Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Software Product Strengths Not Always Apparent

I'm back from the black. Ok, this time I'll really commit to staying current :-(

I came across a review of Point2 Agent this morning posted by Joel Burslem. It immediately put me on the defensive. I was going to post a comment on his blog, then I was going to slam him here, but I grabbed a coffee, chilled and took some time to think about it. He tried our software, it told him to use a specific type of browser, he didn't use the browser choices and thus didn't recommend us. Really, our software should have just worked.

Here are the high/low points on the review:

  • He says some nice things about Point2 Homes. It's a work in progress and I hope people continue to track our success there.

  • Joel doesn't care for our claim to be "The Most Popular Real Estate Software in the World". As of this morning, we have just under 93,000 users. While adding 100-200/day, I'm not sure who beats us here, but if someone shows us we've overstepped our bounds, I'm sure we'd gladly adjust our slogin to "93,000 Realtors are using us, why aren't you?"

  • The real kicker however is that he tried to create an account and he received an error on login indicating he needs IE version 5.5 or higher to use Point2 Agent. Since we received zero points from him, I gather he didn't try to login with a version IE. IE 5.5 is very old now, updates are free and we are several versions past it now. Google Analytics tells us that 99.5% of all IE users are using version 5.5 or higher with 96.78 using version 6. Jay Thompson (one of our favorite members!) commented on the blog that he can successfully use Firefox with Point2 Agent. Indeed you can with the IE plugin. These 2 browsers cover 95.31% of all users visiting Point2.

Ok, so there's part of the justification behind our IE selection. We can make our system universally accessible, but it falls lower on massive list of projects, maintenance issues and feature requests that we receive. We conducted an informal poll of many of our users several months ago and found that while some prefer to use a browser like Firefox, almost everyone also had IE. Moreover, all were willing to use IE 5.5, 6.0 (and now 7) OR get the IE plugin for Firefox when they login to manage their Point2 account. So that's the other part of our justification.

I logged an issue to update that error warning this morning to give more details, be more friendly and provide work arounds links for other browsers.

As I stated above, our software should have just worked. So we will be working on compatibility. In my humble opinion, to recommend another product [until Point2 makes its software more accessible] is a little short sighted. We are nearly universal and while Joel was not tempted to dig deeper, our support team almost never hears accessibility issues from our 93,000 members.
I also have a couple of notes from comments that were made. I was concerned that a couple criticisms that came out, are actually some of our strengths.

Bill Nadraszky commented that all Point2 sites look the same. There is a key distinction here. Point2 provides a tool set but we do not offer custom design services. If you look at most Blogger blogs, you would see a lot of common themes. It's because the average users will only go so far and there tends to be common preferences. At this stage in our product lifecycle, Point2 Agent is becoming more of a platform and from a template based solution, is the most flexible in the industry. I've assembled some links and I think you would agree that these members all look like they are using custom websites. They are in fact using Point2, many with the help of professional designers. The limitation is not in the software, but in the desire of the member.

http://www.tararosen.com/
http://www.websterkirkwood.com/Home/page_1682688.html
http://www.teamtotrust.com/
http://www.prescottlandagent.com/
http://www.newportlandhome.com/
http://www.vreas.com/
http://www.elizabethmcqueen.net/
http://www.charlestoncommunities.com/
http://www.joannesizemore.com/
http://www.yourmidislandrealtor.com/
http://www.call-pam.com/
http://www.bakersfieldfineliving.com/

Lastly to the comments on search engine indexing. It's important to know that Point2 Agent is the best solution in the industry for gaining exposure in natural and vertical search. We are currently syndicating listings to 9 partners which means that when our members add a listing, they gain instant exposure.

While our sites index well for broad search terms, the ultimate rank our members achieve will depend on their own marketing. Broad search terms drive the majority of traffic, but nearly 40% of the traffic we track comes from the long tail of search. We generate a unique URL for each listing and optimize the page for natural search. Search or "lakeview Saskatoon homes for sale" and you will probably find 5-6 unique listings in that local neighborhood.

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2 comments:

Joel Burslem said...

Hi Jeff.

Glad you didn't slam me and had that coffee! :)

I appreciate you taking the time to respond to my review.

To clarify my position a little bit more on some of the points you brought up:

Generally, I don't like sweeping marketing claims, e.g. "The most popular... in the world", "The biggest... in the world" - they ring phoney to me, even if they may be true. If a company is going to make a claim, I usually suggest getting a third party endorsement to legitimize it. But, a better route, IMO, is just to let the product stand for itself - without the hyperbole.

As for the compatibility issue, I agree that my review may have been a little short sighted. Perhaps I should have gone into IE and continued with the setup process. But I wanted to prove a point.

Whenever software throws up a barrier to me, it's a huge turnoff. I shouldn't have to go through hurdles to make technology work for me. It should just work. The onus should be on the platform, not the user to perform.

In any case, I'd certainly be willing to take another look at Point2 sometime in the future. It's the least I can do, especially for a fellow Canuck. ;)

Feel free to contact me anytime at futureofrealestate@gmail.com

Cheers

Joel

Jeff Tomlin said...

Hey! Just trying to get us a fair shake! I guess the hyperbole is effective if there's a real reason to believe it, but I hear you.

We could have had a universally accessible system, but requirements of our photo handling tool creates some limitations. The photo handling is so important that universal compatibility suffers - but we'll work on it.

I expect a re-review in the near future!

Cheers, eh ;-)

Jeff