Is this the Future?

Now, I have seen a mapping site that has just blown me away. It uses data from realestate.com.au/domain.com.au and uses the Microsoft Virtual Earth Mapping Service.

The Spyk site is basically a mash-up, which is taking data from a variety of sources such as Virtual Earth. The user gets a mapping system and a simple search tools.

Spyk Property

Notice how most of the screen is made up of the map. You can move the map by clicking and dragging the map and you can also zoom in and out.

It is a wonderful example of what is to come and although this will no doubt raise the ire of the major portals domain.com.au and realestate.com.au and possible legal action (which in my view they will find hard to win but too expensive to fight for Spyk).

The site is only in its beta release and does have its annoyances but it has raised the bar in terms of interface and structure!

Click here to view the site……

Google Earth, Google Maps

SEO For Real Estate
Listing Leads
Agentpoint Real estate

About Peter J Ricci

Peter Ricci is the Director of Agentpoint.com.au, Business2.com.au, Ginga.com.au and ZooProperty.com and has been involved in designing and developing real estate systems and websites since 1997. In July 2001 Peter founded Business2.com.au to help real estate agents better understand the power of the Internet and the real estate landscape in Australia and New Zealand. Since then he has penned over 300 articles on a variety of subjects in the real estate technology industry. Business2.com.au is now the leading real estate technology site in Australasia.

28 Responses to Is this the Future?

  1. Phil September 28, 2006 at 10:02 pm #

    Good idea but who will see it ? It costs lot to advertise a web site and where would they get the money from ?

  2. Tom S September 28, 2006 at 10:17 pm #

    I had a look at the site and first impressions were quite good.

    However, this looks like a case of over-engineering. My searchs are noramlly restricted to 3-4 bordering suburbs. If I get emails of new listings as they arrive, this is all that I need to stay on top of the market. To have a drill down starting from such a high level if OTT.

    As far as aggregators such as this beta site, the concept has been around in the US for a while, however there are all sorts of copywright issues associated. There is the most recent case with the online newspapers in Belgium and Google.

    This one’s another case of someone spending lots ot IT dollars on a real estate portal without a reasonable underlying business model. But this always pleases me, as I work in the IT industry.

  3. Peter September 28, 2006 at 10:39 pm #

    Phil, yes getting people to know about it does take money, but a site like this would cost next to nothing to operate.

    Tom, this was done pretty much by one guy in his spare time, so money was not an issue. It is in beta still so I am sure many issues will be addressed as far as useability is concerned.

    I have written about many sites like this in the past, it is just great to see someone in Australia doing something like this!

  4. Simon Baker September 28, 2006 at 10:40 pm #

    Peter

    This is an interesting site. It looks like they are only scraping Domain and not realestate.com.au at the moment.

    If you would like to look at some other interesting mapping based sites, you should look at http://www.trulia.com and http://www.zillow.com in the US. They are both very interesting implementations of mapping and have been around for quite a while.

    You may also like to look at http://www.ononemap.co.uk. This site is exactly the same as http://www.spyk.com and scrapes our UK site. It is interesting to note that although they have been around for well over 12 months, they have only 110k visitors and are ranked the 58th most visited site. The market leader right move has around 3 million visitors.

    Phil’s comment above is spot on.

  5. Peter September 28, 2006 at 11:18 pm #

    Simon, I have seen a few realestate.com.au listings as well. I have seen most of the sites you have sent me. I think it is a very good start and it is only a start.

    However I do think as these thing mature they will be very popular, but by that stage I would assume you will have a complimentary search mechanism on your site.

    It is good because it keeps you on your toes and all sites will continue to evolve.

    The problem these sites have is 1. They dont hold the content and 2. promoting these sites is both costly and time consuming. Word of mouth will only work for the first few!

  6. Simon Baker September 28, 2006 at 11:37 pm #

    Peter

    You are right … there are some REA properties there. I will have to get the lawyers onto that one πŸ˜‰ (only joking!)

    Seriously though, a third problem these sites may face is SEO. They are not that google friendly.

  7. Peter September 29, 2006 at 12:07 am #

    SEO is a problem for these sdites yes, because they do not carry content, but I can see these types of sites working in localised areas. Perhaps smaller types newspapers etc…

    PS: Go home! πŸ™‚

  8. Phil September 29, 2006 at 7:50 am #

    Google penalises duplicate content so they will have to find a work around for SEO.

    Then………….after they go to all that trouble I still think it’s a novelty.

    If I were looking for a house I prefer to choose from a list of suburbs, a map might enhance that experience but it does not replace the exisitng methods of search.

    This technology should work to enhance existing search but won’t replace it.

    If these guys get SE placings that even look like threatening the big guys they will bury them in legal procedures in seconds flat.

    On the other hand if the carries their listings AND the associated ads it may help as extra distribution of your content for FREE is not such a bad thing.

  9. Phil September 29, 2006 at 8:09 am #

    Mmmmmmmm having a closer look , the more you use it the more useful it becomes… especially for regional searches, you can see at a glance where you are in a state and what’s available. Maybe not so much a novelty after all, maybe a VERY useful addition to search if usability issues can be properly addressed.

  10. Peter September 29, 2006 at 8:31 am #

    I think I saving system , wehre you login and can save you area would be a good feature. Search Engine Optimisation is an issue, but with so much content, I am sure Google will address this. I too think it should be an addition to major sites. You find a listing and then you can click on area map and up it pops with all the listings that match your search criteria, I think it would be a great addition.

    Accuracy is a concern as well – but remember folks this is early times and this site is an example of what can be done and it show cases this persons talent, which in my mind should be applauded.

    Every site I have seen from Australia using the mapping has been left in the dust by this site and whilst it is not perfect it has shown the way forward!

    I met with a guy recently from a company that has a mapping service portal and I had to be honest with him , it was just very ordinary, he had a large team of developers and had invested alot of money, however he really needs to start all over again, but he wont…..and I think he may regret this decision.

    So many people think you need a large team to develop a national portal, but you only need 3 people.

    1. For Systems
    2. For Website
    3. For Interface Design

    All of them understanding the importance of structure and usability…..there is more, but it is how you start a project and the thought that goes into it that counts….

  11. Simon Baker September 29, 2006 at 8:48 am #

    Peter,

    I suggest you check out http://www.zoomf.com, http://www.nestoria.com and http://www.trulia.com. Here are 3 more sites that do mapping. The first 2 are in the UK while the third is in the US.

    What you notice about them is that they all look the same and operate the same way.

    My one observation on the dialogue above is that as you get scale, your costs go up. You can not avoid this. We use Google maps but we choose to pay for them (with an enterprise agreement) because we are delivering 20 per second and we need a service level agreement in place to ensure the 3m+ visitors to the site get their maps.

    http://www.trulia.com scrapes larger sites (and gets direct feeds), advertises the listings for $0, hopes to make $ on the upgrades and advertising, have over 500,000 unique visitors and is burning through money. Oh yes, it has 5 employees!

    Scale is also hurting sites in other areas such as http://www.youtube.com (distribution of video clips) and http://www.zillow.com. They have great traffic (2m in the case of zillow) but minimal revenues. It is hard to live of just display advertising revenues.

    The challenge for most businesses in this area will be making the leap from an interesting but small player to truly serving 8,000 agents across Australia.

  12. Peter September 29, 2006 at 9:19 am #

    Yes Simon They are popping up all oer the place. In the case of You Tube etc, they have private funding and I have no doubts they will be purchased for about $600 Million (they think 1 billion). It seems traffic does matter as you would well know about the fact that My Space was purchased by News Ltd for about $600 million (dont know exactly but it was a heap of cash) and 3 months later signed an advertising deal worth $700 million with Google.

    I agree costs go up with traffic (especially as 50,000 is a limit per day unless you pay with Google) and that is why I think that regional and local area property sites will fare better.

    My opinion is that it is too tough to compete for the same, so why not do things differently? Why does every single property site go on about how great they are when they are pretty much all the same.

    Nearly every new national site is strong in only a few areas. So why dont they just make it a local one and concentrate on that.

    I get emails every week from companies wanting me to promote them, but I want to see something different or I will not bother…

  13. Tom September 29, 2006 at 2:22 pm #

    Nice map but this site does nothing for us agents. What I’m concerned about is that MY listings have turned up on this site without MY authority!

    Unless Simon Baker was joking, he wasn’t even aware SPYK had crawled his entire site. I’ve checked and realestate.com.au does not even have a robots.txt file – sites usually use this to control access by search crawlers.

    So does this mean MY listings could turn up on ANY site that decides they want to index realestate.com.au? SPYK is not a search engine like google. Why do we jump through all the hoops we do to ensure listing quality when there is ZERO control over what SPYK does with it.

    This is a litmus test for realestate and domain. Will they let SPYK and the next 20 sites do what they want with MY properties? You’ve got to be kidding. I’m going for a read through my fine print…

  14. Peter September 29, 2006 at 2:54 pm #

    Hi Tom

    Yes your listings could turn up on sites without your consent.

    RE Listing Quality: I cannot see how it is of a concern if the data integrity is correct, of which it is and wil always be with sites developed by people with know how.

    I thought the idea was to get as many potential buyers and renters to view your listings as possible.

    Search Engines also pick up listing details from websites/portals and direct traffic to those listings, so if you want to ban one from doing this you would have to ban every single site and search engine.

    If you have a problem with this then I suggest you speak directly with real estate portals you are associated with…

  15. Tom September 29, 2006 at 4:11 pm #

    Peter, thanks for your comments, I hope you take my responses in the right manner.

    * Re consent, having my listings turn up without my consent is unacceptable

    * Re listing quality, the data integrity is one thing, it’s the timeliness that’s critical though. If a vendor changes an asking price or withdraws their property from sale, it is MY responsibility to update that listing. If I’m slow to do this I lose credibility and the trust of the vendor. MY livelihood is based on these factors! Now I can get my listings updated at realestate within hours but how long will it take to update on SPYK? Days, weeks, ever? What about the next ten sites who want to play with my listings?

    * Re exposure, not when it’s a free-for-all, not when I have no control over it. I have vendors to answer to.

    * Our tech guy says a robots.txt file can be used to let some search engines in and keep others out. RE.com lets ANYTHING come in! Another point is, why do I have to compete in the search engines with RE and domain based on listings I’m providing them with?

    * If someone listened, it would be a first.

  16. Peter September 29, 2006 at 4:29 pm #

    RE: Consent, well if a site is developed correctly links in search engines owuld appear for every page. So with this one I think you cannot win.

    RE: Listing Quality: You have a valid point. I really don’t know the answer to this question. It is failry easy for any system to update every hour or so, or for bots to continually scan for changes.

    RE; Exposure: All I can say is that this has been happenning fo years and until now no one has worried about it. If it is Google then it must be good. These portals spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year trying to make their sites more popular on search engines. I doubt they will reverse this for a few voices.

    RE: Your Tech Guy, he is correct to an extent. There are many ways with which search engines retrieve information from websites. But robot.txt is the main one.

    RE: Someone listening: I will make up a wise proverb, people only hear a crowds protest!

    Keep your thoughts coming Tom, it is always good to hear views from all angles….and you have enlightened me to one today!

  17. Tom September 29, 2006 at 5:26 pm #

    Hmmm, a crowd eh? I’ll see what I can dig up πŸ˜‰

    On the consent issue, I give consent to search engines crawling my own site because people end up back at my site. No-one seems to get that. I don’t give consent to anyone trawling through domain and realestate to pick up my listings and “mash” them up as they please.

    I’m really not sure how SPYK or any other is going to track the status of 200,000 listings in real time? Would realestate even let them? Hence my timeliness issue.

    I’ve read your site for a while but can’t sit on the sideline on this one! Keep it up.

  18. Peter September 29, 2006 at 5:38 pm #

    Tom, don’t hold back mate! If you feel passionate about something then let rip, you have always had great things to say… So spit it out.

    As you know I don’t mind anyone saying anything on this site as long as we all show respect for other peoples opinions….as you always do……..

    I disagree with you on at least on factor, so here goes…..

    Search Engine crawl sites and gather data and link to that data, just because this site does it visually.

    And ………if it can do it accurately all the better….. You have to look at it like a search engine – in reality it is no different than a search engine, however, unlike a search engine this type of system gives the user more accurate information before going to the full page on Domain or Realestate.com.au (that is if it is done correctly)

    Keep posting!!!

  19. Tom September 29, 2006 at 6:16 pm #

    Sorry Peter, my first posts here – I’m not the other Tom!

    I think there’s one main point that I may not be making clearly enough. I think SPYK does a good job of displaying the data, certainly much better than domain or realestate do. But realestate does not have the authority to let anyone like SPYK rip out MY listings and mash them up without any degree of quality control, etc. Talk about quality control, obviously realestate was blindsided by what this site did. This indicates there is presently ZERO quality control as to how a site like SPYK maintains our listings via trawling realestate.

    There’s a fundamental question here – how can I protect where my properties turn up? If the the big portals don’t control access to OUR listings via their site, then we’ve got a real problem. Because if they don’t, they’re basically telling us agents they’re in control of the listings, not us. Oh boy, wait till others here about this. My crowd’s gonna grow.

  20. Elizabeth September 29, 2006 at 7:52 pm #

    Silly question – but if Spyk was getting the listings from your own website – and driving traffic to it – would that still be an issue?

    Traffic = leads

    Leads = sales

    sales = money.

    I look at Spyk – and it links back to domain and realestate.com pages live on the net – so if your listings are updated as you say on these sights – then there should not be that much of a problem.

    I guess the only issue is controlling where your listings appear – which is how you market a property and vendors who want you to market a property in Surry hills – but really it is in Redfern.

    Still – if it sells quicker…

  21. Phil September 29, 2006 at 9:14 pm #

    This is the Internet the rules are not as they are in the offline world. People can do pretty much as they like and there’s nothing you can do about it.

    You have to let this sink in as fact and either accept it or don’t participate.

  22. Peter September 30, 2006 at 12:06 am #

    Tom, I think you are going to be a lone voice on this issue. Let us just say that tomorrow you receive an enquiry and this enquiry originated from USA on Spyk and then this person purchased a group of villas from your site = say $40,000 in your pocket, would you then say I don’t want the money?

    The whole idea about your listings – in my opinion should be about getting your vendors data to as many potential buyers as possible and if Syk gave you 3% of your sales and it cost you nothing, why would you not want this?

    I really am struggling to see your point……

  23. Tom September 30, 2006 at 1:53 am #

    Elizabeth – not silly at all – you’re hit the nail on the head! I’m happy for SPYK to take listings from my site and send me back the traffic so I’m in control of the enquiry. But only if I know that SPYK takes the data as soon as it’s updated in my system. (Show me a site that does and I’m there!) When it’s all being sucked out of a portal willy nilly with no controls whatsoever, then I’m a mug to let that happen. Don’t get me wrong, I want to promote my listings far and wide, but I want to direct how that happens. It seems it’s now a free-for-all for anyone to mix and mash my listings just by pulling it all out of the portals. I’m just not happy to let them decide who gets our listings without any apparent controls.

    Phil – The rules are different but unless I’m from mars the laws are the same. Which people do you mean – SPYK or realestate.com? One has to abide by copyright aspects, the other has contracts to adhere to. I’ve got a solicitor looking over my portal contracts to see just where a small agent stands. I’m not comparing anything with offline so I’m not sure what you mean there…all I know is offline is history but I’m not going to let the portals be the gatekeeper of my listing info. Are you?

    Peter, I’d love to have a buyer like that come through. But a short term gain is no good with long term credibility drain. Because for any potential buyer like that (anyone seen any?), I’ll have ten people come back to me complaining about out of date prices, old images, withdrawn properties, etc. If you think that’s not crucial, tell that to a smart-alec vendor of a million dollar house (if you’ve had this happen you’ll know how tough it can be). This is the crux guys, how do we know how SPYK or the next ones to follow are going to display current, accurate listing info by crawling a portal. I reckon google would even struggle.

    I don’t have issue with SPYK, I’d prefer to see them crawl me direct so I can verify how they keep my listings current. Wouldn’t you all? (except Simon).

  24. Tom October 31, 2006 at 11:39 pm #

    HEy Peter, I’ve seen agents properties (none of mine yet)from realestate.com appear on 2 other sites since spyk. When I followed links back, some weren’t even current back at re.com. That’s at least 3 sites that are now ripping properties out of a big portal with absolutely no controls whatsoever. Don’t expect the portals to police this, it’s all more free traffic for them. And they love free traffic, I’ve got to compete with them for my own agency name at google, what a joke.

  25. Mike January 9, 2007 at 9:54 am #

    Hi Guys

    How many Agents in Australia are RSS or XML ready for direct feeds to an “Real Estate Search Engine”?

    I think the portals will police the scraping legally. They dont want to loose control of the discussion/relationship with the user.

    Re: updating RSS/XML, its not that hard to do real time for 1000’s of sites, multiheaded python or perl script that simultaneously 50-100 sites for update at a time, doesnt take long to get through 10,000 or so.

    I have an XML aggregation script thats single threaded we have been playing around with that brings in about 200 feeds in about 30 sec on a shared server, so 10,000 or so on a dedicated server with a multiheaded script could update every hour.

    I know this discussion was started a few months ago, would be interested to see it has moved on since then?

    Mike

  26. Dave Platter January 10, 2007 at 12:09 pm #

    (I work at realestate.com.au Ltd)

    Mike, I see that you’ve got a site in the works. If you’re planning on offering all listings, does that mean you’ll be scraping them from the legitimate sites? What does that mean for your revenue model? Who become your paying customers?

    I know you’ll probably want to keep some details under wraps for now, but it would be interesting to hear whatever you can share.

    Dave

  27. Mike January 10, 2007 at 9:12 pm #

    Hi Dave

    Thanks for the comments, we will be indexing agents sites (scraping is such an ugly word) but we will be going direct and will not scrape Domain and Realestate unless you want to give me a big fat feed and make it easy πŸ™‚

    I am not looking for immediate cash flow (though would be happy), this is not my first business I have started or sold more interested in getting a great/large audience that loves the site. We will be taking a different approach to CPM for the site, much more results driven and will take risk on delivering results.

    Also we believe there is a large value for anyone in the market that whiteants yours and domains business model, this is more important than immediate income.

    Still in Alpha so nothing to show yet. Happy to show everyone once we get to beta.

    Thanks

    Mike

  28. Dave Platter January 12, 2007 at 2:01 pm #

    Thanks for that info Mike. I love to keep up on what people are doing. Given what you say about your approach, I find it hard to be convinced, but I am willing to wait and see.

    Have a good weekend.
    dave

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