The rise of third-party RETS servers and the emergence of a competitive marketplace
Many MLSs are licensing RETS servers in addition to the one provided by their MLS vendor. Why are we seeing this trend? Reasons include the desire for:
- Control over speed and reliability of the RETS server
- More sophisticated controls over the data exposed and formats it is exposed in
- Enhanced monitoring and reporting
- Additional security controls
- Use of RETS beyond the listings – accommodating other data types
- Customization beyond what the MLS vendors are providing
- Not having to change RETS servers and support data recipients when changing MLS vendors
This is not to imply that the MLS vendor RETS servers are “bad” – they sometimes just serve different needs and have different capabilities than third-party RETS servers that one might have to pay for. To be frank, most MLS organizations are not paying the MLS vendors sufficiently for them to add all of the types of features one sees provided by third parties.
The Players and Their Key Differentiators
The primary players in this space are Bridge Interactive Group (RETS IQ) and Threewide (ListHub and ListExporter). Recently Northern Ohio Regional MLS (NORMLS) has also entered the market. Following are profiles of each company and their products.
Bridge Interactive Group (www.RETSIQ.com)
Bridge Interactive Group was established in 2004. Bridge’s core goal is providing RETS management and enhancement tools, customized RETS solutions and facilitating data sharing initiatives. Bridge employees actively participate in many RETS workgroups and they hold a Chairperson seat as well as a seat on the Board of Directors for the Real Estate Standards Organization.
The RETS IQ Suite of products is designed to put control of data management into the hands of the customer and includes the following components:
- RETS Contact™ is an MLS level RETS filtering, monitoring and management tool that adds further fine-grained control and usage transparency to your current MLS RETS system.
- RETS IQ Cheque™ is an add-on Contact application built to administer billing and account management services for MLS RETS Data Recipients.
- RETS IQ Accelerator™ is a middleware product intended to add reliability, scalability and performance to RETS servers by providing an elastic cloud network of RETS server caches.
- RETS IQ Pulse™ is a RETS server tool for MLSs and Server Providers to monitor their RETS servers. With Pulse, notifications are immediately sent the minute problems with the RETS server are discovered.
- RETS IQ Compose™ is a rich web application for adding and editing listings via RETS 1.x. Compose is almost completely driven by RETS metadata including field layout and validation.
Bridge Interactive Group provides a lot of services around these products, including hosting, setup, data mapping and support.
Some of the key differentiators of the RETS-IQ suite include the ability to create and use data “views” (I’m not going to get technical in this article – but it’s important), the ease of identifying excessive use and getting paid exactly what one should be for that use, the architecture needed for enhanced speed and reliability, and the tools one needs to monitor and assert control over RETS service levels.
Recently Bridge Interactive Group launched RETS IQ Rosetta – a freecooperative RETS Metadata mapping service that Bridge Interactive Group is offering to the RETS community and in particular to RETS client vendors and developers. Its goal is to lower the technical and domain knowledge entry level for new developers in the RETS world, promoting innovation and development of new RETS applications.
The Bridge Interactive Group’s RETS IQ Suite of products now manages MLS listing content for more than 150,000 real estate professionals nationwide via 11 implementations.
Threewide Corporation (http://www.listhub.com)
Threewide Corporation was founded in 1999 and their ultimate goal is to make possible a single point of data entry that powers the many diverse software systems used by real estate brokers, agents, and administrators in their daily business.
Threewide’s primary product is ListHub, which provides a mechanism for easy listing syndication. A broker/agent interface allows for opt-out from listing syndication to specific sites, which Threewide has arranged with over thirty of the most popular national real estate sites and a number of regional portals. ListHub syndicates not only the listing information, but unlimited photos, open house and virtual tour information. MLSs can select where links from the syndicated listings go – choosing from a default redirection to MLS consumer facing site property pages, ListHub property pages, or other property pages of their choice. ListHub offers advanced reporting on the exposure given to the listings – not on the sites they have syndicated to – but via default landing pages for each listing that ListHub provides, assuming the syndication sites link back to the Threewide site. Threewide also tracks and provides reports on the leads sent from their landing pages. Reports are available at MLS, franchise, brokerage, office and agent levels, as well as a branded report for the consumer for their individual listing.
Threewide’s ListExporter enables the MLS staff to selectively package listing data and images and send them to virtually any location in a variety of custom and industry-standard formats. With ListExporter, an MLS can control where the data is being sent, either on demand or through a set schedule. ListSecure works in tandem with ListExporter to minimize the unauthorized use of listing data and images through industry-proven data tags, image watermarks and secure file pickup. Extensive audit trails show when data and images are retrieved and by whom to easily identify the misuse of data.
Some of the key differentiators of the Threewide products are having the most “out of the box” syndication feeds (31 national, plus 16 regional) and the data tagging or “watermarking”.
Threewide’s ListHub product is in use by 190 MLSs.
Northern Ohio Regional MLS (NORMLS) (http://normls.com/)
NORMLS, Ohio’s largest multiple listing service, formed a strategic partnership with Ronin Technologies (http://www.ronintech.org/) to launch a new product called RETS Genie®. NORMLS serves 750 member real estate companies and their 8000+ agents. Ronin Technologies has been a leading provider of RETS solutions for over ten years, was heavily involved in writing the RETS 2.0 specification, and has chaired the RETS compliance workgroup since its inception in 2003.
RETS Genie® was developed to enable the MLS and its members to create data packages for advertising, applications, and custom requests. RETS Genie®is available in two versions, Standard and Deluxe. The Standard Edition enables MLSs to aggregate, integrate and organize any data and photos available through RETS. An MLS can configure reusable IDX filters and define delimited and ‘zip’ compressed file exports of this data for members. Data exports can be run on demand or scheduled to run, then automatically sent via FTP or HTTP to locations configured by the MLS. Users can choose to send either “full” (all the allowed data) or “incremental” (only new or changed data and images) updates to data recipients. The Deluxe Edition additionally allows MLSs to configure custom database columns and tables for RETS import. Data can be syndicated to Trulia, Yahoo, Zillow, Google in their preferred format, or to any other site using the RETS Syndication schema. Since most syndicators require a unique URL for listings, syndication support includes a unique landing page for property details. The Deluxe Edition also offers the capability to deliver data via email or to a file system on a network.
RETS Genie®offers add-ons to the Deluxe Edition. The Data Source Moduleenables integration of other data sources (i.e. member management systems, public records, or tax data) in addition to RETS. The MultiFormat Moduleenables exports to Excel, HTML, PDF and RSS formats, as well as custom XML formats. The Rules Module facilitates the creation of business rule filters to support VOWS, reciprocity, and third party agreements.
NORMLS offers hosting for RETS Genie®, and partners with Ronin to provide installation, data mapping, training and support.
Some of the key differentiators of NORMLS’ RETS Genie® product are that it easily incorporates data from non-RETS sources and supports a wide variety of custom output formats including Excel, PDF, HTML, and HTTP and email delivery options.
I am pleased to see a competitive marketplace emerging for RETS products, and has written this short article to recognize a few of the many creative and talented industry colleagues that are blazing this trail for our industry.
The RETS standard has come a long way over the past ten years, but the promise of RETS will only be realized through product development that leverages the standard. In much the same way that concepts of hypertext first demonstrated in the 1960s did not achieve their fruition until the 1990s when the Mosaic web browser application blazed the trail for the World Wide Web, it will take products – killer apps – to really bring RETS into its own golden age and create opportunities to enhance the industry with new kinds of information-hungry applications that are only now being imagined.
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