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Listing Syndication Definitions

August 08 2012

data shareJust when I think I "get" listing syndication, I'll find myself in conversation with someone about it and completely out of my league. Tired of feeling underprepared, I enlisted the help of a syndication expert, Celeste Starchild at ListHub. I asked her for a crash course in listing syndication and she explained to me that the first thing I needed to do was get the terminology right.

She's spot-on. In order to have an intelligent conversation about anything you need to properly use the correct vocabulary.

Perhaps I'm not alone. I have a feeling that many of us could use at least a little refresher on what these commonly used (and commonly misunderstood) terms mean.

Listing syndication

Listing syndication is the distribution of active real estate listings by brokers/agents (or by the MLS on behalf of brokers/agents) to third-party websites, for the purpose of advertising to consumers. Listing syndication is different from IDX or VOW, which we will discuss next, in that it shares data with third parties who are not members of – or participants in – the MLS (such as property search portals like Zillow, Trulia, Yahoo! Real Estate, etc.). The value to the broker or agent is the opportunity to attract a buyer to their property listing, and the value to a third-party website is to acquire listing content for consumers who visit their website. Listing syndication gives brokers the ability to selectively choose the sites to which they syndicate their listings, based on their advertising goals and business model. Of course, each broker may syndicate only their own listings.

IDX

IDX or Internet Data Exchange is sometimes referred to as "broker reciprocity." IDX is a set of business rules that allows brokers (and agents) to display another participating brokers' listings on their website; in exchange, they agree to allow other participating brokers to display their listings. Brokers who agree to the IDX rules receive a data feed from the MLS containing the active listings for all participating brokers in the MLS marketplace for use on their site. Under no circumstances can the IDX data of another broker's listings be provided to any non-MLS participant. IDX rules also include very specific listing display requirements for each participating broker; for example, usually the listing brokerage name is required to display alongside the listing.

VOW

Virtual Office Website (VOW) is a broker website that allows the public to register in order to view every bit of data that is in the MLS (with the exception of confidential information, such as showing instructions). It is the registration requirement and the more complete information that sets a VOW apart from an IDX website. However, like IDX, it allows brokers to share data from the MLS with consumers. VOW data fields may include days on market, original list price and changes over time, sold data, and other fields that are not allowed to be displayed through IDX, and that are not included in a data feed for syndication.

Powered-by vs. Resyndication

In the course of my vocabulary lesson, Celeste brought up a very interesting issue: the difference between "powered by" and "resyndication." Celeste explains, "Like a bad game of Telephone, resyndication of listings results in inaccuracies as the data gets passed from one person to another. However, if listings are 'powered by' a publisher, they're still pristine and up-to-date."

Perhaps an example is the best way to demonstrate this concept, so let's look at HomeFinder.com. Celeste explains that HomeFinder.com "powers" the real estate listings on more than 400 newspaper websites, providing great reach for listings syndicated to their site without ever "sending" the data to the newspaper. This is accomplished in one of two ways – HomeFinder.com is either framed-in, or the newspaper website links out to HomeFinder.com.

When listings are framed-in, they may appear on another website, but the data never leaves the control of the original publisher. And, of course, you're already familiar with the common practice of websites linking out to other websites. In either scenario, accuracy is ensured because the original publisher retains control of the data. This same methodology is used by REALTOR.com to advertise listings on realestate.msn.comrealestate.msn.com.

Now, what would happen if these listings were resyndicated as opposed to powered by HomeFinder.com? There would be an additional step, where they were forwarded from the original publisher to the ultimate website. This is that game of Telephone Celeste was talking about earlier. As a result, data integrity is lost in transmission and often lags behind the original publisher's website in terms of freshness and timeliness.

Additional Definitions

I think this is a great start to understanding some of the key terms in the listing syndication discussion. For more definitions, I recommend an article by Victor Lund, "Useful Listing Syndication Terms Learned at Mid-Year."

Other articles of interest: MLSFinder.com | dsSearchAgent IDX