Recommended Reading: The Master Switch: the Rise and Fall of Information Empires

In this insightful book Wu describes how every information and communications industry since the telephone has been taken captive by some ruthless monopoly or cartel.  This pattern appears to be playing out in a similar fashion with the internet, and with the level of reliance we have as individuals and in our public and government infrastructure on the internet, the stakes are too high to ignore.

The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires

Tim Wu is a professor at Columbia Law School, the chairman of media reform organization Free Press, and is best known for coining the phrase net neutrality.

How Project Upstream Changed My Life

I’ve been an entrepreneur and software developer in the real estate technology space  for about as long as you could put “real estate” and “technology” in the same sentence. Over the years I’ve built some close personal relationships with brokers and agents. They are my people.

In 2001, I cofounded / created AgentAchieve, a real estate CRM that was acquired by CoreLogic in 2006. One of my projects was designing the system and building the team we used to aggregate MLS data for our customers.

The experience of working with hundreds of MLSs taught me about the power a platform can have over users and how dangerous it can be  when a platform’s interests get disconnected from their user’s interests.

Here are the rules of proprietary platforms.

1. The platform that controls access to data is the boss.
2. Users generally are unaware they have lost power until they want to leave or do something the platform doesn’t want them to do.
3. The invisible damage to innovation in a market dominated by a platform is hard to measure but it’s big.

Naturally, when I heard that brokers had united to take back their data with Project Upstream, I was happy for brokers.

Then I thought about how many people could potentially benefit from this one project.

Thinking on it some more, I realized that this sort of problem isn’t limited to brokers and MLSs. It’s baked into the way cloud software is made today. Data is tied to the platform when it should be tied to the user.

That’s when it hit me.

Everyone should have an upstream.

That was the moment Project Upstream changed my life.

I started Yodata to help people reclaim control of their data and safely share it with anyone independent from platforms.

Thank you to the creators of Project Upstream for the inspiration.

Project Upstream Could Backfire on Brokers


  • Real estate technology is consolidating with Zillow and Move acquiring CRM and transaction management systems last year.
  • Consolidation makes it harder for brokers to create differentiated online experiences for agents and consumers.
  • Brokers are creating Upstream to keep control of their data, but if portals control the tools agents need to do things like contracts and transactions, it will be impossible for brokers to avoid sending that data.
  • Upstream will have to adapt to protect broker interests in the long run.

As more of the home buying and selling process moves online, real estate brokers must create unique online experiences for agents and customers as a basis for differentiation and competition.

But MLSs and other vendors that bundle the products and services that make up these experiences restrict brokers’ ability to differentiate, and brokers fear this will erode their relationships with agents and consumers.

Brokers are taking their data back with Project Upstream, a data management platform that lets brokers control where to send their listings.

But, it appears the portals’ strategy is to buy up all the places brokers want to send their data to.

Shortly after Project Upstream was revealed in May 2015, the portals started went shopping.

The Upstream dashboard might look something like this.

Where would you like to send your listings?
[] Zillow [] Move

Upstream won’t stop consolidation. Ironically, by streamlining the process, it may even help the mega-platforms grow faster.

For Upstream to protect broker interests in the long run, it will need to go beyond data storage and distribution.

This is a topic I’ll be exploring in some depth. Follow me on twitter if you’d like be informed when I post.