What Are We Building?August 13, 2006
(This blog post was written in late 2006 – we have since built out the web engine – an overview of the actual online video content platform is now available)
In short, we are building a web engine that can create personalized user experiences in multiple languages across dozens or hundreds of websites. Interest in international aspects of web commerce are definitely growing. Non-English speaking use of the web is rising dramatically – a fact that is often lost in the echo chamber of Web 2.0 Silicon Valley. One of my favorite venture capital bloggers, Rick Segal, has a recent blog posting on this and related issues.
For context, though most of this posting will be talking about the capabilities of the ForSaleByLocals(tm) web engine, we’ll be running the web engine for version 1 (v1) on our infrastructure until we feel that it is ready to license for others to use. Frankly, we have been been focused on the user experience and there is still much work to be done around the administration of the engine to make the menus customer-ready.
Anyway, a lot of thought has gone into this project. We think that the web engine has a number of fairly interesting components:
– Listings Engine: The simplest premise of the listings engine is that it allows users to browse almost any type of formatted into listings in their preferred language, currency, and units of measure. It also allows sellers to post in their preferred language, currency, and units of measure. The listings engine has location information that allows the engine owner to easily specify preferred critera for a given site’s listings. This gives us an automated way to optimize for likely visitors in terms of the various contexts of the likely visitor, language, and location (country, state/province or even city/postal code level if needed).
– Translation Workflow: We believe that machine translation is improving but still not great. So, for the moment, all listings on our site(s) will be translated by a human into every language that we support. These languages include English, Spanish, and Portuguese. This translation will be done within 72 hours for individual but a key performance indicator for us is to have listings translated into all supported languages within 1 business day. We’ll see how close to that goal that we get.
Now, you are likely reading this and thinking, “ok, what’s gonna happen when someone responds in a language that I can’t read?”. The translation workflow extends to the internal mail system available to registered users on the site as well. Can’t read an email because it’s in a different language? Touch the “Translate This Email” button on the user interface and you’ll receive a human translated copy within a few hours. The mail system is free (the only cost is a minute or so of your time for registration – hopefully Rick won’t have bad comments about ours!). Mail translation is a paid service but a certain quantity of translations are included in the premium memberships.
We’ll work to have the translation workflow available after launch as a separate service that could be integrated into other products or listings oriented sites and leveraging our pool of translators. If interested in such a service, feel free to contact me. I’m hoping to be a bit more rested (and less grumpy) after launch though. <grin>
– Service Provider Integration: We’ll be integrating profiles and contacts for local service providers into our property search process based on user searches and preferences. This directory is not just for residential real estate agents. All types of service providers are welcome to join and there are free options as well as premium paid options for the directory. In V1, we’ve built in the capability to match service providers with people looking for services. This is an area that we will expand on in subsequent versions of the web engine.
– Alternative Media Integration: Did you know that this weblog is generally between #2 and #5 on Google for “real estate video”? Thank you! We are doing a lot of thinking about the challenges and concepts around real estate video as well addressing more hands-on issues that our customers might have. The result is tight integration of online video and and video podcasts just after launch. We already have video of about fifty properties to show on launch as a result of our efforts in this area.
– Advertising Engine: Page-based advertising will be only be presented to non-registered users of the site via an engine that will change advertisements based on user preferences and search criteria. This engine uses much of the same contextual information as the listings engine (though the processing can be distributed separately from the listing engine). When a non-registered user changes languages and search criteria, all associated advertising will change with her. She might choose an advertising context geared towards likely buyers or likely sellers.
As a user, she should never see an ad outside of her chosen language even if her choices change. If she searches in portuguese to buy timeshares in Orlando, she’ll be presented with a certain set of ads in portuguese – for timeshares for sale in orlando if available. If she switches her language choice to English and investigates selling her house in Seattle, her ads will switch to english as well and the site will choose those ads most closely matching her current criteria…in this case, perhaps agents looking for listings.
Advertising packages based on context, language, location, and level of exclusivity can be reserved, media uploaded, and directly purchased via the free member user interface. You be able to track both the impressions of your ads across the network of sites and the numbers of clickthrus. Advertising may also be included as part of premium membership levels at significant savings.
–RSS and Tagging: not so new anymore but still an important part of the push and pull sides of gaining visibility for your listings. We’re planning on adding a great deal of functionality in this area after launch.
What does this mean for you? In v1, all of our listings will be available across all of our affiliated sites. Every site will have differing set of context, location, and language so that users are more likely to immediately find what they are looking for without filtering or having to use a website that isnt language friendly. Having the details of all this context managed primarily by the web engine should make search engine optimization easier in an increasingly competitive space. This allows tightly targeted sites each with a specific focus but with all listings filterable and accessible across every site in the network. By making properties available across dozens of context, location, and language focused websites that bear little visual resemblance to each other, there will likely be one that attracts your special buyer who might have otherwise never found your property.
Languages by their nature add a new dimension to software issues. Hopefully, our efforts will help your business prosper and find new customers in the current real estate market.
More to follow as we get closer to launch.