I just had the opportunity to set up a new CoStar account the other day.  Before I say anything else, I just have to acknowledge that this is a phenomenal database.  Seriously. Once you’ve had access to it, it’s hard to imagine going back to not having it, especially for anyone with anything like a nerdy appreciation for data.

costar usabilityI should say, though, that I actually began the process of registering for CoStar several days before I actually got in.  You see, I’m one of those people actually that uses multiple devices – a phone, a laptop/tablet, and a desktop at home.  Relentlessly.  And I have used Chrome as my browser on every device for years.  This is sort of the antithesis of the CoStar model, which still seems to have a security and design model from the late 1990’s.  And I’m not saying this in a bad way, necessarily.  I’m really sort a retro guy.  Confuse the hackers with antiquity.  Cool.

Setting up CoStar, I was informed that I would need to install a security certificate.  Fine.  I get that.  I used to have a little keyfob with a code that changed every six seconds so I could access a corporate VPN remotely.  But I use Chrome, so I wasn’t just going to “download and install” CoStar’s security certificate on my desktop. No, that would be too easy.  I was going to need to pull out the big guns.  That’s right.  Internet Explorer.  The Corvair of browsers.  Big, slow, and doesn’t really play well with others.

Even Microsoft doesn’t recommend Internet Explorer. Those of us on Windows 10 (which is fantastic, by they way) don’t even see Internet Explorer anymore, as it has been replaced by Microsoft Edge in the latest version of the OS.  Fortunately (?), lurking in the bowels of Windows 10 is a relic version of IE for anyone desperate enough to seek it out – or anyone trying to install CoStar.  

So that got me to the install process for the certificate, which depends on putting the certificate in a very specific folder in order to work properly with the CoStar application. I won’t go through all of the steps involved in getting this to work.  Suffice it to say that I was several days in before I had a working version of CoStar.  Because, you know, I have other things to do.

This is the way a monopoly designs products.  I’m not sure if ignoring usability is ever really part of a business strategy, but I really can’t figure how it works out in the long term.

costar usabilityIn the CoStar world, if costar usability is the forest, then security definitely represents the trees.  I get where they’re coming from.  CoStar wants to make sure that the people using the database are the people signed up (and paying) for it, and that they are not handing their database keys out to other people.  This does not, however, have to happen at the expense of usability or any recognition of the modern mobile worker.

There are plenty of solid security models on which they base a reasonably modern user onboarding process.  Perhaps one of the best examples is that of the Bitcoin wallet.  These guys have the most to gain from usability, since most people basically have no idea whatsoever how their product/platform works and, in many cases, what it even represents.  If there is any barrier to entry from usability, a user on the fence will simply abandon their wallet, move on to a competitor, or write off bitcoins forever.

Security is paramount, though.  It is fintech in the purest form.  Applications frequently access users’ bank accounts, so they “absolutely positively” have be sure you are who you say you are.  Then, that handshake has to be maintained with each ensuing session, again, without sacrificing usability.  There’s that word again.  Companies like Circle Pay, Uphold, Coinbase, and CampBX (local shout-out) are doing just that…trying to maintain that balance of security and usability that can bring new customers into the blockchain universe, while still satisfying the demands of hardcore users.

Moreover, there is more than just the security of the data at stake for these companies.  Cracked security threatens public confidence in the blockchain currency system, which underpins the entire basis of its value.  Previous hacks have more than adequately demonstrated the precipitous declines that can result.

If it seems like I’m being hard on CoStar, I am.  They have tremendous datasets, but they are well compensated for them.  The commercial real estate industry is moving towards a technology-driven mindset, although surely not fast enough for the investors in all of the companies banking on this trend.  That said, companies like CoStar should be setting the course for development and building systems for the next generation of workers, or they risk being left behind by the companies that do.

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