Google Jan. 26 surrendered to Zillow, Trulia and other real estate Websites by giving up on offering real estate listings
Google in July 2009 began retrieving property sale and rental listings in a one-box format directly on Google Maps. Google improved the feature in October 2009 by offering a "real estate" option where users could see balloons on the maps of listings, as well as a pop-up real estate refinement panel on the left. Look right for an example:
The feature is currently available in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, the UK and Japan, but its days are numbered, said Brian McClendon, vice president of Google Earth and Maps:
"In part due to low usage, the proliferation of excellent property-search tools on real estate Websites, and the infrastructure challenge posed by the impending retirement of the Google Base API (used by listing providers to submit listings), we've decided to discontinue the real estate feature within Google Maps on February 10, 2011."
I've called out the bold as what I believe the major reason Google dropped this. It's actually symptomatic of why it's difficult for Google to crack into any market where networks exist with large populations, and it underscores a point I make often about the search engine's ability to compete with the Facebook's and Groupon's of this world.
See, Facebook and Groupon already have big networks of users. Facebook has locked up the mantle as The Social Network.
Groupon is much smaller and, while I acknowledge it plays in an e-commerce sector where the barrier to entry is low, it already has established itself among users as a fun, quirky brand. Hence the $6 billion offer Groupon turned down when it can make more cash.
People won't want to go to Google Offers or Yahoo Local Offers when they have Groupon any more than they want to frequent Google Buzz or whatever new social thing Google unleashes.
That paradigm holds true for online real estate, where Zillow and Trulia have attracted loyal enough followings to make any add-on search feature from Google irrelevant.
Interestingly, Google says it will continue to explore ways to tap the lucrative real estate market, noting "we recognize that there might be better, more effective ways to help people find local real estate information than the current feature makes possible."
Can't wait to see what those will be. My assumption is that this could be part of the contextual discovery search we'll see this year.
Perhaps Google will troll through its users' search histories to see if they've looked up property stuff, then beam out suggestions for apartments for rent or houses for sale in areas where they've searched for housing.
It could actually be similar to the way Groupon sends out alerts for local deals.