m glad you respect mine enough that we can have this debate.

    I agree that there should be value added. In some cases, agents from out-of-area don’t know when they’re not adding value. Check the post I referenced in my comment to Ines – the agent from Louisiana parroted what she saw on Trulia, which was incorrect. Does that add value to 1) parrot what’s already on the screen for the consumer to see or 2) to give the consumer the wrong information because you don’t know what’s happening in the local area?

    I absolutely believe there are good answers being given every day on Trulia Voices. But there also are way, way, way too many examples of agents trolling for business and ignoring what the consumer’s really asking. (“How is this property?” “I have no idea but let me tell you about three other ones.”)

    Unfortunately, these are the ones I see more often.

    The post goes beyond that, though. What is the liability for someone who gives the consumer blatantly incorrect information? How long will it be before the consumer strikes back legally and says “you told me to do X and it cost me Y.”

    Just because it hasn’t happened doesn’t mean that it won’t. And for those agents more interested in being seen and building SEO than making sure they know what they’re answering, it’s a possibility.

  9. Jonathan Dalton

    January 19, 2009 at 11:48 am

    Kris – let me pick one tiny part of it.

    “Rumors are the Chargers are coming this way.”

    Consumer takes this nugget and runs with it, thinks (for whatever reason) the home will be more valuable for this.

    And then the Chargers never arrive. Consumer gets mad, sues because they were told that the Chargers were coming.

    What happens next?

    This is a post in waiting at my own blog – the SuperWalmart that never came to the neighborhood in which I was buying.

  10. ARDELL

    January 19, 2009 at 11:48 am

    I love Trulia Voices as much I love blogs and blogging. More info for people = Woohoo!

    Here is an example of one of my recent “Best Answers”:

    https://www.trulia.com/voices/Market_Conditions/Understanding_that_this_is_a_complicated_question_-80444

    Trulia gives you tons of room to REALLY answer the question completely. I am thrilled when the person is satisfied with the answer I have provided.

    I think you know first hand, Jonathan, that many who dip their toe into social media and blogs, etc…will come with different agendas. The value is not only in the info, but the changed mindset of those who participate.

    Perhaps an agent would be inclined to act like a sleazy salesman in their responses…but seeing others doing it, they realize who cheap THEY look. Or somone smacks them around enough that they start looking in the mirror and leave or change their ways.

    The value of social media is it makes us better agents…almost always…and for some it takes longer than others. But the value is not only in the answers, but in the change our participation in public view, invokes.

    Five years from now, Jonathan, there will be virtually NO real estate issue that is not explained on the internet. The curtain is being opened and the light is coming in.

  11. ARDELL

    January 19, 2009 at 11:53 am

    Kris,

    I dont get it. What’s wrong with that “exchange”?

  12. ARDELL

    January 19, 2009 at 11:54 am

    Jonathan,

    My comment to your post got eaten by the spam filter ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. teresa boardman

    January 19, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    Nice Jonathan. I wrote about this same thing here on AG a couple of months ago. It does start a conversation every time and how agents use the platform is the issue, not the platform.

  14. Kris Berg

    January 19, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    Ardell –

    1. “Judging from the pictures in the kitchen, the home is in good condition…” This makes me more than a little nervous. We can all see the pictures, and I am not entirely comfortable commenting on condition when I haven’t seen the home. I am particularly not comfortable with speculating about the condition of the bathrooms when I have absolutely no knowledge.

    2. “The pools would only be a problem if you were not invited to the parties ;-)” Until little Jimmy climbs over the fence and falls in, or the neighbors play Marco Polo each evening until 2:00 am while tossing their empties into your yard. Flippant and irresponsible.

    3. “Are you flexible on the location of your home search? If so, you can get…” You can get a house 45 miles away because that is where I work, and I am shamelessly promoting while ignoring the question and your search parameters. Not to mention JD’s remark about the “rumored” Chargers move which is about as certain as my being crowned Queen of Canada next week.

    I find all of this to fall under the category of useless and dangerous.

  15. Rudy

    January 19, 2009 at 12:27 pm

    @Ines – Questions and Answers on Voices have been steadily increasing…Testimonials from agents and consumers finding each other on Voices and working together and closing deals have been steady too – that’s exciting! Congrats to your Buyer’s agent for closing her 1st deal from Trulia Voices! I’d love to get their story and feature them on Trulia! Can you make the introduction for me please?

    @Jim – Good idea. Thanks for sharing!

    @JD – “I absolutely believe there are good answers being given every day on Trulia Voices. But there also are way, way, way too many examples of agents trolling for business and ignoring what the consumerโ€™s really asking. (โ€How is this property?โ€ โ€œI have no idea but let me tell you about three other ones.โ€)” – But is this really specific to Voices JD?

    As you mentioned JD – “As I told everyone from Trulia I saw last summer, the flaws are not in the platform but in the use of that platform.” – The bigger picture as I see it is how can we in mass, help bring the growing number of agents that are participating online up to speed on what is a proper or improper way of communicating with consumers online…..and offline for that matter. We have community guidelines in place on Trulia to help with this and many agents are doing an incredible job of providing valuable information to the consumers who are asking questions on Trulia Voices – congrats to all of them! I am always happy to hear about another success story that originated from Trulia. Granted, nobody is perfect, but there are clearly those who get it and those who don’t…And for those who don’t yet understand how to best communicate with consumers online, I/we offer tips, strategies and advice as best we can whether it be via Voices, blog post, email, twitter, facebook, telephone, webinar, office presentation…you name it. There is nothing more that I would like to see happen than for consumers and agents to meet and help each other more efficiently.

  16. Jonathan Dalton

    January 19, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    Paused to take the kids to lunch …

    Ardell – your answers work because you have the consumer at heart. I could be giving you too much credit but I don’t get the sense that your driving motive is to generate business with the answer. Maybe I’m wrong.

    But that’s not the case for everyone. And so it doesn’t really matter how much space that Trulia provides if the answer is all about the agent and not about what the consumer wants to know.

    > The curtain is being opened and the light is coming in.

    I KNOW you’re not lumping me in with those who are trying to keep the information out of the public’s hands, as if that’s even possible and/or desirable. I think the body of work I’ve produced the last few years shows otherwise.

    Having said that … in five years, every issue probably will be answered on the web. And Lord willing, some of the answers might even be right.

    @Rudy – The Community Guidelines and the related blog posts are nice, but where’s the hammer if they’re ignored? Is this not spam? I’m looking at Articles 1g and 3 of the Community Guidelines. This post has been flagged and yet it lives on.

    You’re correct in that bad advice is given on a daily basis in this business. Having this mirror that bad advice doesn’t benefit the consumer.

    In fact, I’d argue that the “success story” posts also shift the focus away from what the agent can do for the public and toward what business the agent can generate by participating. Agents tend to be a desperate lot and will latch onto anything to generate business, whether they understand the dynamics involved or not.

    Slapping them on the wrist (or slapping them around otherwise) doesn’t seem to change behavior much.

  17. ARDELL

    January 19, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    Jonathan,

    1)Tell me who pays the buyer agent fee ๐Ÿ™‚

    2)People outside of our industry understand “The Internet” much better than people inside our industry. Insiders want all agents to “look good” in public. The value of the internet is for people to see the bad and the good, and choose the good. You should be happy when an agent exposes their worst side in public. You should say YAY! Another sleazeball exposed!

    What agents fail to “get” is the value is in disclosing the underbelly.

    All agents are NOT good agents. Anyone disagree with that? All REALTORS are not good Buyer Agents. Anyone disagree with that?

    For anyone to push the info to create a picture that agents are never sleazy salesmen, would be distorting the truth. Trulia should never, ever, EVER include distorting the truth as one of their goals. Zillow?…maybe ๐Ÿ™‚

    The whole out of area thing is just crap, as is critiquing other agent responses. Give your best response and walk away. Stop looking at other agents’ responses PERIOD!

    People are NOT stupid! They can see where an agent is from. They can see when the agent is looking at the same pictures as the person asking the question.

    Stop critiquing one another. Your “job” is to give your best answer and leave…end of story.

  18. Jonathan Dalton

    January 19, 2009 at 3:59 pm

    Teresa – forgot to acknowledge you. Please accept my humble apologies. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Ardell …

    1) the seller, the seller, the seller, the seller, the seller. ๐Ÿ™‚

    2) Though I probably should stop, if I stop looking at other agents’ responses, how would I ever know whether I’m not just regurgitating what’s already been said?

    Beyond that, I can’t find a way to argue with you. Damn.

  19. ARDELL

    January 19, 2009 at 4:09 pm

    1)Wrong answer, and I am disappointed that your online experience has not at least broadened your outlook to the point of at least considering any other vantagepoint. Just don’t represent any buyers until you change your mind. List houses..great! But until you look at a buyer client with the understanding that YOUR client is always the one paying you…let someone else represent the buyers.

    2)Give your best answer and leave UNLESS you can look at other responses without judging their responses. We are not the judges of the “geniuses”. We convey our best, and the public judges us…not the other way around.

    The point is someone looks at 10 agents and chooses one. Be honest and open with your answers, and if you ARE the best…it will show. Who is not the best, is not your problem. In fact it is to your advantage…no?

    Pretend you are trying to pick an agent to refer to when reading Trulia Voices. Aren’t you glad they don’t all “look” good?

  20. Jonathan Dalton

    January 19, 2009 at 4:15 pm

    1) Now, now … while I respect your opinion, I disagree and have for three years. There are two sides to the sale and to say the commission is being paid by the buyer discounts the fact that the commission also is deducted from the seller’s proceeds. Besides, the HUD-1 says I’m right.

    Incidentally, the dozens of buyers I’ve represented during that time have had no issue with how I’ve performed my duties. So it’s probably not your place to do so otherwise, much as I love you.

    As a wise person said, “we’re not the judges of geniuses.”

    P.S. Ardell’s the one who got me blogging, so if you don’t like what I write, blame her. ๐Ÿ™‚

  21. ARDELL

    January 19, 2009 at 5:01 pm

    LOL! I’ll never stop hammering at you. One day you’ll agree…you’re young enough for that to happen in your lifetime, if not mine ๐Ÿ™‚

  22. ARDELL

    January 19, 2009 at 5:03 pm

    P.S. Even Rudy may agree with you…but not likely Pete Flint. When Pete Flint buys a house, I’m sure he knows he is paying his buyer’s agent, within that purchase price.

  23. ARDELL

    January 19, 2009 at 5:04 pm

    “Being that Iโ€™m a real estate agent, I see possible lawsuits in my sleep.”

    Never be afraid to do the right thing.

  24. Jonathan Dalton

    January 19, 2009 at 5:10 pm

    Never have, never will.

    And I’m sure when Pete sells his home, he notices the proceeds coincidentally are light by the amount of the commission. ๐Ÿ™‚

  25. Matthew Rathbun

    January 19, 2009 at 7:10 pm

    This is a great conversation! The question I have, is what is being done about agents who do give inappropriate advice? Is anyone reporting them to the Real Estate Commission or Realtor Association?

    Agents are giving bad advice all the time, the difference between Voices / Blogs is that they are doing it in a more public forum.

    Just like ActiveRain, Blogs and all other medians, it’s not necessarily the platform but the lack of education and training that permeates this industry.

    Every time an agent opens their mouths and especially when they blog (even when it’s not directed to consumers) they open themselves up to liability.

  26. Melina Tomson

    January 19, 2009 at 8:18 pm

    While I don’t get people that answer questions about specific properties they know nothing about, I don’t think a lawsuit will arise out of that.

    I was on another forum where the poster asked what “time is of the essence” meant. An agent answered the question completely incorrectly. It was answered correctly by two other agents right after her.

    To me those are the types of questions that will cause a lawsuit.

    Not answering a poster’s question and the blantant bid for business or referral money is irritating, but that just reflects poorly on those agents.

  27. Bill Lublin

    January 19, 2009 at 9:02 pm

    Ardell; At the risk of upsetting you (something I would never want to have happen) it IS the seller who pays the buyer’s agent – however who pays the agent has nothing to do with who that agent represents (as is evidenced by the fact that in divorce settlements, where one party pays the legal fees of the other without impacting the representation at all) I would however agree that the buyer causes the commission to be paid (as does the spouse in the divorce proceeding)

    And while I agree with the point you make about many consumers knowing good from bad, they may follow bad advice, or accept bad information, and I think the point here is that in this powerful tool, it would be nice if there was a way to avoid the “bad” answers so there was no risk of the consumer being hurt listening to the wrong information. The problem there as I see it is that a matching agent geography does not indicate competence –

  28. Vicky Henry

    January 20, 2009 at 8:08 am

    Please remember that it is a social network. Folks are reading all the comments not just ours. Anyone can sue but this has not been tested in our courts yet. We’ll see how all of this fleshes out soon.

  29. Linsey Planeta

    January 20, 2009 at 9:35 am

    Love this dialogue.

    I do answer some questions about of state. They tend to be how to get a home sold in a generic sense. I always recommend speaking to someone about local conditions however.

    Kris – I cringe in the same spots. Anytime I hear an agent say that anything is in ‘good condition’ I flinch just a bit. To see an agent say this online about a property they’ve likely never seen is exactly the type of danger that we should be wary of.

    I was consistently answering questions on Trulia up until the last couple months. I have mixed feelings about the platform and the quality (or lack thereof) of some of the responses makes me extremely nervous and often uncomfortable.

  30. Jonathan Dalton

    January 20, 2009 at 9:46 am

    I’ve been tempted to jump in more often than I have. I took advice from a friend and tried answering national “general” questions but it didn’t really feel right most of the time, at least to me. I know it works for others.

    Part of my reluctance to jump in is the fear of being lumped into “that” crowd, regardless of my answer. Silly, yes, but still …

    Consider that when I’m talking to another agent and they mention a “creative” answer and the city where the person giving the answer lives, I can guess who gave that answer in one try. Two tops. Probably not coincidental.

  31. Matt Stigliano

    January 20, 2009 at 12:13 pm

    Jonathan – As you already know, I liked the post. Thanks for chatting this morning. My thoughts rest on the localization of things more often than not. I see the benefit for general talk being had by agents from all over the world, but when it comes to local questions there should be a filter of some sort to help keep things local. Of course, there are times where I think it can be appropriate to talk to someone outside your area, but these are very limited in my view. Rudy questions how we can educate the agents and even the consumers on how better to use Trulia, but I don’t know if there’s an answer there. I’d love to say there is, but I don’t see one. He mentions community guidelines and I know its a well-intentioned idea, but really, how many people read and obey them? Most sites’ community guidelines only become important when someone’s being barred, banned, or admonished for their behavior. At least that’s been my experience.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s any true solution that will sort it all out. I do believe that localization could be a big help in curbing some of it, but even then, I think there will be other problems. I do think that one of the next steps in the internet evolution will be more policing eventually. Not just at Trulia, but anywhere the public is talking. I’m not talking about jackboots and military uniforms here, just more people like Rudy who will step in and talk it out with users; suggesting things, helping people, and explaining site policies. I think the more public you get, the more moderated you need to be on the internet, because we all know the anonymous nature (even when you’re not anonymous, people still feel that they are on the internet for some reason) of the internet does bring out some strange traits in people.

    Matt911
    (I’ve decided to change my name in JD’s honor…haha.)

  32. Dan Connolly

    January 21, 2009 at 12:58 am

    I applaud Ardell’s points about not criticizing the other agents. At least not out loud in a public forum. Maybe by private email, God knows a number of them need it! In Voices, politely explaining the truth of the matter is enough. The criticism is implied.

    I also agree that the Seller doesn’t really pay the Buyer’s agent’s commission. In GA we have closing attorneys. THE BUYER brings ALL OF THE MONEY to the closing table. The attorney pays the buyer’s agent and the sellers agent, and everyone else according to the contract. The fact that the buyer is paying for the various costs is evidenced by the fact that the buyer gets to deduct some of the closing costs even if they are on the Seller’s side of the HUD. (ask your accountant)

  33. Jonathan Dalton

    January 21, 2009 at 10:20 am

    By that argument, Dan, the buyer also would be paying the listing agent. If the argument is based on each side paying his own way, or at least semantics that allow them to feel that they have, that’s no better than saying the seller pays all.

    If the sellers’ net is impacted, then it can’t be said that they’re not paying at least a portion of the commissions. You can divide it any way you choose from there.

  34. Dan Connolly

    January 21, 2009 at 3:58 pm

    What I am really saying is that the idea that the Seller is paying everything isn’t exactly accurate. If you had to pick one or the other, I think it would be more accurate to say that the Buyer is paying for everything because the buyer actually brings all the funds to the closing.

    Most buyers I work with seem to feel this way. They feel that they are paying both the Buyer’s agent and the Seller’s agent, because that fee has been built into the purchase price of the house.

  35. Jonathan Dalton

    January 21, 2009 at 4:28 pm

    Except that there’s no guarantee that the home would sell for “x” percent less if there was no commission involved …

    I understand what you’re saying. I just can’t find my way to see one side without seeing the other as well.

    But I appreciate the commentary!

  36. Jenn Giraldi

    January 21, 2009 at 8:55 pm

    Jonathan, doesn’t Trulia have no follows to make SEO irrelevant? I thought they did so I could be wrong. Nice Article!

  37. Jonathan Dalton

    January 21, 2009 at 11:11 pm

    I’ve heard that, Jenn, but I’ve also heard from agents who have gotten clients through long tail searches based on what they’ve answered.

    So, short answer is I don’t know for sure.

  38. Missy Caulk

    January 22, 2009 at 7:03 am

    I only answer questions in Michigan and if it is about a home NOT in my area, I skip it.

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