In my posts on Raging Regionals, I suggested that MLSs should consider focusing on the RETS 2 listing data standards as a strong step (leap) toward a distributed national repository. This suggestion set off a firestorm of commentary here and on the RETS-dev mailing list. When I wrote the posts, I was hoping to get lots of comments, but I was hoping the comments would be from MLS executives and others interested in working on the listing data standards.

Instead, the comments were from various web developers working on IDX web sites and frustrated by the complexity of RETS 1.x. For example, one of the commenters proclaimed: “It took them [the RETS working group] 8 years to half work together a standard, and now they are trying to change it? Trulia did the same thing, better, in less than 4 months.” Ahh, Trulia and Zillow and Google all make everything look so easy, just like those cover girls. They’re so pretty and wouldn’t life just be perfect if we could just hang with them? These old ball-and-chain MLS systems are so ugly and constantly nag us about what we can and can’t do, constantly holding us back. Urrgghh. I want the cover girls, who are sexy and fun and free!

Of course, all of that is missing the point. Just like the cover girls will never be your girlfriend, Google, Zillow or Trulia are not MLS systems and don’t claim to be. These are advertising systems. Here’s a snippet from Trulia’s data feed documentation:

Trulia Data Feed

Compare this to your local MLS system data. Does anyone notice anything missing? How about five or six hundred data elements? Is it easier to work with 15 or 20 fields than 500 or 600? Sure. But, as Trulia and others are finding out, standardizing data is not easy. Here’s a screen shot from their search page today:

Trulia Property Types

Let’s see, we’ve got a couple of condo types, townhouses or apt/condo/twnhs, and an unspecified. Where do I search for condos again?

Importantly, I’m not picking on these guys. As I said, they don’t claim to be an MLS system and, in my opinion, they do an incredible job with their site. If I was a broker or agent, I’d be putting my listings on Trulia. Moreover, I suspect the data inconsistencies on their site likely come from the MLS systems that generated the listings.

No, I’m not trying to be critical, rather my objective with this post is two-fold: (1) put to rest the idea, once and for all, that advertising systems like Google, Zillow or Trulia can or should be compared to MLS systems — they shouldn’t; and (2) re-emphasize that our industry (including Google, Zillow, and Trulia) needs to focus and re-focus on listing data standards. So much has already been done on the RETS 2 listing payloads already and, as I stated before, we now need the focus to come from the outside in. We need to get exposure and buy-in from all corners of the industry, from MLSs, brokers, agents, IDX vendors, listing aggregators, etc.

I’ve been married to my wife for ten years and she still is a cover girl to me. FBS has been married to the MLS industry for over 25 years and we’re still enamored. You see, we don’t have mid-life crises around here. We’re not cutting and running for the next most beautiful thing. Is there room for improvement? Absolutely. Could the MLS systems of today be doing a better job on data standards, easy data distribution, simpler rules, better advertising sites? Absolutely. That’s the point of this conversation, to make all of our relationships stronger, together.

Robbie from over at Rain City Guide had it right in his comment, “I think the biggest problem is getting the RETS standard deployed. I think MLS vendors want to support it, IDX vendors need it, and brokers, agents, and consumers would all benefit from the lower cost of software development that it brings. The problem is that a standard that isn’t widely deployed isn’t much better than not having standards at all (or having multiple standards).”

So, who’s in?

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