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Symantec Issues High-Priority Security Patch For Trulia Widgets, Called “Worst Peloponnesian Unicorn” Ever

May 8th, 2008 · 15 Comments

trulia-in-computer.gifSymantec, the Internet security firm, today released what they described as a “code red” security patch for all real estate bloggers currently using the now-infamous “Google Juice Sucking” Trulia widget.

Tipped off by an anonymous Active Rain’er who had come across this discussion thread, which in turn had been prompted by good investigative sniffing [sniff one, sniff two, sniff three] by the pack at Bloodhound, Symantec’s elite Taskforce Realty Internet Permission Experts (TRIPE) worked through the night to come up with a patch. The head of TRIPE, Dr. Francois Viande-Fichu, released the following press statement:

With thanks to the ever-vigilant Active Rain-droppers for tipping us off, we were stunned to find some pretty damning evidence of foul play in Trulia’s widget, which unsuspecting Realtors have been deploying on their web sites in droves. Trojan Horses are one thing, but what they’ve come up with is something far more nefarious: a Peloponnesian Unicorn.

The Trulia widget does the following:

  • Sucks out the hosting web site’s Google Juice, especially the Raspberry flavor.
  • Decreases the hosting web site’s Google Page Rank to negative 5.
  • Installs a little Trulia MarkerMan on the desktop whose eyes follow you around as you surf, and they roll sarcastically whenever you visit Zillow’s site.
  • Automatically and instantaneously rises Trulia to the top of the Google rankings for all searches related to the host site.
  • Makes the web site owner/blogger start chanting Gregorian hymns in the original Latin.
  • Refers all incoming traffic to the hosting site’s owner’s fiercest competitor, in exchange for a 25% referral fee.

When challenged to provide evidence of the above, Dr. Viande-Fichu displayed the following code embedded into each Trulia Widget.

;
While {5>1 DO:
Trulia.PageRank = Site.PageRank*2 / Slurp.Giant.SuckingSound;
Site.PageRank=-5;
Install.Icon = http:/trulia.com/images/trulia_markermen_icon.gif; option bug eyes=”true”;
If Site.Visit=”Zillow” Do {Icon.Roll.Eyes And Sigh.Loudly};
Google.LocalSearchRankings.Site.City = “Truliawful”;
Trulia.LocalSearchRankings.Site.City = “TopOfFirstPage”;
Launch Latin.hymns.InstanceGregorian;
End Do}
?end Php>

Agents who’ve installed this widget are advised to uninstall it immediately, then put the following badge on their web site to protect them in the future:

To install this widget, do the following:

  1. Download this file to your computer.
  2. Open the file in Notepad or some other text editor.
  3. Copy and paste the contents of the file into a sidebar Text widget.
  4. Rinse and repeat.

Full disclosure:

  1. I did a consulting project for Trulia last year.
  2. Trulia out-ranks my site for many Google searches.
  3. My site outranks Trulia for many other searches, including, most significantly, peace corps volunteer botswana real estate palo alto.
  4. Trulia’s no-follow policy applies, as far as I know, consistently across all broker’s listings, including mine.
  5. No animals, Realtors, or SERPS were harmed in the production of this post.
  6. Void where prohibited.
  7. Do not ingest.
  8. This blog is not a toy. Keep out of reach of children.
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Tags: Humor · Industry · Trulia

A Perfect Example Of Co-opetition: The Real Estate Industry … Barry Nalebuff Would Be Proud

May 6th, 2008 · 3 Comments

Maybe it’s the frustrated business school professor in me, or the memories of sitting in Professor Barry Nalebuff’s classes during business school, but what has fascinated me the most about the ongoing debate about Trulia’s no-follow outbound listings links (started here by Galen Ward, then continued here, here, here, and here) is not the arcana of the no-follow tag, not the dissection of SEO intricacies, and not really even the question of what is or is not appropriate to do with listings online.

No, what really fascinates me about this debate is how it accentuates co-opetition in the real estate industry.  Co-opetition is simply the notion that companies compete and co-operate simultaneously.  Arch-rivals Northrup Grumman and Boeing go mano-a-mano to get a lucrative government contract … and the winner often subcontracts part of the project to its rival.  Microsoft and Oracle have competing database platforms but often sell eachother’s products.

In our industry, co-opetition reaches nearly incestuous levels.  For instance:

  • Brokers John and Betty compete for the listing at 123 Main Street.  Betty wins and puts the property on the MLS.  The very next week John brings potential buyer clients to the property.  Sure, he would rather have won the listing, but that’s in the past.  Now he’s working with Betty to consummate the transaction.  No hard feelings.
  • Realtor Bob hangs his license with ABC Realty.  He puts an ABC Realty sign on the front lawn of all his listings, and the ABC Realty logo is prominent in all his media ads.  He’s co-operating with his real estate brokerage to promote their brand, and he in turn benefits from that brand awareness.  Co-operation.  A phone call from a prospective buyer of one of Bob’s listings, however, may well go through to the agent on “floor duty.”  That agent turns this phone call into a client, who goes on to buy a different listing, not Bob’s.  That’s competition — Bob would have loved to get that phone call and turn it into another client, but his competitor — the other agent, and to some extent his own broker — snagged that client.  Co-operation plus competition = co-opetition.
  • A thousand local brokers — each fierce competitors — co-operate to run a local MLS.  They put their competing listings up on the MLS, and they compete to bring buyers to each of the listings.  At the close of each transaction, we again have co-opetition — competing parties co-operating for the sake of the deal.
  • Broker Tom snags a listing and puts it on the MLS.  Via the wonders of IDX, that listing spreads its tentacles onto a thousand other sites, including that of arch-rival Broker Sarah.  As long as Broker Sarah indicates that Tom is the broker of record, it’s all good.  Her site is much better than Tom’s, so she gets more traffic and hence more clients online.  The fodder that draws in those visitors?  Listings … not only her own, but also Tom’s.
  • Broker Rachel gets the listing at 789 Elm Street and puts it on the MLS.  She also puts it on Trulia, which, like the MLS itself, exposes the listing to a much broader audience than she could reach on her own.  She benefits from the increased exposure, and Trulia gets more inventory to display.  It’s a win-win — co-operation at its finest.  The next day, a prospective homebuyer passes 789 Elm Street and Googles the address to find out more.  Who’s on the top page?  Trulia and Broker Rachel’s listing site.  Now they’re competing — for web traffic.

There really is nothing new under the sun.   This business has always been a co-opetitive one, and we’ve always simultaneously co-operated with and competed against not only every other broker, but many of the third-party advertisers, aggregators, and media companies.

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Tags: Barry Nalebuff · Industry · MLS · Real estate · Trulia

Joel Joins Inman, Now Rudy Joins Trulia; Predictions Of Upcoming Blogger Transitions

February 1st, 2008 · 19 Comments

A while back Joel Burslem — author of FutureOfRealEstateMarketing.com — joined Inman.

Today we hear that Rudy of Sellsius has joined Trulia.

Other (still unconfirmed) transitions we hear are in the works:

  • Redfin buys Bloodhound Realty and its associated blog, and Greg Swann becomes Redfin’s Arizona broker-of-record.  Redfin CEO Kelman, distressed at Swann’s self-proclaimed disinterest in national parks, sends him off to Yosemite to distribute Redfin stickers, with strict instructions to send back Latin-only postcards.   Russell Shaw, sick of the traditional broker model, is seen handing out the Book of Kelman on street corners in Phoenix.
  • Overwhelmed by her increased workload, Redfin media maven Cynthia Pang brings aboard uber-consultant Marc Davison — at Greg Swann’s recommendation.  Marc and Greg are spotted writing press releases in Haiku.
  • Rudy’s long-time business partner Joe Ferrara joins Zillow as its “Chief Zestimate Accuracy And Opt-Out Evangelist.”
  • Brad Inman, founder of Inman News, having successfully convinced the real estate industry to adopt electronic signatures, heads to the Middle East to replace Tony Blair as peace envoy.
  • Athol Kay gets hired by Kodak.  His new job?  Do nothing, absolutely nothing.  In particular, PLEASE DON’T POST ALL THOSE BAD PICTURES!!! It makes our industry look bad.

  • Marlow Harris, burnt out with real estate, moves to Memphis, TN, and becomes a Graceland docent.

  • Daniel Rothamel moves to Masai Mara, Kenya and becomes a safari guide.  On weekends, he heads into Nairobi to coach and ref basketball games.
  • Dustin Luther, missing the corporate life, moves back to Move.com.
  • Brian Brady gets an emergency call from Washington.  “Bernanke quits.  We need you.  P.S. Leave the suspenders in San Diego.”
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Tags: Industry

Roost Levels The Playing Field Between Listing And Buy-side Brokers, But (Speaking From Personal Experience!) How Long Before An MLS Strangles It?

January 27th, 2008 · 11 Comments

Trulia! Zillow! … and now Roost! Where do they come up with these names?

roost-logo.gifRoost, a new startup in the increasingly crowded real estate search space, launched last week to a cacophony of commentary from the re.net. Joel Burslem covered its feature set, its performance, and noted that Roost has the complete MLS inventory because it gets its listings from MLS’s, albeit indirectly. Greg Swann fawned over its business model and complete inventory.

If I understand Roost’s business model correctly, it intends to make money in a way that’s clever, unique, and possibly illegal non-MLS-compliant.  [1/30/08 update:  I’ve been thinking about my choice of words, and “illegal” is definitely not the word I should have used.  “Illegal” is mugging somebody, or stealing something.  What Roost is doing is 100% legal and above-board.  It may — and I emphasize may — be viewed by some as being non-MLS-compliant.]

The unique aspect of its business plan: it offers brokerages the opportunity to sponsor search results and get the resulting click-throughs to their own site. A search in Sacramento, for instance, reveals that the current sponsor is Sacramento heavyweight Lyon Real Estate.

roost1.png

The first three listings I see are from VM Group, Gold Financial Services, and Prudential CA Realty, all clearly identified in compliance with Sacramento’s Metrolist MLS services.

roost3.png

Here’s the tricky bit…if you want more information, you click on “View Details on Featured Broker’s Site.” When you do that for, say, the Prudential listing, you get information about the Prudential listing on the Lyon Real Estate site:

roost4.png

roost4.pngroost5.png

This sleight-of-hand is accomplished through a too-clever-by-half url manipulation, much to subtle to be noticed by the average consumer, but apparently kosher enough to pass muster from the Sacramento MLS — at least for now. What if Prudential gets upset that the click-through on one of their listings on a public MLS-ish site goes through to one of its competitors?

Here’s how (I believe) Roost and Lyon defend themselves: Look at the url. When you search in Sacramento, you’re not actually using the Roost site at all; you’re actually using the Lyon site (GoLyon.com). For as long as Lyon is the sponsoring broker, the search is being conducted at golyon.roost.com — a (sub)domain under the control of Lyon Real Estate — and hence in compliance with those silly old arcane MLS rules.

Watch what happens when you go back to the site. In my case, I ran another search, and this one was sponsored by Intero. Same results, same look and feel, but the search is now running at InteroRealEstateIDX.com…and sure enough, the click-through goes to Intero’s own site.

Very, very clever. I really like this part of their business model, for reasons I’ve explained before: The current real estate business model heavily favors the listing side of the equation, and I’ve been clamoring to the likes of Zillow and Trulia to think about buy-side advertising offerings. If I’m a small brokerage in Sacramento, and I currently only have, say, 5 listings, I could decide to spend, say, $5000 sponsoring X number of real estate searches in that market. The number one bait that still seems to draw eyeballs in real estate is listings, listings, listings, and if I don’t have many of my own, why not leverage those of my competitors?

Now for the questions of MLS legality compliance …without going into all the details, I tried something like this trick about 2 years ago. It involved subtle manipulation of a url so that searches on a heavily-trafficked site were done — technically — using a url that was under my control. A good lawyer could easily have argued that this was in strict compliance with all the MLS rules. No dice. Within hours I got slapped down — not just by the MLS, but by my own broker!

I certainly wish Roost all the best, but I’m afraid they’d better put a sign on their front door that says, “Couriers please deliver cease and desist letters here.” Any business model that requires MLS compliance involves by definition an order of magnitude more headache. Why do you think Trulia and Zillow decided to get their listing feeds straight from the brokers?

Further commentary:

And still more commentary:

* At the last Inman, Brian and I finally answered that great conundrum: Did his ancestors add on “o” or did mine drop an “o” at Ellis Island? The answer: neither. His ancestors are Italian, and mine Dutch. So no, we’re not related — except of course, through Lucy.

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Tags: Consumer · MLS · Roost · Trulia · Zillow

What Questions Would You Like to See Discussed at Inman Connect 2008 Internet Marketing Session 1: Tap New Methods for Finding Buyers

January 6th, 2008 · No Comments

Connect NYC ’08 This week Wednesday through Friday I’ll be in New York at the bi-annual Inman Connect conference. These conferences tend be both fun and intense: it’s always great to catch up with old friends and make new ones, but sometimes the volume of information is a bit fire-hosey.

I will be moderating the panels at the Internet Marketing Workshop on Wednesday morning. I’ve been emailing back and forth with the panelists to make sure we have a good solid core of questions with which to kick off each session. However, I’d like to be even better prepared, so I’ll be “crowdsourcing” additional questions.

Whether you’re going to be at Inman or not, what are some good questions you’d like to see explored during this panel? (In subsequent posts I’ll provide an opportunity to make suggestions for the other panels.)

Here’s what panel one is about:

Wednesday, January 9, 9:00 a.m. - 9:45 a.m.

Tap New Methods for Finding Buyers
What are successful agents doing in today’s market to find buyers? Explore new methods that have proven cost-effective and will keep your prospect pipeline full without wasting time and money.

Moderator: Kevin Boer, Founder, 3 Oceans Real Estate Blog

Panelists:
Jeffrey Bastress, President, Startpoint Realty
Jamie Glenn, Vice President, Product Management, Trulia
Brendon Kraham, National Sales Manager Classifieds, Google
Greg Tracy, Founder/Realtor, Blueroof.com

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Tags: Industry · Inman · Inman Connect 2008 · Inman-Connect

Damn The Torpedoes, Full Speed Ahead! Spicy Real Estate Blog Curbed.com Raises $1.5M; Real Estate Blogging Matures As A Medium

October 30th, 2007 · 1 Comment

curbed-small.jpgCurbed.com, the spicy real estate blog serving up rich tidbits of new developments, sold-out penthouses, celebrity real estate, Eichler porn, and other Gen-X and -Y delectables, just raised $1.5M in funding.  (Source:  the New York Times and WebProNews.com)

That’s right, folks, a blog — something unheard of in real estate a scant 18 months ago — has just raised $1.5M to expand its operations, and this despite the general nation-wide slowdown in the real estate market.  Real estate blogging, my friends, is growing up.  It’s not a passing fad, or a way for bored agents to spend time online.  It’s becoming serious business.

Curbed’s business model is advertising driven, and while you wouldn’t be surprised to see companies like Trulia advertising there, the site has managed to attract a broader array of advertisers, including financial services and cars.

Want to predict the future of real estate blogging?  Quite simple:  read up on what’s happening in blogging in the technology and political worlds, both of which got in on blogging a few years earlier.  Blogs like Robert Scoble’s and Michael Arrington’s (on the technology side) and Arriana Huffington’s (on the political side) have 8-digit valuations.

Congratulations Mssrs. Steele et. al!

[Update:  I have not been able to find out what percentage of Curbed.com Mr. Steele had to part with to get the $1.5M in funding, leading to the obvious question:  What is the current valuation of Curbed.com?  Speculation here suggests somewhere in the range of $6M to $12M.]

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Tags: Curbed.com · Industry · Trulia

Attention Glenn Kelman, Adam Koval, Lockhart Steele, Pete Flint, Krystal Kraft, and More: Gregory Garver of Brokers USA Is, Uh, Using Your Content…Here’s How Not To Start A Blog

October 27th, 2007 · 5 Comments

I’m normally too busy to bother paying much attention to the growing legion of sploggers out there.  If a post or two of mine gets “borrowed” (with or without a linkback) I normally let it slide, but I definitely start complaining if it becomes habitual.  Most sploggers ride on a modest wave of Google Adwords-funded revenue for a few weeks, get shut down, and then move on.  Sometimes a new re.net blogger springs up and decides it’s easier to “borrow” than to write content, but after a few polite email exchanges and explanations, they tend to shape up.

Occasionally, however, a pretty egregious case of content-borrowing comes across the transom.  Imagine my surprise when this latest splog incarnation turned out to be affiliated with Brokers USA — whom I shall not grace with a linkback — which appears to be a respectable, buttoned-up, long-standing San Francisco real estate firm specializing in hospitality properties.

The site’s blog has 2 loooong content pages — which translated into roughly 180 pages when I saved them in a PDF.  A few minutes of perusing these pages found content from

The latter included a question on HUD ownership, graciously answered by Kristal Kraft and a few others.

In all fairness to the site’s “author” Gregory Garver, he responded fairly quickly to my email and fax request to take down my content.  His response, however, indicates that he may not yet understand the basic decorum around blogging.  Perhaps UCSB, his apparent alma mater, had no rules against plagiarism?

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Tags: Brokers USA · Curbed · Industry · SocketSite · Trulia · Trulia Voices

After Active Rain vs. Move.com, What Next?

September 30th, 2007 · 5 Comments

The ongoing Active Rain vs. Move.com dustup, our very own ongoing soap opera saga, illustrates one fact above all else: the re.net 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.

Move.com’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 re.net blogs.

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

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Tags: Active Rain · FutureOfRealEstateMarketing.com · Google · Industry · Inman · Joel Burslem · Move.com · Trulia · Zillow

Trulia Turns Two Today

September 25th, 2007 · 1 Comment

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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Tags: Alain Pinel · Coldwell Banker · Industry · Keller Williams · Trulia

Trulia’s Voices Hoarse From Answering Questions

August 1st, 2007 · 2 Comments

2007-08-01_00-00-18-171.pngTrulia Voices, launched 10 weeks ago, is an online real estate Q&A forum, adding qualitative information (”Where are the good restaurants in this neighborhood? Why are prices higher on the other side of Main Street?) to Trulia’s robust quantitative offering (”What are median home prices in Akron? How many homes are for sale in Menlo Park?”)

Trulia just announced some fairly impressive numbers for the product. On average, each question gets answered in 20 minutes and receives 3.2 answers. As of 11:56pm on July 31st, there were just about 4000 (3897 to be exact) questions on the site.

While many of the agent participants on the site are, as you would expect, also active bloggers, there is a growing contingent of agents who seem to be using Voices as a platform to begin learning about online real estate interaction.

—–

Full disclosure: Friend and colleague Pat Kitano of Transparentre.com and I have established a consulting company, and one of our projects has been helping Trulia with its Voices product.

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Tags: Trulia · Trulia Voices