Adventures in digital listing land

Recently, one of my clients (Real Property Associates) asked me to automate the process of submitting (or advertising) their real estate listings and rental properties on Trulia, Google Base, and Craigslist. After implementing the feature, I thought sharing my experiences would a make an interesting blog post. (So here we are)…

[photopress:Feed_1_2.gif,full,alignright]As you may know, there are 2 ways of getting your listings on Trulia. The easiest is just to let Trulia crawl your site. Unfortunately this method doesn’t work very well since there are an infinite number of ways to present listings on a web page, and Trulia’s engineers haven’t been able to spend the requisite infinite amount of time required to handle all the cases. This isn’t a knock on Trulia, since Google Base doesn’t even attempt to do this, but just a reminder that there are a lot of things software just can’t do yet. If this method works for you, your lucky.

The recommended way is far more reliable. You merely need to host an XML file on your web site that contains the listings you want to promote, and then once day or so, Trulia’s web farm will request your file, parse it, and import onto their site for the whole world to see.

In my case, since I already export MLS searches via RSS (I knew writing that feature was a good idea), I merely had to spend a couple hours tweaking the output of my MLS RSS feed pages to match Trulia’s schema, register the URL on Trulia, and in 48 hours, we had listings on Trulia. And in 72 hours, I noticed referrals from Trulia was already generating about 4% of the site’s traffic!

By comparison, Google Base was easier in some respects and more cumbersome in others. The nice thing about the Google Base file format is that it is standard RSS. Or rather, it’s standard in the same way the Microsoft Word exports standard HTML. It’s RSS with a bunch of namespaced items for the custom attributes that Google Base uses for it’s Housing item type. Anyway, if you have already have an MLS RSS feed, tweaking the output to match Google’s schema is pretty straight forward. I should note that Google appeared to be more particular about the XML it gets than Trulia appeared to be, so you’ll probably be spending more time getting things onto Google Base.

The problem with Google Base isn’t creating the feed, it’s getting it up there. You see, Google Base does not download an URL like Trulia does, therefore you have to upload your data to the GooglePlex. There are 2 ways to upload your data, via a web browser or via ftp. I ended up writing a script on my server that would download a Google Base feed from my web server, and then upload it to Google in the middle of the night.

Automating Craigslist from a web page was an interesting challenge. They have a very aggressive anti-spamming policy, CAPTCHAs, have no supported way of submitting a post programatically, and the web browser’s cross domain security model certainly doesn’t make things easier. Fortunately, I found a way around everything but the CAPTCHA, but it required some IE only technology since Firefox on Windows still doesn’t support COM automation. (BTW, if any developers out there know if XUL applications on Firefox/Mozilla can accomplish everything IE based HTA’s can, drop me line. I’d love to talk with you)

After serving up listings to “the major players”, I decided to see what the beast from Redmond was up to. Turns out they want in on the action too (big surprise), and the 1-2 punch of Windows Live Expo and Live Product Upload appears to be Microsoft’s answer to both Craigslist and GoogleBase. I’ve signed up for the Live Product Upload Beta, and I’m looking forward to adding support for their service once they get their act together. It looks promising, but currently their upload service is more designed for merchants selling products, instead of real estate professionals selling homes.

Hopefully, the Live Product Upload team will correct this oversight and support multiple item types for upload. They better not wait too long to get that feature implemented, because I’ve recently discovered that Propsmart, Oodle, Edgeio, already have web feed programs in place for XML formatted listing submission. It looks like I’m going to be busy…

So, what sites do you use for listing promotion (or just reading classifieds)? looks like a promising up and comer. Anybody use to assist in your online classified ad management? Anybody using Zillow,, or Ebay for listings promotion? Is paid advertising worth the expense when the free online classified marketplace is exploding?

You've tried to explain RSS and failed

RSS can be electrifying.

Or someone has tried to explain it to you and failed. Whatever the case may be, your problem is solved by the Oprah-style explanation of RSS.

RSS is a way to get a quick list of the latest story headlines from all your favorite websites and blogs. RSS makes it a lot easier and faster for you to get the storeis you care about from around the web.

I use NetVibes for my RSS feeds because it allows me to organize my feeds into topical groups and to see which stories I haven’t read yet.

Corporate Blogs – Yes please!

RSS IconDustin’s comments in his last blog post got me thinking (which is never a good thing). Dustin said “You just set my blogging efforts at Move back by a year or so”. To which I reply, “I hope not! You don’t have that much time!”

One of the cool good things that has happened recently is the rise of corporate blogging. What’s interesting is you’re finding them in places you wouldn’t expect. Did you know Dell has a blog, meanwhile Apple does not? I think it’s an excellent way for a company to get in touch with it’s customers (and vice-a-versa), without the reality distortion and corporate hubris that happens when communicating via a scripted “public relations firm” message.

You may be surprised to learn that even the venerable General Motors has blog (In case anybody from GM management reads this – Good luck turning the company around and keep up the great work at Cadillac and Saturn. I’m rooting for you). If a 100 year old company in the rust belt has seen the value of blogging, I have to wonder why hasn’t every large company? 

In case you doubt the potential of corporate blogging, look no further than Microsoft. Robert Scoble helped put a human face on the “evil empire”, by spearheaded Microsoft’s Channel 9 video blogs and wrote the book on corporate blogging. When he left Microsoft for PodTech, it created nearly as much news as when Bill Gates announced his “retirement”. An anonymous Microsoft employee, through his blog has changed the company for the better. Even though the Human Resources dept has a blog, and prominent engineers have them too, a small corporate blog can as useful as the MSDN blogging network is to the “Redmond Giant”.

I personally enjoy reading Zillow’s blog, RedFin’s blog, and Trulia’s blog every day. Even the HouseValues’ blog can be interesting on occassion (it seems like they have a fun corporate culture, even if they just sell leads for a living). But where is the John L Scott, Coldwell Banker and Windermere blogs? I know countless agents of those brokers and independent brokers blog and do it very well (I think I’ve seen most of them on Rain City Guide at one time or another), but where is the human voice of those companies? They should at least give me a way to search for their agent’s blogs. Are these brokers nothing but a logo for an agent to put on their marketing? They may not realize it, but I think they are losing mind-share (which may become market-share) by being silent in the blogosphere.

Which brings me back to my original question, regarding Dustin’s comment. When is Move going to get a corporate blog?

Although, Rain City Guide is an excellent blog, it’s not the most appropriate venue for Move specific information (nor should it be). Why hasn’t Move added RSS feeds to any page that offers e-mail alerts? How are Move’s product offerings better than other things out there? What cool stuff is Move is doing? Why would a Software Engineer want to work there? Why should a realtor advertise with Move instead of one of these “Web 2.0 upstarts”? Heck, why not feature profiles of happy customers (something HouseValues does well)? I’d love to hear somebody explain the the Innovator’s Dilemma that Move faces to your constituency, so they’d understand why Zillow, etc are steeling the mind-share that used to have. What’s the best MLS in the country to deal with and why? If Dustin or his co-workers explained why things are the way they are, maybe somebody in a position to change things would read the blog and start talking? After all if GM blogs, the CEO of Sun Microsystems has a blog, and Mini & Scoble can change Microsoft, I think anything is possible.

I’m not trying to pick on Dustin, but I really want to add the Move blog to my RSS feed reader and I can’t!