It's been an interesting few weeks between conferences, industry news articles and associated social media commentary. I continue to be fascinated by the passionate opinions and misconceptions around Upstream. I was recently asked for an opinion from one of our beloved news organizations about my take on a potentially competitive offering. As I was writing my response, I was reminded that even after sixteen speaking events in ten weeks, we have a long way to go communicating the mission and benefits of Upstream.
After hitting send, it just made sense to publish my response more broadly aligning to both our theme of transparency and hoping to clarify our mission.
On a tangential note, if the Upstream initiative has become a catalyst that starts cooperative conversations between an MLS and their members or incites industry vendors to develop products that support practitioners (brokers and agents), I will go to bed at night with a smile from ear to ear.
Here is my response…
Thanks for sending me the press release. I'm fascinated by the complement/competitive comparable. It reminds me I still have a long way to educate the industry on Upstream's mission. Upstream's goal is to help brokerages be more efficient and deliberate with their data assets enabling them to be more nimble running their business. Restricting the conversation to listings is myopic. It's a fraction of the data that is core to running a successful brokerage. Efficiency is important and reducing points of entry, and leveraging standards will get us there. But it's not more important than deliberately managing the use of your asset or extending and adopting standards to be more vendor agnostic.
Upstream is more akin to Google Drive than MLS related software. As a document owner, I can share it with you. I can share the entire folder with someone else. As the owner, I can control that access anytime. Google only provides the ecosystem that enables the sharing. They don't touch, manage, police or use your documents. Only the owner and those entitled have access. It's not just for documents just as Upstream isn't simply about listings. The parcel, roster, and vendor data just happen to be where we are starting. Data use agreements are between the broker and the entitled recipient. Any existing agreements between brokers, vendors, and their MLS remain intact. Again, Upstream is closer to Google Drive for real estate data than MLS related software. Brokers determine who gets access, what fields are available and what frequency the data can be pulled.
There're misconceptions about the use cases. We are reducing impact to the practitioners by integrating into the MLS ecosystem. When someone authenticates into their participating MLS, the system will know if the broker is leveraging Upstream. When they access the "Add/Edit" function as an Upstream member, they interact with the Upstream interface. Otherwise, non-members see the standard edit screen. All of the local business rules and data validation are incorporated into Upstream. It's not a "one size fits all" solution. Yes, there will be mobile applications to facilitate access, but our goal has always been to minimize workflow changes. My intuition tells me that the misconception that Upstream is an MLS "alternative" is where comments like "I can't see every broker doing this…" are born. Broker participation is optional. Brokerages can be buy-side only (no listings) and gain from consolidating roster data. You can imagine the future benefit where agent profile data can be unified and shared vs. repeating their profile information on dozens of sites. If a local MLS doesn't participate, the brokers can still leverage Upstream benefits. They won't gain all the efficiencies because listings would be entered twice, but they will access better distribution control and often better data to share. They'd simply turn off distribution from the MLS to the vendors they collaborate with on Upstream.
Finally, I mentioned "better data to share." Many platforms today were built when data and storage were expensive. They have arbitrary limitations such as how many photos can be stored and at what resolution. Upstream doesn't have those limitations enhancing what can be shared to any marketing channel. Additionally, we've added many fields the brokers want such as long photo descriptions. We've listened to the community regarding our API and have added providing data in traditional RETS format. Our original API layout is still available for those that want richer data less accessible in a flat format such as the ability to enumerate through all price changes, etc.
Hopefully, Upstream’s mission is becoming clearer. I welcome your questions.
We seek to create efficiencies by reducing redundant entry, help brokers distribute deliberately by giving them control over who can access their data and inspire innovation by removing artificial barriers when the broker allows.