Barton, Richard N.

▪ 2007

      On Feb. 7, 2006, Richard Barton, creator of the do-it-yourself travel Web site Expedia.com, unveiled his newest brainchild, Zillow.com, a national real-estate information Web site that made it possible for anyone with Internet access to look up the value of a friend's—or a celebrity's—house. Zillow.com displayed the transaction history, property description, square footage, and other details on tens of millions of homes in the U.S. Unlike competing sites that charged for access or required registering with a real-estate agent, however, Zillow provided the information with no strings attached—other than viewing Web page advertisements.

      Barton was born on June 2, 1967. As a youth in New Canaan, Conn., he spent summers selling frozen treats on an ice-cream truck route and caddying at a country club. In the summers between academic years at Stanford University, where he studied industrial engineering (B.S., 1989), Barton ran his own house-painting company. He joined Microsoft, Inc., in 1991and served as a product manager for MS-DOS and, later, the Windows operating system. While working on a Microsoft travel-guide project, Barton was inspired to provide consumers with direct access to flight information rather than leave them dependent on airlines and travel agencies, which effectively monopolized the travel-booking business. Microsoft launched Barton's idea as Expedia.com in 1994. It was spun off as a public company in 1999, and under Barton's guidance Expedia became one of the most popular—and financially successful—travel-booking Web sites. He remained as the firm's president and CEO until March 2003, when he left to travel abroad and spend time with his family. He founded Zillow, Inc. (incorporated in 2004) with Lloyd Frink, a former Expedia executive.

      Barton drew parallels between Expedia and Zillow, both of which were designed to put information directly in the hands of customers. The model for Zillow, however, had limits. The company, which was based in Seattle, prioritized its coverage of West Coast cities with data for other parts of the country far less complete. Unlike Expedia, there was no transaction, such as a ticket sale, on which to earn a commission; Zillow's main source of revenue was expected to come from ads. Furthermore, real estate is difficult to commodify. Accordingly, Zillow provided such services as “Zindex,” a value index with which to compare a home's historic value with similar homes in the area, and “Zestimate,” a sophisticated price estimate calculated by running public data through Zillow's proprietary algorithm. Barton initially released Zillow as a beta (introductory version) with the idea of refining the site in the ensuing months. If Zillow's ability to make money on ad clicks remained an open question, it was nonetheless likely that Barton's latest creation would put pressure on real-estate agents to lower their commissions, since Zillow provided a good deal of realtors' research for free.

Sarah Forbes Orwig

* * *

▪ American entrepreneur
born June 2, 1967, New Canaan, Conn., U.S.

      American creator of the do-it-yourself Web sites Expedia.com and Zillow.com.

      Barton graduated from Stanford University in 1989 with a degree in industrial design. In 1991 he joined Microsoft, Inc. (Microsoft Corporation), where he served as a product manager for MS-DOS and, later, the Windows operating system. While working on a Microsoft travel-guide project, Barton was inspired to provide consumers with direct access to flight information rather than leave them dependent on airlines and travel agencies, which effectively monopolized the travel-booking business. Microsoft launched Barton's idea as Expedia.com in 1994. It was spun off as a public company in 1999, and under Barton's guidance Expedia became one of the most popular—and financially successful—travel-booking Web sites. He remained the firm's president and CEO until 2003. Three years later Barton and Lloyd Frink, a former Expedia executive, created Zillow.com, a self-service real estate Web site that looked to duplicate the success of Expedia. Zillow was instantly popular, due in large part to a feature called the Zestimate, which provided users with an estimated value for any of the tens of millions of homes in the site's database.

* * *


Universalium. 2010.

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