Ownership of a new Google Base and Google Earth real estate mashup, called Agent Earth, is the subject of a dispute between a Chicago real estate brokerage company and a technologist who says it is an independent project.

Agent Earth maps properties listed for sale at the Google Base site on the Google Earth mapping platform, creating a new property-search tool that allows users to view properties on a virtual globe.

Google Base is a free classified listings site that includes a category for real estate listings, and the Agent Earth site captures updated information about these listings and converts the information to a file that can be accessed using Google Earth, an application that features a three-dimensional rendering of the world.

A mashup is the creation of a new Web application through the merger or integration of content from multiple Web sites. An early example of a real estate mashup is a site called HousingMaps.com that combines craigslist.org property listings on the Google Maps platform.

While a site developer says Agent Earth was an independent project, a Chicago real estate brokerage that employed him has maintained that the site belongs to the company.

Chris McKeever, an information technology specialist who has worked on real estate-related technologies for Prudential Preferred Properties in Chicago, said he was part of a small team that created the mashup. “Agent Earth was an independent project that I worked on while I was part of the technology team of Prudential,” he said, adding that it is “a completely independent project that we worked on outside of Prudential.”

But David Hanna, CEO for Prudential Preferred Properties, told Inman News, “Agent Earth belongs to Prudential Preferred Properties” and was a project that McKeever worked on “in the course of day-to-day work.” There is no Prudential branding at the Web site and Hanna said the company does not exclude other companies’ property listings from the site.

Hanna said that McKeever has served as chief technology officer for the Prudential office, and he had earlier worked on other mapping technologies for Prudential, such as a search tool that integrates multiple listing service data in the area with the Google Earth platform. Prudential also offers a Web-based tool to view MLS listings on a Google-based map.

McKeever said last week that he is “finalizing my tenure from Prudential,” and “going forward, I will be working with the Center for Realtor Technology,” the technology arm of the National Association of Realtors trade group. But he will continue to collaborate with Prudential on projects, he added, and had plans to meet with Hanna this week “to discuss items.”

Hanna could not be reached for further comment.

Users of the Agent Earth site can enter their search parameters — either a city and state, specific street address, or ZIP code — and can designate a search area within one to 30 miles. This search generates a file that can be opened by Google Earth, a tool with global aerial imagery and mapping data that allows users to tilt, zoom, rotate and fly around a virtual rendering of Earth without leaving home.

“It’s a real-time update. It’s as fresh as Google Base is,” said McKeever. “We’re just trying to merge some of the technologies that are out there and give agents an easier approach.”

Agent Earth launched Aug. 24, just after Google released the API (application program interface) for Google Base — APIs provide the building blocks that programmers use to create mashups and other innovative integrations of site content and tools.

When Agent Earth users access property-search results at Google Earth, they can view property photos and descriptions on the Google Earth site that are supplied from the Google Base listings, and the mapped listings also contain a direct link to the original Google Base listings. “Everything that Google Base (listings) provide we provide,” McKeever said.

McKeever said the team is working to refine Agent Earth so that users can create a property-search file that automatically pulls the latest property ads from Google Base each time they open it — currently users must download a new file through Agent Earth to download the latest batch of Google Base property ads.

The Agent Earth site carries a disclaimer: “This site is not affiliated with Google, although it should be.” McKeever said he tries to keep up with the latest developments at Google, though he still has “limited knowledge” of company plans for new technologies.

He said he does expect that the Web-based Google Maps and application-based Google Earth will remain separate products though they may become more interchangeable.

There hasn’t been much marketing of the Agent Earth site, McKeever said, but there has been increased usage of the site each day.

The development team selected Google Earth as the foundation for the Agent Earth project because it “has integrated a lot more information … highway information and boundary information as well as local business information” compared to other mapping platforms and allows users to pan and tilt the view area. “It really gives you a feel for the area. Google Maps is a little more hands-tied as to how much visual representation.”


Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to glenn@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 137.

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