Redfin relaunched this morning with a brand new mapping interface using Microsoft Virtual Earth platform. They’ve retired the old Flash based maps, which frankly were looking a little long in the tooth.
By moving to the Virtual Earth API, Redfin can now concentrate on building out new features on the site. Redfin’s blog gives a good overview of why they choose to go with Microsoft over Google.
First impressions, I like it, but…
Redfin’s web site now looks like everyone else’s. Rival Seattle-based broker John L. Scott, for instance, uses the same Virtual Earth technology. Now, I never liked the old Flash maps and am happy to see them gone, but the result unfortunately is the new site has a pretty generic feel to it.
The new house icons are a significant improvement over the previously highlighted parcels, but the green house pins feel a little disjointed from the rest of Redfin’s branding – Maybe they should have been red? (They do kind of remind me of the houses in Monopoly though.) Finally, there’s no obvious difference between a single family or multi-family dwelling, something that ShackPrices.com does much more intuitively.
While dropping the proprietary maps surely will save them tons of development costs and frees them up to easily start adding new cities (their website now announces they will be heading into Southern California, Chicago, Boston and Washington DC soon), by jumping on an open API Redfin has lost a significant point of differentiation from its competition.
Arguably they do still have one of the better interfaces of the realty search sites and they continue to add new interesting features (like the ability to instantly chat with a Redfin agent) but the reality is the rest of the industry is quickly catching up.
This means Redfin looks less and less like a pure tech play and will increasingly have to compete on the strength of its business model, which they insist is working.
Ultimately, I believe this is a good thing however, as it’s the business model not their web site that going to sink them or make them a success.