Last week at Connection 2009, I listened to a presentation from Dale Ross about NAR’s Real Property Resource (RPR), which previously has been referred to as the Gateway, Channel, Library, etc. Here are a couple of highlights from the presentation:
- Move, Inc. — Move has been doing the early development on the project, but Dale emphasized several times that the development was under a contract for hire.
- Alpha/Beta Testing — Nothing was shown during the presentation, but apparently there is an interface and it is going to be previewed and tested in the next few months. There is an interface (it’s not just a back-end data repository) and it includes mapping; Dale described a map showing lots of layers, such as air traffic control patterns.
- Private to REALTORS — The RPR is intended for REALTOR use only, and not the general public.
- Not an MLS — The refrain continues that the RPR is not an MLS. Instead, the emphasis was on MLS systems integrating the RPR back into MLS systems, though no details were provided on what the API might look like for doing that.
- Public Records — The primary pitch for RPR seemed to shift from “national MLS” to “national public reocrds”. Instead of replacing MLS vendors and MLS systems, the focus now seems to be on RPR being a national public (for REALTORS only) records system of some sort. At the same time, Dale did say that the system could become a national MLS, that just wasn’t the intent right now.
- Univeral Property ID — I have no idea if my repeated calls for NAR to create a univeral property ID system were heard or not, but Dale made clear that such a system is a key part of the RPR.
Those are the highlights I gleaned from the presentation. Here are my thoughts:
- Universal Property ID — From the links above, there should be no suprise I think this is a great idea and I’m very excited that it’s become a key talking point.
- Open Communication — I think the NAR would do well to open up communication more about the details of their approach to the univeral property ID and the API in general. I understand that this is product development and they may feel a need to develop in secrecy so as not to lose some competitive advantage. However, a critical concept like a universal property ID should be approached as a standards effort and devloped openly. This really goes for the entire project. NAR should be focusing more on publishing API documentation than on developing user interfaces.
- Universal Property ID = URI — To be successful, a universal property ID system needs to be used, preferably by everyone. That means there needs to be a URI for every property (RESTful development, and all that), and there needs to be an easy API to get the link for a given property. One can easily imagine a URI like http://www.rpr.org/country/region/local/parcelnumber or something like that. (Matt Cohen from Clareity also recommends standardizing the parcel number system. I agree with that, though it’s a more daunting task.) Developing and promoting a microformat for the universal IDs also seems to make some sense. Overall, though, NAR should be publishing information on the URI structure they’re intending. Importantly, the universal property IDs also are something that cannot be private only; the IDs and the API for generating and accessing them need to be public, or they will not get used. I’ve written before that a walled garden of data is passe, and what’s really important is developing a broadly-used method for linking property information together wherever it finds itself on the web. To bring this to reality, the RPR system needs to promote and publish universal property IDs as URIs.
- Reaper or Ready? I think it was Russ Bergeron who spun the RPR acronym into ReaPeR, and it seemed to catch on with others using the same term after the presentation. Despite the effort to present RPR as a benign service, clearly some in the room continue to question the business model. Will the system become a sink-hole for investment of member dollars or will there be a revenue model associated with it? That was not clear from the presentation, and so the reaper reference remains floating in the air. Equally uncertain is how ready RPR actually is. The tone from the presentation is that the system is well along in development and at least ready for some private review and testing. This takes me back to the earlier point, that more detailed information would go a long way to allowing people to understand how a system like RPR will impact their business, be it agent, broker, MLS, MLS vendor, public records vendor, or others.
In closing, I go back to an earlier post I wrote on this same topic, where I concluded:
What I think would be useful is for NAR to foster a discussion among brokers, agents and MLSs regarding the Open Web and what that means for real estate. This same discussion is occurring right now with regard to the web as a whole, and Brad Neuberg recently suggested: “If we take the long term view, how can we give the web an open enough infrastructure to evolve over time and meet each generations needs, while maintaining its structure enough to actually mean something and stay true to its promise, similar to the U.S. Constitution?” He emphasizes that this isn’t so much about specific technology but rather the general philosophy: “if we define the Open Web in terms of [specific] technologies, then we risk losing sight of what makes the web special and being able to have the intellectual nimbleness to evolve the infrastructure of the web. . . . We will be fighting yesterdays battle while allowing new, proprietary technologies to take over if we focus on technologies rather than philosophy.”