OpenSearch is beyond cool – it’s the new cold

I was reading Redfin’s Developer Blog and the IE blog a few months ago and I got this desire to write my own OpenSearch provider. OpenSearch was originally created by (an company) and was primarily designed as a way for web developers to publish search results in a standard and accessible format. This turns out to be a good idea because different types of content require different types of search engines. The best search engine for a particular type of content is frequently the search engine written by the people that know the content the best. Google is great at searching unstructured content on the internet, but when it comes to structured search on a single web site there are much better options (Endeca, FAST, Autonomy, Solr, my favorite SQL database, etc). The other benefit of OpenSearch providers is that it shifts the balance of power away from Google and back toward web browser vendors & web site developers.

Both of the major web browsers support the OpenSearch Referrer extension. IE 7+, Firefox 2+ & Chrome allows you to add search engines to your browser without leaving the web page. The best place to get started is from the browsers vendors themselves. You can add search providers from Microsoft’s site or you can add search providers from Firefox’s add-ons site. In the interest of full disclosure, Opera allows you to add search engines manually, and Safari currently does not support this feature in any form (unless you count using vi to edit the Safari executable or changing your OS’s hosts file as support, which I do not recommend).

Anyway, our developer friends at Redfin wrote a blog post about their OpenSearch provider on their dev blog some time ago. Of course, they took the easy way out by not developing an OpenSearch Suggestions extension (slackers). I decided that a search provider without suggestion support is lame, so I took a stab at creating one. I think what inspired me to write an OpenSearch suggestions provider is that the IE 8 team blogged about their new Visual Search feature (which embraces & extends the OpenSearch suggestions work that Firefox pioneered) and I could leverage the work to improve the search experience for both IE 8 & Firefox 2+ users. (And the satisfaction of having a cool feature that Redfin & Estately haven’t implemented yet was probably another factor).

This functionality is typically exposed to users, via the search engine bar, next to the address bar in your web browser. So in your page markup, you’ll add something like this that tells the browser that your web site has a search service.

<link title="RPA Real Estate Search" type="application/opensearchdescription+xml" rel="search" href=""/>

The above element points to your site OpenSearch Description XML file which describes your search service in a way the browser can understand. When you visit RPA’s site, the browser will read RPA’s OpenSearch Description file located here and unobtrusively let you add the site’s search providers.

Assuming everything is working correctly, the user should be able to visit RPA’s web site, click on the browser’s search bar to add our search provider like so… (IE’s screen captures are on the left, Firefox’s are on the right).

I’ve also added a button in RPA’s search bar (see above right) in case site visitors don’t discover our search provider via the browser (I suspect most users would miss it otherwise).

After you’ve registered RPA’s search provider with your web browser, you can select it and just start typing. Since I’ve implemented a suggestions service, it will auto complete cities, school districts & neighborhoods as you type them (Didn’t I say this was cool?). I should note that although IE 7 & Chrome support OpenSearch, only IE 8 and Firefox currently support the suggestions providers. Anyway, if you wanted to look for listings in Bellevue, here’s what it currently looks like.

As you’ll notice, IE 8 & Firefox 3 displays suggestions differently on RPA’s site. This is intentional because IE 8 supports a newer version of the OpenSearch standards (Microsoft calls it Visual Search) and I designed RPA’s search provider to exploit this fact. In Firefox, the browser can only handle plain text suggestions, which can lead to ambiguous searches. For example, let’s say you search for Riverview. Riverview is both a neighborhood in Kent and a school district in Carnation / Duvall, so in Firefox there is no means for the user to tell the web site in which context they meant to search for when they typed in Riverview. I suppose one could create a “Did you mean” results page for cases like this, but I think that somewhat defeats the purpose of having suggestions support.

However, in IE 8, if a term has multiple contexts, the search provider can display them all and the user can select the one they meant. Also in IE 8, the search provider can display thumbnails next to the suggestions, which further helps the user quickly find what they are looking for. Although, I haven’t implemented that feature yet (mostly because I wasn’t sure what picture I should put up there for search terms that return multiple results), other web sites have. For example, if you wanted to buy a movie from Amazon or learn more about our 16th president from Wikipedia, the IE 8 search provider experience looks like this…

As the Redfin developers stated, implementing OpenSearch Referrer extensions are surprisingly easy (so I think users will soon request them from all web sites once the word gets out). The OpenSearch Suggestions extensions are more difficult to implement because every single keystroke is essentially a REST web service call. If you aren’t careful, you could bring your web server to its knees real quick. However, given all the AJAX map based tricks today’s real estate web sites perform, this isn’t anything that a professional software engineer can’t handle.

Call me crazy, but I think OpenSearch providers are going to become bigger than RSS feeds over the next year. If IE 8’s forth coming release doesn’t launch them into the mainstream, I think future releases of Firefox & Chrome will improve upon IE 8’s good ideas. Maybe you should think of it as browser favorites on steroids? If search is sticky, then OpenSearch is superglue and duct tape. If Firefox’s suggestions support were the tip of the iceberg, then IE 8’s implementation is cooler than Barrow, Alaska. The future of OpenSearch looks bright, even if it’s cold outside.

Zestimate vs. Sold Price

“Tsuru” over in Seattle Bubble comments, asked me for a comparison of Zillow Zestimates vs. Closed Sale Prices in the current market.  To be sure the Zestimate isn’t picking up the recent sale, I’m using the latest 50 or so sales recorded in the mls for King County in the last few days.  42 are single family homes and 8 are condos. I’m only showing the data for the single family homes, but thought you’d like to know the breakdown of the sales for the last few days.

I think I saw David G. at Zillow and someone from Cyberhomes going at it recently, so let’s throw Cyberhomes in the mix too.  As usual, I am posting this as the results come in…so I have no idea how it is going to turn out.  Let the best “man” win 🙂

Also of particular interest are the number of sales that are Short Sales and Bank Owned or other “stressed” sales, many, and very few of those indicated so in the Public view vs. Agent fields.

Sold Price Zestimate                Cyberhomes

$262,000 SS*                 $275,000                  $292,552

$365,000                         $301,500                   $398,192

$287,000 BO*                $311,900                   no result

$530,000 CO*                $743,000                  $695,991

$140,000 BO*                $186,957                    $196,698

$210,000  SS*                 $269,500                   $274,417

$282,500                           $320.000                  $281,461

$285,000                          $276,000                   $276,134

$347,500                           $334,000                  $347,910

$480,000                          $422,500                   $483,891

$550,000 ES*                  $705,500                 $688,842

$565,000 NC                      none                              none

$652,500                              ” N/A”                       $661,320

$190,000 BO                     “no result”                 $234,017

$269,950 SS*                    $285,400                  $282,102

$279,900                           $413,000                  $272,349

$517,000 BO                     $682,500                “$0-Foreclosure”

$450,000                           $454,500                 $518,982

$176,000 BO                     $312,500                 “0-Foreclosure”

$267,999 NC                           n/a                                     n/a

$740,000 SS*                   $937,000                $794,218

$325,000 CG                     $547,000               $567,171

$420,000                           $410,000                $402,384

$451,050 CR                     $637,000                $559,188

$850,000 NC                         n/a                               n/a

$835,000                           $802,500                $811,305

$915,000                            $831,500                $875,266

$850,000 NC                          n/a                              n/a

$370,000                           $367,000               $428,766

$636,500                            $702,000              $676,200

$650,000 SS *                   $707,500              $662,000

$360,000                            $347,500              $376,152

$475,000 BO*                   $584,157               $585,199

$292,500 NC                            n/a                              n/a

$305,000 NC                           n/a                              n/a

$309,950 NC                            n/a                              n/a

$373,000                            $342,000             $352,252

$386,000 NC                               n/a                         n/a

$389,950 NC                               n/a                          n/a

$400,000                            $391,000             $392,337

$577,000   TR                   $467,500             $405,413

$416,000                            $468,500              $484,506

*disclosed in Agent Remarks or owner field, but NOT in public remarks

SS = Short Sale. CO  = Corporate Owned, CR  = Corporate Relocation, BO  = Bank Owned, ES  = Estate Sale, NC = New Construction, CG  = Completely Gutted, TR = Totally Remodeled

Geographically, most of the short sales, all except one, are South.  The first sales are in Federal Way, Auburn, then Burien, Kent, South Seattle, over Mercer Island, Eastside, Bothell, North Seattle on the Green Lake/Greenwood side, then North Seattle up through Shoreline. That is how the mls code numbers run from 100 through 715.

Thanks for the great time, Zillow!

As one of the presenters put it, last night Zillow took a page from real estate agent’s marketing tools and conducted an “open house.”  A certain number of agents were invited to attend, some mortgage professionals, and there were even invites out to buyers and sellers that frequently are on the site. Part of the open house involved sessions where the attendees could learn more about how Zillow functions – one session for marketing and another for the more technical side of the site.  So, my business partner and I split up to cover as much ground as possible.

For me, the marketing session didn’t produce anything new.  But, I guess I hadn’t realized until being there what a “power user” me and my team are with their site. Somehow I thought that the invites had said that they would be introducing new features, but as far as I could tell it’s stuff that we have found and started using as each new feature was introduced.  Plus, we also had already figured out that syndication sites (like Point2, vFlyer) weren’t the best way to get an individual agent’s info maximized for SEO. Although we do still use syndication sites because the go out to a lot of other sites that we just don’t want to spend the cycles having to re-enter each listing over and over and over.  It is very time consuming.  Gotta love widgets, that’s for sure!

Speaking of technical stuff… I was interested to see the data that they gave about the various sites and the stats for user activity.  Part of what was shown here also filtered over into the conversation at the after-function with regard to Zindexes ( and how that is measured and it’s rate of accuracy.

Afterward there was a soiree down at the Waterfront Grill in their private function locale in the former Rippa’s space.  (I’m curious to know where those photos they had taken will end up…. no, nothing tawdry, just lots of PR stuff) Good times had by all and some great debate between agents and Zillow employees alike.  Thanks to David Gibbons, Drew, Mike, and Scott Huber for all of your discussions with us and for being wonderful hosts along with your other employees.  It was really great to meet all of you and we look forward to seeing what else is “up your sleeve.”

Bye-Bye STI

NWMLS treesThe NWMLS has announced that as of June 24th 2008, they will no longer use the term. Active STI. It will become Pending Inspection and two new statuses will be created, Pending Feasibility and Pending BU Requested.

For those who are members and have access to the database, all three statuses will appear in the pending section of the Hotsheet. Pending Inspection will be used when the property has a signed Purchase and Sale Agreement and has an inspection scheduled. Pending Feasibility will be used for listings where a purchase and sale agreement is signed pending a feasibility study. Pending BU Requested will be used when the seller would like to receive back up offers.

Once the inspection or feasibility study is completed the listing must be changed. The listing would be set to Active, if the inspection or feasibility study were not waived and the sale fails, or Pending, if waived.

The most significant change is that properties with a Pending Inspection status (formally STI) will not be visible on the public websites. All pending statuses shall be considered off-market and will be treated as follows:

  • They will not accrue market time.
  • They will be included in the Pending section of the NWMLS monthly published statistics.
  • They will not be included in the NWMLS Standard IDX feed and cannot be displayed on a web site.

I’m sort of surprised that Pending BU Requested will not be in the IDX feed and can not be shown on public websites. This goes counter to what Sellers want. That is, continued exposure to the market. Perhaps this will change with time too if the NWMLS receives feedback about it.

Closing the Translation Loop

A long, long, it-feels-like-forever, time ago, Anna covered the story that there were a lack of good translations tools available on the internet, and especially in languages like Russian. In that article, she linked to an article that showed Google had developed a much better translations service, but hadn’t released it to the general public. Well, I’m always interested in closing loops, and so I’m happy to report that Google just announced that their, much improved, translation service is now live at Google Translates.

What makes Google’s service interesting is that it doesn’t use the standard “rule-based” translation methods, but rather, it is much more statistical in nature:

We feed the computer with billions of words of text, both monolingual text in the target language, and aligned text consisting of examples of human translations between the languages. We then apply statistical learning techniques to build a translation model.

Anna and I couldn’t help but to try the service out, so we choose a Russian news site: and the results were pretty impressive ( in English) as I could definitely pick up almost every story.


My take is that the translation of websites is only the beginning for Google… Not only will they improve the translations (especially if enough users adopt their feature to “recommend” a better translation directly through the tool), but I can easily see a day in the not-too-distant future when this tool is built right into gmail or google chat. This could make it extremely easy to have an online conversation with someone who doesn’t even speak your language.

In my family this could be very useful as my wife’s parents do not speak much English (and I don’t speak much of their native Russian). At this point that means that my wife has to translate everything that is said between us. What if instead, I could simple email them (in English), but it would arrive with an accurate translation in Russian? The result is that it would actually be easier for us to share stories over email or chat then in person!

From a business perspective, the possibilities are fascinating… Why not translate an entire website (Welcome to “Дождь город

Tech Thursday: Are you addicted yet?

After a Wacky Wednesday, I thought it might be time to return to real estate technology…

ShackPrices adds mass transit to their listing search and Greg continues to be impressed(so am I)

USA Today provides an idea for a potential update to ShackPrices… What if Galen included the emotional map of each area?

Speaking of new online mapping tools, Joel has a nice write up on a new home search site out of Toronto called Real Estate Plus that was built by Fraser Beach

The vFlyer folks published a huge list of Web2.0 sites… There are some obvious omissions (I would have found a place for sites like Cyberhomes, Sellsius, PropertyShark, RealEstateShows, HomeHugg and, of course, Shackprices), but overall, it was a valiant effort to capture the cutting edge of the online real estate front…

[photopress:dustin_reptile.jpg,full,alignright]The Real Estate Zealot gives some good background on using Yahoo’s JumpCut to edit and stream real estate videos… (If YouTube made the previous list, then JumpCut appears to have earned a spot as well…)

Nothing too big, but I have been working with some others to build some new themes and widgets for a WordPress website for a Move Trends website that went up a little bit ago… (Note: I also took control over the “hat” at the top of, so don’t be too surprised if I start sending traffic to random places! LOL!)

The release of the updated Google Analytics has been a real joy! I spent way too much time this evening clicking on the “Entrance Sources” option for popular pages on RCG (it feels much more informative than the previous layout). In the process, I’ve learned a ton about where and how traffic is reaching the site and I’ve actually learned that some of my previous assumptions were completely wrong. (However, considering I’m not using any of the goal tracking or funnel analysis, Seth thinks I should just quit… but I’m having way too much fun to quit…)

I’ve also been wasting spending way too much time on Facebook recently (it ramped up after Joel’s recent post). Fight it if you wish, but I predict online social networking is in your future…

UPDATE: Shortly after hitting publish, Trulia announced some major enhancements to their websiteBloodhound has the details (including a podcast by Bryan).

What's in the best interests of agents?

Jan at the logical dog has set up a petition that requests the NWMLS board to reverse it’s decision and continue sending listings to

This got me thinking about the often-interesting dynamic between the “best interests” of brokers vs the “best interest” of agents, which is something I’ve heard Russ Cofano talk to quite eloquently. However, I really don’t have a feel for how agents feel about this issue. Is the decision to stop sending listings scene as something that was “thrust” upon agents, or is it something they advocated for? Because of the NWMLS unusual status of a “broker-owned” MLS, I’m assuming the former, but I’ve been wrong before so I’d be interested in hearing from agents in the audience… – Now less bad

I was reading an article on HouseValues on the Motely Fool. I discovered they relaunched their site recently. Anyway, here’s a quick rundown of the things I noticed…

  • They are now using MS Virtual Earth instead of their old flash map
  • I like how they integrated “Home Buying”, “Home Selling”, “Loans” into tabs onto one site
  • Home value feature is still a lead generator for agents
  • More ads from non real estate advertisers (T-mobile, Dish Network)
  • Site feels sluggish

It’s a little better, but not by enough to change any business issues that the company has.