Can there be listing aggregation without cooperation?

Aug 31, 2007 Michael Wurzer

In response to my post The Future of MLS Is Now, Joshua Harris commented:

Michael, I see your point… and ask why does there have to be cooperation to have aggregation? (hey, that’s kind of fun to say) Google is aggregating w/out cooperation? Why is there this need to “play nice in the sandbox” when it comes to real estate. As if playing nice is the only way to get listings or data, which leads to consumers. I think we need a big kid to come into the “real estate sand box” and bully some of these big real estate companies around! Maybe the problem is in the word “aggregate”, we should begin a trend to replace aggregate with “crawl”.

This comment raises many good questions about search engines (like Google), deep data surfacing, copyright, and data standards. As important as these questions are, though, I’ll save them for another day, because I think there is a more fundamental question, namely, if there were no MLS aggregation of listings, what decisions would individual brokers and agents make regarding advertising listings? Put another way, without the cooperation the MLS fosters, would the competitive requirements of individual brokers and agents result in the listings being advertised in any one place or would they all choose different places? My guess is that, without some form of cooperation, competition would drive them to choose different venues, resulting in no aggregation.

Now, perhaps Google or some other entity could crawl all the broker sites, but the broker’s objective is to rise above their competition and so they aren’t likely to be amenable to simply turning control of their advertising efforts over to crawling.  Competitors want more control than that.  Moreover, without some standards for listing aggregation, crawling alone isn’t very effective, which is exactly why Google created Base.  Listing data needs structure and structure requires standards and standards require cooperation.

This basic requirement, cooperation among competitors, is what so many revolutionaries coming to the real estate space have seemed to ignore.  The DOJ, for example, in the guise of protecting competition, ignores that cooperation is required to create the asset (listings, especially those aggregated) over which everyone is now fighting.  Those complaining that the listings database(s) should be opened far and wide forget that the listings are in the databases in the first place based on a very limited agreement to cooperate, which never had anything at all to do with advertising.  The challenge afoot is re-defining the cooperative agreements to now include advertising, and the DOJ and other revolutionaries should be helping to preserve that cooperation instead of insisting that it isn’t necessary.