Community Rules

Feb 21, 2008 Michael Wurzer

Nick Carr has an interesting post today about problems with eBay’s rating system, which is very reminiscent of the Clay Shirky post I highlighted last summer called A Crowd Is Its Own Worst Enemy.   This is related to the MLS because it evidences what I’ve been highlighting on the FBS Blog for months, namely that MLS is more than technology.  Nick Carr writes:

By providing buyers and sellers with a simple means for rating one another, eBay has been able, we’ve been told, to avoid lots of rules and regulations and other top-down controls.  The community, built on trust and fellow-feeling, essentially manages itself. . . .

Nice story. Too bad it didn’t work out.

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Patti Waldmeir, in a column in the Financial Times today titled “The death of self-rule on the internet,” writes, “For those who were there from the start of this experiment in digitising utopia, including me, this is very disillusioning.” By “radically rewriting the constitution of the democratic republic of Ebay,” she says, the company has closed the book on a certain brand of internet idealism.

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It follows a common pattern that we’ve seen play out in other “social production” sites like Digg and Wikipedia. (Disclosure: I’m on the editorial advisory board of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.) As these sites grow, keeping them in line requires more rules and regulations, greater exercise of central control. The digital world, it seems, is not so different from the real world.

This is what the MLS brings to the social network of competitive real estate professionals, just enough cooperation to allow for preservation of the network of competitors.  The MLS is a constant balancing act of rules that often frustrate some, but, overall, strike a balance that allows competitors to cooperate and create more value in the process.  The challenge for the MLS today is how to continue that balancing act in the new world of the web.  What are the balanced rules that can allow the community to remain loosely joined?  Can those balances be struck on a national basis or is there a role yet for local MLSs?