After Active Rain vs., What Next?

September 30, 2007

The ongoing Active Rain vs. dustup, our very own ongoing soap opera saga, illustrates one fact above all else: the is maturing. As the traditional players in real estate (finally) begin to appreciate the potential of emerging technology in real estate, it’s inevitable that more acquisitions will take place — hopefully successfully.’s overtures to Active Rain were actually not the first in which a traditional player courted one of the new ones. That honor, I believe, rests with our very own Joel Burslem of FOREM, which was acquired by Inman a number of months ago.

Some other possible pairings? Google must be looking with interest at both Zillow and Trulia. Inman, Ris Media, and other real estate industry news sources may be eyeing some blogs.

And who knows…maybe the Bloodhound will make a play for one of the other Phoenix blogs? Or perhaps these guys might be interested in this one?

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Just How Many Social Networking Sites Does One Industry Need?

September 29, 2007

Fresh on the heals of the Active Rain vs. dispute comes news of at least 2 — that’s right, count ‘em — TWO!! — more real estate-focussed social networking sites.

The boys of Sellsius, refreshed after a cross country RV trip and then a fishing vacation, just put out a press release about an upcoming site called BeatYouThere.  Well, I beat it over there, and this is what I saw:


Fortunately, I then came across a site named Listolia being not-so-subtly promoted in the comments of Michael Arrington’s not-so-inerring post about Realtors suing Realtors.  I scurried over and this is what I found:



Let’s see…We’ve got Zillow.  We’ve got Trulia Voices.  We’ve got Active Rain. is/was trying to get into the fray.

Hey, I’ve got an idea:  Let’s start a real estate social networking site where we can talk about real estate social networking sites!  We’ll call it … hmm …  Nah.   Taken.  (I’m serious!)  How about ?  Any takers?

Seriously, folks, this train has left the station.   I don’t know how many social networking sites the real estate industry actually needs.  The established ones (listed above) have some serious critical mass already, and it’s not clear that yet another one would have a chance of catching up, unless it offered a really compelling hook that nobody else did.


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Active Rain vs.…Ok, Enough Already! Athol Kay And Jonathan Dalton Step In To Lighten Us All Up A Bit

September 29, 2007

The’s very own sock puppet steps in with his own inimitable brand of humo(u)r* and tells us what would have happened had had consummated the purchase of Active Rain.

Jonathan Dalton, meanwhile, is looking for a buyer for his blog.  Rumo(u)r* has it he may thrown in some Captain Morgan as well.

* Extra (u)’s included for the benefit of Athol Kay, Joel Burslem, and the other remnants of the ex-British Empire amongst us.

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Reaping The Fruits Of Others’ Labor? Or Adding Value To It?

September 28, 2007

For those who care about such things, the big recent news is, of course, the vs. Active Rain dustup.  While much of the commentary amongst Active Rainers has been supportive of their fearless leaders, there is also an underlying angst about the notion that while the content of Active Rain is provided by its 50,000-odd members, the windfall from the prospective sale would have accrued not to those members, but to the owners of Active Rain.  Were Messrs. Mardini, Heaton, and Washburn indeed going to enrich themselves with the fruits of others’ labor?

The question really boils down to this:  wherein lies the value of a community network such as Active Rain?  I say the value is twofold:

  1. The community itself
  2. The ecosystem that provides value to that community

Without the hard work of the community, Active Rain would be just an empty shell.  Conversely, without the ecosystem that the Active Rain platform provides, many of the 50,000 participants’ blogs would be a fraction of what they are now.

So is it fair for the owners of an ecosystem to profit from the contributions of the members?  Fair or not, that’s the way our capitalist system works:  unless Active Rain was structured as an online collective, it is unlikely that the members would have seen a personal windfall.

Think of two other similar ecosystems:  Ebay and Craigslist.

At Ebay the sellers do all the work of getting a product ready, advertising it on the site,  shipping it to the winning bidder, and rating the buyer.  The buyers do all the work of bidding, submitting their credit card information, and rating the seller.  Ebay simply provides the ecosystem that makes all this possible, and intervenes to deal with disputes and fraud.  Buyers and sellers do all the work, and the only benefit they get is the ability to buy and sell stuff — a great benefit, to be sure, but nowhere near the benefit that Ebay gets of being a multi-billion dollar company.

Craigslist provides not only a platform for buying and selling goods and services, but also for matching employers and employees, renters and landlords.  Again, the community does all the work.  The founder and majority owner of Craigslist, Craig Newmark, could be a multi-gazillionaire many times over, but has chosen to settle for merely millionaire status.  Again, its the owner to whom the economic profits accrue.

We can argue all day — and we have been — about whether Active Rain is worth $30M or not.  What we cannot argue with is the notion that, whatever its monetary value, it rightfully accrues to its owners, not its contributors.

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Mr. Arrington, Please Stick To Your Knitting

September 28, 2007

michael_arrington.jpgMichael Arrington, founder and editor of tech blog TechCrunch, piles in on the vs. Active Rain dustup in a highly entertaining post entitled Highly Entertaining:  Realtors Suing Realtors.

His summary of the controversy is well done.

His grasp of the real estate industry, however, is not, as evidenced by the post title itself.

Active Rain is not a Realtor, or Realtors.  It is an Internet startup.  Its product is a blogging ecosystem for real estate professionals. is not a Realtor, or Realtors.  It is an established Internet company, affiliated with NAR, which itself is also not a Realtor, or Realtors, but an association of Realtors.’s products, until recently, specifically did not include a blogging platform.

Fairly predictably, Mr. Arrington could not resist the opportunity to take yet another swipe at the real estate industry, though it is hard to argue with one of his statements:

…a lot of people have had negative experiences with realtors and wish there was [sic] a better way to buy and sell houses.  And whenever we write about how screwed up that industry is, the realtors come out and start trolling in the comments.

Ok, I admit, I was one of those trollers.

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Today’s Real Estate Gossip: Does A Microsoft; Foxtons Does A Countrywide

September 27, 2007

Exciting times indeed in real estate! Market woes, mortgage troubles, bankruptcies, lay-offs…

Foxtons, a discount real estate brokerage, lays off works

Adding to the bad news is that Foxtons, the UK-based discount real estate brokerage, is laying off 350 employees from its New York and New Jersey operations. Some have predicted that this down market will weed out the non-traditional players [see comments section], Redfin being the company most commonly named. Michael Wurzer, meanwhile, says his long-time prediction of declining agent numbers may finally be coming true.


Inman reports that, the 800-pound gorilla of the business, is being sued by Active Rain, the utterly addictive 50,000-strong online real estate community. It has been an open secret in the real estate world that was positively salivating over Active Rain’s strong viral network of real estate professionals, and that negotiations had broken off. Now the full story has come out. Active Rain’s side of the story is, essentially, that took a page out of Microsoft’s playbook of the 1990’s, before they got smacked down by some unfavorable court rulings: court a smaller company, find out everything you can about its business model, technology, and market…then break off the talks at the end and do it yourself., meanwhile, says that nothing Active Rain showed them during negotiations was even remotely earth-shattering.

ActiveRain’s official statement to the ActiveRain community: (login required)

Members of the ActiveRain Real Estate Community,

Recently Inman News reported on a lawsuit brought by ActiveRain against Move, Inc. Of course reports of this nature raise a lot of questions, and it has always been a part of our culture to openly discuss things with our community. We would like to be able to discuss these issues more with you. However, since this is a matter of pending litigation, our counsel advises us not to comment.

Should you be interested in the positions of ActiveRain and Move, Inc. in this lawsuit, attached are ActiveRain’s Complaint and Move, Inc.’s Answer filed with the Court in this proceeding.

We thank you for your continued support and understanding.

ActiveRain members, by and large, appear to be supportive of the company, suspicious of’s intentions, but perhaps a bit concerned that ActiveRain would have considered consorting with in the first place. The delightful and ever-opinionated Laurie Manny says: [boldface mine]

Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery.

How did expect to become successful without us, the membership? has been repelling Realtors with their high prices and lack of performance for well over a year now. Free blogs - for how long? They do not rank up on the engines now on their own, they need AR to do that. What are they offering the membership that we do not already have? Ok, so maybe in about 6 months we would all acheive similar rankings to what we already have?

I think you guys at AR are fantastic, but I have to ask. Why the hell did you jump into bed with such losers to start with? If they were going to pay it somebody else would have as well.

Live and learn.

ActiveRain complaint response

Other commentary on the same story:

Pictures courtesy of,,,, and

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New Construction in Menlo Park Fair Oaks Neighborhood (Part II)

September 27, 2007

Continuing yesterday’s description of new construction in Fair Oaks, we move east of San Benito to 15th Avenue, aka Palmer Lane, an interesting street in its own right: it starts its life at Marsh Avenue in the humble Fair Oaks neighborhood, executes a sharp southward turn, crosses Fair Oaks, shortly thereafter boldly changes its name to Palmer Lane, crosses Middlefield Road, immediately takes on the moniker of Fair Oaks Lane, continues its leisurely meander past the weekend-only Atherton train station, crosses El Camino Real, and then becomes the picturesque Atherton Avenue, which remains its name for another one and a half southwesterly miles, and shortly thereafter becomes Ridgeview Drive, dead-ending just north of Bear Gulch reservoir. Five name changes and spanning at least three biomes — quite an accomplishment.

But back to the new construction: in its incarnations as 15th Avenue and Palmer Lane, there are no less than 6 — six!! — pending, new, or recently completed homes.

Starting from the south and moving northwards, we have 515 Palmer Lane, a grand old home sitting majestically on an ample 20,000 square foot lot. The home itself is over 3300 square feet and has 5 bedrooms and 3.5 bathrooms, plus a quaint old cottage in the back. When it was on the market from mid-2005 to mid-2006, it exuded charm from every pore, but it also begged for renovation: the floors were uneven and squeeky, the kitchen had certainly seen better days, and the wallpaper was practically screaming, “Get me outta here!” Sold for a tidy $1.8M, there has been a steady stream of work going on there, and no doubt the interior of the home has been largely restored to its original grandeur.

515 Palmer Lane, Menlo Park, CA 94025

Right next door is 519 Palmer Lane, another home that started life as a grand old place on a 20,000 square foot lot. The home, alas, is no longer there, having been razed to the ground. The buyer split the property into two and is now building two large-ish homes on it. The listing agent — Sam Anagnastou Anagnostou — has a sign up already, though the homes are a good few months from being ready. (Note: My tradition is to link to the web site of any broker I mention, but I was not able to find Sam’s.)519 Palmer Lane, Menlo Park, CA 94025

523 Palmer Lane, Menlo Park, CA 94025

Further up we have 659 Palmer Lane (I believe that’s its address), with a similar — though less ambitious — pedigree as 519. It’s done a neat little transformation from an 8000 sq ft lot with a teeny 1200 sq ft home to two larger homes, each on teeny lots.

659 Palmer Lane, Menlo Park, CA

659 Palmer Lane, Menlo Park, CA

Further up, at 770 15th Avenue, is a long, narrow, rectangular lot, whose highest and best use, given its shape, may be a bowling alley. Shelly Roberson — friend, top agent, and spouse of 3 Oceans contributor David Roberson — recently purchased the lot and has plans to put two “darling homes” on the site. It won’t be easy, but having seen some of Shelly’s other projects, I have no doubt she’ll succeed.

770 15th Avenue, Menlo Park, CA

And finally, at the corner of 15th Ave & 18th Ave — you gotta love a neighborhood where 15th Ave and 18th Ave, as opposed to 15th Ave & 18th Street cross each other — is a new home that was finished some 18 months ago. County and MLS records for this property are sketchy, but it appears the current owner bought the home in the early 90’s, lived in it for a while, and then did an extensive remodel. It’s now a tasteful 2-story home whose view I enjoy seeing every time I negotiate the traffic circle (”roundabout” for my British readers) at 15th & 18th.

836 18th Avenue, menlo park, ca

For a Google map overview of these properties, please head yonder.

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New Construction in Menlo Park Fair Oaks Neighborhood (Part I)

September 26, 2007

As a denizen of Menlo Park’s quaint Fair Oaks neighborhood, I try to keep an eye on the goings-on in the neighborhood. Lately there’s been a rash of new construction. Armed with a camera, and a determination to give Google Maps a test run, I thought I’d give an update.

View Larger Map

This home, on the corner of 8th and Oak Drive, used to be, well, a dump — no other way of describing it. I remember touring it some 18 months back and it looked like a big red country barn that had escaped, perhaps from Modesto. An intrepid local builder named Homer — well known to folks in this neighborhood — bought the home, tore it down, and rebuilt it as a 3000-ish sq ft home, complete with all the trimmings. The home’s layout on the Oak Drive side had to be a bit creative, since Menlo Park is somewhat protective of its trees. Homer finished this project some 8 months ago.

Picture of 500 8th Avenue Fair Oaks Neighborhood Menlo Park CA 94025.JPG

Just down the road, at 535 8th Avenue, some new construction is in progress, and it looks suspiciously like a 2nd-story addition.

Picture of home at 535 8th Avenue, Menlo Park, CA 94025 (Fair Oaks neighborhood)

Four streets east, on San Benito Avenue, there is a forlorn-looking, but sizable, empty lot. Given the shortage of land on the Peninsula, it always surprises me to see such things.

Empty lot on San Benito Avenue in the Fair Oaks neighborhood of Menlo Park

Further down San Benito lies another forlorn property, this one with a rather disheveled home on it. Renovation has been on-and-off-going for a while now. This home undoubtedly had boatloads of charm, and will hopefully be restored to its rightful condition.

Old home on San Benito Avenue in Menlo Park, CA

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Trulia Turns Two Today

September 25, 2007

Trulia, the online listing site which aggregates data from brokers and agents around the country, just turned two today.  In that short time, they’ve accomplished some fairly impressive feats:

  • They built a home search site, getting listings Realtor-by-Realtor, broker-by-broker, without going through MLS’s.
  • They formed partnerships with a number of leading regional and nation-wide brokerages, including Alain Pinel, Coldwell Banker, and Keller Williams.
  • They layered on an impressive array of quantitative data on schools, neighborhoods, price trends, and so forth.
  • They mixed in qualitative information with their Voices product, which has spawned quite an active consumer-agent forum.
  • They became one of the leading sources of online traffic for many of their broker partners.

As founder Pete Flint notes in this blog post, they did all this without resorting to the all-too-common bait-’n-switch tactics in this industry.

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Damn The Torpedoes! Full Speed Ahead For Funding Seattle Start-Ups

September 25, 2007

Market slowdown? What market slowdown? Despite much of the country’s real estate market being in trouble, despite the sub-prime mortgage mess, despite all the gloom and doom in the press, despite speculation that even almighty Google may be affected by the downturn, funding for Seattle-area startups continues strong.

zillow.gifZillow just landed $30M in funding, bringing its total to just under $90M and suggesting a market value of some $350M. Zillow CFO Spencer Rascoff, quoted in the same article over at the Kelsey Group blog, says that now the market is down,

It’s less fun to Zillow yourself and your neighbors and friends. [But] we’re getting less voyeuristic traffic and more buyer and seller traffic.

docusign.pngMeanwhile, TechCrunch reports that Docusign, my personal favorite e-signature provider, just raised $12.4M. Docusign’s exposure to the real estate downturn is, of course, significantly lower than Zillow’s, since Docusign services numerous industries beyond real estate.

Dave McClure, a “Silicon Valley software developer, entrepreneur, startup advisor, angel investor, and internet marketing nerd“, notes that VC’s and tech attorneys are still stuck in the 80’s, faxing documents back and forth, rather than putting things online and using digital signatures. Hmmm…sounds like the real estate industry!

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