If you are curious, let me explain how Source of Title got started. I began in the business in 1993 as an abstractor. In 2002, I was managing a small abstracting company, with about six full-time abstractors, covering six counties. I was also a licensed title agent, writing a few policies here and there. The abstracting business definitely dominated.
In early summer 2002, I got a few calls from good clients asking for referrals for adjacent counties that we didn't cover. I really didn't know anybody personally and I wasn't able to help them. I finally thought, "if these clients are having trouble finding abstractors in those counties, there must be clients that are having trouble finding us in the counties we service." Surely, the Internet was the answer!
I was always a bit of geeky-computer guy - when I was a kid, I learned to program in three different languages. But, oh had the technology come a long way since then. So, I went to Barnes and Noble and bought a bunch of books. I learned to create Web pages, in ASP and HTML, and I figured out how to link them to a database; I used Microsoft Access for the first version of the site. After spending the entire summer locked in my office, I had a very rudimentary site up and running. It was simple - it allowed anyone to register and list their company, and allowed other people to search the site by county and state to find their abstractors (as well as other title professionals). Since we started tracking the stats, our directory has been search more than 1.2 million times!
If you remember, the site was very crude (and quite frankly, a little on the ugly side), but it worked. We then spent thousands of dollars marketing the site, making it available for free. Thankfully, at the time, abstracting was a booming business and I was able to invest our profits in this new Web site. The growth was amazing, and I received a lot of wonderful emails thanking me for helping independent abstractors get work. I was thrilled with the response we got.
But, it was apparent that my skills as a Web developer were very limited and I was not really able take the site where it needed to go. Thankfully, Slade came on board to lend a hand. Slade is responsible for taking Source of Title to the next level and making it what it is today. He beefed it up with ASP.NET and ditched Microsoft Access for the more robust MySQL database. By mid-2003, Slade had completely revamped Source of Title (it was no longer the eye-soar I created). The first new feature he added was the forums, to make it more interactive.
The forums launched with the first post on May 6, 2003. To date, forum has had more than 42,000 posts! No doubt the most activity the forums had was in 2004 when the discussion about forming a national association for abstractors was first raised. The debates were very heated, but eventually led to the creation of NALTEA. This was a huge milestone for Source of Title - we had created something that had never existed before, abstractors across the country communicating with other like-minded abstractors.
But, we didn't stop there. We wanted to do more, and we did. In late 2004, we hired Jarrod, a journalist, to develop news specifically targeted to the title industry. Jarrod is no longer a part of the Source of Title team, but his contributions were definitely transformative. Since then, Source of Title has published more than 7,000 articles.
The next major addition to the site came in 2007, when I started blogging. Unlike the news we publish, the blog gave me a chance to really express my opinion about the title industry. I enjoyed it, and eventually we opened the blogs up to all of our registered users. We have tried to give everyone a voice in an industry that was often overlooked and ignored. It was nice to see our users participating and there have been a lot of talented people who have blogged on our site. Many very interesting discussions started on Source of Title, and some of them got noticed beyond our little niche market. For example, a series of blogs I wrote on private transfer fees was noticed by the Washington Post, who interviewed me for an article.
But, with all the successes we have had, there have been some stumbling blocks along the way. Around 2005, the hosting company we used went out of business and they sold our account to another local company. The new host was terrible - our site went down way too often, and we had no control over it. Our solution was simple - more books from Barnes and Noble. Slade and I learned to host our own servers. We purchased servers, procured a dedicated T-1 line, and moved our hosting in-house. Our "up-time" has been much more consistent and reliable ever since. We host our own Web servers, email servers, DNS servers, etc. It is not easy, but at least we have more control and it has worked out very well for us.
Of course, not everything we tried worked out quite as well. Here are a few of our failures:
Online Ordering Portal: I had a vision of creating a portal on Source of Title that all abstractors would be able to use to communicate with their clients - rather than fax and email, it would allow orders to be placed through Source of Title, uploaded and returned through Source of Title, and track the order and communication between the abstractor and their client. We worked with a couple of different partners, but never quite made it through the development stage. Differences of opinion, and frankly, a general lack of interest from potential users deterred us from ever completing the project. The goal was lofty, rather than have a system dictated by clients, we envisioned an open system that everyone could use to create a standard before client could begin to require the use of their own proprietary systems. Unfortunately, the cost and resistance we ran into caused this one to fizzle out.
Weekly Video Update: For those of you who don't remember this one... I'm glad! I enjoyed tinkering with technology, so we began shooting and developing short video updates highlighting our weekly news. It was a fun project; it is amazing what you can do with the right video editing software. We even erected a green-screen in the office to shoot the footage. But, on the downside, it took several hours to produce a 3 minute clip for online streaming. Around this time, I started law school and just didn't have the time anymore. Besides, who wants to watch my ugly mug reading from a teleprompter!
Bulletin Service: We created a new service which allows our users with company listings to add announcements, and we automatically email a daily summary of bulletins to anyone who subscribed to the bulletins for that company. The idea was that you could make announcements through this service and if your clients subscribed, you would not have to call, fax, or email all of your clients individually with the same information. For example, if your county raised copy fees or decided to close down on Fridays due to budget cuts, you could create a bulletin to let your clients know. In addition to sending the announcements to those subscribed to your bulletins, we link them to your director listing, as well. Unfortunately, though this is still a free service, it is not widely utilized - so it does not go under our list of successes.
I think we have come a long way since 2002. And for the most part, I consider what we have created to be a great accomplishment. We have filled a void in the market by giving the title industry, particularly the abstractors, a place to gather, share, and learn. We have consistently tried to be innovating with our approach, and though not everything has worked, we never stopped trying.
If you have any specific memories you have from Source of Title, please comment and share them with us. Let us know what you think of Source of Title, both the good and the bad.
Robert A. Franco
SOURCE OF TITLE