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Op/Ed

Are Realtors the real loser in the sword fight between Zillow Group and Move, Inc.?

The last year has been one of dramatic and rapid change in the real estate tech sector, but Realtors are vulnerable, and we’re worried.

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zillow move

Corporate warfare demands headlines in every industry, but in the real estate tech sector, a storm has been brewing for years, which in the last year has come to a head. Zillow Group and Move, Inc. (which is owned by News Corp. and operates ListHub, Realtor.com, TopProducer, and other brands) have been competing for a decade now, and the race has appeared to be an aggressive yet polite boxing match. Last year, the gloves came off, and now, they’ve drawn swords and appear to want blood.

Note: We’ll let you decide which company plays which role in the image above.

So how then, does any of this make Realtors the victims of this sword fight? Let’s get everyone up to speed, and then we’ll discuss.

1. Zillow poaches top talent, Move/NAR sues

It all started last year when the gloves came off – Move’s Chief Strategy Officer (who was also Realtor.com’s President), Errol Samuelson jumped ship and joined Zillow on the same day he phoned in his resignation without notice. He left under questionable circumstances, which has led to a lengthy legal battle (wherein Move and NAR have sued Zillow and Samuelson over allegations of breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, and misappropriation of trade secrets), with the most recent motion being for contempt, which a judge granted to Move/NAR after the mysterious “Samuelson Memo” surfaced.

Salt was added to the wound when Move awarded Samuelson’s job to Move veteran, Curt Beardsley, who days after Samuelson left, also defected to Zillow. This too led to a lawsuit, with allegations including breach of contract, violation of corporations code, illegal dumping of stocks, and Move has sought restitution. These charges are extremely serious, but demanded slightly less attention than the ongoing lawsuit against Samuelson.

2. Two major media brands emerge

Last fall, the News Corp. acquisition of Move, Inc. was given the green light by the feds, and this month, Zillow finalized their acquisition of Trulia.

What used to be a three horse race became a two horse race, but the entire track changed as Move became News Corp. and Zillow/Trulia became Zillow Group. What does News Corp. have in common with Zillow Group? They’re both media companies.

Anyone still wondering whether Z/T/R intend to become national brokers can now rest easy, as they have both made it so abundantly clear that they’re media companies, period.

3. ListHub and syndication heats up

In January, Zillow announced that they would cut ties with ListHub, then this month, after Zillow and Trulia officially got married, ListHub (remember, they’re owned by News Corp./Move, Inc.) shut off the pipe that feeds listings to Trulia. Yesterday, a California judge granted Zillow Group a restraining order that forces ListHub to continue syndicating at least until their next court date on March 12th. Zillow Group CEO, Spencer Rascoff continues to assert that ListHub sends subpar data to make Move competitors appear to have inaccurate data.

Sources tell us that Zillow Group should have been prepared for the relationship with Trulia to end, given that Zillow already announced their breakup with ListHub, and some indicate that this fight reveals a vulnerability in Zillow’s data quality, otherwise they would have simply supplemented Trulia with their own listing data instead of ListHub’s. One broker told us that she feels this is Move being petty.

Move disavows claims that inferior data is being sent to Zillow, and say they look forward to their day in court (as we’re betting Zillow is as well).

That brings us to today

The swords have been drawn, the lawyers have suited up, and we’re watching a corporate war like we’ve never seen in this sector. And it’s just now heating up. These two juggernauts are battling for the same eyeballs and same dollars, so there will be figurative casualties. I wouldn’t say anyone’s fighting dirty, but that they’re fighting, stabbing, and clawing, and they’ve got deep pockets to back up the fight. That said, because of Move’s affiliation with (thus accountability to) NAR and their dues-paying members, we’re more confident that Move’s interests are aligned with practitioners’and that’s important to note as we move forward here…

In an email to employees obtained by Realuoso, Ryan O’Hara, Move, Inc.’s new CEO said, “Competing in business typically involves trying to be better, cheaper, faster or different than your competition. How will we compete? By continuing to build the best web and mobile experiences for consumers and the best and most valuable tools for brokers and agents, and by providing the market with the most comprehensive, most accurate and most up-to-date listings in the U.S. I can also promise you we will quicken the pace of product innovation and apply more marketing muscle to our consumer and industry outreach. When we do all of this, we execute on our vision of putting real estate at the fingertips of today’s information-driven consumer and enabling real estate professionals to provide their customers with indispensable and personalized service. And that’s how we win.”

Rascoff, on the other hand, has blogged about his open mindedness as to the future of Zillow Group’s direction, and he’s been one of the ballsiest leaders in the industry, so we have no doubt that he’s rallying his teams’ enthusiasm to a fever pitch as they prepare for what we are certain is a delightful and exciting battle for Rascoff and his executive team. He’s a competitor and has never made apologies for it.

A shocking level of apathy in the industry

Some might think that we’re projecting that Realtors are the ones that lose out because of potential changes to Market Leader (many Trulia staffers were laid off from the Bellevue office where sales and support are (that’s Market Leader territory)), which could impact Keller Williams who is their biggest customer. But no, it’s none of that minutiae.

I originally set out to opine that Realtor confusion will put Move on top (some will expect that a Z/T merger means one bill, but operating separately, they’ll still pay two bills and be disillusioned), but then I hit the phones. I called dozens of Realtors across the nation, not just our readers, and the responses were astounding.

Several had no idea that Zillow had acquired Trulia, many didn’t know what ListHub was or how it related to this fight, and not one could accurately tell me any details of the three major points outlined above. Not one Realtor.

Only a select few knew that ListHub had severed ties with Trulia, meaning their listings might not appear on Trulia as of this week, and three actually said they didn’t care one way or the other, even when we discussed the importance of listing accuracy.

One told me that her most important concern is whether there are flyers at her listing because she’s so rural that most people still don’t have internet, so this battle means nothing to her (even though I asked her about the future, to which she said, “I’ll cross that bridge when I get there”).

Every industry has idiots, but for the most part, Realtors are a bootstrapping breed of ingenious ass kickers who live or die by how good they are at every single transaction. So how were so few uninformed, and for those that were, why didn’t they care? Don’t they know that almost every single transaction starts online, and that where they land dictates how they get to you!?

Here’s why Realtors are going to be the loser here

Realtors are going to lose in the Zillow Group battle with Move, Inc. because they’re busy working instead of obsessing over the minutiae of listing syndication and blossoming media company mergers and acquisitions. Realtors are a hard working, honest bunch, but let’s look at it through the lens of politics – there are a few decision makers pushing papers, a few more that approve those papers, a lot that watch news, a larger group that react negatively or positively when they learn of a policy that impacts them, and the largest group which has no idea what the hell is going on at any given time, and couldn’t identify the VP of America if paid $1M.

So here is how I see the industry:
industry involvement

  • True insiders are the handful of people that lead these companies and know every move that is going on, long before even their employees know. In this circle are the Spencer Rascoffs, the Ryan O’Haras, and Dale Stintons.
  • Informed insiders are the small circle of people that work at these companies and know what’s going on, or are talking to the true insiders on a regular basis. These are also the types that are involved (like those leading policy-making committees at a national level).
  • Well informed are those that aren’t directly affiliated with any of the aforementioned companies, but study them. This is most of our readers – you’re a decision maker at your company, so you work endless hours, but you’re good at your job because you’re obsessed with knowing as much as possible to retain your competitive advantage.
  • Somewhat informed are the normal practitioners that read real estate industry news from time to time, may watch some cable tv news, but mostly focus on their continuing education and being good at their job.
  • Uninformed is where an even larger number of practitioners lie. They are not stupid by any stretch of the imagination, but they honestly have no clue what Zillow Group is, and even when told, they don’t care, they have a call to make and you’re wasting their time.
  • Clueless is the large number of people that don’t know what ListHub does or why it matters, and like the uninformed, they’re not stupid, they’re just not interested, and that’s their prerogative.

Because of these levels outlined above, very few people in the sea of practitioners even know what is going on. It is my firm belief that this is exactly why Realtors will lose out – not enough are involved to affect change, fewer care to be involved, and even fewer will ever know that there was even a battle. This means that decisions are being made that they have no awareness of (therefore, no say in), and it’s not like American politics where we all urge each other to vote to be heard – involvement is the only vote here, no matter how busy you or your practice are.

Our industry’s track record of diminished involvement means media companies have increasing power, and hell, they’ve earned it. But until the day comes where I can spend a week on the phone calling Realtors, and they all know what the issues are or why they matter, they’re vulnerable. Realtors are vulnerable, and as an advocate for Realtors, that makes me increasingly nervous.

#ZillowMoveBattle

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Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The Real Daily and sister news outlet, The American Genius, and has been named in the Inman 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders several times, co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

Op/Ed

Is the cloud on the verge of death?

(EDITORIAL) There is a theory floating around that the cloud is on the verge of death. Turns out, there’s merit for this line of thought…

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the cloud

The sky is falling.

At least according to technologist, Viktor Charypar, who proclaimed “the cloud,” as a large-scale approach to computing, is about to nosedive.

To say the least, that’s a surprise.

At this point, it’s safe to call cloud-based computing the dominant paradigm. Those who make their living through that paradigm can be forgiven for dropping their collective monocle, spitting out their collective tea, and having a good old scoff at such scandalous tomfoolery as “the end of the cloud is coming.” I know I did.

But I kept reading, because it is literally my job to do the reading. And you know something?

Charypar is right.

The reason “end of the cloud” has so many metaphorical monocles floating in cups of tea is that tech in general is running full tilt at cloud-based solutions. More and more companies are moving more and more functionality out of consumer hardware and into corporate owned resources, which those corporations then make available as a service.

It’s easy to see why. The previous generation of tech had what they figured was an insoluble problem: you can only stuff so much processing power in a plastic rectangle before it keels over or bursts into flames.

The fix was literally out of the box. Take it out, went the wisdom. Move your computing into remote services, big networks of big iron optimized to meet your needs. That moves processing power and economic power in the same direction: away from the user and toward the service provider. In a sense, it was a return to the very, very old days of personal computing, when “computer” meant the vast and heaving beast in the basement and users just got terminals, access points where they could play with data owned and operated by someone else. Trust me. I’m writing this on a Chromebook.

As Charypar points out, like any tech solution, the cloud paradigm comes with advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are obvious: thanks to the Chromebook, this article has gone through three formats on two machines, and I never even had to plug anything in.

Disadvantages? The cloud isn’t infinitely scalable. As tech standards rise – SD to HD, 1080 to 4K – we’re forcing bigger data through tighter tubes. That means everything gets slower, dumber, and uglier. Especially with net neutrality under threat, that’s a serious possibility in the immediate future.

It’s also insecure.

Old one-liner: freedom of the press is limited to those who own one. The Internet fixed that – then promptly no-backsied us with the streaming paradigm. Now, access to data is limited to those who can store and stream it. How much of your entertainment comes from, say, Netflix, or Spotify, or Steam? Because if those services stop working tomorrow, and they could, whatever you’ve invested in them goes too. If their security fails – not unprecedented – you’re the one exposed. They’ve got the data. You’re just paying to play with it.

So, you quite rightly ask, what’s the fix?

BitTorrent.

The soft, splashy clink you just heard was the few remaining metaphorical monocles splashing into caffeinated beverages all over this great country. Someone fetch smelling salts; the entirety of Silicon Valley just got the vapors.

We aren’t advocating that we all grab the digital equivalent of a cutlass and a parrot and return to the scandalous days of piracy. But, as Charypar points out, whatever else you might say about peer-to-peer data transfer, and there’s plenty to say, it worked. It’s proven tech. Back in the day, you could grab a whole season of Deadwood in an hour. I mean, so I heard. In Bible study.

More recently, blockchain has repeatedly demonstrated that peer-to-peer tech solutions are widely applicable and solve many of the problems associated with a cloud-based middleman.

Peer-to-peer solutions like BitTorrent and blockchain are as close to infinitely scalable as technology allows. The processing power grows organically with the network, because the computers on the network are doing the work. Peer-to-peer is secure, too. I’d tell you to ask a cryptocurrency miner, but that’s the point: there’s no way to find one.

Charypar’s argument is that cloud-based computing is approaching its end because it never was an end in itself. It was the first half of the real goal: distributed computing.

Apps built peer-to-peer, sharing data and processing power between users directly, backed with blockchain or other encryption solutions, could represent what the cloud keeps demonstrating it can’t: a safe, stable digital world.

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Op/Ed

Why men are called ‘creators,’ and women ‘influencers’ (or not)

(EDITORIAL) A sh*tstorm has been brewing regarding why men are supposedly referred to as “creators” while women are called “influencers,” and it gets complicated before it simplicity is revealed…

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creators v. influencers

According to a recent WIRED editorial, a woman is more likely to call herself influencer, while a man is more likely to call himself a creator, because, “Generally speaking, women consider themselves part of the product, while men separate their notion of self from their labor, considering themselves its “creator.”

Besides being no more founded than “generally speaking” though, this sort of notion first assumes creators and influencers encompass the same job description, with the only delineating factor being gender.

In fact, one of the earliest assertions made in the editorial notes, “Really, the only way to guarantee that people will think of your online celebrity as ‘influence’ is to be a woman.”

When ”really,” there is a world of women who identify as creators and men influencers; the differences can be seen in their varying job descriptions, history, and business needs that each fulfill. Therefore, the issue at hand should not be “why men are called creators and women are called influencers,” but “why we should call influencers ‘influencers,’ and creators ‘creators’.”

And that is what we will explore today.

First, let’s understand what an “influencer” is and what a “creator” is.

Before getting into explanations, and differences, it is important to note that influencer and creator are most always a term people use to identify themselves, so the true meaning of the word is specific to each individual.

Generally speaking though, today’s influencer is someone who has educated themselves enough to be considered an authority in their niche (or can at least present themselves as informed). They use this authority, along with their personal brand,to persuade and inspire their following for gain, which can be monetary, or in the form of free products, and/or free publicity.

Influencers often make their gains by partnering with brands to promote their product, or from creating a product themselves, and selling it to their following directly.

For an influencer, a larger audience or following is linear with gains, so a large amount of their focus is on the numbers – followers, website visitors, comments, and likes. The rest of their focus is in making sure those followers are influenced enough to consume whatever is being promoted.

Why businesses tap into influencers’ networks today.

The sole reason businesses hire influencers is for exposure. We’ve all heard “what good is your product/service if no one knows it exists?” or something similar, and for brands, that is exactly what influencers are hired to help with. They act as distribution channels by bringing more eyeballs which, if done properly, translates into more money.

A creator, on the other hand, is more concerned with the finished product of their work and the creation process it took to get there.

So, what is a creator?

Depending on what they are working on, a creator is an artist, producer, maker, writer, or composer who gets paid for captivating work. This person is usually more passionate about design, brand collateral, video creation etc. than persuading the people who will consume their work.

More followers, higher monthly reach, and increased engagement rates don’t excite the devout creator like strategy, composition, and contrast does. For them, one superior piece of work (think one overall cohesive brand package) is more satisfying than producing a mass of mediocre work.

Promoting themselves like an influencer isn’t as important as showing their work. Take my close friend, Chad as an example; he produces a podcast that boasts over a million listeners, and averages 20k views on each Instagram video, which you’d never know by looking at his personal profile. There, he has 2.5k followers, posts every four months, and gets most of his comments from old college friends – all of whom work for him. His virtue, like a lot of creators, is in the quality of his work.

Why businesses hire creators.

Creators do for businesses what a boutique ad agency would do, typically for a fraction of the cost. They use their art to build brand assets, establish brand identity, and create campaigns. While influencers are used as “the face,” a creator could be used as a “face” or the behind the scenes person who you never see. In a sneaker campaign for example, a creator might be tasked with taking cool pictures of other people’s street style, while an influencer would promote themselves in the shoes.

Creators and influencers are different and fulfill different business needs, but they are not mutually exclusive.

A creator can do influencer work, and there are influencers who create magnificent work without them in it. It’s a matter of self identity.

Influencers are also inherently tied to monetizing their content or, “…building a platform with he intention of being used by brands for marketing purposes,” according to Natasha Hunes, a Youtuber who self-identifies as a creator. Hunes adds that a creator is in for the self-expression, not money, adding “I don’t think the claim that most women don’t identify as creators is factual.”

Let’s dissect the history of the two terms.

The biggest factor in establishing the difference between creator and influencer is the history of the two. In a response to the WIRED piece, Taylor Lorenz gives an in-depth history of how “creator” predated “influencer.”

It all started in 2011, when YouTube wanted to replace the boring term “YouTube Stars” for a more inclusive way to describe their multi-talented content creators.

“These people were more than onscreen tales,“ said Tim Shey, a former employer of YouTube, “They could write, edit, produce, do community management, and were entrepreneurs.”

During the search, YouTube forged a partnership with Next New Networks, a multi-channel network specializing in viral content, and started a program called the “Next New Creators” program. This program was designed to help independent YouTube stars grow their audience to the point of monetization. The program became such a hit, the word “creator” stuck at YouTube and began to be the phrasing of choice for their press releases, and future programs.

They went on to open a number of “creator hubs” and studios for YouTube creators to collaborate with one another.

From 2011 to 2016, the video platform continued to promote their new world of creators and hit the sweet spot in 2015 after launching a massive creator ad campaign. This campaign plastered different creators’ faces on billboards, taxis, buses, and subway stops all over New York and L.A., as well as in magazines and commercials. All of the language referred to the people in the ads as creators, and that’s when the term became mainstream.

Not long after, other platforms caught on – in 2015, Tumblr also began referring to their power users as creators and launched a division called “Tumblr Creators Network.”

Influencers went mainstream in 2017, two years after creator did, and according to Lorenz, was the response to the rise of Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and sponsored posts.

As the “new kids on the block” influencers were initially stereotyped as less worthy than traditional YouTube creators, who had spent years establishing their base on an older platform, and a larger platform than IG, Twitter, and Pinterest. Therefore, Lorenz believes the distinction between creators and influencers are not gender related, but more so “platform-agnostic.” This means you’re more likely to find YouTubers identifying themselves as creators, while IG, Twitter, and Pinterest users typically identify is influencers.

And while I do understand Lorenz’s “platform-agnostic” argument more than WIRED’s position that it is a gender-based distinction, I believe that the differentiation as self-assigned terms are a lot simpler than we think.

Man or woman, YouTube or Instagram, people just want to be called what they identify with.

Creators want to be called creators because they relate more with creating, and influencers want to be called influencers because they enjoy interacting with and influencing their following.

Remember my friend Chat, the podcast producer? I asked why he identifies with creator and not influencer, despite some of his work being influencer-based.

His answer?

“I feel more like a creator.”

And I felt THAT.

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Op/Ed

Why the hell don’t real estate search sites have a “roulette” option yet!?

(EDITORIAL) House hunters start searching a year in advance, and a roulette search option would keep them engaged during the early phases of their search, so why isn’t it a common feature!?

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real estate roulette

It’s no secret that our attention spans have gotten shorter in the last few decades, and some forms of marketing are still scrambling to keep up—one of them being real estate. While looking through photo after photo of specific homes provides the necessary level of focus for devoted home-hunters, having the option to randomize your search on a photo-to-photo basis might prove more interesting for casual lurkers.

Theoretically, having a “roulette” or “randomize” option could lead to some interesting finds: you could plug in your ZIP code, click a button, and start viewing specific shots from homes in your area. You might even expand your search to contain houses from the whole country or look at entire property pages in a random order; either way, by taking the specific search parameters out of the equation, users would have significantly fewer limitations on the content they see.

Once a potential customer found an interesting property, they could open the property’s full page and view its listing info. Sites could even implement a “swipe” feature so that users could add their favorite properties to a list for concentrated viewing later, making the roulette feature akin to house-themed speed dating.

Think of it as Tinder for houses.

What is so appealing about this notion is that it would give everyone from casual real estate enthusiasts to third-time homeowners the chance to step outside of the structures imposed by their search preferences (and browser cookies) in order to view properties at which they might never look in any other context. It can be liberating to have choice specificity removed from the equation, and the real estate market is no exception.

There’s a simple reason that sites like Chat Roulette and apps like Tinder are so popular: they capitalize on our newfound need to be exposed to new information whenever we feel like a change. Real estate sites – especially those with large amounts of traffic – could see a huge upswing in both on-site traffic and conversions by fulfilling this need. Given that most home buyers start casually searching up to a year in advance, this could be a pretty interesting conversion tool in that process.

It has been tried before (and failed) at smaller startups, but house roulette still isn’t a feature on sites like Realtor.com, Zillow, or Trulia as of now, but they should be, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed for more dynamic, fast-paced solutions in the future.

This editorial was first published in May 2018.

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