First there was Realtor.com and hundreds of start-ups. In 1998, Microsoft entered the fray, and the two-man face-off got bloody. In the end, both were injured beyond recognition. Microsoft went home and Homestore has been licking its wounds since.

In the gap, a few heads-down start-ups began to show form: ServiceMagic, ZipRealty, HomeGain and HouseValues. But generally speaking, the identity of the online industry was muddled.

Last year, Barry Diller jumped in through LendingTree and began buying up tired dot-com assets.

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