Internet Killed the Real Estate Star is playing on this sensationalist theme; but I think it’s grossly inaccurate.

The basic argument is applied to all sectors of commerce; and does a good job listing the other industries that have been altered by the Internet.  In summary, buyers can connect directly with sellers now, so the middleman is no longer necessary.  Think eBay.

But this argument can be taken too far.  As my friend Mark always said; “the person who represents himself in court has a fool for a client”.  We’ve heard for years that Doctors and Lawyers would be disintermediated, but I see very little evidence of that.  When my health or freedom are at risk; I want professional help.

So, does this apply to real estate agents?  About 6 months ago, I studied for my Washington state real estate license.  I won’t be working as an agent, and have no broker to sign for me; so I can’t get the official license — but I passed the final exam with 94%.  So, what did I learn?  First, it was a lot harder than I expected.  I learned that there are a LOT of factors to take into account when transacting a real estate sale or purchase.  Lots of tradeoffs; lots of government regulations; and all sorts of risks and opportunities.

And licensing just qualifies you to do the paperwork, and handle your business without screwing up.  It doesn’t make you an expert in the local market.  It doesn’t establish you as being the best at a particular type of transaction.

And people don’t go to a real-estate agent because they need help with the paperwork.  When most people buy a home, they’re making a purchase worth more money than they’ll ever have.  It’s the biggest transaction most people ever make.  And most people intend to spend a huge amount of time in their purchase.  This isn’t the kind of transaction you want to screw up; you want the advice and assistance of someone who’s really good at it.  For-sale-by-owner works for some people (probably more than representation-by-client), but will never be the lion’s share of transactions.  Real estate is different from travel.

I recently sat on a series of panels at some real estate industry conferences in California.  There were reps from Yahoo, Google, and others; and Richard Barton of Zillow was a keynote speaker.  It was great, because I got to spend a lot of time with many of the top real estate agents in California, and see things from their perspective.  The demise of the real estate profession is highly exaggerated.

One of the key myths perpetuated by the chicken littles is that sites like are going to put agents out of business, because agents (presumably) live on being able to assess value of property.  This is like saying the printing press would put doctors out of business, because anyone can buy a book with medical information in it.  The truth is, when a customer comes in having done some basic research first, it gives the doctor more time to provide the high-value services.  Statistics show that people who have done their homework are more likely to make a qualified purchase of real estate, and waste far less of the agent’s time looking at properties that are not relevant.  As Scoble’s story shows, information from Zillow is just one data point, and a smart real estate agent knows that a better-informed customer is a more satisfied customer.

It’s true that agents had stories of sales that were initially more challenging because of Zillow estimates, and agents are still adjusting to the fact that listings are available everywhere.  Across the board, there is some anxiety about the changes in communications, the power of search engines, and so on.  But agents who embrace the technology changes are finding that they are able to get better-qualified leads, and do far more transactions in less time.  Since the standard commission structure hasn’t changed, that means more money for the agent.  As automation does more and more of the routine busy-work of an agent, the agent can focus on the area where she really adds value, and scale that better.

Pope and Israel

Lebanon, the model of diversity, democracy and peaceful prosperity in the middle east; is being bombed to smithereens by Israel.  And Pope “I was NOT Hitler Youth!” Ratzinger says “Bad Israel!”.  Iran and Syria are licking their lips.  India and China are probably puzzled by all of the hooplah, but for everyone else in the world (Arab, Jew, and Christian), this is looking a lot like the big party we’ve been waiting more than 2,000 years for.

So it’s really incredible to me that some Irish backhoe operator would turn up a previously unknown 1,200 year-old religious manuscript from the cadre of monks who scribed Book of Kells, and that the book would “happen” to be opened to Psalm 83.  All the experts say it’s not a hoax.  What do you think?

Maybe somebody is trying to remind Benedict about the debt he owes to the Schottenkloster.  The Pope may be German, but the religion isn’t.

Launching Low Integrity Level Process

If you’re using the code sample for launching a low integrity process in the protected mode for Internet Explorer whitepaper, you may be getting an error that complains about RtlLengthSid.  We’re working to update the code sample.  In the meantime, look at the code below.  You’ll have to add all of your own error checking, but you can get the basic idea:

#include “windows.h”
#include “Sddl.h”

__cdecl main(/*int argc, TCHAR argv[]*/)
   BOOL                  b;
   HANDLE                hToken;
   HANDLE                hNewToken;
   PWSTR                 szProcessName = L”c:windowsnotepad.exe”;     // For example
   PWSTR                 szIntegritySid = L”S-1-16-4096″;  // Low integrity SID
   PSID                  pIntegritySid = NULL;
   PROCESS_INFORMATION   ProcInfo = {0};
   STARTUPINFO           StartupInfo = {0};
   //ULONG                 ExitCode = 0;

   b = OpenProcessToken(GetCurrentProcess(),MAXIMUM_ALLOWED, &hToken);
   b = DuplicateTokenEx(hToken, MAXIMUM_ALLOWED, NULL, SecurityImpersonation, TokenPrimary, &hNewToken);
   b = ConvertStringSidToSid(szIntegritySid, &pIntegritySid);
   TIL.Label.Attributes = SE_GROUP_INTEGRITY;
   TIL.Label.Sid        = pIntegritySid;

   // Set the process integrity level
   b = SetTokenInformation(hNewToken, TokenIntegrityLevel, &TIL, sizeof(TOKEN_MANDATORY_LABEL) + GetSidLengthRequired(1));

   // Create the new process at Low integrity
   b = CreateProcessAsUser(hNewToken, szProcessName,NULL, NULL, NULL, FALSE, 0, NULL, NULL, &StartupInfo, &ProcInfo);
   return 0;

Amnesty International: Give Us More Money to Do Nothing

I am sure that Amnesty International gets tons of money from Microsoft employees.  And it’s great that people can feel good about themselves by spending money to change the world.  But this is really a waste of time.

Basically, AI wants you to boycott Google, since Google gave information to the Chinese government.  This is how they intend to change China’s policies: by boycotting American companies.  Blaming American companies for everything is a great way to get people to donate money to liberal causes, but it’s not a … hmmm.

Here are the facts.  China doesn’t have a first ammendment right to political speech or assembly.  In China, you can get arrested for having a political meeting in your basement.  You can buy GHB on the web in China, but you can’t try to overthrow the party.  It’s illegal.  Furthermore, there is absolutely no public support in China for political speech legislation.  If you held free and fair populist elections, you would get less than 10% of people voting for it.

Before anyone flames me, let me say that I love the first ammendment in America, and I want everyone to be as happy as we are with our clearly superior system (yes, we are also committing self-inflicted genocide at an alarming rate, but our political system is superior, “rah! rah!”)

My point is that, if you want to change the laws of China, as AI claims to do, you have to do a few things. First, you have to change the public opinion of a billion-person nation.  Then, you have to convince the ruling party to change the laws.  You can do that by instituting a revolution and becoming the ruling party, or you can do it by joing the ruling party and working your way up.  That’s how it works.

So what will boycotting American companies do (besides get liberals to donate money to AI)?  Well, it will give China more incentive to promote domestic Internet companies like baidu and taobao, who follow the laws.  Sure, it will make the dissidents more likely to use Google, but that would only be great publicity if dissidents and sympathizers represented more than single-digit percentage of the population.  They don’t.

Furthermore, we’re at a point where baidu is within a percent or two of being #1 in China.  In 10 years, there will be twice as much Chinese language Internet traffic than western languages.  The domestic companies already get enough competitive advantage from the Chinese government, and there is a very real threat that some of these companies could depose the American giants in the next ten years.  AI would seem to prefer that Google be constrained to being the search engine for political dialog in the western hemisphere, and to hell with serving the rest of the world.

Great.  Tell the Chinese people, “when you awaken from your brainwashed stupor, you’re going to thank us — we gave you free speech by KICKING GOOGLE OUT OF CHINA!”

Argo and Zune?

I can’t comment on whether I’ve heard rumors of an ipod-killer from Microsoft.  But if I did, I probably thought “someone is telling me this crazy story just to see if I will leak.”  I am happy to say I passed the test.  Someone else failed the test, though, and speculation is running wild.

Now, let’s just say that all of the speculation is true — let’s say we have an elite squad of people secretly working on all-that-is-good, prepared to unleash for this Christmas.  I remember hearing speculation about us releasing a new OS for the past three Christmases, and it hasn’t happened yet either.  And while I agree that XBox and XBox 360 rule, let’s be careful about setting expectations too high.  The OMWatch piece sounds suspiciouly like the typical “OMG, I found a Google beta app that does word processing; they are prepared to take over the world!!” pieces in tech rags.  All of the speculation about cross-product integration possibilities is utterly alluring.  I worked on some of those products, and I can say that I would LOVE it if we did what OMWatch is suggesting.  But I’d even be happy if it turns out we’re doing anything even remotely related, and it doesn’t completely flop.

Hmm, but what if?  Just as Sony and Apple declare bankruptcy next February, and Microsoft takes over all digital entertainment; the revenues from our near-simultaneous launches of Windows, Office, and SQL Server start to add up, and we capture more than 50% of global search market due to AdCenter’s superior integration with video gaming and set-top boxes.  All of the execs who joined Google admit that they were just joking, and come back to MSFT.  And the stock shoots up to 28.  And everyone has cherry pie for free.  And Junior Mints.

OK, I am not saying that it’s impossible.  But please can we have a bit of moderation here?

Oh No!!! People Will Love It!

Please tell me this is a bad joke.  We ship a piece of software that allows people to encrypt their own personal files.  Some enterprises realize that users might actually use the software, and they cry foul.  So we kill the product.

That is completely insane.  Clearly people are fiending for this functionality.  Unless this is software that would be impossible for any competitor to ship, we are shooting ourselves in the foot to not ship it.  This is “strategy tax” at it’s worst.  Some vocal enterprise customers tell us not to ship a product, and then we sit back while Google ships it.  I agree that we should enable a group policy option to allow enterprise admins to disable it, but that’s it.  And even that is pandering — it is already possible for enterprise admins to prevent arbitrary software from being installed on managed PCs, and this software is no different.

Google CEO says “Suck it Up”

The Google CEO is now saying that click fraud isn’t a big problem; it’ll fix itself.  I agree with him, but not for the reasons stated.  I think he tries to come off as being honest, but is rather deceptive.  His claims:

  • It’s still worth it for advertisers to do business with us.  Click fraud is part of the “cost of doing business with Google”, and ROI is better than print advertising.  True, but at this point it’s an unpredictable cost of doing business.
  • The market will correct itself (or, it’s not our problem).  Advertisers will pay less when they realize the clicks are bogus.  This contradicts the first point.  The fact is, advertisers haven’t been leaving Google, even though clickfraud has become rampant.  The only way it will affect Google is when advertisers have alternate choices (i.e. when Google has competition).
  • We don’t “like” clickfraud, and it’s fun to beat the hackers, so our engineers sometimes fight clickfraud.  OK, so clickfraud is perpetrated by evildoers, and we don’t like it (but we like the revenue it brings us).  As long as it’s fun, we’ll battle the fraudsters.  Thankfully, clickfraud has gotten HUGE since we started fighting it, so there is plenty more fun (and revenue) to be had!

Until Google has credible competition, I don’t see how clickfraud does anything but help Google.


GigaOM is now a full-time job, meaning that Om will be blessing us with higher volume of his incisive analyses.  It is a wonderful thing; people pay lots of money for the kind of insights he offers.  The only problem is that it now becomes a full time job for his readers to digest all of the material he’s generating.  We need an OMWatch.

Speaking of smart people, Rohit just e-mailed me to point out that I lost a ton of historical posts in the blog move.  So I moved feed location and lost about 80% of my subscribers, and now I am going to lose 80% of my Google juice as the crawler notices that all of my content is gone.  That is just brilliant; I should start a SEO consulting company.  I will fix the issues this weekend.  And I still intend to pull back in all of the historical comments than have been lost in previous blog moves, too.