Newspapers’ Big-Gun Web Homes Strategy; Best of College Online Press

By: Steve Outing

Over the weekend, representatives of Classified Ventures (CV) were attending the big National Association of Realtors convention in Anaheim, California, which ends today. They had something big to show off.

Late last week, CV announced a multi-million-dollar deal with Zip2, the newspaper industry’s most prominent Internet publishing tools vendor, to create a Web real estate site that’s meant to shoot Microsoft and other cyber competitors in the real estate information market between the eyes.

The CV site is called HomeHunter, which was the name of the real estate information service as initially developed by newspaper chain Knight Ridder (KRI). When KRI joined the classifieds consortium last spring, CV adopted the HomeHunter service (while KRI adopted CV’s products in autos and apartments, Cars.com and Apartments.com, for use by its newspaper sites). Now, CV has taken that brand name and built a completely new HomeHunter service, which will be available in the first quarter of 1999 for use by the classified consortium’s 140-plus newspaper affiliates.

With the addition of the deal with Zip2 to provide state-of-the-art technology for HomeHunter, the service is poised to take on the most successful online real estate sites, such as Microsoft’s HomeAdvisor, CyberHomes, and their ilk. CV vice president for real estate Bob Bellack says the HomeHunter initiative is meant to give newspapers the type of online real estate technology that most publishers don’t have the resources or technological sophistication to pull off by themselves.

CV executives attended the Realtors convention to show off customized versions of HomeHunter for Web sites of several CV affiliate newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Star Tribune (Minneapolis), Miami Herald, San Jose Mercury News, and Philadelphia Inquirer. What they’re selling to Realtors is the idea that locally customized versions of a newspaper online homes service are superior to the national sites, which can’t provide as much local detail and depth, and that HomeHunter running on affiliate newspaper sites will bring more leads to local Realtors than can the national real estate players.

This has long been the argument of the newspaper industry, that its newspaper real estate classifieds combined with Multiple Listing Service (MLS) data — plus contextual editorial content from a locally based real estate editorial staff — can outperform the national providers. This may be the first newspaper-led online real estate service that lives up to that theory, because the technology is equal to (and Zip2 executives say better than) what Microsoft, et al are employing on their real estate sites.

The new HomeHunter sites aren’t yet turned on at most of the participating newspaper sites, but you can see the technology they will employ on the real estate area of the New York Times’ New York Today site. From this link, you can conduct a search and have relevant real estate listings returned. Notice that to the right of the results are links to local real estate agents, including a link to an agent’s listings that meet the same criteria that you entered in the search. (Try searching for condos in Manhattan, Central Park West, to see this in action.)

Elon Musk, executive vice president of Zip2, says the service has been designed to integrate newspaper real estate classified ads with data from participating agents and brokers and MLS listings. The system examines text from straight-text newspaper classified ads and parses out the data included — so a print ad that says “4bdr” is recognized as a 4-bedroom home and that information is included in a database entry.

Other HomeHunter features, meant to keep up in the technology arms race with the cyber real estate services, include the ability for consumers to search for properties within a specified number of miles from any address. So the San Francisco buyer who wants a home within 1 mile of Golden Gate Park can quickly see what’s available, for example. And there’s the usual set of mapping, photo, community information database access, and other features that are typical on modern real estate sites.

Musk says his company’s deal with CV will mean several million dollars in technology licensing fees over several years. The deal is strictly for providing Zip2 technology to CV’s homes Web service, and does not at this point include the autos or employment segments — though a CV-Zip2 relationship could happen down the road.

Affiliate newspapers participating in the HomeHunter program will share a common technology and use the HomeHunter.com brand name. Bellack describes the business relationship that CV will have with newspaper affiliates using HomeHunter as a wholesaler/retailer arrangement, where affiliates deal with CV as a wholesale provider of the service. It also employs a network model, where affiliates will benefit from national ads sold by CV to companies wishing to reach a national real estate consumer audience.

Initially, CV will concentrate on deploying the customized HomeHunter sites to its existing affiliates — which are the newspapers of its various newspaper owners (Central Newspapers, Gannett Co., Knight Ridder, McClatchy Co., The New York Times Co., Times Mirror, Tribune Co., and The Washington Post Co.). But Bellack says CV is open to working with other publishers. The company’s strategy is to get HomeHunter deployed in all major U.S. metro markets.

Contact: Bob Bellack, bbellack@classifiedventures.co m

Colleges’ online best

The best North American student online newspaper sites were honored this weekend at the National College Media convention in Kansas City, with the results of College Press Network’s annual contest. “Best of Show” went to The Daily Titan Interactive of California State University-Fullerton. (That site also won a “Gold Medal.”)

Here are the other winners:

Gold medals
The State News, Michigan State University, East Lansing.
Wildcat Online, University of Arizona, Tucson.
The Daily Tar Heel Online, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
Student Life Online, Washington University, St. Louis.

Silver medals
TNH Online, University of New Hampshire, Durham.
The Review, University of Delaware, Newark.
Daily Egyptian, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale.
The Defender, St. Michael’s College, Colchester, Vermont.
The Sentinel Online, North Idaho College, Coeur d’Alene.
The Digital Collegian, Penn State University, University Park, Pennsylvania.

Awards of excellence
Humber Et Cetera Online, Humber College, Toronto, Canada
Collegio Online, Pittsburg State University, Pittsburg, Kansas.
KyKernel Online, University of Kentucky, Lexington.
Missourian Daily, Northwest Missouri State University, Maryville.
The North Texas Daily, University of North Texas, Denton.
Catalyst Online, Miami-Dade Community College-Kendall, Miami, Florida.
The Stanford Daily Online, Stanford University, Stanford, California.

Critique of election sites

While online editors were laboring hard to cover the U.S. elections last Tuesday night, a group of Northwestern University journalism undergraduates were staying up late to comb the Web to analyze online sites’ election-night coverage. Medill School of Journalism assistant professor Neil Chase’s students sampled election news sites and wrote evaluations, which were posted on the Web.

Contact: Neil Chase, nchase@nwu.edu

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This column is written by Steve Outing for Editor & Publisher Interactive. Tips, letters and feedback can be sent to Steve at steve@planetarynews.com

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