There’s always something to howl about

Archive for June, 2008

Project Bloodhound speaking in tongues: To whom am I speaking?

I had a lady phone me the other day who would rather have emailed. She was on our Phoenix real estate web site and she couldn’t figure out how to email me. In fact, my email address is associated with every post, just like here, but that wasn’t obvious to her. I revisited the sidebar, which is a topic to which we will return. But for most real estate weblogs, there is an ever more exigent problem: Who the hell am I speaking to in the first place?

If you’re the only person writing on the weblog, you might think you can get away without a byline on your posts. I think this is a mistake. Yes, people can go to your About page, but your job is to make connections, not to make people work. I think our way of doing things — an avatar plus every which way of grasping onto more content — is a better way of going at things.

We do our avatars with custom PHP, but I know they can also be done with the Gravatar software — I just don’t know how. I’m going to show you everything we’re doing at BloodhoundBlog — not because you should do all this, but just to show you how to do it.

The theme files you will want to edit will be named index.php, search.php, archive.php and possibly some others. You are looking for files that contain “the loop,” the means by which WordPress extracts posts from its MySQL database and displays them. The code for “the loop” looks like this:

<?php if (have_posts()) : 
while (have_posts()) : 
the_post(); ?>

Any files that contain that code will need to be edited.

Edited where? Look for the div that already contains posting information — usually the date. You’ll be editing within that div. You can start with index.php, working iteratively until you get to something you like, then copy that code over to the other files you need to edit.

Important: Work on copies of your theme files! If you screw something up, you can always go back and start over.

This is what BHB is doing, a little bite at a time. These lines don’t really break out this way in our theme files. I have to break them this way to make them fit the width of this column.

Okay first:

<a href="<?php
the_author_ID(); ?>" target="_blank"><img
the_author_ID(); ?>.jpg" align="left"></a>

That’s the avatar picture enclosed in a link to the particular author’s archive of posts. the_author_ID () echoes the number of the particular author, so the first call specifies that author’s archive, and the second calls up that author’s picture number. Remember that the purpose of PHP is to spit HTML into the HTTP stream at run time.

By: <a href="mailto:<?php the_author_email(); ?>"><?php
the_author() ?></a>, <a href="<?PHP the_author_url(); ?>"
target="_blank"><?PHP the_author_yim(); ?></a>,

The author’s name, enclosed in an email link, and the author’s web site name, linked back to the actual site. the_author () echoes the author’s name. the_author_email () is obvious, as is the_author_url. We use the Yahoo Instant Messenger field in the User panel to hold a pretty-printed version of the author’s web site or weblog, so the_author_yim echoes that pretty-printed form. This is an important point of software engineering: One size does not fit all. If you need a field you don’t have, but don’t need one or more of the fields you do have — don’t mourn, improvise!

<a href="<?php
the_author_ID(); ?>" target="_blank">Post Archive</a>,

Were using the_author_ID again to echo the URL of the author’s archive of posts.

<a href="
author=<?php the_author_ID(); ?>" target="_blank">RSS Feed</a><BR>

Using the_author_ID again to echo the URL of the author’s RSS feed.

Posted: <?php the_time('l'); ?>, <?php the_time('F jS, Y'); ?>,
<?php the_time('g:i a'); ?> MST

We’re using three calls to the_time to produce an elaborate date stamp — day of the week, date and time with time zone.

<?php echo "<BR>Category: ";the_category(',');?>

Finally, we’re using the_category (‘,’) to make a comma-separated list of this post’s categories.

This is overkill for most weblogs, but, at a minimum, you should let your readers know who they’re talking to. You might do something like this:

By <a href="mailto:<?php the_author_email(); ?>"><?php
the_author() ?></a>, <?php the_time('l'); ?>, <?php
the_time('F jS, Y'); ?>

Your name — linked to your email address — and the day and date of the post.

And here’s what this post really is: An introduction to the template tags and all you can do with them. Play — on copies of your theme files. If you’re worried about making embarrassing mistakes, play late at night while everyone else is asleep.

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How I avoided deleting 23 different cliches for an introduction by taking the easy road and just saying Happy Birthday.

Allow me to further the B-day round of toasts at Bloodhound by introducing my relationship to these very pages.

It is with great pleasure that I’m allowed to share thoughts on the pages on Bloodhound.  You see, I have been a long time reader of the posts that put thought to action in Real Estate the way no other blog does.  My interest go back to turning to the web to try and find clues to help with marketing as a newb to Real Estate.  The requisite “Realtor type” mags et al did not cut it for me from the begininng.  Already finding success with buying and selling merchandise, reading the Times, and do I dare say dating through the web, I knew that at least trying to leverage the power of my trusty notebook to crush the competition was worth looking into.  What I found at the time were plenty of shiny buttons to poke at and play with.  I must have bookmarked upwards of 500+ pages of plans, actions, and helpful hints on RE I thought might be of interest.

When it came down to it, the one thing that mattered is what I found on the blog pages of the Real Esate community.  No one did it better than those here that howled.  Aside from shadowing my broker as he wheeled his vehicle throughout the hills of SF and walked and talked the business, reading  and getting involved in the discussions that take place on these very pages are what motivated me to win.  The creative thinking and ideas that we come up with when we are challenged to the fullest is what gives birth to opportunity.   The contributors that currently write here and have passed through have given me giant shoulders to stand on.  They are passionate entrepreneurs of the new medium of Real Estate technology.  We are still far into the early days of blogging, and we know how slow our industry has been to keep up.

With all that said, I personally know my way pretty well when it comes to all things social media and the like except for this one area — blogging.  I have been avid commenter, part time contributor to the and personal Tumblelog keeper at best, so creating my own business blog should be a good challenge.  I made it a point to step forward when the idea of project bloodhound was mentioned.   The seems like a great opportunity to learn in a group environment and pay it forward to those passively following along  as I once did.  Bravo bloodhounds!  Thanks for caring about the better business of Real Estate for the past couple of years and let’s make this project one to write another book about  (or at least push the old one out of beta).


How Can The San Diego Union Tribune Compete Against Bloggers? Build and Invite Them To Contribute

SD is the San Diego Union Tribune’s answer to competition from citizen journalists.   I get the majority of my news from the internet but the local fishwrap does a nice job on the obituaries.  I’m a serial obituary reader (I love people) so the U-T is my Sunday companion on the beach.

I damn near jumped off the blanket this afternoon!

This mainstream medium invited the bloggers into the big tent.  Editor and Publisher magazine reports:

The paper plans to reverse publish some of the content of sdBackyard into community publications.

“ embraces the growing trends of user-generated content and social media by giving users the tools to create and share content online, with the added benefit of reverse publishing some content into a print product,” George Bonaros, marketing director for the Union-Tribune, said in a statement. “The unique geographic targeting allows small businesses, nonprofit organizations, clubs, and other community groups opportunities to promote themselves in print and online.”

Maybe it’s a content grab but I think the quid pro quo is more than tilted to a business blogger.  Needless to say, I set up a profile, uploaded a ton of video content from Bloodhound Unchained, published a blog post, and keyworded everything.  Like Home Gain Blog, the platform will be shared with the established, stronger home website (in this case, so the “find-ability” via SERPs should be strong in 3-6 months.

It’s too early to tell if the “Community Editors” will go overboard by limiting content but I’m enthused about the possibility offers.  Oh, here’s the other cool part; it’s free ! If you thought about building a hyper-local weblog, this very well may be the platform you seek (as long as you back up the content).  I expect that I’ll see Don Reedy in Oceanside, Sean Purcell in La Mesa, Kris Berg in Scripps Ranch, Jeff Brown talking about investment real estate, and Dan Melson talking about mortgages, in the not too distant future.

This is a new project and I’ll be reporting back how the mainstream media embraces its local citizen journalists.  The courtship was painless; let’s see how the marriage proceeds.


WordPress Plugins- Like Shopping at WalMart

Have you ever gone to the store and found odds and ends of things that you just can’t live without?  How about a tape measure for $2, set of plates for $10, etc.-and then get home and wonder where the heck you are going to put all of it?

That is kind of where I am while looking through WordPress Plugins.  I feel like I have found the Mother Load of Clearance racks.

Here are the ones that are grabbing my attention with a big red tag on them.  Are you using any of these?  What’s your opinion on them and are some of them a waste of space?

  • Events Calendar– This would be pretty neat for Open Houses, Conferences, Local Happenings on a local blog
  • Subscribe2– Since not everyone is techie enough to read through a feeder, being able to subscribe through email
  • SMS Text Message– Allows people to subscribe via SMS TXT
  • Better Blogroll– The theme I chose does not have a blogroll that you can add links to..and I want one
  • HB Social Bookmarks–  I like the top of mind approach
  • All in One SEO–  Yeah, well…

By now you know that with Project Bloodhound II one of the goals is to keep my site clean and crisp, so I am wondering exactly which Plugins to use and not clutter up my ‘cabinet space’.  I want to be conservative now because as the site continues to grow, there will always be more.  If you have found a kickin’ Plugin that is not in my shopping cart, I’d love to hear about it!


BloodhoundBlog at two: The scene of the real estate scenius

BloodhoundBlog came into this world two years ago today. I had tried twice before to craft a workable real estate weblog. The second attempt donated its 60-odd posts to BloodhoundBlog on the way in. But BloodhoundBlog was different from our prior attempts right from the start. We were focused on the national real estate industry from the beginning, mixing good writing, deep philosophy and radical new ideas into what has seemed to be a consistently heady brew.

In our first two years, we’ve served over 1.4 million pages to over 750,000 unique souls. We’ve written more than 2,800 posts and hosted more than 25,000 comments. As I write this, we have 600 Technorati links and 67,000 Yahoo backlinks. Those are interesting numbers, but these are more interesting to me: In the past two years (less than that, really, since we didn’t start tracking for about two months), 37,347 people have visited here here 200 or more times. Just short of 151,000 people have visited us nine or more times. And keep in mind that we live by RSS and email subscription. The flip side of this is that just short of half-a-million souls have come to the site only once, which I think is a nice illustration of the relative value of search-engine borne as against more-organic sources of traffic.

And, in reality, none of that matters. BloodhoundBlog is influential because it is very loud voice in the, but BloodhoundBlog is influential because it is very serious about big ideas. From the earliest days of the blog, we staked out a ground — the philosophy by which the most serious, most dedicated real estate professionals would thrive in the Web 2.0 world — and defended it with the ferocity of real Bloodhounds. We are always about the grunts on the ground, never about the bosses and vendors who seek to bilk them of their hard-fought earnings. We’ve built an audience not by dumb SEO stunts, not by kissing up to the NAR or the Inmanosphere, not by fawning or flattery or appeals to pity, but simply by delivering the goods day after day, month after month. If you want proof that content is king — that exploring important issues in full detail trumps easy-reading, that telling the whole truth, no matter how much people might rather not hear it, is the naked essence of integrity and credibility — BloodhoundBlog stands as that proof.

I could not be more grateful to the people who have made this possible: Our fabulous contributors, past and present, our readers and commenters — even those self-drawn-caricatures who have chosen to define themselves by their opposition to us. Weblogging is a conversation, but BloodhoundBlog is a colloquium, a rigorous examination of how the real estate business will be conducted, going forward. I love it that we can pull this off — discuss the most important of issues, seriously, thoroughly, with a civilized respect for each other, all the while keeping things interesting, irreverent and fun. BloodhoundBlog is the scene of the scenius, and it is the work we do in the next two years that will determine who will still be working in real estate — and how.

And — to think! — Bloodhounds are puppies for three years. Our archives are already the encyclopedia of hi-tech real estate, and we are but barely begun. What’s the plan for the future? Keep growing. Allowing for everything, we’re probably talking to around 150,000 people often enough to make a difference in their lives. There are at least 3 million folks out there we could be talking to — at least half of whom are serious about doing this work wisely and well. We’ll keep running this trail until we track every one of those people down.

My thanks to you for being a part of the chase.

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Project Bloodhound: URL Structure

When you start browsing through blogs and as you click from post to post and page to page, watch the address bar. Here are some examples:
This is the one from the post that we chose for the SEO contest.
Here is one of my posts on BHB

Why the difference?
First off, Greg uses what is known as the default permalink structure. The one that comes out of the box. He did this because when he fired up BHB, it made referencing the posts easier for him. There is NOTHING wrong with this. Optimization is about making choices and trade offs, not about good and evil.

I chose a more keyword based structure that has become pretty popular these days. Here’s how you do it:
In WP go to Settings: and then Permalinks. You will see this:

Here’s a closer look:

These are your choices and you can see that I went to “Custom” and typed in /%postname%/ and hit save changes. Simple as that. IMPORTANT NOTE: On a few hosts this will barf up an error saying that the Permalink structure cannot be changed. If you are on GoDaddy or 1and1, feel free to email me and I will tell you how to solve this.

The effect of this is that any posts you write will include the title of the post in the url. For me, it makes it easier for the reader AND for the search engines. Doing something SOLELY for the sake of search engines is rarely if ever wise. Ideally, what enhances user experience and adds relevance will help you rank (having a site made of FLASH would be a BIG exception to that…)

Why you should NOT just arbitrarily go and change this with an established blog. Simply put, the search engines already knows where all of Greg’s posts are. He is right IMO to NOT change things and move their “cheese”. You can and redirect the old posts’ URLs to the new ones with a 301 redirect, but that can be WORK. I wanted to keep this simple. And while they figured out where everything was / is, he would lose some longtail goodness.

Stephanie, in your question, your current site is written in ASP (all of the url’s end in .asp or .aspx) so WHATEVER you do, you are going to change the urls and need to do some redirecting. This is where the trade offs occur, unfortunately and some long tail traffic may well take a momentary hit IMO.

Search engine friendly urls help, but they are not everything. They are just one thing IMO.

This post is just a basic start. What I would love is for some other search engine savvy folks to add to this with specific ideas for Stephanie’s site and give her some love. Here’s the post I am referring to.


Happy Birthday Bloodhound Blog

Bloodhound Blog is two years old tonight.  Congratulations to all the Bloodhounds.  Here’s a little something from the archives to demonstrate my  improvidence:

How can this development persist in a real estate market that all experts predict to plunge? The simple answer is that demographics are on California’s side:

1- Population still grows here statewide at a 1.5% annual clip. Now that may seem like anemic percentage growth compared to Nevada and Arizona but look at the astounding number of people moving to the Golden State. California enjoys a net gain of some 700,000 people each year.

2- There is a housing shortage in California. The affordability index may not be an applicable measure moving forward.

3- California employment is holding steady, in fact, a net gain of higher paying jobs are coming into the state. Why? California has high taxes and is hardly business friendly. Businesses want to be near the huge consumer base (the fifth largest economy in the world) that are California residents.

4- People would rather live in California than Buffalo.

Oops. I was bit early with the recovery prediction.

Congrats Greg and Cathleen.


Dancing on bridges: Apprehending great real estate webloggers…

[Okay, BloodhoundBlog will be two years old in less than an hour. Here’s one more little bit of our past in celebration. This is from May 31st, 2007. –GSS]

Question #1: Why did Microsoft call its new table-top touch-screen interface “Surface”?

Answer: “It” and “Thing” are trademarks of The Addams Family.

Question #2: What makes a great real estate weblog?

Answer: Whatever you do, don’t ask Inman Blog.

I don’t write about everything that tickles or rankles me. I couldn’t, even if I didn’t have other things to do. But I thought it was particularly ironical for Joel Burslem and Jessica Swesey to talk about weblogging in a video. Joel has proven blogger credibility. Jessica is a good reporter who has never impressed me as actually understanding weblogging as a distinct medium. I have told Brad Inman in private that he doesn’t “get” weblogging, to which criticism he issued testy but irrelevant rejoinders. If putting marks on phosphors in reverse-chronological order is weblogging, then there really are 70 million webloggers.

But take a look at this, as an example (and I’m picking on Inman because they’re professionals and, I hope, thick-skinned enough to bear up to the scrutiny):

In the middle of the 16th Century, the Great Chinese Wall was built to keep enemy armies out and to create a perception of invincibility. Gated communities were built in the US suburbs in the 1980s to keep urban criminals out and to create prestigious residential compounds. The building of walls and fences along the Mexican border are being built to keep workers and terrorists out and to appease a multitude of American nationalistic fears. The Great Chinese Wall did not work; gates in the burbs were irrelevant to safety and fences on the Mexican border will not stop people from risking their lives to find work. One of the ugliest walls in history was the Berlin Wall, which came down when freedom persevered over human repression.
Walls and fences are an admission of our failure to solve problems in a civil way. They divide people; they exclude; they fracture societies and communities.
In the 1950s in my small hometown of Carlinville, Illinois, there were no fences and no walls. As kids, we ran free from yard to yard, no boundaries, no divides and no fears — one community safe, not carved up and apart. Now there are fences through out Carlinville — no good reason, just people giving into their irrational fears.

What the hell is this doing? No, wait — why is it that no one can tell Brad Inman that, in weblogging, we slam the return key twice between paragraphs?

Yet again, what is this doing? In what way are you to have been moved or edified, after having read it? Why didn’t they have fences in Carlinville back then? Fashion and finances. Why do they have them now? Fashion and finances. It is not a deep or profound observation to note that most people have no idea why they do what they’re doing, they just do what they think everyone else expects them to do. This is banal and obvious and therefore not interesting, but it is nevertheless absent from this wildly errant thrust at profound depth.

But wait! “Good fences make good neighbors!” We have now sunk to the level of the hack newspaper columnist, cribbing from Bartlett’s to sweat out another inane screed. But what’s interesting is that Frost puts the lie to everything Inman didn’t quite say: Walls and fences need not exclude. Instead they can establish the political, moral and psychological boundaries that make true social concourse possible. In the context of weblogging, the only people who complain about “censorship” on private property are the ones who intend to abuse the hospitality of their host. I’d write about that — except I already have.

There’s more, another issue I have written about in the past: The idea that hoarding wealth behind locks and walls is becoming increasingly irrelevant in the Age of Abundance. This is truly ironical with respect to Inman News, which is hoarded behind a pay-wall in relentless pursuit of a looming, irrepressible irrelevance.

What am I really talking about? I’m talking about developing the damned idea! In Carlinville did they take all the corn out of the silos because they thought worrying about insect infestation was anti-social? Are the dikes in the Low Countries evidence of a failure of character — or a failure of nerve? In two words: Good grief!

In this particular case, developing the idea demonstrates rather plainly that there is no idea, just an inexplicably explicated brain fart. Okayfine. Welcome to the legions of the 70 million. But we are no closer to understanding what makes a great weblog — or a great weblogger.

Content is king, yes? Kindasorta. Context is king, and you had better be a very good writer to stray too far, too often from your context. But where a weblogger like Joel Burslem holds me with context, with the careful selection of his content, Kris Berg simply grabs onto and holds my attention from start to end, no matter what she writes.

Even so, I don’t think great writing is enough by itself — although I do think great writing is an essential ingredient in a great weblog. But it has to be great writing about great ideas, well-developed — and seen from around a corner no one else has turned. Each sentence leads to the next. Each word conjures up a daub of paint in a mural crafted inside the reader’s mind.

And even then, there’s more. When I was 17 years old, a kid on my own in New York, I had a job as a stringer for the old Soho News, an alternative weekly, long since defunct. Once the editor complained to me that my prose read as if I were writing a letter to my sister. But exactly! Teri Lussier talks about a kitchen-table confidentiality and I say, “But exactly!” Do I believe Brad Inman was trying to find a way to move or edify me — or even just connect with me? Not for a minute.

It’s common to say that we should “write with the reader in mind,” but I think that’s wrong by precisely one word. A great weblogger will write with a reader in mind, a particular real person with whom we seek that visceral connection best achieved in intimate prose. Making a video — or a podcast, which I’ve done — about weblogging is comically stupid, but writing is the perfectly ironical human behavior: It is a social solitude. If you are not writing to make a connection with particular, real people, visible to you in every detail in the mind’s eye, then I think you are just putting marks on phosphors in reverse-chronological order.

There’s more, more, more, and perhaps the most important ingredient in the making of a great weblogger is the confidence and chutzpah necessary to take up the topic in the first place. The rock stars scream, “Look at me! Look at me!” But the right kind of writer can quietly insist that, “If you will lend me your mind, I will leave you moved, edified, amazed, amused, surprised, delighted, possibly improved, forevermore changed on my very best days.” While everyone else is putting up walls or tearing them down, never stopping to wonder why, a great weblogger will be building bridges — and then dancing on them…
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No static at all: Can Big Brother at the radio station foretell the future of the real estate industry?

[This is a multi-stop time-travel journey. I’m writing this text, here within these brackets, on June 28th, 2008. I’m reprising a BloodhoundBlog post from September 15th, 2006, that in its turn reprises a post from September 14th, 2004, which in its turn is unearthing a rant I wrote in 1996. It will all make sense if you let it. This is more birthday celebration — the subject is disintermediation — but I happened to think of this because we latched onto Radio Paradise, today, an amazingly excellent Triple-A internet radio station in Paradise, CA. All of this fits together, I promise, and the argument about media from 1996 is still right on point. One of the things that I, personally, love about BloodhoundBlog, is that our audience has always been so outrageously bright. It’s very liberating for me to be able to be my whole self at work. Never doubt my gratitude. –GSS]

No static at all: Can Big Brother at the radio station foretell the future of the real estate industry?

I got XM Radio two years ago to the day, yesterday. Two years from now, the whole deal may be done: Between the iPod, streaming internet radio and Wi-Max, the eternal footman may already be snickering for satellite radio. Sic transit gloria mundi — and orbits nearby.

That’s a disintermediation story by itself, and we’re about to nest ourselves two layers deeper in order to talk about massive, earth-shaking cases of media disintermediation. The argument made here parallels the one made earlier this week by Jim Cronin at The Real Estate Tomato: The exponential growth of bandwidth increases the power of individuals at the expense of elites.

But: I could just as easily argue the contrary: Feeding Dan Rather to the lions is exactly what a Roman Emperor would do to sustain his power while seeming to placate the mob.

That’s a larger question than I’m prepared to settle on a Friday night. Instead, we can think about the future of real estate while we revisit the history of radio. There’s quite a lot here that relates to weblogging, as well — which is no accident, inasmuch as blogging is a form of broadcasting. This is me writing two years ago, then, in turn, quoting from fiction I wrote in the summer of 1996.

“A showroom perfect scale model of Progressive radio for extremely rich middle-aged white people…”

I got XM Satellite Radio in my car yesterday. Cathy got it for me for my birthday, even though my birthday’s not for a couple of months. Some things are worth getting older for. Before I say anything, I want to say that I love it. I grew up on the radio, from my earliest memories to my teen years in darkrooms and, later, long nights working alone in newspaper offices and ad agencies and type shops, all the way up to now, working alone from home and spending hours a day in the car. I’ve always loved the radio, and that’s not an easy thing to do, considering that it’s mostly pretty detestable.

I could say that it’s the music that I love, or wanted desperately to love, but that’s only half true. I came of age at a time when radio at its best was an art form, not just music but a careful selection of music, not just interstitial chatter, but a real conversation between the DJ and the audience, a real connection, as intimate as a phone call, as sweet as a stolen kiss.

I missed the music. Commercial radio, in Phoenix at least, is completely playlist-driven, and only the stupidest, most obvious, most banal, most detestable music makes the playlist. We managed to cure that with MP3s culled from our CDs. I made a do-it-yourself radio station we call WHFO (When Hell Freezes Over, after The Eagles) that plays at random in Apple’s iTunes software. It can surprise and even delight, but it can’t amuse or shock or inspire, because there is no art to it, no selection.

So I miss the DJs of my youth for that reason, but I also miss the personalities of personality radio. Most DJs on the radio now are stone idiots with nothing at all to say. It’s painful when they don’t speak and excruciating when they do.

XM solves half my problem. The music is spectacular, an amazingly broad spectrum. I’m not sure it’s terribly thematic in the way it’s knitted together, but it is so refreshing to hear this much variety that I’m willing to live with a more viscous grade of art.

But there is no personality, not that I’ve heard. The DJs get very few opportunities to talk, and, when they do, they sound entirely too much like public radio — not connected on all circuits to the real world.

But, even so, the music is fantastic. Today for the first time in many years I heard the full medley of “Falling In And Out Of Love/Amie.” In digital stereo the harmonies were breathtaking.

I want for there to be personalities behind this music, but before that I want for there to be this music. I’ve missed it, horribly. Whatever I may have on CD, it can’t surprise me or delight me — much less amuse or shock or inspire me — if I’m selecting for myself. The radio at its very best can be a conversation, or even a stolen kiss, where the CD player can never be more than a monologue, me talking to myself.

It happens that I wrote all around this a few years ago. The headline above, a nice rendering of my favorite spots on XM, is taken from a book I started but never finished about a Progressive DJ who had seen the moment of his greatness flicker. A relevant chunk of that book is extracted below. The book is written in the form of transcripts of radio shows, extended rants. It’s fiction in the sense that the narrator is a made-up person, but the arguments about media — as up-to-the minute as Rathergate — are based in fact.

From “Talk Show”




Radio exists to sell stuff, but I exist for my own good reasons. I’ve had a less than stellar career in “the business” because I’ve never been willing to stuff my own good reasons in my back pocket, to keep my hands free for somebody else’s agenda. This actually works out to be a pretty good way to hold an audience, and a pretty bad way to hold a job.

Everyone in “the business” gets fired all the time, and I’m not going to go into the many ways I’ve found of getting myself fired over the years. They all boil down to the same thing, anyway: I was more interested in saying what I had to say than what the boss was paying me to say. It didn’t matter that I got better ratings my way. I’m sure you’ve discovered this at your job, too — there is a place in every boss’s mind where he comes to care more about his power and authority than he does about results. It works out that my special talent in this life is finding that place. [CHUCKLES]

Plus I had the disadvantage of coming into “the business” while there were still a few remnants of Progressive radio around. Radio formats are uniformly named with the most vague possible terms, and “Progressive” has got to be the absolute worst. What Progressive radio was, in the earliest days, was a ghetto of the mind that happened to take over the neighborhood.

It’s like this: There were these big powerhouse Rock ‘n’ Roll AM stations in New York and Chicago and L.A., and they were selling zit cream faster than the teenyboppers could sprout zits. And the FCC opened up this brand new spectrum called FM — [SINGS] “no static at all”. And the AM stations wanted to hold a slice of that spectrum, just in case, and they wanted to hold spots for air personalities who maybe liked a drink or two — or a toke or two, or a hit or two — a little more than they should.

And bingo! Out of the trash heap of AM radio, something new was born. Management didn’t give a damn what went out over the FM waves. It was still basically experimental in their eyes, and in the eyes of the FCC. They parked truly talented people who may have had a problem, and whom they hoped would get better. They gave them facilities and air time that was, at first at least, largely commercial free, just because the sales department wasn’t interested in selling low-rent time. They encumbered them with no supervision, just let ’em run wild.

And they ran wild. The ghettoized air personalities were some of the most talented radio people in the nation, and they played what they wanted to play, and they said what they wanted to say, and a brand new form of radio was born despite the negligence of management. That was Progressive radio, and by now we tend to think of it as slow-talking, stoned-out DJs saying insipid things between Jefferson Airplane records. It wasn’t like that at all…

First, Progressive radio is the progenitor of modern talk radio. Lush Rimshot and Heaping Scorn — am I getting those names right? — like to take credit for that. The radio historians want to talk about Joe Pyne and Long John Nebul. None of that is true. It was Progressive radio that first released people who had something to say on a mass audience. Progressive DJs gave us the first real personality radio, a radio where the DJ unleashed his own true, real self — no script, no “costume”, no playlist — and just churned. Play the same record fifty times in a row? Done. Churn the audience with a two hour monologue? Done. Nobody cared, not at first, and so Progressive radio gave us new ideas about radio just because there was no idiot boss standing in the way.

Second, Progressive radio gave us the incredible variety we used to hear in Rock ‘n’ Roll and never hear in any other genre. In 1965 or ’66 or ’67, a Beatles album was your absolute best entertainment value. The reason was that the Beatles were still locked into the historical idea that a pop album was nothing more than a collection of discrete singles. All of the early Beatles albums consist of nothing but singles, and virtually all of them were hit singles.

The poor Rolling Stones were in a smaller boat, alas. For good or ill, they didn’t have songwriters to match John Lennon and Paul McCartney, and they had nothing like the same chart success. In consequence, in order to match the Beatles album for album, the Stones had to release a lot of material on albums that they would never have thought to release as singles. Bluesy romps and country honks and screaming rants and nihilist chants — the Stones did their singles business in the studio, two tunes or three tunes, then cut loose and had fun.

Is any of this sounding familiar?

Enter Progressive radio. The DJs had no desire to play pop hits, and if station management had any instructions for them at all, it was a demand that the FM stations not pirate the teenyboppers from the zit-creamed AM signal. And there were the Stones singing, “Melody. It was her second name.”


That was the sound of Progressive radio. What does it mean? Who knows. But, man!, does it groove!

There was all of this stuff — ’67, ’68, ’69 — all of these freaky people taking all these weird chances, and no one knew how to tell them to stop. It started out that no one cared. No one at the record company cared what the Stones put on their albums; the singles were all that mattered and the albums were just there to take up shelf space so the Beatles wouldn’t get it all. No one cared what the DJs played in the FM ghetto of the mind; the listeners and advertisers were all on AM.

And then, very suddenly, a lot of people did care. Because all of a sudden the money men realized that there was a lot of money being made on what they had thought was marginal product. Album acts like the Doors or the Lovin’ Spoonful were scoring AM hits. And the FM share of the audience in every city was growing hugely. Not just a cleaner signal, a cleaner philosophy.

The teenyboppers had outgrown the zit cream and — to be brutally frank — they needed a music to get laid by. Just so there’s no misunderstanding, please accept it that the purpose of every form of pop music — except rap — is getting laid. I know that we’re supposed to resist that notion, since it encourages the idiot Christians, but it’s true nevertheless.

Anyway, the kids had grown up and they grew into this sound that Progressive radio had become and suddenly there a way to sell beer and concert tickets, at least, a way that no other medium could approach.

And meanwhile, over on Tin Pan Alley, all the hack songwriters were scratching their heads. Who is this Joni Mitchell? Who is this Jim Morrison? For god’s sake, who the hell is Bob Dylan? These people can’t write songs! Not those good old fashioned Tin Pan Alley songs! Hell, they can’t even sing!

And all that was true. For the most part, the songwriting of the singer-songwriters was structurally inferior to a professionally-written song. But the one was real and authentic and painfully raw and the other was as polished and as phony as a wedding cake.

In the good old days, the A&R man from the record label was king. He would pick the act, pick the producer, pick the song, pick the packaging and the promo and the personal appearances. Most important, he would set the amount of the bribes to be paid to radio station managers and DJs to get the airplay he needed to hit the sales figures he projected. It was all very predictable, and, while Rock ‘n’ Roll had been upsetting that predictability at least since Elvis and Buddy Holly, the A&R men had successfully maintained their little fiefdoms.

Until Progressive radio. By giving airplay to the album cuts — and to the backlist of the labels, the acts who had no singles — Progressive radio took away the power of the A&R men. Not to give it to the DJs; Progressive radio was too anarchic for any sort of power base. They gave the power to the listeners, ultimately, fragmenting the listener base in such a way that no central authority could control — or even understand — what was going on.

That was the end of everything, of course. First, when Progressive FM started to make serious money, station management took things firmly in hand and destroyed that beautiful anarchy with the same bland order you find everywhere else on the radio dial. Playlists and logs and canned, syndicated pabulum and radio personalities who were remarkably devoid of any sort of personality.

And second, the fragmentation of the listener base caused a fragmentation of formats. Steppenwolf and James Gang and Black Sabbath were playing a hard and heavy kind of Rock when Led Zeppelin ripped off a weird Bob Dylan chord progression and created Heavy Metal. The folkies and flower power types noodled around with a soft whimsical sound perfectly suited to long-haired women and the men who wanted to peel off their jeans. This eventually became Lite Rock, the radio home of Winnie the Pooh. The Stones parodied country and Bob Dylan flirted with country and some city boys in Los Angeles discovered that Merle Haggard knew a little something about Woody Guthrie that Dylan hadn’t found, and out of all that plus a wry post-modern cynicism came Country Rock, itself later ripped of entirely to become New Country. Plus all those oldies formats, fifties, sixties, Classic Rock — which means seventies — and now, god help us, regurgitated eighties crap.

Disco was a counter-reaction against the splintering of the mass pop audience. Rap ‘n’ Soul is an attempt to hold the herd together. New Country is a refuge for Rock fans who can’t relate to dance beats and refuse to retreat to oldies. I used to work Triple-A — Adult Album Alternative. Very vague. Adult means no teeny-bopper stuff. Album means no singles. Alternative means no A&R men — just a stinking program director, which is worse. What Triple-A really means is a fairly deep playlist of fairly contemporary music that’s not too Lite, not too Folky, not too Heavy, not too Country and black in only the most fetchingly Steppin’ Fetchit of ways. In other words, it’s a showroom perfect scale model of Progressive radio for extremely rich middle-aged white people.

I mean extremely rich. The Triple-A demographic is a median household income of seventy thousand dollars a year. Median — half below, half above. Any other radio format would sell an audience like that financial instruments and vanity cars. But the Triple-A listener doesn’t want to be reminded that he’s rich. He’ll put his money in an ethical mutual fund and drive a huge Swedish luxury car. But at least once a day his favorite radio station is going to play Don Henley singing, “Out on the road today, I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac,” and he does not want to be reminded that it is he who betrayed the sixties, man.

So, ironically, Triple-A is the ritziest format on the radio, ritzier even — and much bigger — than Classical, but it can’t make money.

And all of these splinter formats are tacit admissions that Rock ‘n’ Roll is dead. Progressive radio didn’t kill Rock; it was just the impetus. FM killed Rock, the explosion of useful bandwidth. AM is a piss-poor signal. Crackly, staticky, and it can’t punch through anything or penetrate very far. All of the Rock powerhouse stations were clear stations, super-high-power stations in big cities broadcasting on frequencies that were cleared of near neighbors by the Feds. A clear station could be heard for hundreds of miles, and that was the point.

Clear stations are the radio analog to TV networks or big-city newspapers or the picture magazines like “Life” and “Look” — low-tech answers to the problem of advertising. But advertisers want to spend the smallest dollar for the biggest return, and technologists want to do what people are willing to pay to have done. Advertisers were willing to pay for a higher-fidelity radio signal that delivered a more tightly-focused audience — and we got FM. Advertisers were willing to pay for television technology that delivered a highly-motivated, monied prospect — and we got cable TV. Advertisers were willing to pay for new printing and distribution systems and we got suburban daily newspapers and extremely narrow-interest magazines.

This has been going on for a long time. The old style of variety TV show was a perfect expression of the old way of doing things. It was a modernized replica of a Vaudeville show, itself an answer to the problem posed by groups of entertainment seekers. How do we entertain mom and dad and the whole brood of kiddies, all in one show? Something for everyone, one size fits all.

That makes sense if you have only one theater or only one TV, or if the technology base of the broadcaster is such that bandwidth is at a premium. But where bandwidth is essentially unlimited, there is no limit on what can be produced, and there is no reason for the consumer — the listener, the viewer, the reader — to permit producers to limit choices. Advertisers want carefully sliced, highly-motivated buyers. Consumers want carefully sliced, tightly-focused product. And the damned Vaudevillians still don’t understand why their theaters are empty.

Clear stations and TV networks and major magazines and the big Hollywood movies studios all gave America a common context, and the name of that context was “pop”. Pop is what’s popular, and what’s popular is what makes the cash registers ring for advertisers in major media. Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller found a way to make a syncopated slave’s music pop. Maybelle Carter took the music of the hills of Virginia and Kentucky and made it pop. A chubby truck driver named Elvis Presley upped the tempo and the volume on a parody of minstrel music and made it pop. A scrawny jewboy named Bob Dylan took Presley’s implicit post-modernism, made it explicit, and by himself created Rock.

This is important. Those who don’t completely damn Dylan insist that his importance ended when he stopped playing acoustic folk ballads. This is untrue. His importance to Rock began when he bounced onto the stage at the Newport Folk Festival with a Stratocaster around his neck. The music he made in 1965 and 1966, much of it with The Band, is the genesis of Rock. Not Rockabilly. Not Surfer Music. Not British Blues from the Stones and the Animals or Electric Skiffle from the Beatles and the Dave Clark Five. The immense blast of sound he delivered with The Band in 1966 is the birthing agony of Rock as a brand new genre of music.

Anyway, pop is a consequence of mass media, of broadcast media. With the explosion of bandwidth that’s been going on since the sixties, we’ve seen the birth of narrowcasting, the production of information and entertainment for very narrow audiences. Obviously, this has destroyed pop. There are those who lament it, the loss of the shared experience that was so common three decades ago. Of course, if we know of those doing the lamenting, it’s because we’re catching their acts on narrowcasting outlets — talk radio, public affairs TV, opinion magazines.

In many ways the narrowcasters still don’t get it, and they still think they have to provide a Vaudevillian’s variety to hold an audience. Just the opposite is true, of course. I don’t want a stereo review in my bicycling magazine, and I surely don’t want a news or sports program on my entertainment TV channel. Progressive radio finally gave the listener at least one choice besides zit cream for hyper-pituitary teens. Narrowcasting gives the consumer ultimate choice over everything. Station management, you will do as we tell you. A&R man, you will do as we tell you. Advertiser, you will do as we tell you. The power of the broadcasters, the power of the Sixth Avenue corporate suite, the power of the men in gray flannel suits — that power ended with the invention of the universal remote control.

Isn’t this cool? And the Internet will ultimately give each and every one of us infinite bandwidth. Somewhere Back East, a fat, bald-headed man just wet the bed…

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Just wanted to drop this off….

One of the newer agents in our office, Judy Stockton stopped me in the hallway the other day. New is probably a misnomer…she is a savvy veteran REALTOR, just new to our 120. She always seems to have a pleasant smile and an upbeat demeanor, even when things are not easy.

This day her smile seemed especially intense…and I figured it was safe to ask her how things were going. “Great.” she said.

“You are carrying a contract, looks like things are good…” I mused.
“Yep. Actually we just got the inspection report and what the buyers want done and I just dropped it off to the sellers. ”

She then went on to explain her strategy for dealing with difficult inspection reports, low offers, and other such downers that agents often have to deal with. I was impressed enough with her strategy that I want to pass it along.

When she has particularly bad news for a client that could be a deal bender or maybe even breaker, she calls the client and explains that she is on the way to ( insert IMPORTANT MUST DO THING HERE) but just got the inspection report and wanted to drop this off first thing.

Then she explains that she will not EVEN have time to talk about it, but will return in two hours or so right after (insert IMPORTANT MUST DO THING HERE) and then she will be happy to go over the details and ANY questions that they have.

Her words: “The first couple of hours, they get the anger out and the frustration. If I was there, it would be VERY difficult to not get emotionally involved. This way, I come back when they have thought it through a bit and I am not the focal point of their feelings and we can all see it more clearly.”

Why was she smiling? Because (an hour after dropping off the inspection and heading out to do her “task”) her client had just left her a voice mail and said,”I know you were going to come back in a couple of hours, but this thing REALLY has me emotional…I mean I am TICKED…would you be OK with coming over in the morning instead…I may have cooled off by then and we can think through what to do..”

I know this isn’t TECHNOLOGY, MARKETING, SEO or other such, but I just wanted to drop this off…what I thought was a great strategy to deal with some of the tough situations that we find ourselves in these days…


How Do You Take Your Blog From a Sloppy Joe to a Decadent and Delightful Dish?

Before I get started, I just want to take a second and say Hi to everyone!  I am honored to be part of this amazing group and I chomping at the bits to get off of Puppy Chow.

PBII Could not have been at a better time.  I have been frustrated with my Blog for quite a while and just a few days before it was announced I had decided that to make the jump over to a site. It is currenlty on Quickblog through GoDaddy and the theme for that is definitely NOT like Burger King.  If it’s not the template, it ain’t happenin’. Where as on WP, it’s more like your way, right away.

Turning Houston Green is the site that I am referring to and the content focuses on Green Residential Real Estate for what’s happening in the Houston area.  It is quite unique in that for such a specific niche, there really is nothing else out there unless you hop through several pages of Google.  I have started to notice recently that although it is getting decent traffic, folks are not even making to the page they need to be on.

Apparently what I have is a Sloppy Joe with a side of French Fries.

Although I’m seeing a sitemap in the near future to help, the question I would like to pose is what is the most important thing to keep in mind when organizing the site?  Should you focus solely on Categories and Tags, or with WP should it be pages?  What makes it clean and crisp?

Now that I have my theme up, my biggest task now is making it in to a Delightful dish that will keep consumers coming back for more.  In my case I believe it is in the design, like an unorganized file.  You can be number one on every search engine imaginable but a ‘User Un-Friendly‘ site will just push folks away.  Many would rather have the convenience of McDonald’s than to have a 30 minute wait for Fine Dining. As far as the ease of use for my readers I’m aiming for the convenience of fast food, yet the taste of a Fine Wine.

And, looks like I get to figure out how to do pictures here too.  🙂


In the battle of the baseball cards, the biggest shoe-box wins — but Realtors who master the art of marketing homes will be fine

[This post appeared on BloodhoundBlog on June 30, 2006, our second day. I’m reprising it now as a part of our birthday celebration. It’s fun for me to see how much of what I talk about here was with us on our very first days. –GSS]

Cathleen and I live pretty much continuously in a fairly intense business conference. We’re both paying very close attention to everything, and we are in nearly-constant contact. On the ground, we’re aware of what we like in the work product of our competitors, what we don’t like, what we think might be worth improving upon and what we know from rigorous testing is a complete waste of time and money. We pay even closer attention to the, because that’s where our own bread is buttered, and because the internet will someday be the entire bakery. We’re about to skip away to Las Vegas to celebrate our wedding anniversary, but we’re taking three books on marketing — not real estate marketing, just marketing — with us.

That brings me to this, an argument that representation of sellers trumps home marketing. I don’t absolutely hate the premise. I have made a similar argument myself. What’s interesting to me — fascinating to me, a full-time obsession for me — is the idea that real estate marketing is somehow imperiled by internet-based disintermediation.

First, what is being done on the internet, so far at least, is not marketing. It’s listing, at best, the compilation of baseball-card-like stats, and if Realtors conflate the two, it’s because they have never understood marketing to begin with. “The houses sell themselves,” we say to ourselves, and there is a truth to this. If you take buyers where they want to be, they’ll pay to stay there. In crucial respects, buyer representation is the easiest sale in the history of sales. In other respects, it’s impossibly hard, of course, which is why the failure rate among Realtors is so high. But, unlike virtually every other type of sales, you do not have to convince the client to want your product before you can attempt to sell it. Arguably, internet-based business models can help buyers pre-screen properties they might be interested in. From there — if the buyers are experienced, well-qualified and game to hold their own hands — the actual process of transferring title can be managed by a title company. In general, buyers want a lot more service than this, which is why Realtors working with buyers can breathe easily, at least for now, so long as the sellers are willing to pay sales commissions.

But second, most of what has been done by Realtors representing sellers is not marketing, either. It’s listing, at best, the compilation of baseball-card-like stats. Realtors conflate the two because they have never understood marketing to begin with. We each of us have our shortcomings, but a shortcoming that is epidemic in the National Association of Realtors, one which puts it at huge risk of internet disintermediation, is the inability or unwillingness to understand real estate as a business. The nature of the real estate licensing laws yields a population of real estate “professionals” who are diligent, hard-working amateurs at absolutely everything. This is not entirely awful. It’s a Jack-of-all-trades job, and an experienced Realtor brings a vast if fairly shallow pool of expertise to the transaction. But if the battle of the future is who can list disconnected features most rigorously — who can compile the most baseball cards — the file servers win hands-down.

That’s why Realtors want to — and should — talk about things file servers cannot do. But the most important thing a professional Realtor with a living mind can do, and a file server can never do, is market homes. The goal is not to clear the market. Anyone can do that by reducing the price until someone shouts, “Sold!” The goal is to sell the home in the optimum time-frame for the highest attainable price.

Doing that requires that a living mind have actual, first-hand experience of the home. This no file server can ever do, so the disintermediaries are bested on the ground. But this is not sufficient. If the Realtor is going to do no more than that which can be done on a remote file server — sloppily and haphazardly — the seller might as well go with the file server. The typical lock-box-and-a-prayer kind of MLS listing might work marginally better for now, but in the long run it won’t matter, particularly if aggregators are permitted to combine MLS listings with listings from other sources. In the battle of the baseball cards, the biggest shoe-box wins.

The point is this: If marketing a home is no more than compiling a baseball card, a table of stats to which the buyer must bring every bit of meaning, then the game is already lost. Representation can easily be uncoupled from the transaction — for example by fee-for-service billing, hourly billing or simply by taking the whole pile of paperwork to a title company or an attorney. But if marketing is more than this — and who with eyes can doubt that this is so? — then it is a skill that Realtors must master if they hope to survive.

Makes me smile. The Realtors we compete against sell features — baseball cards. The RealtyBots — small and pitiful for now, but inherently scalable — sell features. Anyone smart enough to sell the benefits of those features can beat them all, house by house. And if you can take it to the next level, to sell the story of the lives to be lived in that home, you can write your own ticket, at least with high-end properties. Representation of sellers matters — quite a bit more than is acknowledged. Expertise matters. Professionalism and follow-through matter a great deal. But what matters more than anything else is marketing. Realtors who master the art of marketing homes will be fine.


Shout out a toast to life abundant — and caption this photo

Sez me: “Bill Gates stole this facial expression from me and I want it back!”


You probably won’t sell your home for an above-market price, but even if you do, the home still has to appraise for that price

This is my column for this week from the Arizona Republic (permanent link).

You probably won’t sell your home for an above-market price, but even if you do, the home still has to appraise for that price

So your house is finally under contract. Congratulations. It took longer than you thought it would to sell, and you had to go through three price reductions before you got regular showings. But now you’re under contract and in escrow. You’ve made it through the inspections and you’ve taken care of all of the repairs. Nothing but smooth sailing from here, right?

Not quite.

Here comes some bad news you hadn’t anticipated: Your house didn’t appraise.

A lender will only lend on the appraised value or the purchase price — whichever is lower. If the appraisal comes in lower than the purchase price, something has to give.

If there’s an appraisal contingency in the contract — and there almost always is — the buyers can cancel the contract unilaterally.

More likely, they’re going to want you to lower your price instead.

If you don’t, you’re almost certainly killing that contract. The lender will not underwrite the loan, so the buyers will be forced to cancel using the financing contingency.

You could end up waiting quite a while longer for another buyer. And that buyer could offer you quite a bit less for your home. And even then, your house will still have to appraise for the purchase price. If home values continue to decline, you could live through this same nightmare a second time.

So does that mean you should cave on the appraisal no matter what? Not necessarily — depending on your objectives. If you need to move now, take your punishment and move on. But if you can afford to wait long enough for the market to recover, that might be the better option.

Appraisers and loan underwriters are skittish right now. Lenders are taking back homes and selling them for fifty cents on the dollar. Appraisers are being fastidious to make sure they are not overestimating values.

And all of this is just another reason to price your home to the market. You probably won’t find a buyer willing to pay an above-market price. But even if you do, the home still has to appraise for that price.

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Greg, I would have written an email but I wanted to publicly address all of Bloodhound and it’s followers. I appreciate the opportunity given to me to be a part of such a powerful and dynamic group, but I must move along and pay more attention to my work and my own blog. I haven’t got the stamina to keep up with the number of blogs I post on, so I don’t want to just hang on the side pictures and not contribute.

This has been a great experience and you have some great contributors coming on board. I thank you and will always be a loyal fan.







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