In this installment of our mashup case study series we speak with Ed Freyfogle, the founder of Nestoria, a property search engine in the UK and Spain. Their service makes extensive use of the Google Maps API and other sources to include richer information about properties and neighborhoods. They are also an example of an "API stack" since they build on top of APIs but also provide an API of their own.
Q: Can you give us a bit of background on Nestoria?
We're a vertical search engine for the property (real estate as they say in the US) market. We operate in the the UK and Spain. We focus on helping people find exactly the home they want to buy or rent as quickly as possible.
We're a small team and very technology/data/engineering driven. We have several internet veterans with a background in in websearch (Yahoo), ecommerce (Amazon) and paid advertising (Overture).
Q: What is your business model?
We believe strongly in performance based marketing. Right now that takes the form of pay per click, but could in the future be pay per action.
Q: What APIs did you use and what were the best and the worst aspects of using them?
Users love our integration with Google Maps, and we were used by Google as a case study for their API.
We access the maps via Mapstraction, something I recommend to anyone building a mapping application. It creates an abstraction layer across a variety of mapping APIs.
We mashup all sorts of local data that people might find relevant about a local area. This includes government data from TheyWorkForYou, photos from Panoramio, points of interest from Tagzania and parking data from ParkAtMyHouse.
We also provide access to our entire database via our own API and provide GeoRSS feeds, widgets and co-branding tools for people to use our results on their site. We also have Facebook applications for both Spain and the UK (we built the first non-English language Facebook app).
Q: What programming languages and tools is this built with?
Our entire site is LAMP - Linux, Apache, MySql, Perl. We chose perl for CPAN which helps us move much faster.
Technically the piece of Nestoria that I think is most interesting is sadly the piece we can't really show off; We've built a very extensive metrics and testing system that allows us to continually monitor and tweak site performance.
Q: Can you tell us about any metrics for this application: traffic, revenue or other?
For the UK, Comscore reported us with 178,000 unique users and in June 114,000. Spain we just launched in mid-May, but Comscore says we had 39,000 in June.
Q: Using third-party APIs is seen by many as introducing business and technology risk. How do view this issue and how do you account for it in your strategy and implementation?
To be honest, we worry about this less and less, as more businesses see the benefits of opening their data and tools. Nevertheless, it is something to be aware of. This is exactly why we sponsored the development of Mapstraction to make it as easy as possible to switch to another mapping service if we were ever forced to switch.
Q: From an API and mashup perspective, what are the main lessons learned from this project and/or is there any advice you'd like to share on the development, design or business side of mashups?
A lot of people are tempted by the technical ease of whipping up a mashup. Building a website and building a sustainable business are two very different things. My advice is to do some real thinking about the value your service provides.
Q: Are there any mashup-related APIs, tools or services that don't exist today that you'd like to see? (Or, what API would you kill for?)
A working international rss-to-email service and working versions of the TheyWorkForYou API for other countries.
Q: And finally, besides your own service, do you have a favorite mashup?
Here in the UK I think ParkAtMyHouse is a brilliant idea.
A big thanks to Ed for joining us in our case study series.