How the MLS ‘Language’ May Die

by Victor Lund on August 28, 2012

In many ways, the MLS is like a dictionary. They each contain the language of their respective communities – in a dictionary, these are words; in the context of the MLS, these are listings. The MLS and the dictionary each began as books and have been modernized and digitized to fit the online space.

A dictionary does not tell a story, it is merely a set of words. In a similar way, the tools that are layered on top of MLS data give the agent the ability to verbalize data into meaning. The data does not have real meaning until it is crafted into a story by the agent, or by the software that the agent uses.

The MLS Language May Die

The most common process leading to language death is one in which a community of speakers of one language becomes bilingual in another language, and gradually shifts allegiance to the second language until they cease to use their original language. In some way, third party websites are becoming that second language in real estate. What is ironic is that brokers and agents who stand to gain the most by preserving the MLS are instigating the process of assimilating the consumer to the new language.

How long will it be before consumers abandon the process of using an agent to list their property in the MLS, and simply do it themselves on third party websites? How long will it be before agents abandon the MLS and simply put their listings on third party websites that do not have offers of compensation for other agents?

Today’s MLS needs revitalization, no doubt. The MLS must be the listing language of the elite professionals. Moreover, consumers need to be able to access that listing language. It would also be helpful if consumers held the same distain for “slang,’ in this case, the bad data quality of third party websites.

Curators of the MLS Language

The term used for language experts that develop dictionaries is “lexicographer.” In many ways, MLS leaders shoulder a similar burden as lexicographers. They must identify the needs of their users, then define and organize their language (listings) in a way that users can easily access and understand. It’s no small task – and yet, like lexicographers, theirs is often a thankless job.

What critics fail to recognize is that MLS leadership plays a critical role in keeping alive the language of the MLS. They deserve our support. As an industry, we must do more to preserve the MLS – as with a language, it represents our past, our present, and our future. If we fail it now, it may well go the way of Latin and so many other dead languages.

There are a number of excellent initiatives in our industry that support the health of the MLS. At the center of each of them is an effort to educate consumers on one central point: listing data in the MLS is simply the best quality. Source MLS, Dot MLS, BLC, and even MLS consumer-facing websites all drive home the value of MLS data. Should these initiatives fail in whole, or only have limited success in part – our MLS language could naturally fade away.

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