Inman Connect NY: Breaking Data Taboos for Fun and Profit or Creation of an MLS API

Oct 30, 2009 Michael Wurzer

I’ll be moderating the MLS panels at Inman Connect NY in January,   One of the sessions outlined so far is “Breaking Data Taboos for Fun and Profit.”  The idea for this session stemmed from the Connect Create session at Inman SF this last summer, where developers from two companies built two applications in 48 hours and then showed them off at the end of the conference.  One of those applications was an agent rating service built by Diverse Solutions using some data from SoCal MLS.

During the demo of that product, Diverse’s President Justin Lajoie commented that he wasn’t sure if the product would ever see the light of day because MLSs would have to grant permission to use the sold data in this way.  Brian Boero asked the brokers and agents in the audience if this was a product they’d like to see become real, and the response was definite: Yes, they would.

The question raised was pretty clear: How can MLSs better leverage the kind of rapid innovation available today?  One potential answer is to create an API for the MLS data that’s easy to use and understand, especially the terms of use.  Currently, the only terms of use for MLS data that are widely adopted by MLSs are IDX and VOW policies.  Are those enough?  Or could brokers and MLSs create more innovation by developing a new terms of use targeted at specific data sets?

For example, two potential use cases come to mind: (1) syndication or advertising of listings; and (2) aggregate statistical reports.  In the case of syndication, the terms of use would focus on the limited set of data needed for advertising the listing and would include an opt-in from the listing broker.  Having a standard API for syndication could increase the quality of listing advertising on the web and increase competition among aggregation sites.

In the case of aggregate statistical reports, the terms of use could focus on limiting use of the data for analysis and reporting in the aggregate as opposed to disclosing individual listings.  Would a more limited terms of use focused on the aggregate instead of specific listings make it less threatening to brokers to open up the data to new and innovative uses?  Are there any terms of use that would be able to be widely adopted or will MLS data use always be limited to policies like IDX and VOW?

Of course, these discussions do not happen in a vacuum.  Just yesterday, Google made it easier to see real estate listings on their maps and they’re encouraging real estate professionals to post their listings to Google.  Of course, Google has their own terms of use for posting information to their site.  We also know that companies like RealBird are using Google Base as an alternative source for listing data, using Google’s API as a round-about way to get at the MLS data.

Is it time for MLSs to leverage the rapid innovation cycle by creating their own API?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments below and also at Inman Connect NY.