Facebook is dead. Twitter is dying. Bitcoin needs to be shot.

I remember about five years ago back when I was CEO of the Arizona Regional MLS in Phoenix and was building a communications department from scratch. The recently hired communications director was pitching me on new staff positions in preparation for our annual budget cycle. “We need a social media person.” We called it “person” because we did not have a good handle on a descriptive job title – manager, communicator, guru, pundit, mini-blogger – none seemed to click.

R.I.P.

R.I.P.

I was hesitant. I honestly didn’t think Facebook was all that big a deal for a business entity and Twitter was nothing but an instant message service that had no semblance of privacy. A mini-blog? Who wanted to read 140 character blog posts? “Bah, humbug. It won’t last. Facebook is a flash in the pan. It’s a social toy at best, not a business tool.” So said I, and I was sticking to my guns. But on the outside possibility that I was wrong, we hired a social content manager anyway.

Twitter is wounded

Code Blue – Crash Cart – STAT

Fast forward to Facebook’s IPO and star status. Twitter became the vehicle for not just social interaction but societal uprising and in some cases revolution. But Twitter may be signing it’s own 140-character death warrant if it can’t convince people it’s safe, secure and unhackable. “It won’t last,” said my redundant self.

Then came the growing litany of privacy concerns, the security breaches, the disclosures, shameful backroom practices and ad-revenue fueled by bad management decisions (like initiating “Likes” on behalf of users or paid Tweet placements). And the legions of imitators.

Finally, research caught up with prognostication.  According to Pew Research, millennials have been abandoning Facebook by the millions and new post-millennials have not taking their place. They moved on. Facebook was no longer the newest, shiniest thing to appease their short attention spans. And I was right. Finally.

In looking at Facebook today, I can see why it has not worked from a business perspective either.  I have 204 friends on Facebook. There are a lot of them who are not really friends, just acquaintances, but I haven’t found the “Acquaint me” button yet so I have not differentiated the two.

Of those friends, 155 are professionals in the real estate industry; 87 of those are either brokers or agents (licensed and practicing), the rest are supporting (MLS staff, vendors, consultants, etc). Fourteen are classmates from my high school/hometown; five are family members; one is an acquaintance from my former life in television dating back to 1976 in Indianapolis; two are deceased (and no, neither is still posting); and the remaining 27 are unknown (names that don’t register with me as being an acquaintance of any kind). How they got there, I have no idea. Probably an inadvertent mouse click on the “OK” button.

I am not a heavy Facebook user and only look at my timeline a couple times each week, Even though 75% of my “friends” are business associates, 99% of the postings on my newsfeed have nothing to do with business. I‘m not seeing new investment ideas or houses for sale (despite the considerable time and wasted energy expended by MLS Managers everywhere trying to write rules to regulate such advertising – it never materialized). I don’t see new business models being floated for feedback or new product/service ideas being tested for reaction.  Instead I see postings of kittens, cute cuddly kittens, doing cute cuddly kitteney things like playing with yarn or hiding in the laundry basket. I see family pictures, birthdays, anniversaries, bar mitzvahs, bat mitzvahs, weddings, an occasional funeral, and vacation slide shows galore. Frankly, “friends”, I could care less. What a waste of time. Two visits per week to my home page may be too many.

Granted there are some corners in Facebook-land that are actually business oriented and interesting (mostly). The “Raise the Bar” discussion group often has some worthwhile dialog on a burning issue of the day. But it has equal amounts of trivial bovine-caca. The group of classmates from my high school is useful for keeping track of who is still alive and who isn’t. (Last one out of study hall, turn off the lights.)

But for the most part the postings of “Hey, remember when we were young and stupid decided to see if we could fly from the hayloft using trash can lids as wings?” fall into the classification of “don’t remember, don’t care.” As the promised ultimate business communications tool and magic lead generating machine, Facebook has failed miserably. Apparently the younger generations are catching on to this much quicker than the rest of us. For many over 40’s it’s still “Oooooo, shiney!” but for the 39 and under crowd it’s become “Meh!?!”

And just when I started to lean back on my haunches, resting on my prodigious future-predicting laurels, along comes the next bright shiny new thing – Bitcoin.

Facebook at least had some utility for some portion of the population for some period of time. Bitcoin has reached a new level of worthlessness in far less time and with much bigger potential consequences for early adopters and potential investors. Those who think they can strike it rich by getting in on the ground floor of Bitcoin should read any Wikipedia entry that contains the phrase “gold rush” and learn from history. The scary part of the Bitcoin story is it has gone from the obscurity of an internet underground hacker hobby to mainstream in a matter of a few short months.

Bitcoin Bubble

Bitcoin Bubble??

This raging Bitcoin mania has been sustained despite warnings from well placed and knowledgeable internet veterans such as Robert X. Cringely, who has been writing for InfoWorld since I bought my first TRS-80-III back in 1981, who recently wrote, “Bitcoin is an overrated techno-bubble. Bitcoin works fine for now (sort of), but if you’re thinking about retiring on a big bag of Bitcoins, you can look forward to living out your golden years in a sparsely furnished refrigerator box on the corner of Broke and Why Me.”

And it is already touching our business. One brokerage has announced that it is accepting Bitcoin as payment for real estate transactions. It’s unclear how the seller of said house will react. I suspect the press release was more an opportunistic grab of a brief headline than a real business altering early adoption.

Bitcoin Mag Cover - Anonymous

Vol. 1 Issue 1 of Bitcoin Magazine

I looked around for some supporting evidence for my theory that Bitcoin is not to be trusted, not to be considered a viable currency, and has no intrinsic value – real or otherwise. I found a number of usable references, but perhaps none more telling than the cover of the first issue of Bitcoin magazine. For those not up to speed on your local terrorist organizations, the masked character and the mantra he holds are the trademarks of Anonymous.  Yes, Anonymous, the cyber-terrorists responsible for Occupy Wall Street and coconspirators with Wikileaks.

My plea to any and all who read this is this: HOLD ON TO YOUR WALLET. Don’t get sucked in to what is a going to be a nuclear sized implosion. Bitcoin is not just a hypothetical asset or tradable commodity (like buying a futures contract or selling stock short). Bitcoin is an illusion, created by unknown people in mysterious, spontaneous ways using computer algorithms that no one understands and has value only so long as some other sucker thinks it does.

Bitcoin’s “value” can, and will, evaporate in a heartbeat as soon as the next shiny thing appears on the horizon (or the SEC steps in to regulate Bitcoin exchanges, whichever comes first).

There have been many “virtual currencies,” from Dutch tulip bulbs to the collectable cards used in popular games. Without exception, they have all peaked and collapsed, leaving their owners with worthless inventories.

~~Charles Gray, GlobalTimes.cn

Please don’t let it last as long as Facebook.

For this post:
Cause: I finally got one prediction right
Effect: Going out on a limb for the next one

I can’t compete with Rob Hahn on predictions, so this one is only posted on Procuring-Cause.com. But please read Rob’s take on what’s unlikely to happen in 2014. We’ll compare notes later.

 

The wolf eventually showed up!

The whole world of MLS is exploding. That part that isn’t exploding will be carpet bombed into oblivion. The sky isn’t just falling, it’s getting ready to crush every little chicken in its path. So many people are crying “Wolf!” that even the wolf is scared spitless. At least that’s what some writers would have you believe.Boycriedwolfbarlow-260px

Others see the problems inherent in crying “Wolf” but nonetheless think there may be some substance to the cries.

One of the morals of the Aesop’s Fable of the Boy who cried Wolf is often lost behind the more important metaphor: Don’t cry Wolf unless you mean it because you will make your audience weary of your warning. What we forget is that the Wolf eventually DID show up – and killed the whole flock of sheep.

I fear the same thing happening now in the MLS community in the aftermath of the warnings by The Realty Alliance to the collected MLS executives and leaders in Boise last week.

Some pundits are saying, “Yeah, we’ve heard this all before and nothing ever happens.” “Why should this time be different?”

This time it is different.

I’ll offer that this time is different because these are not idle threats made by some petulant teenager throwing a hissy fit. No one on the stage last Friday at CMLS was holding their breath until they turn blue in order to get their way. Not once did I hear the phrase “or else” uttered by TRA President/CEO Craig Cheatham. What I did hear was simple declarative statements of what TRA considers the facts of business life – that the practices they itemized were likely to cause conflict between MLSs and their Broker participants.

Some listeners were shocked, SHOCKED I tell you to hear there had been discontent here. They had never heard of such a thing, at least not in their backyards.

I’ve been doing some digging trying to figure out where this schism between brokers and their association owned/operated MLSs started. This has apparently been going on for years and no one noticed until last Friday.

Here’s what I’m finding and some of it is disturbing.

The Realty Alliance has a Facebook page. The page is posted to with great regularity by the administrator with observations and statements that sound an awful lot like either policy or stated concerns. These posts go back two and a half years, to May 2011. There aren’t many, but they do recite multiple expressions of angst about the growing schism between brokerages and their associations and MLSs. Examples:

TRAFB-01

TRAFB-02

 

TRAFB-03

 

TRAFB-04

 

Some of the messages are very cryptic. Such as

TRAFB-05

 

and a reminder a week later

TRAFB-06

And earlier that year when Franchisor IDX was a hot topic:

TRAFB-07

 

TRAFB-08

 

 

TRAFB-09

 

TRAFB-10

 

TRAFB-11

 

These last few entries all point to the time when TRA was fighting its implementation of franchisor IDX by NAR. The discussion was heated and almost everyone with a passing thought and a keyboard chimed in with their personal opinions about the debate. One blog, Matthew Ferrara, linked to from the TRA Facebook site, had some provocative quotes and comments, such as:MFerrara Post

Again, so what? This is just picking at the scabs of the never-healing self-inflicted wound REALTORS stabbed themselves with decades ago, called MLS.

So all of the “nice” things that MLS policies supposedly provide brokers are becoming less valuable to many brokers with every new technology decision that accompanies them.

Mr. Ferrara had some observations that seem to presage the discussions we’re having today by nearly three years. Here, on how difficult a new technology solution would be:

As for sharing it (data) between multiple brokers, alternatives have already proven the possibility: Postlets, Point2 and – shock! – peer-to-peer syndication feeds make it possible for companies to transfer data to each other without much cost (in some cases, none). If an unfunded-nobody can syndicate their data to Huffington Post using a free WordPress-coded blog and free WiFi at Starbucks, don’t you think today’s brokers can figure out how to send data to each other?

On how to do business without an MLS (remember this is early 2011):

And that’s the real unintended consequence of the IDX syndication rule. Some brokers must now seriously consider withdrawing from the MLS club entirely. And why not? Most of New York City has survived just fine into the 21st century without MLS. Millions of real estate brokers around the world get along fine without overly organized compensation policies and data policing. They know how to cut each other a referral check, and generally play nice. Consumers, on the other hand, are far better at inducing brokers to keep their data fresh than a few dollar fine by a MLS cop, lest the broker face consumers’ wrath on Twitter and Yelp.

So the discussion of MLS v. Broker problems isn’t new. Nor are some of the more obvious possible resolutions to the problems in the event that the brokers and NAR/MLS teams can’t reach consensus on changes needed in the underlying relationships.

At the risk of repeating myself, I will. Here are comments I posted to the Vendor Alley essay on this topic earlier today:

I think we are over-thinking this. Let’s look at Occam’s razor: the simple answer is most often correct.

What do the brokers say they want? A simple solution that lets them trade inventory and cooperate on selling homes. Nothing more. The simple solution would be to meet for coffee at the corner restaurant once each week and exchange lists of addresses and prices. Sound familiar? Now make it electronic, but keep it simple.

We are seeing this in the agent community with private listing networks where agents exchange pocket listings with other agents with whom they choose to work. No NAR oversight; no mandatory cooperation requirement, no syndication; no MLS rules or competing products/services, no need to join 47 MLSs because of artificial geographic or political boundaries, just a simple society created by the peers in the group. And if someone isn’t playing by the rules, the group either kicks them out or just ignores them.

That approach on a slightly larger scale could work for residential brokerages. It certainly has worked just fine for the commercial brokers for decades. And most of them have never joined an MLS in their lives.

What have we learned from all this research? The sky isn’t falling yet, but storm clouds are definitely making it darker out there. We’ve heard these complaints before, but ignored them. The alternative solutions being considered aren’t really that hard to do nor are they that novel. Don’t ignore the warning signs just because you’ve heard them before.

One more lesson from many, many old black and white jungle movies: the most dangerous time is not when the war drums are pounding in the distance, but when they stop. As long as TRA and its affiliated groups are making noise, NAR and MLS are probably safe.

But don’t expect brass bands to come marching out of the Realty Alliance meeting room on Monday. There will probably not be a news conference held, no press release released, no profound statements of great import about the future of the industry, and certainly no ceremonial button pushing. The time to really start worrying will be Tuesday morning when the drums fall silent and the jungle is deathly quiet.

For this post:
Cause: Boy cries ‘wolf’ and no one listens
Effect: the Sound of Silence.