The following fake press release appeared on my desk this morning:

(Tampa, Fla. — Oct. 2, 2007) The National Association of Tired Ideas today issued a brief statement noting the death of online real estate lead generation. Lead Generation, which emerged on the scene scarcely 10 years ago, met its demise on Saturday, Sept. 29 at 2:30 a.m. on a template Web site belonging to Don “The Deal Maker” Davies, an agent who “goes the extra mile for his clients,” but rarely checks his e-mail.

“I noticed a glitch in our lead system and found that it was trying to pass along the name ‘Boris Yeltsin’ to Mr. Davies,” said Steve Hendstrom, the attending technician. “I tried everything I could to free up the system, but in the end, all I could get it to do was belch, make a clanging sound, and utter the word ‘Rosebud’ to absolutely no one in particular … Lead Generation crashed, just like that.”

Lead Generation was born on March 22, 1994, on the Web site of Minneapolis agent Dale Montrose, who was able to get trusting consumers to give him their names, contact information, Social Security numbers and sexual histories in exchange for an offer of “FREE REPORTS.” Montrose, speaking from his vacation home on Grand Cayman, recalls: “Those were the salad days. I stacked leads in my inbox like cordwood. Thank god for my auto-responder.”

Soon, companies emerged that took Lead Generation nationwide, using it to sell thousands of agent and broker Web sites. In 1996, a Web site product called “Agent e-Generator Gold: Platinum Edition” set a new standard by using Lead Generation on no less than 43 forms on a single site. Lead Generation was the talk of industry listservs, feted at conventions and touted in real estate offices across America.

In the late ’90s, Lead Generation went big time, cutting deals with several high-profile Internet companies. These firms worked with Lead Generation to scrub, verify, incubate and route leads — which were previously known as “people” — to eager real estate professionals. Thanks to Lead Generation, millions of home buyers and sellers were successfully captured during this period.

In 2000, Lead Generation partnered with Drip E-mail to deliver hundreds of millions of holiday greetings, recipes, high-school football schedules and inspirational messages to consumers hungry for random information from salespeople.

But by late 2005 Lead Generation was in trouble. It was stretched across thousands of stealth Web sites, pop-ups and landing pages; tucked behind millions of “contact me” links and “home search” forms; and, sadly, taken advantage of by lead arbitrage outfits and black market dealers peddling “human free” leads. By early this year, many saw the end coming.

“Nothing will ever replace Lead Generation,” said Don “The Deal Maker” Davies. “Some incredibly famous people passed through my inbox over the years: Moses, Louis Pasteur, Gary Coleman, Nancy Reagan, Flava Flav, Dick Cavett … those were just a few of the celebs that took the time to fill out one of my Web site forms.” He added: “Oh, and by the way, if you know anyone who wants to buy or sell real estate, I love referrals.”

Mike Nesbitt, a recent college graduate who purchased a condo in Dallas in 2004, was not as sentimental. “It took me forever to find a decent Realtor and I had to sift through so much fluff … all those dog pictures, WTF?” Nesbitt added: “In spite of Lead Generation, I did end up finding an agent who actually got back to me in a flash and took the time to answer my questions — she was awesome.”

Lead Generation is survived by Customer Engagement, its decidedly more social, open and confident offspring. Some industry observers familiar with Customer Engagement note that it also shows the influence of its grandparents, Conversation and Value.

Marc Davison is a founding partner of 1000watt Consulting. He can be reached at

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