We Need to Separate RPR AMP from RPR Upstream, Conceptually

B0003294 Human melanoma cell dividing Credit: Paul J.Smith &Rachel Errington. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://images.wellcome.ac.uk Human melanoma cell undergoing cell division. The chromosomes (blue) have separated and the two daughter cells have almost split apart - only a small bridge of cytoplasm remains. The green staining labels the endoplasmic reticulum and the red labels the mitochondria. The image was produced on a confocal microscope; the ER and mitochondria are from a single optical section but the chromosomes are a 3D reconstruction from a series of sections. Confocal micrograph Published:  -  Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons by-nc-nd 2.0 UK, see http://images.wellcome.ac.uk/indexplus/page/Prices.html
Credit: Paul J.Smith &Rachel Errington. Wellcome Images
Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons by-nc-nd 2.0 UK

In a recent post on Realuoso, my friend Erica Ramus, wrote an Op/Ed on how Project Upstream will change everything:

The Project Upstream broker initiative is an attempt to gather real estate data under one umbrella, again trying to wrestle back control of our listings and data.

Hahn’s description of “MLS Mashups” and the modular MLS model makes sense in today’s app-driven world. My own MLS uses a vendor whose portal looks like we’re working back in the 1990s. It hasn’t evolved with how we practice real estate today. I won’t even rant here about having to belong to multiple MLS systems, pay duplicate dues to market my listings on multiple platforms, and enter/re-enter the same data again and again (and again). Our fragmented MLS system needs to evolve and change with the times.

The solution is a plug and play, where we pay only for the tools we want and use. A network where data is pulled in without having to re-enter it on multiple platforms is efficient, so I look forward to seeing what Project Upstream and RPR put together.

I like Erica’s take on this, as she’s a working broker/REALTOR in the field. I worry, though, that her confusion between AMP and Upstream, two distinct and different projects by RPR is commonplace. Cant’ blame anyone who wants to conflate AMP and Upstream into one, since NAR and RPR themselves conflated the two into one proposal for NAR’s Board of Directors.

Conceptually, I think it’s important to separate the two projects and evaluate each according to its own merit and its own issues.

RPR-AMP is for the MLS

First, recognize that RPR-AMP (Advanced Multi-List Platform) is the project I’ve pushed and have been a part of. AMP is about providing a technologically advanced back-end platform to each local MLS, so that the vision of an API-driven, modular MLS can be realized.

The goal of the Modular MLS movement is to make the current paradigm of the monolithic MLS Vendor obsolete. RPR will not become another MLS vendor. I verified that yesterday in a long phone call with Marty Frame, the chief architect and the technical genius behind RPR. He made it clear that RPR is pursuing the “Big Iron/VAR” strategy I laid out at the start of the journey, and that RPR doesn’t want to, and will not, be offering localization, customization and tech support.

The whole Modular MLS movement, of which RPR AMP is the leader today, is about making the MLS more efficient and more innovative for the users. It’s about transforming the MLS from a “one-size-fits-all” type of organization into an “equality of opportunity” type of entity.

RPR-Upstream is for the Brokerages

On the other hand, Upstream has always been, is today, and will be for the foreseeable future a movement of the brokers, by the brokers, and for the brokers. It is led by the largest brokerages and national companies in the industry, and much of its motivation and momentum are provided by organizations like The Realty Alliance and Leading RE.

When Erica writes that Project Upstream is about gathering real estate data under one umbrella, trying to wrestle back control of “our” listings and data… she’s kind of on the mark, but missing the forest for the trees.

Project Upstream’s whole purpose is for brokerage listing data to sit “upstream of” or “in front of” the MLS. Brokerages would put listings into Upstream, which then sends the listings to the local MLS… or not, as per the brokerage’s decision. If it’s about wrestling back control over “our” listings and data, Upstream is wrestling it back from the local MLS.

Keep in mind that the dramatic openings of the Upstream saga was when Craig Cheatham of The Realty Alliance told MLS executives at CMLS 2013, “You have ten days!” And in that same speech, he mentioned over and over again that the brokers are no longer worried about Zillow and the portals. Their headache is the local MLS.

Upstream is not about syndication. It’s not about MLS public portals. It’s not about control over listings and data. It’s about control over the MLS. The question to be answered is, “Who shall rule?”

In other words, Upstream is about MLS governance, not about listing data, about technology, or any such thing. It’s about power over the MLS.

Why We Need to Separate the Two

For starters, we can keep the concepts and the consequences clear.

RPR AMP right now seems clear and straightforward to me. My reservations are history, since (a) I understand why RPR wants to charge for AMP, and (b) I’ve learned that RPR is committed to the VAR concept. So as we move forward, RPR-AMP leads the way in legitimizing and popularizing the principles of the Modular MLS. Those benefits are, as Erica pointed out, that the MLS of the future will be plug-and-play, pay-for-what-you-use, open, and filled with innovation we can’t even conceive of today.

The same cannot be said for RPR-Upstream. I support Upstream as a concept, but RPR/NAR as the power behind Upstream is a really strange bedfellow. I touched on this in a prior post, but more I think about it, more puzzled I become.

Start with the premise that Upstream is about the question of who rules the MLS. Today, that is NAR via the MLS Policy Committee and the local Associations who own/operate the local MLS. Upstream’s raison d’etre is to move important policy decisions to the brokerages, particularly the large regional/national companies who suffer from having to deal with and belong to dozens of local MLSs.

Going forward, let’s imagine that Upstream is a big success, and all of the large firms in the U.S. belong to Upstream, and UpstreamRE LLC becomes a serious power broker. NAR’s MLS Policy Committee passes a resolution, and NAR’s Board of Directors accepts that resolution, that the brokerages find utterly unacceptable. What happens then?

I pseudo-joked that perhaps RPR-Upstream means that NAR is looking to get out of the MLS policy business. Maybe I was more correct than I had imagined. And maybe that’s not a bad thing, at all. Since the MLS was always a cooperative of brokers, perhaps it should be governed by brokers, rather than by Associations. But if that isn’t the longterm strategy here, then RPR-Upstream results in a whole lot of political battles and infighting between NAR, the brokerages, and the MLSs who are sort of caught in the middle.

A Question, As a Way of Conclusion…

Since I’m working on both the Modular MLS, and on MLS governance reform… here’s a sort-of random question in the way of a conclusion:

If the MLS becomes truly modular, and the governance of the MLS is streamlined to meet both the needs of the brokerage community to be in control over the trading cooperative it has created as well as the needs of the MLS itself to be more nimble, more specialized, and less bound by endless committee meetings… is Project Upstream and UpstreamRE LLC and all of that still necessary?

If brokerages have enough say in governance to ensure that the MLS will never compete against them, and will not be a barrier standing in the way of their wanting to innovate, and the modular technology supports such a concept… what is the need for yet another organization/entity/committee?

Ponder away. Your thoughts are welcome, as always.



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Rob Hahn

Managing Partner of 7DS Associates, and the grand poobah of this here blog. Once called "a revolutionary in a really nice suit", people often wonder what I do for a living because I have the temerity to not talk about my clients and my work for clients. Suffice to say that I do strategy work for some of the largest organizations and companies in real estate, as well as some of the smallest startups and agent teams, but usually only on projects that interest me with big implications for reforming this wonderful, crazy, lovable yet frustrating real estate industry of ours.

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