We’re Live! Zillow.com, the Beta, Launches!

Zillow.com is off to an electrifying start, with the help of chief engineer Garrett McAuliffe. As chairman of Zillow.com, I was offered the inaugural post on our new blog, so I’d like to welcome you on behalf of the 75 employees here at Zillow.com’s Worldwide HQ (okay, it’s our only office) in downtown Seattle, Washington.

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Zillow.com comes alive! Zillow.com is off to an electrifying start, with the help of chief engineer Garrett McAuliffe. As chairman of Zillow.com, I was offered the inaugural post on our new blog, so I’d like to welcome you on behalf of the 75 employees here at Zillow.com’s Worldwide HQ (okay, it’s our only office) in downtown Seattle, Washington.

Moments ago, a team of very tired, but exhilarated folks plugged in the v1 beta of www.zillow.com, bringing it to life on the Internet.

Zillow began a little over a year ago with a few people in an office, dreaming about how the web might be used to empower everyday people to take more control of the scary, frustrating, and exciting process of buying and selling a home. We experimented with several different ideas early on, but, after talking with many consumers and agents, we landed on the ambitious goal of trying to place a value, what we cleverly call a “Zestimate,” on every house in the country and making this freely and anonymously available to anyone — kind of a “Kelley Blue Book” for homes. Additionally, we have tools with which anyone can analyze home price histories (like analyzing a stock), look at “comps,” and refine our Zestimates with information that only someone who has been in the house could know.

We’re calling it a “beta” for legitimate reasons, not because it’s chic these days to call websites betas. So far we’ve found data and information on 60 million homes around the country, and for 40 million of those homes we had enough data that our statisticians and engineers could algorithmically make a Zestimate. We’ll be adding breadth and depth as rapidly as possible, but we figured that 40 million Zestimates were too much fun to keep to ourselves. There is a great deal of detail I could go into about how we came up with the Zestimates and what our accuracy is (historical margin of error of 7.2%), but I will leave that for future posts from chief stats man, Dr. Stan.

All of the data and Zestimates, combined with maps, satellite and aerial images (where available), and parcel outlines (where available) have added up to a database that weighs in at over 2 terabytes. The integration of all of this data into a uniform, easy to navigate application has been a fun challenge. Because of the amount of data and the complexity, however, we will have stuff that is just wrong. It’s difficult to robotically test a database this big, so, another reason we are calling it a beta, is that it’s an open test. We thank you for your forbearance and bug reports.

Finally, I’d like to make a comment on our business model, which I’ve found helps divine motives. Zillow.com will make revenues from advertisements on the site. We will always be crystal clear about what is content and what is advertising, just like any respectable content provider, and our advertising will not define our content. However, the beauty of “Web 2.0” is that the content actually does define the advertising. The more relevant the advertising is to what is being done on the page, the more useful it is to consumers. So, we will strive for a high degree of relevance with the advertisements we display. I suppose this makes us a media company, but one that has software development in its bones. We see the process for buying and selling homes as dying for a software productivity application, one that incorporates a huge amount of information, but one that’s goal is to empower people to make better decisions. The beta is our first step. There is more to come.

* Credit goes to Doc Brown from the 1985 movie “Back to the Future
Gigawatts was pronounced “jigawatts” in the movie)