November 22nd, 2010
Today is the 20th birthday of the World Wide Web. Tim Berners-Lee wrote the first browser and web server and ran both on his desk at CERN in 1990. I can clearly remember the first time, sometime during 1993, that I installed the Mosaic browser on my PC at Boeing and first started clicking on hyperlinks. I clearly remember immediately thinking that this was earth shaking! I stayed at work late that night clicking hyperlinks browsing around the few sites available at that time.
What does this have to do with real estate photography? Everything! The web created real estate photography. I was talking with Scott Hargis this afternoon about the history of real estate photography and describing the way my wife Levi created listing flyers and listed homes in back in mid-1980’s when MLSs were not online and there were no broker or regional websites. The MLS published a weekly phone book looking listing of all the local listings. Each listing had one black and white photo of the listing that was so bad that most of the time the home owners wouldn’t recognize their home. The way agents would get those awful looking exterior shots was just check a box on the listing information form they sent to the MLS that indicated they wanted the MLS to shoot a photo. The MLS had a team of people that would do drive-by-shootings of your listing. Literally, they wouldn’t get out of the car and most wouldn’t even stop the car. Before the late 1980s photography just wasn’t a significant part of real estate. I remember helping Levi get one of the first Macintoshes in 1984 so she could create better listing flyers. In 1985 we got one of the first versions of Aldus PageMaker and one of the first Apple Laserwriters so she could make even better flyers. Because scanning film was uncommon, we would have the photo finisher print hundreds of 4×6 photos and then pay the kids use spray glue to attach them to the flyers we created with PageMaker. Levi’s broker was so impressed the the flyers he would show them at the weekly marketing meetings. She was the only agent in her company that had a computer at the time. Color photos on marketing flyers were unheard of. We continued to use the spray glue technique for flyers until the first color inkjet printers became available in the late 1990’s. We printed so many flyers that we had several inkjet printers that we ran continuously to produce enough flyers. Those little printers would work so hard they would only last a couple of months before they would just give up and die.
The first step towards a web based MLS was dial-up. You had to have a special MLS issued application on your computer that would dial a time-sharing system that had a database of all the area listings. Most agents still subscribed to the phone book version of the MLS because at that time most agents didn’t have a computer. It happened at different times in different locations, but by 1999 when I quit Boeing to work with Levi full time in real estate the Seattle area NWMLS was web based and most large Seattle area brokers had their own websites that were fed all the local listings from the NWMLS. Only agents had access to the web based MLS. Once all the local brokers had websites where home buyers could browse through listings themselves it became clear that the web was going to be a central focus of buying and selling real estate. The last development to drive real estate completely to the web was the wide spread availability of DSL and broadband cable. Once most people had high speed web access and a web browser, color photos immediately became and essential part of marketing a home. Home sellers were also dazzled by great looking flyers and brochures but it was clear that it was the photos on the web that got the buyers to the home. Showing potential listing customers glitzy flyers and brochures just helped get the home seller to sign the listing agreement but the didn’t sell the listing.
Today it seems like the web is a natural phenomena and has always been there. It doesn’t seem like the web is just 20 years old and that the web in a form that created the blossoming of real estate photography as we know it today is only about 10 years old. There’s no mistake about it; there wouldn’t be the demand that there is today for real estate photography if it wasn’t for the web protocols and the web server and web browser that Tim Berners-Lee invented. Now days Tim has some serious concerns about how the web is evolving that he describes in his recent article in Scientific American.