Registration as a feature

Jul 28, 2009  |  Michael Wurzer

A quick post this morning inspired by a Kristen Carr tweet about Liam Dayan’s post some time ago about using IDX and VOWs together. A quick excerpt from Liam’s post:

Frankly, handled right registration can be converted from being a barrier into being a feature. Think velvet ropes and VIP rooms. Also, that consumer objection to signing up is just generally getting quieter and smaller every day as people’s use of social networking mediums that demand sign-up for participation grows. Add single sign-on mechanisms, either individual or one of the social media platform initiatives like OpenID, etc. and this becomes negligible.

And BTW? There’s nothing in the language of the VOW agreement or any other I know of (big caveat on that one) that precludes a broker from maintaining both of those feeds. That introduces some interesting hybrid UX/reg-path possibilities. This is a very solvable problem.

This is all very relevant to our Summit meetings this week, where we’re covering a lot of material on our customer portals and how they create opportunities for improving service to customers through people data. Go read Liam’s entire post.

9 Responses to “Registration as a feature”

  1. Matt Lavallee says:

    This concept was called “VOW 2.0” about five years ago and was attempted by most of the big providers (in particular, WolfNet). Most found that the experience was too confusing: consumers don’t understand (and shouldn’t have to) why some listings are withheld until registration while others aren’t. You can look around the forum for a few good threads on the topic from 2005. 🙂


  2. I think the mindset around registration has changed since then due to all the sites that now require registration to offer saving and other identity specific services. It’s not just about getting access to more content.

  3. Matt Lavallee says:

    I don’t disagree with consumers adapting to registration, but the issue is that they don’t know/understand why [i]some[/i] particular listings are withheld or why your “free” listings appear stripped-down. They would rather go to a site that merely required registration “to full details on every listing” without this duality — it is a simpler concept and has been proven more effective in the marketplace.

  4. Kristen Carr says:

    Wow, I didn’t see this happening over here. I’m slow on the uptake today. I’ll repost what I just sent in a private email to the crew discussing this on Twitter (delgaudm, byrdtweets, davidcharris, mattlavallee, mwurzer, ldayan)

    There are a lot of celebrities in the Palm Beach area. A good number of them don’t list their properties at all on the MLS, though some do. As Mike M knows, the island of Palm Beach doesn’t even use lockboxes! I presented some data piracy stuff to them a few years ago, when I worked at RMLS, and they are a totally different breed (they’d be happy to hear that, I’m sure). Anyway…I imagine someone who has a property on Palm Beach or Jupiter Island (where Tiger lives) who wants the property in the MLS and is okay with the VOW thing but they don’t want their house on or other broker sites. The difference is a VOW is the *established* relationship between the buyer/client and the broker showing the listing information. While it is typically in the best interest of the “normal” seller to advertise everywhere there is absolutely a case of where it is not in the seller’s best interest to have their property all over the internet.

    I also agree with Liam – registration is not so scary anymore. I used to immediately leave a site which asked for my name and email. Now…I just fill it in and Unsubscribe if I have to later. And I’m not afraid of report (and threatening to report) for CAN SPAM violations.

  5. Liam Dayan says:

    There’s one other benefit of a hybrid solution that I failed to mention in my original post, brought to light by the recent controversy around indexing. Without getting into the right/wrong of it one way or another, a hybrid solution provides you with the potential for seriously gaining an SEO march on folks without one in a compliant way, since (done correctly) data behind the registration barrier shouldn’t be casually available to bots. Frankly, I could see some MLSs leaning hard into this model and further constraining/crippling IDX while pointing to the hybrid as the solution. Ultimately that might solve (or at least remediate) the indexing issue since all the really good stuff is behind a wall, while complying with the DOJ agreement. At that point they might legitimately go after sites that were sloppy with their VOW data for noncompliance.

    However, since I’m not a lawyer, this might be just so much geeky rambling.

    To Matt’s point on the human side of this equation, I don’t think it really needs to be argued that “exclusivity” has always had a peculiar kind of draw for the mass of humanity. People don’t generally think hard about what they get from a backstage pass before desiring it. Do you know what happens backstage at a NIN concert? Me neither, but I know I want to. You want in because most people can’t get in, and you can. It’s human nature.

    Now that sounds cynical, and I’m not intending to be. In the comments of the post I wrote that Michael referenced, Rob Hahn raised the same issue Matt did, citing a need to give more value in exchange for sign up than simply “see the rest”. I agree, and therein lies the challenge for those of us charged with creating interesting and useful user experience. We have to give some glimpse of the VIP room that entices the user to learn more.

    But I still think it’s only a challenge, not a dead end.

  6. ron stephan says:

    I agree with Liam’s comment of giving a glimpse of what is behind the registration. We use the Listingbook product and it is wildly successful.
    Consumers will go to one place if they are enticed by what they will get in addition to the “public” view of information about a listing. Listing details, area information, sold comps from the MLS not from a mish mash of public records, foreclosures, short sales and other investment opportunities are enticements that the consumer will freely give sufficient registration information to get the good stuff!. The hybrid is the way to go. Why have a website of listing data if you can’t capture the leads……

  7. John Mijac says:

    One thing that isn’t mentioned here is the NAR requirement to establish an Agency relationship (by governing State laws) between the VOW owner and the Buyer prior to allowing VOW access. In our MLS we have discussed using an electronic Agency form to educate the user and allow the establishment of Agency prior to the activation email (as is required under the NAR guidelines.)

    Also, Liam’s post seems to indicate that those special customer’s listings will be available on a VOW whereas they will not be available on the Internet. This may only be true if the listings are from Liam’s brokerage. A VOW should be a MLS Intranet extension. In other words, everything a Broker is permitted to show a client in an office and no public dissemination of that data outside the office. However, the current opt out rules are widely interpreted to mean Internet no=VOW no. At the least, there should be another opt-out choice for Sellers: Internet no but VOW yes.

  8. Liam Dayan says:

    Depending on who’s definition you use, the establishment of that “relationship” can be as simple as a relatively painless opt-in using name/email or one of the single sign-on mechanisms. That’s a pretty broad interpretation, though, and some work still needs to get done on defining the individual state req’s.

    That said, I believe the broader goals of the DOJ suit and subsequent agreement were to put constraints on the MLS/broker system–not on the consumer/seller. I believe (!) that the seller can opt-out of displaying their listing altogether, or even just the address. The listing broker CANNOT opt-out of the VOW, but can opt-out of IDX (provided they do not use IDX). Finally, the VOW participant (i.e. the broker pulling and displaying the VOW feed) can selectively opt-out of displaying certain listings, but only on the basis of “objective criteria”–whatever that means.

    The truth is, these models all need a “shakedown cruise”. Until brokers start using these legal and technical mechanisms to a much larger degree we’re just not going to know what objections and barriers (technical and legal) will be raised at the consumer, broker, state, etc. levels. It will, however, take some time to fully shake-out and I believe there’s a whole heap of benefit to be had for the pioneers and early adopters. These days it’s hard to find new territory on the web. I’m confident that this represents an opportunity for the brave.

    Go west, young man.

  9. John Mijac says:

    Perhaps in some states a single sign-on Agency Relationship will be allowed, but I doubt that will stand up to a court of law. According to the ruling, an agency relationship must exist between the “Registrant” (potential Buyer) and the “Participant” (potential Buyer Broker) prior to the Registrant agreeing to the “Terms of Use”. {see DOJ CASE 1:05-cv-05140 Document 243-2, II Definitions item N }

    Uninformed Agency can exist, but this is to the detriment of all parties. It is clear from the ruling that some mechanism must be used so an informed and disclosed agency relationship can be established between Registrant and Participant prior to the Registrant agreeing to the Terms of Use and prior to opening the door to the VOW. I don’t think it needs to be painful, but it shouldn’t be instantaneous and invisible either. If a Registrant uses single sign-on at a social networking site then I am sure that will not be sufficient to inform her that an agency exists.

    The Seller certainly has the right to opt out of Internet exposure, but if the VOW is an INTRANET and not accessible to advertising and the Internet, why would Sellers not want their listings on a VOW if they want them in the MLS in the first place?

    As to what the objective criteria for withholding certain listings is, I believe I am clear on that. If a Broker’s business model does not include certain areas or other “objective” criteria then that broker may limit the listings to the market area she services . . . whether that be a certain physical area, a price point or a style or type of inventory. (Example, she might only work downtown and not the periphery, only lofts and condos and only those under $100,000 and not rentals). On the other hand, Brokers may not exclude listings on the basis of protected classes, or listings owned by other Brokers they don’t like.

    Yes, I think VOWs are here to stay, but I would bet the form they take in a few years will be quite different that what we imagine at present.

    Go West, but tie your horse when you visit the saloon and expect the weather to change.