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Source of Title Blog

10th Anniversary Retrospective
by Robert Franco | 2012/10/22 |

A couple of months ago, I noticed that Source of Title was approaching its 10th anniversary.  The very first company to register on Source of Title did so on September 30, 2002.  I still have a hard time believing that it has been 10 years already.  As such I thought I would spend a little time blogging about where we started, where we are, and how we got here.  Also, a few of the things we have done that worked out well... and a few that didn't.

Source of Title Blog ::

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



Categories: General Interest

2058 words | 5416 views | 3 comments | log in or register to post a comment

It will be ten years for me working for Robert in March.

First of all, I have seen much worse than the original "blue" Source of Title site that Robert created before I got here.  It actually worked-- and people were using the site.  There were already a couple hundred companies in the directory in that old Access database before I got here.

I remember the tech support guy Matthew at our first hosting company.  Going local for web hosting in a small town like Mansfield meant we weren't exactly dealing with a well oiled corporate machine, but Matthew was top-notch and did his best for us, under less than optimal circumstances at times.  I used to do tech support in a small web hosting operation like that, so I could really appreciate what he was up against, because that business is almost impossible unless done on a large scale.  I've lost track of Matthew but hopefully he is someplace where he has a better chance to succeed.

I remember some red-faced arguments Robert and I had over the online ordering portal, as we floundered on that to both of our frustration.  We actually got a good ways along in actually building that, but we had several problems.  One problem was that we had not found a good, ready-made component to scan documents directly into the system.  I remember spending a lot of time trying to figure out how to "invent the wheel", reading white papers on obsucure scanning protocols. It was a bit much to take on, and that part of the system never really worked very well.

An idea we had for the ordering system was integrating Tablet PCs into the ordering system.  Our idea had merit, I think-- we thought people would not want to lug a laptop around the courhouse but they might carry something smaller, and use that to scan in documents and submit orders to the client.  It was fun playing around with the tablet, but I never managed to build anything of remotely commercial quality, and the idea was abandoned.  I don't recall the Tablet PC gathering much of a following, although now that we see the new generation of tablets being so successful, the Tablet PC was ahead of its time.

Our failure on that might have been for the best, however: right after we abandoned the ordering system, the housing market began to fall apart.  One concern about the online ordering system was that it would have required significant upgrades to our hardware and software before we launched it.  We might have been in big trouble if we had borrowed that money right before things got bad!  It would have been a disaster if only a few customers had signed up, but those customers really relied on the system to the point where we couldn't shut it down without harming their businesses.

But we have also had successes.  Of the things I am most proud, I'd probably point to the private transfer fee issue.  In a world where nuisance businesses seem to thrive, I think we nipped one particulary insidious nuisance business in the bud, and saved consumers a lot of expense and trouble down the line.  I think Robert's blogging on the issue on Source of Title played a substantial role in shining light on the issue. 

I am proud that we have been able to help spread the word for NAILTA and its affiliated state independent land title agent associations.  Due to classes I am taking I was not able to attend their recent conference in Baltimore, but Robert was able to go and he was very impressed by the event.  NAILTA's future appears bright, and that is very good news for independent title agents, and good for our industry.

Then, of course I am proud that I can say that I built this website, and that it works most of the time, and that people use it and seem to find it useful.



by Slade Smith | 2012/10/22 | log in or register to post a reply

Great Job!
I think you have a great publication which provides a platform and voice not available via mainstream title publications. Keep up the good work! 
by Wyatt Bell | 2012/10/29 | log in or register to post a reply

Source of Title - Congratulations on Your First Ten Years

Thanks for the background - I appreciate the site even more knowing the sacrifices it took. I am grateful for your efforts, Franco. I have enjoyed your creation, and I have been able to refer work to several abstractors thanks to your resource. The last five years have been most difficult. You have personally engaged some good strings of communication across the country and your creation has kept a fire burning and helped to keep the faith among many of us who almost lost hope. Thanks.



by Lawrence Lacombe | 2012/12/09 | log in or register to post a reply
Source of Title Blog

Robert A. FrancoThe focus of this blog will be on sharing my thoughts and concerns related to the small title agents and abstractors. The industry has changed dramatically over the past ten years and I believe that we are just seeing the beginning. As the evolution continues, what will become of the many small independent title professionals who have long been the cornerstone of the industry?

Robert A. Franco



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