My colleague Todd Dubner has posted two interesting articles on his blog, Being Present, over the past two weeks.

Both look at the dynamics of competing in online markets that have flat data as the core consumer information proposition. (My friend Doug Manoni of SourceMedia draws a distinction between flat data, which is easily available and replicable, and deep data, which is unique and ultimately has proprietary value to the create of the data.)

In his first post, Todd looks at the market of online information providers in the resale home category. In the second post, he looks at the rental market.

http://post.cloudfront.goodinc.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/transparency_header.jpgBoth markets are intriguing for the transparency of data. In the resale home market, almost all of the salient information about home is a matter of public record. This has created information-rich offerings for consumers that are only marginally differentiated in terms of core content, and are largely differentiated by product design and functionality.

In a market supported by a media model, an undifferentiated audience fragmented among multiple media players generally leads to a decline in the value of any single part of the audience. Translate that into lower rates and lower revenue for the media provider.

What would be a true point of differentiation? The ability to track the change in purchase intent on the part of a consumer during the shopping process for a home or apartment. This would be something proprietary, unique and valuable to the participants in the market.

All of us providing real estate and rental information are thinking, in one way or another, about extending our relationship with our users. If we could put ourselves in such a position of trust that consumers would see value in telling us whether they were increasing or decreasing the intensity of their shopping cycle, we could provide a real point of differentiation.

My question: Is this a problem that is solved with technology, by tracking real-time behavior across the web and on mobile devices, say; or is this a problem that is solved through some kind of human interaction?