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Radical CEO falls on the sword after an admirable try at the impossible

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The end of Scouting Reports?

Only four days after the launch of Scouting Reports by real estate brokerage Redfin which published Realtors’ performance data on their site, the company has announced that they are permanently ending the reports.

On their blog, Kelman wrote, “Redfin just took down Scouting Report 1.0 for good. Our latest problem was that the data we used for Scouting Report had problems at the source that weren’t easy for us to fix, mostly because agents work informally in teams, or sometimes don’t formally record when an out-of-town agent represented a buyer in a deal. So we took Scouting Report down.”

Kelman also said, “I still think the folks most violently opposed to Scouting Report didn’t hate it because it was wrong but because it was right. I know that consumers loved it and now they can’t get it anywhere else. And I still believe that brokers should be the ones to tell regular folks how agents have performed in different neighborhoods, because we’re the only ones with reliable data.”

Kelman says that in retrospect, the program would have worked better if it had been done through their partners. While each market is different, many local associations offer Realtor performance data through the MLS for public consumption so long as it is through an active broker and the broker is in compliance with all of the local association’s business rules.

Kelman falls on the sword

In a letter to employees, Kelman said, “We have to account for what happened over the past week as a failure, and try to understand how we can do better,” Kelman said. “Obviously, it’s my fault. I’ve thought a lot about how hard folks worked to pull this off. I wish you’d had a better leader in me. But the lesson we should draw is to be more thoughtful about making a risk pay, not more cautious in avoiding the risk altogether.”

Sword, meet Glenn Kelman.

Kelman is known for being a rebel, a pioneer and ultimately a geek, a combination of traits that form a leader that doesn’t make excuses and is hard on himself, a leader that takes credit for ideas whether they are good or bad. I personally haven’t always been kind to Kelman, but the way he fell on the sword over this topic is not only admirable, it is a lesson for all leaders to walk away with- no issues were skirted or repackaged as PR spin, coders weren’t blamed, marketing wasn’t thrown under the bus, MLSs weren’t supposed to take the fall for how data is reported, and members weren’t blamed for being complainers. Kelman didn’t have to fall on the sword, but his doing so sure takes the wind out of his critics’ sails.

An admirable try at the impossible

After trying a national performance data report for consumers, it proved to be too complicated and rather than let it limp along and use up company resources, the plug was pulled in under a week.

After Kelman took credit for the fallen project, he reiterated to employees (and consumers as well as the industry) that risk taking is in their DNA. “There are all sorts of projects that fail at any corporation for a different and less conspicuous reason, because the risk was measured out in teaspoons and the idea was compromised beyond recognition and nobody made decisions and the thing had absolutely no personality and nobody really cared in the end whether it was good or bad — or even knew that it existed. The reason most people give up on a great company like Redfin is because it stops making decisions and stops taking risks. They give up because the company loses its gonads and its heart and then its soul.

“To which I say nuts. That wasn’t the problem here, and The Great Pumpkin willing it never will be. One of our values is to be fearless: bet big, tinker constantly, fail fast, measure results. If you see people who worked on Scouting Report don’t BS ‘em and say the first release was a triumph — man oh man it wasn’t — but maybe thank them for their fearlessness all the same. In the end it’s that spirit that makes me sure we’ll win.”

Did the Scouting Reports hurt Redfin’s bottom line?

Because Redfin is a company, not a non-profit charity for the good of the industry, the real question is how did this impact business at Redfin? Did business fall flat? Did investors threaten to pull out? Did they lose clients or did they really just put the real estate industry into a tizzy?

In response to a GeekWire.com blog on the topic stating that “the series of blunders around Scouting Report appears to be taking a toll on the online brokerage service,” Kelman said, “I certainly don’t think the feature is, as you claim, “taking its toll” on Redfin’s overall business. Had you interviewed me about this, I’d have told you the feature has had no impact yet on our revenues or profits, and it has increased traffic. Consumers like it.”

Kelman alluded to the data inaccuracies having the potential to hurt Redfin’s credibility in the long run. We suspect that no traditional real estate brokerage has the time or ability to ensure accuracy and police a system like this without developing an entire division devoted to it. Does Redfin have the wherewithal to do this? Sure. Will they? The concept could be reformed and rise from the ashes like a phoenix, especially given that he refers to the pulled project as “Scouting Reports 1.0” with the quiet implication that there could be a 2.0 or a 3.0… we do not believe the reports are permanently gone from their ecosystem, especially in light of supporters urging Kelman to forge ahead.

Kelman’s not down and their wallets didn’t empty. The company took a chance at doing something on a national scale that had only been tried locally, but this isn’t their first rodeo at trying new things. They got a lot of press about the Scouting Reports and in some circles, any press is good press. We believe that Kelman has learned from their over-enthusiastic past that they will get further if they work with the industry rather than against it (which they did with the Scouting Reports), he learned from making boisterous claims in the past to tone things down just slightly while keeping them exciting for their like-minded consumers (which he did with his letter to employees that he made public), and ultimately, as a geek, Kelman is a risk taker and tinkerer… we don’t think this is the last we’ve heard of Scouting Reports.

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42 Comments

42 Comments

  1. Joe Loomer

    October 5, 2011 at 6:24 am

    I know that consumers loved it and now they can’t get it anywhere else.

    • Joe Loomer

      October 5, 2011 at 6:26 am

      Meant to put that in quotes and say how the heck would they know after FOUR days? We all know consumers are happy to share their opinions about different merchants and products. Social Media has made that easier than ever to accomplish. I think they realized the service wasn't wanted or needed.

      Navy Chief, Navy Pride

  2. Matt Fuller

    October 5, 2011 at 11:17 am

    While Redfin retools, associations have a chance to do this on their own. But will they…

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Opinion Editorials

Why robots freak us out, and what it means for the future of AI

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Robots and humans have a long way to go before the social divide disappears, but research is giving us insight on how to cross the uncanny valley.

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Close of R2D2 toy, an example of robots that we root for, but why?

We hate robots. Ok, wait, back up. We at least think they are more evil than good. Try it yourself – “are robots” in Google nets you evil before good. Megatron has higher SEO than Optimus Prime, and it’s not just because he’s so much cooler. It cuz he evil, cuz. It do be like that.

It’s not even a compliment to call someone robotic; society connotes this to emotionless preprogrammed shells of hideous nothing, empty clankbags that walk and talk and not much else. So, me at a party. Or if you’re a nerd, you’re a robot. (Me at a party once again.)

Let’s start by assuming robots as human-like bipedal machines that are designed with some amount of artificial intelligence, generally designed to fulfill a job to free up humanity from drudgery. All sounds good so far. So why do they creep us out?

There’s a litany of reasons why, best summed up with the concept of the uncanny valley, first coined by roboticist Masahiro Mori (Wow he’s still alive! The robots have not yet won) in 1970. Essentially, we know what a human is and how it looks and behaves against the greater backdrop of life and physics. When this is translated to a synthetic being, we are ok with making a robot look and act like us to a point, where we then notice all the irregularities and differences.

Most of these are minor – unnaturally smooth or rigid movements, light not scattering properly on a surface, eyes that don’t sync up quite right when they blink, and several other tiny details. Lots of theories take over at this point about why this creeps us out. But a blanket way to think about it is that our expectation doesn’t match what we are seeing; the reality we’re presented with is off just enough and this makes us uncomfortable .

Ever stream a show and the audio is a half second off? Makes you really annoyed. Magnify that feeling by a thousand and you’re smack in the middle of the uncanny valley. It’s that unnerving. One possible term for this is abjection, which is what happens the moment before we begin to fear something. Our minds – sensing incompatibility with robots – know this is something else, something other , and faced with no way to categorize this, we crash.

This is why they make good villains in movies – something we don’t understand and given free will and autonomy, potentially imbued with the bias of a creator or capable of forming terrifying conclusions all on its own (humans are a virus). But they also make good heroes, especially if they are cute or funny. Who doesn’t love C3PO? That surprise that they are good delights us. Build in enough appeal to a robot, and we root for them and feel empathy when they are faced with hardships. Do robots dream of electric sheep? Do robots have binary souls? Bits and zeros and ones?

Professor Jaime Banks (Texas Tech University’s College of Media & Communication) spends a lot of time thinking about how we perceive robots. It’s a complex and multifaceted topic that covers anthropomorphism, artificial intelligence, robot roles within society, trust, inherently measuring virtue versus evil, preconceived notions from entertainment, and numerous topics that cover human-robot interactions.

The world is approaching a future where robots may become commonplace; there are already robot bears in Japan working in the healthcare field. Dressing them up with cute faces and smiles may help, but one jerky movement later and we’ve dropped all suspension.

At some point, we have to make peace with the idea that they will be all over the place. Skynet, GLaDOS in Portal, the trope of your evil twin being a robot that your significant will have to shoot in the middle of your fight, that episode of Futurama where everything was a robot and they rose up against their human masters with wargod washing machines and killer greeting cards, the other Futurama episode where they go to a planet full of human hating murderous robots… We’ve all got some good reasons to fear robots and their coded minds.

But as technology advances, it makes sense to have robots take over menial tasks, perform duties for the needy and sick, and otherwise benefit humanity at large. And so the question we face is how to build that relationship now to help us in the future.

There’s a fine line between making them too humanlike versus too mechanical. Pixar solved the issue of unnerving humanoids in their movies by designing them stylistically – we know they are human and accept that the figure would look odd in real life. We can do the same with robots – enough familiarity to develop an appeal, but not enough to erase the divide between humanity and robot. It may just be a question of time and new generations growing up with robots becoming fixtures of everyday life. I’m down for cyborgs too.

Fearing them might not even be bad, as Banks points out: “…a certain amount of fear can be a useful thing. Fear can make us think critically and carefully and be thoughtful about our interactions, and that would likely help us productively engage a world where robots are key players.”

Also, check out Robot Carnival if you get the chance – specifically the Presence episode of the anthology.

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Opinion Editorials

BIPOC Gen Zers are using TikTok to create cultural awareness

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) TikTok has become a platform for younger generations to share their cultures, paving the way for a more inclusive society. And they’re doing it one 15 second video at a time.

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Black person's hands holding a phone loading TikTok above a wooden table.

When scrolling on TikTok, you might come across this question posed by a BIPOC creator (Black, Indigenous, or Person of Color): “How old were you when you realized you weren’t ugly, you just lived in a predominantly White space?”

Growing up in predominantly White spaces myself with immigrant parents from the Middle East, I had a warped perspective of beauty. Straight light hair, fair skin, Western features, a stick-thin figure – I internalized my physical otherness as lack.

It wasn’t until I moved to a diverse city for college that I realized this. I saw others speaking different languages, eating ethnic foods and dressing however they wanted without fear of losing their proximity to Whiteness. Exposure to others who didn’t fit “the mold” was transformative for me.

As someone in their mid-twenties, I came of age with social media like Tumblr, Facebook and, ultimately, Instagram. But I’d be lying to you if I said that I didn’t wish TikTok was around when I was a kid.

For reference, most TikTok users are between 16-24, meaning that many are still in high school. While content on TikTok is really all over the place and specifically catered to your preferences (you can feel the algorithums at work as your scroll), one facet that I find integral to the app’s essence is Gen Z proudly showcasing their cultures – aka #culturecheck.

Besides the countless ethnic food tutorials (some of my favorite content on the app!), fashion has become a main way for BIPOC or immigrant TikTokers to fully express their identities and share their culture with other users on the app, regardless of physical location.

Take the #FashionEdit challenge, where creators lip sync to a mash-up of Amine’s “Caroline” and “I Just Did a Bad Thing” by Bill Wurtz as they transform from their everyday Western clothes into that of their respective culture.

In her famous video, Milan Mathew – the creator attributed to popularizing this trend – sits down in a chair. She edits the clip in such a way that as she sits, her original outfit switches to a baby-pink lehenga and she becomes adorned with traditional Indian jewelry. Denise Osei does the same, switching into tradition Ghanaian dress. If you can think of a culture or ethnicity, chances are they are represented in this TikTok trend.

This past Indigenous People’s Day, James Jones’ videos went viral across various social media platforms, as he transformed into his traditional garments and performed tribal dances.

Though the cultures and respective attire they showcase are unique in each video, the energy is all the same: proud and beautiful. Showing off what your culture wears has become a way to gain clout on the app and inspire others to do the same.

The beautiful thing about cultural/ethnic TikTok is that it isn’t just Mexicans cheering for other Mexicans, or Arabs cheering for other Arabs – the app sustains a general solidarity across racial and ethnic lines while cultivating an appreciation of world cultures.

But just how deep does that appreciation go? Some users think (and I agree) that “liking” a video of an attractive creator in traditional dress is hardly a radical move in dismantling notions of Western beauty.

While TikTok trends might not solve these issues entirely, it’s important to note that they are moving things in the right directions – I certainly never saw anything like this when I was growing up.

For whatever reason, Millennials, Gen X and Boomers seem to have a lot of shade to throw at Gen Z. But one thing is for certain – this young generation is paving the way for a more inclusive, more respectful society, which is something we should all get behind. And they’re doing it one 15 second video at a time.

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Opinion Editorials

This website is like Pinterest for WFH desk setups

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) If you’ve been working from home at the same, unchanged desk setup, it may be time for an upgrade. My Desk Tour has the inspiration you need.

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Man browsing desk setups on My Desk Tour

Whether you’re sitting, standing, or reclining your way through the pandemic, you’re most likely doing it from home these days. You’re also probably contending with an uninspired desk configuration hastily cobbled together in March, which—while understandable—might be bringing you down. Fortunately, there’s an easy, personable solution to spark your creativity: My Desk Tour.

My Desk Tour is a small website started by Jonathan Cai. On this site, you will find pictures of unique and highly customized desk setups; these desk configurations range from being optimized for gamers to coders to audiophiles, so there’s arguably something for everyone—even if you’re just swinging by to drool for a bit.

Cai also implements a feature in which site users can tag products seen in desk photos with direct links to Amazon so you don’t have to poke around the Internet for an hour in search of an obscure mouse pad. This is something Cai initially encountered on Reddit and, after receiving guidance from various subreddits on the issue of which mouse to purchase, he found the inspiration to create My Desk Tour.

The service itself is pretty light—the landing page consists of a few desk setup photos and a rotating carousel of featured configurations—but it has great potential to grow into a desk-focused social experience of sorts.

It’s also a great place to drop in on if you’re missing the extra level of adoration for your desk space that a truly great setup invokes. Since most people who have been working from home since the spring didn’t receive a ton of advance notice, it’s reasonable to assume that the majority of folks have resigned themselves to a boring or inefficient desk configuration. With a bit of inspiration from My Desk Tour, that can change overnight.

Of course, some of the desk options featured on the site are a bit over the top. One configuration boasts dual ultra-wide monitors stacked atop each other, and another shows off a monitor flanked by additional vertical monitors—presumably for the sake of coding. If you’re scrambling to stay employed, such a setup might be egregious.

If you’re just looking for a new way to orient your workspace for the next few months, though, My Desk Tour is worth a visit.

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