There’s always something to howl about

Archive for January, 2012

How to solve the video multiplexing problem you didn’t know you had.

I love this news story, an exposition of the Supreme Court exposing its irrelevance:

In an entertaining hour-long episode, Supreme Court justices on Tuesday considered the government’s power to regulate expletives and nudity on the airwaves.

Why is this amusing to me? Because along with many other twentieth-century electromagnetic phenomena, broadcast television is dead.

Every word in that claim is important. “Television” — meaning audio/visual content primarily intended to entertain — is still with us, although it is likely to merge with other forms of on-line content.

But “broadcast television” — TV transmitted over the airwaves, one sender, many recipients — is a dead-letter today, and it will be progressively less important — and progressively less profitable — with every passing year.

The reason is simple: The future of entertainment is iPad-style video:

The iPad is the ultimate perfect television. On-demand. Stop and start at will. Goes with you when mom says you have to go to soccer practice. The iPad is the perfect entertainment-consumption device: Personal, portable, programmable — and infinitely extensible.

You may watch this video content on a device as small as your phone or your wrist-watch or on one as big as your living room wall, but this is the future of video in your life.

Broadcast — one-size-fits-all, limited-choices, isolated in a frozen time-schedule, can’t stop it, can’t rewind it, no easy way to research or cross-reference it, stuck on one very stupid device, hag-ridden with commercials — all of that is dead. It was a kludgey business model when it was the best we could do. By now, it’s a dinosaur — so we should expect it to endure a loud but inescapable death.

Note, too, that your cable company’s very-stupid on-demand service is also headed for the morgue, as are slightly better on-demand services like Netflix. The future of entertainment video is your friendly neighborhood search engine — augmented by the kinds of software services I have been describing lately.

The reality of your life is that you are going to watch what you want, when you want, on whatever device you choose — and you are going to have many more devices to choose from.

The owners of high-end homes already possess ten or more HD-TVs, sometimes including two or more on the patio, so dad can watch the Sunday football games while he’s barbecuing. If you take a count of the devices in your home capable of displaying high-definition video, you may find that you are already in double-digits as well. We’re at eight HD screens so far — and we’re broke! This is how I know that you already have a multiplexing problem, even though you may not have realized this until just now.

Multiplexing in this context simply means shipping the video you are receiving to the device you want to receive it on. That’s not a terrible problem on your iPhone or iPad. Just search and hit the “Play” button. But what if you want to play a DVD from the living room instead of the family room? What if you and your beloved spouse want to sample the savory delights of internet pornography on the TV in the master bedroom? What if you’re having a Super Bowl party, and you want to watch the game on every HD screen in your house?

You have a large and growing number of HD-capable video screens in your home. You have a large and growing number of sources of high-definition video content. Your problem is simply this: You should be able to watch any of that content from any one of your devices — or all of them at the same time — at will.

How can we make that happen?

I’m in the process of describing a brand new user-operating paradigm for electronic devices. This is undoubtedly stupid on my part, since no one is listening to me. But I can see how well things could work together, if they were designed for the end-user’s benefit — designed, that is, to achieve the actual, mission-critical objectives of the end-user. Some of the things I am talking about will happen — slowly and inanely, I fear. Many of them will not. At a minimum, though, if you are following along at home, you will have a clear idea of what you are missing out on — how much better the tools and toys you use every day could be.

So let’s go back to the essay I cited above:

I hate the remote controls for electronic devices, and one thing we should insist on, going forward, is that every wired device in our lives should be IP-addressable and fully-controllable by internet connection.

I wrote that two years ago, and we are almost no closer to that goal today than we were then. Some TVs have internet connectivity by now, but usually only as kludgey little apps for services like Hulu or Netflix. The full-blown Apple TV does not exist yet, and I expect to be disappointed with it when it finally ships. GoogleTV is dead, and I don’t know of any Android-powered televisions (as against set-top boxes) out there yet, either.

And as for the rest of the electrical stuff in your house, almost none of it is net-enabled, although it easily could be. I want for everything you own with on-board electronics to be net.accessible, with data flowing inbound and outbound, but that’s a topic for another essay. By now, I don’t even want a big-screen TV that behaves like a wall-sized iPad. We’re likely to see devices like that this year, but I want a whole lot more than that.

What we’re really talking about — your newly-discovered video multiplexing problem — is a home-based media server that receives all of your inbound video signals and distributes them where you want them to go. Because all of your HD screens are internet addressable — or they should be — the server can feed the content you want where you want it to go.

The DVD player (and its library console) are no longer in the living room. Those pieces of hardware are now in the utility closet, with the media server, and you can watch any DVD you want from any screen in the house — or from all of them if you want.

Any net.accessible content, including all that juicy porn that the FCC has forevermore forbidden you from watching on your own private property, is now accessible from any HD device you own — with no goofy, kludgey “apps” to limit your choices.

And echoing any content you want to more than one screen will be duck soup — with the audio emerging only from that high-end home theater sound system in the family room, if you want.

This will happen, much sooner than you think: Your family room or game room will will be home to two or more HD-TVs — maybe several mounted high in the corners of the room, sports-bar style, or perhaps one huge screen with two or three smaller ones beside it, like the super-rich villains of twentieth-century spy thrillers. I can easily envision the whole family watching the latest Michael Bay blockbuster on the big screen, with the audio thundering through the sub-woofers. Meanwhile, dad might be watching the Lakers game with the audio silenced on one of the small sets while Mom surfs her Facebook feed on the other.

That much is all doable right now, with available technology. The HD screens just need to be addressable by the media server — by wi-fi, by wired ethernet or by HDMI cables. The media server itself is new hardware, but it’s dread simple to build: It needs lots of ways of receiving non-internet video — that is, cable connections for DVD players, set-top boxes and game consoles. And it needs lots of ways of delivering outbound content, which, for now, may mean a mare’s nest of HDMI cables, alas. For software, it needs to be able to deliver its own content browser — for locally-stored media and locally-controlled devices — along with a web browser for net.based content. The user interface is your smart-phone or your iPad.

That’s all. This is not a big deal to build, nor is it terribly expensive. Since we’re going to all this trouble, the media server might as well store your entire music library, along with any video you currently have stored on your hard disks. If your audio devices were IP-addressable, the server could give you user-controllable stereo in every room of your house, as well.

The brand new user-operating paradigm I am writing about — or at least writing around — can go this one better. If you imagine that every device on the internet is not simply a data client or a data server but is, in important respects, both, and if all of those devices are reporting their mission-critical data back to a universal user-profile, like Constance the Connector, then any sonar-equipped device could determine and report with pinpoint accuracy precisely where it is in space at any given time.

Now imagine the kind of ubiquitous video acquisition I have proposed. With that kind of information, you could have a New Year’s Eve party in which the media server could establish a virtual center-of-Times-Square in the middle of your home. With that parameter, the server could show you the unique view of Time Square that you would see if the particular screen you are looking at were a window on that scene. As you turn in the room, you would see a live panorama of Time Square in real time.

Would you rather do New Year’s Eve in Vegas instead? Just change the channel. Or dispense with night altogether and turn the high-def screens in your home into a virtual beach in sunny California. The limits you erect in your mind are mental fictions. This much of what I am describing is fantasy, in the sense that it does not exist — yet. But there is nothing in this essay that requires new theory — just money and engineering.

But sufficient unto today are the problems of today: You have a terrible video multiplexing problem already. But now you know how to fix it.

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iPad observation #2: Find a bigger dead-pool: The iPad eats everything.

Kicking this back to the top. This is me, writing just after the introduction of the iPad — two very short years ago. At the time I wrote these essays, every so-called “expert” on the nets was insisting that the iPad was an unforced error. I was right, they were wrong. But I’ve been right about a lot more than I’ve seen in the marketplace so far. Note this, for example: “I hate the remote controls for electronic devices, and one thing we should insist on, going forward, is that every wired device in our lives should be IP-addressable and fully-controllable by internet connection.” It’s interesting to revisit these ideas now, to see where we’ve gotten — and to see how far we still have to come. –GSS


Real life at my house: We actually like to watch television, if watching TV means watching DVDs (lately almost entirely Netflix DVDs) or watching selected cable shows. This usually happens very late in the evening, usually when we’re pretty much exhausted.

But: TV at home used to be TV with laptops. Now it’s TV with iPhone. In six months, it will be TV with iPads — or just iPads on the sofa.

Take careful note:

Broadcast television is dead, as is broadcast radio. Let’s free up the bandwidth now. The iPad is the ultimate perfect television. On-demand. Stop and start at will. Goes with you when mom says you have to go to soccer practice. The iPad is the perfect entertainment-consumption device: Personal, portable, programmable — and infinitely extensible.

As was inferable from my first observation in this series of posts, the annual Christmastime frenzy of cheap-shit electronic children’s “educational” toys is dead. Anything that anyone in your home does while laying stomach-down on the carpet will be done on the iPad.

As I pointed out the other day, Microsoft, Amazon and many, many other hi-tech vendors are dead. (I have a quality/integrity argument to make about this, as well, but I haven’t gotten to it yet.)

Despite the iBook store, books are dead. I love literature and I love the drama, but you don’t have to spend seventy-five bucks a head to discover that the audience for live theater is dying. Books have it that much worse: The honest audience is dying off and the dishonest audience — thoughtless people who buy way too many non-fiction books out of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt — are able to capture much better information for free on the internet. Words-for-sale is as meaningful, by now, as air-for-sale.

And despite the hopes and the hype, magazines-as-we-know-them are dead. There is a future for magazine-like content, but it will probably require a revolution among publishers. The current doofuses think their job is to assemble a collection of readers — people with a shared interest in expensive stuff — so that the publisher can betray them, over and over again, to the advertisers.

The new magazine business model — I’m guessing — is being pioneered by unsigned rock bands. To get attention and build an audience, bands are releasing their content as iPhone apps. It’s give-to-get, and with Facebook and Twitter hooks, it’s social. The magazine of the future will be a real community — no betrayals — much like the relationship between striving young bands and their fans.

(This goes for every kind of marketer — including Realtors and lenders: If you’re making friends just so you can sell them out, you’re screwed.)

(I have Big Ideas on the marketing power of iPhone/iPad apps, but I may keep them to myself.)

I tweeted this last night: “If Apple and the data processing industry get this right, the iPad can become the first truly universal remote control device.” I hate the remote controls for electronic devices, and one thing we should insist on, going forward, is that every wired device in our lives should be IP-addressable and fully-controllable by internet connection. But the iPad is the perfect device for controlling any device or system — anywhere! — that can be driven through an internet connection. Let us all look forward to the day when we can chuck every useless, impenetrable remote control in our homes, at work, everywhere!

(On the subject: A useful remote control — useful for any purpose — will be context-sensitive. Instead of a sea of maddening little buttons, each one unreadably-labelled, you will have only those controls — big bright readable virtual buttons — that are appropriate to your current context. If you’re playing a DVD, you don’t need to worry about, wonder about or accidentally hit the buttons that switch you over to the cable-TV set-top box. (And death to it, too, as soon as possible!))

(One of the missed opportunities of the iPhone was the web-based, server-side service. Apps are really clients, like your mail client, and the app serves as as the client/server user interface. This makes for good static vertical market tools, but what we know from the web is that dynamic data is hugely valuable. The bigger screen on the iPad may result in more web-based services that look like apps to end-users. This gets the iWorld back to the constant-beta idea of Web 2.0: Web-based services are infinitely and instantly upgradeable. Combine that with social effects, and you can have sites that self-construct, on the fly, in response to user interaction.)

(And: So far we are not even taking into account the impact of simulated realties, which are right around the software corner, as it were.)

What else is dead? A lot of stuff. Dedicated devices as a group. Your daily schlep is down to a phone — doesn’t even have to be a smartphone — and your iPad. The iPad has the potential to become the universal interface to everything else, so why carry anything else?

What else? Home control. All those wicked-stupid little red LEDs, useful only — admit the truth — for telling you when your power has failed.

Here’s something you may not have thought of: Your wallet may be dead. Do you carry photos any longer? There’s is an app available that will mimic all of your frequent-shopper cards. Why not your credit cards, too? Why not your car keys, for goodness sake?

That stuff might be a few hardware/software revisions out, but consider this: Your sales resistance to the iPad will drop to zero. Wait for Version 2? Why? Let’s just buy a new iPad every year. If we get tired of the old ones, we can leave them in the guest bedrooms. That’s the completely-personal computer completely taking the place of the television, at the very least.

This is an idea I have discussed at BloodhoundBlog Unchained: The geeks have inherited the earth. From pay-per-click advertising to social media to the ability to suss out any marketing hustle, the world is being transformed into a place that makes sense to INTJs.

Here’s the social trend to watch: Will the proportion of INTJs go up over time?

Meanwhile, integrity selling is all that’s left. Hoke, smoke-and-mirrors, juice, jive, hype and hustle are all dead. The dinosaurs of lies will still be with us for a little while, but their extinction is already assured. If you find yourself mourning them, it’s because you’re one of them. Amend your ways or you will lose everything.

I’ll have more to say about this, but the essence of my case is this: What happened this week was the premonitory death rattle of every business model based on laziness and lies. The iPad is not the efficient cause, it’s just a precipitant. But the demise of every-sure-fire-gimmick-that-always-worked-before commenced this week.

Don’t know about you, but I could not be more delighted.

Further notice: Amending this in light of my third observation:

The implication of a computer that can train its end-users how to use it is that teaching as a profession is dead. All teaching, at all levels. Just imagine what the iPad could do for you if you really wanted to learn a foreign language…

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A picture of humanity at its best.


Google discovers what computing is actually for: “In short, we’ll treat you as a single user across all our products which will mean a simpler, more intuitive Google experience.”

Across all products is important. Across all devices is vital.

Drudge and the privacy geeks are going typically apeshit, but Google is playing my tune:

“If you’re signed in, we may combine information you’ve provided from one service with information from other services,” Alma Whitten, Google’s director of privacy, product and engineering wrote in a blog post.

How might that work?

For instance, a user who has watched YouTube videos of the Washington Wizards might suddenly see basketball ticket ads appear in his or her Gmail accounts.

That person may also be reminded of a business trip to Washington on Google Calendar and asked whether he or she wants to notify friends who live in the area, information Google would cull from online contacts or its social network Google+.

Hell, yeah! Those are the kinds of jobs I want from Sarah, your software secretary, but I can show you a very cool Constance the Connector connection here, as well.

How about I start a music service that seeks to sell you music that you will probably like and don’t already own. “Don’t already own” is an easy database from iTunes or whatever. But “will probably like” requires analysis — algorithm as art — and that’s what makes my business model work. To you-as-end-user, it feels like I know you, like we’re high-school buddies whose friendship is built around grooving to the same tunes.

How could I do that? Let me see your YouTube history, not just what you picked but how many times your replayed particular songs. Let me see your shopping history — especially the things you come back to again and again but don’t buy. I don’t need to know you. You already know you better than anyone else ever could.

That’s what we’re actually talking about, you collecting facts about yourself for future reference. Like a bad comic, Google can make anything sound dirty, but there is nothing wrong with you getting more of what you want — better, faster and cheaper.

Do you understand? Your fears, assuming they are real, are misplaced. The U.S. Government now has the lawful authority to assassinate you at will in your home with a Predator Drone. Google just wants to help you find a more effective hemorrhoid cream.

So: I’ve got the formula for the all-time perfect one-size-fits-you-and-you-alone internet radio station. How do I get the data?

Here’s a way of thinking of Constance, purely as software: She is an extensible database of extensible databases. YouTube or other music or video services might elect to create databases of your uses of their software, making that data available to other software services. If your Constance profile contained your YouTube history and your Amazon shopping history, a music service like mine might pull that data in order to program your radio station. But might pull my software’s database of your interaction with it, too, in order to try to figure out what music to suggest to you.

Having the software and hardware you use make your usage and performance data available to Constance — and hence to other software services — will promote the optimization of your software experiences everywhere you go. Instead of data distributed across hundreds of sites, apps and devices, Constance becomes a unitary, unified user-profile available to enhance your user-experience anywhere.

Google can deliver some of that experience across its own software services. But Constance can be seen as a central piece in an entirely new way of thinking about the end-user experience of computers — which by now means with everything electronic.

You’ve heard this all your life, uttered as a profundity by some smug asshole whose job it was to stunt your growth: “Computers do what you tell them to do, not what you want them to do.”

Here’s the news: That’s 100% entirely wrong — or it will be very soon.

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Product idea: Constance the Connector.

It’s been a few weeks since I started talking about Constance, and since then I’ve come up with a completely different way of thinking about operating systems. There are three players who could profit from my thinking — Apple, Google and Amazon — and I would be more than happy to share my thoughts to the first one of those three who salutes.

Meanwhile, I give you Constance, which is in some ways the logical counterpart to Heidi, the self-maintaining CRM system I started talking about last August. Constance the Connector is a server-based service that maintains your handle — a topic we have discussed before.

So: Here are ways you can know of me:

  • By name
  • By street address
  • By phone number
  • By email address
  • By Twitter handle
  • By social media profile
  • etc.

For now, if you want to address me by one of those means, you have to know the specific proper noun to be used — my actual name or my current email address. You are responsible for maintaining that information, and everyone who wants to make contact with me must do the same redundant and error-prone maintenance.

A Heidi-like CRM can do some of the maintenance by means of assiduous, arduous data-base mining. But if I don’t make my new street address public somewhere, your of-course-I-haven’t-forgotten-about-you greeting card is going to bounce.

There’s more: The way things work now, I have no control over who addresses me or how. I’m not just bitching about spam. I want cold-calling salespeople to go straight to voicemail — and when I have determined that I don’t want to hear from a particular caller again, I want never to hear from that person ever again.

So think of me this way, instead: @gswann. That’s my handle: @gswann. Sending em an email? Send it to @gswann. Want to try to get me on the phone? Dial @gswann. Snailmail? Send it to @gswann, you dinosaur. Want to pull my LinkedIn profile? It’s @gswann.

That much is just the handle idea — but with a twist. What we’re doing with the handle @gswann is sending a request to the Constance server for the current mission-critical contact information associated with the @gswann handle.

So I can change my email address three times a week and never miss a missive. When you’re addressing that mailing label, Constance can look into my calendar and note that I will be in Las Vegas for the rest of the week. Your package will go to where I really am, not to where I am usually to be found.

There’s more: The Google+ idea of circles is beyond useful: If you’re in my circle of friends and family, my street address is my home. If you’re a client or a vendor, your mail will go to my office. If you’re not in my CRM data-base, your first phone call to me is going to go straight to voicemail — and Heidi is going to start digging for information about you, pulling your Constance profile among other things. If you’ve hit my spam circle, you’ll never get anything but a busy signal from me.

That’s empowerment: Until now, any sort of message has been in some respects a weapon: The sender has all the control, and the recipient is very possibly an unwilling victim. Constance gives the sender very high quality contact information, but it gives the recipient complete control about how to react to an incoming message. If I want to hear from you, the path is fully cleared. But if I don’t want to hear from you — not now or not ever — I get to decide how to use my time and resources.

I’m not done. The social media world has you leaving footprints all over the place. Constance should curate your social graph, so that hard-chargers like Brian Brady can subscribe to an RSS feed that includes your contributions to every site you visit. But Constance should also give you instant-autofill for each new user profile you are asked to fill out.

You are maintaining this, after all. Constance can do a lot of Heidi-like chores to make it easy for you to maintain your contact information, but it’s still up to you to keep your addresses up-to-date. But why should you ever have to do this more than once? The Constance API will not only auto-fill new profile requests, it will auto-maintain your existing profiles. Practically speaking, my Facebook or Tumblr profile should be @gswann. In other words, the apposite web site should send a Constance request when my profile information is queried. Even if it is maintaing a local copy of its particular data fields, it should revise its records with a Constance call whenever my profile is requested.

I can do more: Why not sub-handles, faux-handles, phandles? In other words, demi-anonymous identities you can use where you don’t want to reveal your full details. Where might that be? Games, dating sites, pornucopias, etc. Using a camouflage handle and a circle that is very limited in the information to be shared, you can exert that much more control over how people are able to contact you.

This is the software-as-a-service idea, the real payoff from cloud-based computing. Constance is a web site to you, the place you go to maintain your contact information and your circles of contacts. But Constance is an API to sites like Twitter or LinkedIn: An API call with @gswann as the parameter results in an XML payload of contact/profile information. The receiving site does what it wants with the data it understands and ditches the rest. And Constance is also a limited-context API for your existing software clients. A request from your email client yields my email address, but your Twitter client would get my DM handle instead. Typing @gswann into your phone would call me, but the call would be handled according to which of my circles, if any, you are to be found in.

We are organizing every bit of information you might want to share with other people, with web sites and with software clients, and then we are delivering it, upon request, according to the controls you have put in place. The amount of information you might share is potentially infinite, but each data request yields only the mission-critical data that you have elected to make available to that recipient.

Though my names might be legion, you need only remember @gswann. Whatever you send, however you send it, Constance the Connector will get it to me in the way I want it.

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I was talking to a friend of mine who is a broker with a small “boutique” brokerage about the business recently and he told me that since it was pointless to list property in this market, he has focused his efforts on rental properties. He is “hanging in there”, waiting for the market to turn around. I was surprised by his position. He defended it vigorously. I get this all the time from friends who ask me how am I doing, fully expecting me to tell a sad tale.

Let me tell you a secret. People get used to everything. Even a recession, you ask? Yes, people  even get used to a recession. The secret is that there are still people who are securely employed, who have decided that with the interest at all-time lows and the prices down, now is a perfect time to buy. They barely even know that there is a recession. There are grandparents who want to get closer to their grandchildren ready to pay cash for a house. There are rich kids who just got married who are ready to spend Granddad’s money. There are people getting divorced, people inheriting homes they don’t want to live in, people letting their underwater homes go to foreclosure and then cashing out of their 401K and buying homes for cash at ½ the price of the one they let go. There are people buying homes in areas where the prevailing idea is that the market is dead. There are investors getting out of the stock market and into real estate. There are landlords increasing their holdings.

The other side of the secret is there are way less agents in the market competing for the buyers or the sellers.  The worst thing an agent can do is to buy the sad story. The fastest route to the poorhouse is to think it’s pointless to try. Yeah, there may be a lot of reasons to be depressed, but nothing will turn a buyer or a seller off more than an agent who seems depressed.

Well how do you find these buyers and sellers? Well the first step is to know that they are out there.  You can approach either side of the market (Buyer or Seller) or both.  Buyers are online. Get to the first page of Google for a competitive search term and you will know what I mean.

Buyers aren’t searching for an agent to represent them, they don’t think they need us. It may come as a shock but most people don’t think we bring anything to the transaction. Give them a way to search for property and they will let you know when they find something they want to look at.

Sellers are doing what they always did. They are looking for the neighborhood expert who is breaking into their consciousness. It could be the one mailing them every month. It could be the one with a neighborhood blog, or the one who comes to the community association meetings every month and who gets involved. A lot of folks have quit doing these things, so the ones still in that game are getting the prospects.  Those who can’t afford to mail, have to come up with another approach. Door knocking, cold calling, networking, calling SOI…. all of the tried and true methods still work and homes priced correctly still sell.

If you don’t believe me, go to your MLS and look at the solds for the last 12 months. I am willing to bet that there are more than you thought.


Real Estate Brokerage models, Jeff Brown’s Dad, and Dead cats.

If you have never read what Jeff Brown writes, STOP. Go read it. Seriously. Go to the right sidebar, scroll down to the Bawld Guy and click the archive link. Ok. 😉

Jeff’s recent post brought up some good conversations that I want to shed some light on from my perspective. I consult with REALTORS on bulding their online presence as well as strategies for building their brokerages and teams. So his post was of significance to me.

The change that I am seeing in models right now (with some folks going right back to the model Jeff’s dad has practiced – an older school, more hardnosed approach that is much more leader (whether team leader or broker) centric and follower (dudes that manage leads either for listings or buyers and agents that are TRAINED to specifically convert those leads.)

“He who controls the leads makes the rules.” – me -several years ago. Still true.

Jeff’s 100% right about the value of whoever creates the streams of leads coming into the team (or brokerage or whatever). I think that was one of the most powerful points of Jeff’s post. If you can generate leads, build a brand (or utilize someone else’s until you can), then there are PLENTY of brokers willing to kiss your fanny just to keep you are part of their organization.

And in all but a few of those cases, you do NOT want your brokers advice.

Let me give you a concrete example of this type of model in play. I got a call from a client in Boca Raton Florida the other day. I have been working with this team on their online strategies for several months. Good guys. They have grown their team from the two of them to almost 20 (cannot remember the last count). Solely done by generating online leads and feeding their buyers agents those leads and working with them.

Here’s the kicker. Their brokerage (large independent brokerage with #1) level market share actually came to them and asked them to TONE DOWN their online marketing because they were getting close to outranking the brokerage site on Google. Presumably (my presumption) is that other agents in the brokerage were upset.

First of all, asking an agent to tone down a marketing campaign to (ostensibly) keep the other agents from getting upset? WOW.

Just my opinion to that broker. If you have the resources to build a brand, then you have the resources to build it online as well. Having to ask you agent to NOT market or market less is an indictment of your marketing team. (again just my opinion.)

For a growing agent who has the resources to mount an online marketing campaign and make this happen, AND who is not in a brokerage where the broker is leading the charge. (That will be my next brokerage model example in a couple of days and it is even more potent than this one).

I can give you other examples of small brokerages who are folding right now and where several agents who would be great if someone provided leads to them (ala Jeff’s dad’s model) literally offer to come to the guy who is generating the traffic.

Someone mentioned in the comments that model works for Russ Shaw. I know Russ. He is a friend of mine. And you can do it too. Yes, maybe not using the same lead generation vehicles that he has established dominance in, but whether you are in Ohio, or Louisville, or Hoboken, there ARE lead generation models available to you. Online, offline, radio, TV, carrier pigeon, whatever. If you are the source of leads, much of the rest will follow.

By the way…lest people think that we are talking about JUST converting leads and saying sayonara, not the case. Part of this approach REQUIRES that you help create customers for life out of then.

Think we are alone in our industry with this model? Ask the lawyers. 😉 They are in the same boat. Those lawyer ads you see on TV are not paid for with money that grew on trees. #justsayin.

I would love your thoughts and further conversation on this.

Next week: A brokerage model and an example that even beats this. And you can watch it happen! 😉


More gratuitous gloating: I’m two-for-two for the weekend.

When I wrote The Unfallen, I studied a listserv list of lady romance writers. They were astoundingly mercenary, by my literary standards, but they were fun to read — and they were profoundly interested in making money.

One of their traditions was the “Yahoo!” — an announcement to the group of a personal triumph.

In that light: Yahoo! I put two contracts into escrow this weekend — and it is frolicking difficult to put a house under contract in Phoenix right now.

All I’m doing is skinning cats. Takes longer than it ever has before, and it pays less. But I’m nailing them up to the wall — and Yahooing when I have time.

Gloat in your own behalf. This is your year. I challenge you to prove me right.


Search is Dead, Long live Search

John Battelle has some interesting thoughts on search. Google’s 2004 message to investors was:

Our search results are the best we know how to produce. They are unbiased and objective, and we do not accept payment for them or for inclusion or more frequent updating.

Google has abandoned that commitment. Just look at the screen real estate on Google that now is committed to paid content – AdWords now accounts for one-third of the space on your screen.

And now Google is including social results with the putatively objective results it used to provide. So if your potential clients are searching the web while logged into a Google account, their first-page results will include items endorsed by people in their Google circles.

And whether you get it or don’t, or like it or don’t, a lot of content is being created on Twitter and Facebook that isn’t systematically reflected in Google Search results, either because Google doesn’t prioritize it or because Google doesn’t have the rights to crawl it.

For me, as a Raleigh criminal lawyer, figuring out how to make my presence more social is difficult. Even if people get good results with me, they tend not to want to praise me, unless pseudo-anonymously. They may quietly confide in friends who ask that I’m a good lawyer.

But they’re unlikely to announce on Facebook or on their Google Plus pages that I got them a “not guilty” on their DWI.

I haven’t figured out how to solve that problem.

But as realtors (and mortgage brokers, etc.) you ignore the social aspect of search at your peril. If you’re banging away trying to raise your Google PageRank, then welcome to 2005. And you’re working your way to dominate your search results for your locality, then welcome to 2007.

You may be missing what your competitors have realized: being endorsed by past clients, friends, etc. can push your placement above competitors, and those endorsements may in fact be the added juice that gets someone to choose one service over another.

Does this mean search is dead? Not by a long shot.

Many people have joined Google Plus, but Google’s latest investor phone call reveals that fewer people are engaged in building out their Google Plus pages.

That also means that the true impact of Google Plus has yet to be felt.


The Brokerage Biz Model That Rocked In 1966 Is Still Rockin’

Let’s begin by establishing clearly — this isn’t new info — just widely ignored. In fact, it’s more likely than not most agents readin’ this will roll their eyes for one of two reasons. One would be cuz it’s old news to them. Not that they’ve ever contemplated using it, just old news. The other is cynical disbelief when something from a couple generations ago is touted as being highly effective and profitable in today’s real estate brokerage climate. Give it a read and then make your call.

I will tell you in advance that from what I’ve seen personally, the huge majority of super high volume per agent operations are using it. They just don’t know it was snatched from the hippy dippy 60s. 🙂

And yes, there are one or two big time brokerages who’ve successfully gotten away from the model used by the industry the last 40 years.

I learned this model beginning in 1967. I’ve spoken of Dad’s brokerage countless times here, but what may not have been communicated clearly is how relatively few agents were needed to produce such off the chart sales. Let’s put the numbers on the table. How’d you like to have been one of the 25 to never more than 30 full time agents (Usually 8-12 part timers.) who divvied up more than 1,000 sides a year for five straight years? As their janitor/official printer-of-listings, I witnessed some pretty astounding things. ‘Course, back then I had no earthly clue I was seeing world class production, as I thought it was the way it was supposed to be.

Boy, did I ever learn different as a few birthdays came and went.

Our industry, beginning in the 1970s, decided it made more sense to go away from a highly profitable business model. Before operating expenses, the OldSchool model netted 40-50% of every commission dollar earned. From that income they paid all costs — the broker did. I cut my teeth on that model, and it worked like a charm.

In their infinite wisdom, they decided a superior strategy included increasing agent pay by over 100% in many cases, while simultaneously populating their firms with wet behind the ears beginners. It gets better. In order to house all the no-nothings they leased bigger and bigger offices. Geniuses.

Considering it was around that time the ‘new math’ came out, maybe that was the real culprit. Or, it coulda been the drugs which had become so popular the decade before. Who knows? We know one thing for sure. The OldSchool model was put on the shelf, often derided as ‘horse ‘n buggy’ thinkin’.

Horse ‘n buggy is kickin’ NewSchool’s ass all over the country — now.

Since the advent of teams, the OldSchool model has been taken from the shelf, dusted off, and put into service. This has been happening for several years now. From what I can tell, it’s been spreading superior profit all over the country. Ironically, almost always under the umbrella of a brokerage still shackled by the failed ‘new and improved’ model. It’s the teams that’re showin’ the way, as they throw out the ‘new’ and opt for this old model.

The 80/20 rule

It’s my contention that less than 20% of agents are producing more than 80% of the business. I base this on nothing more than average agent earnings, and the tremendous turnover we witness every few years. Yet, when we see brokerages with highly successful and efficient teams sometimes earning more money than their brokers, one wonders what these brokerage owners don’t see.

If you’d like to test this model, here’s what I’d do if I was still in the house business.

Let’s begin with a few assumptions.

1. The typical sales agent out there isn’t makin’ it, not even close. It’s for a laundry list of reasons. The real reason is that most of ’em simply refuse to do what it takes to succeed.

2. You aren’t one of those agents. You’re already successful, but want to get to the next level. However, you definitely don’t wanna start your own brokerage. I feel ya. I wouldn’t either when there are so many brokerages out there who’ll wine ‘n dine you to get you under their roof.

3. You can find a brokerage that will agree to leave you the hell alone, within reason. You don’t want their help, and Lord knows you don’t want their worthless advice. “Point me to my office, I’ll do the rest.” 🙂

How it works — what I’d be doing.

Caveat: There are a few fine books out there giving far better detail than I can here. Suffice to say, the OldSchool biz model has very stealthily made an impressive, and to some extent, an embarrassingly solid comeback.

I’d find the agents who’re doin’ about a deal a month or so, maybe less. I’d find the ones who were never listers, which is the vast majority of agents. I’d end up with several, but hire just two or three at first. Their pay would be 35-40% per deal of the buyer side commission.

I would be in charge of generating both inventory and buyer leads.

Leads would be assigned by me. The only job the buyers’ agents would have is to show up in the morning, grab their leads, convert them, and smile.

There would also be a transaction coordinator, but that’s my personal preference.

Predicting 100 listings a year would be foolhardy, by listing around 40 is completely doable.

In San Diego the median home price is roughly $340,000. The listing side commission would be just over $10,000. If you sold 35 of the 40, that’s $350,000 listing income.

With three buyer agents selling just two a month at $40,000 below median, $300,000, that’s six sales monthly. That’s not exactly settin’ the real estate world on fire, but it works. If the team leader pays his buyer agents 40%, that would leave him a tad under $390,000 in buyer commissions.

$350,000 + $390,000 = $740,000 before expenses to the team leader. Let’s say his expenses were $120,000 a year. They won’t be, but we’ll use that figure. He nets about $620,000.

The broker might be making roughly $50,000 monthly in desk/office fees. Who knows? But if that’s the case, this team leader made more than he did with a tiny fraction of the manpower.

Now, imagine an entire brokerage run this way. The possibilities aren’t really possibilities, they’re completely predictable.

Under this model, the ‘team leader’ made $400,000 a year — in the 1960s.

The foundational difference between the two models

The OldSchool approach is broker-centric — or team leader centric if you prefer. The broker/agent with the real talent and the real life courage is in charge.

The model that replaced it is agent-centric. You know, the ones who don’t have the huevos to simply prospect for business, much less start a brokerage? The ones who want the other guy to take all the risk, but pay them all the money? Dad called them leaches, an accurate description from where I sit. ‘Course, he was one hardcore SOB. He predicted exactly what would happen, and it did. It’s the main reason he shut down his operation except for one office back in 1971. “Agents are never gonna run my business. And when others allow it to happen, encourage it — they will pay the price.”

He was dead right.



Update from 1 year ago. Page 32 of G till now.

For those of my friends on here, who remember. In 2010 I relocated my small real estate business to South Florida from Wisconsin. Everything was fine and dandy until I remembered that my position in Google will be starting over from page 1 to page 32. It is nearly one year ago (01-16-11) that I wrote a post on Bloodhound asking for some sympathy from fellow friends. To be frank about it, I was really struggling, with the move, life in general, a new baby, and trying to make it by selling real estate in a South Florida market. Although many agents are making bank, I have to watch every penny.

I am pleased to announce for the term “Boynton Beach Real Estate” I am now on the middle of page 2, and sometimes as high as the bottom of page 1. I want to personally thank all of you, for helping me in a time of need. Although I haven’t yet found the financial freedom I am looking for, I am least paying the bills…barely, but at least paying the bills. You know, looking back it’s the friends that I’ve made on Bloodhound that have really helped me out the most over the last two years blogging on here.

To cap off the year 2011, Russell Shaw commented on a blog I made on BHB! I thought that was so cool. What I’ve learned over the last year the most, is that, bills come and go, but memories are forever. In 2012 I’m going to put my focus on my family and 2 kids, and not my real estate business. Yes of course, I have to make a living for my family, but that’s not what it’s all about. I don’t know when the good Lord will call me home, but when he does, I want my family to be able to say, “you know, dad (me) worked hard for us, but he always put the family first no matter what kind of bills piled up”.

A special thank you to all my friends here on BHB, you’re all great! Let’s make 2012 a great year.


Paging Sarah: “If there is a lesson in this story, it is to make sure your cell phone is off when attending a concert.”

Suppressing your phone’s ringer at the symphony is a Sarah job.

If we start with the presumption that a smartphone/tablet/laptop/desktop operating system, ideally, exists in a sort of client/server symbiosis with servers in the cloud — and hence with all servers in the cloud, by concatenation (that is, by XMLation) — then your phone should be aware of appropriate phone protocol wherever and whenever it might find itself. You should not ever have to tell it not to ring in a concert hall.

I’ll get to Constance when I can, but I don’t think anyone here is all that interested. How do I know? Because the paragraph just above this one describes a revolutionary computing paradigm, one that exists nowhere right now. More fool I. It’s raining soup and not one of us has a spoon.

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ListHub forms syndication Real Estate Network…

Happy New Year to the dawgs. Woof.

Ok..maybe their isn’t something to like about this…I don’t know…but it is interesting to say the least. I honestly don’t have a dog in this fight. More than anything, I just want to understand it. And there is NO PLACE like BHB to put it out in the open and air it out a bit.

But let’s start with the facts and then get to the opinion and thus the fun. It was announced this morning that ListHub (a syndicator and sister company *snort* of over at Move, Inc) has formed a new Real Estate Network. This is a syndication network with publishers of real estate listings that are jumping in at the founding which include RE/MAX, C21, Coldwell Banker, and other franchisors.

This frees them (if everyone participates in their network)from any illusion of NAR control. They are in the same shape (if I understand this correctly) as Zillow, Trulia, and other syndicators. Am I missing something here? They have to abide by the network rules seen here.

This also frees the independents NOT to participate in the syndication network IF they so desire. They can opt out.

I am not sure if I have that right. I would LOVE to have someone in the know comment and fill us in.

This also (if I read this correctly) makes NAR more irrelevant than ever when it comes to marketing online real estate. (You notice how many times I have asked if I am understanding this right? Enquiring minds want to know.) Once everyone is sharing data outside of NAR (as syndicators), then who needs their .02?

Again. I am not saying this is good or bad. I would love some industry comment though.

I have a box of popcorn and a ringside seat and a lot of websites to work on..I will be waiting. 😉


CNBC: “In the name of supporting home prices, the Obama administration will likely put in place a system under which investors make private profits while the taxpayers subsidize the risk.”

Is housing the next Solyndra? Looks like it. The Obama administration is getting ready to transfer billions of dollars worth of foreclosed homes to campaign donors. If you think still more Rotarian Socialism sucks, wait until the house up the block from yours goes Section 8. Looters never tire of loot, so rent money they don’t have to earn will turn out to be the perfect garnish for real property they won’t have to pay for.

We are living in Part Three of Atlas Shrugged


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