Web 2.0, More Than a Party Favor or Shiny Badge
“Web2.0”, originally coined by Darcy DiNucci all the way back in 1999 was brought to debate in 2004 signaling a shift in the way we as consumers will experience the web. Web2.0 is a much debated term, there are several hard and widely accepted identifiers of a truly Web2.0 experience. We’ll attempt to break them down as described and presented within Wikipedia, and attempt to reveal whether Real Estate does, can, or should fit within the mold of Web2.0:
Basic Tenants of Web 2.0
Finding information through keyword search.
Guides to other related information.
The ability to create and update content leads to the collaborative work of many rather than just a few web authors. In wikis, users may extend, undo and redo each other’s work. In blogs, articles and the comments of individuals build up over time.
Categorization of content by users adding one-word descriptions to facilitate searching, without dependence on pre-made categories. This is referred to as “folksonomy.”
Software that makes the Web an application platform as well as a document server.
The use of syndication technology such as RSS to notify users of content changes.
Web 2.0 Real Estate
Applying Web 2.0 hallmarks to real estate:
Real Estate Search
It appears that we have plenty of search ability using keywords (tags) and consumers can narrow or expand by just about any variable imaginable when it comes to home finding, and tagging has been greatly expanded to include agent side website IDX.
Real Estate still seems internal in this realm as agents and brokers have always shared links within the 1.0 era, but what has greatly expanded is a willingness to share competitor sites as well as alternative ideals and principals when it comes to home buying and selling. Through use of the social web and sites like ActiveRain.com, agents appear willing and able to crowd source information for and with consumers, but in comparison to the volume of traditional practitioners versus agents using the social web, consumers are still limited by a very wide margin.
MLSs are still limited in this category. MLSs often limit the number of links an agent or broker can share with consumers, or where they can share them. Consumers are limited only by what the MLS feels necessary to share, and consumers cannot add information on properties found via the MLS, nor link to relevant content that would substantiate or debunk value.
Property Buying, Selling, Neighborhood Authoring
MLSs as well as Realtor.com are not collaborative in nature. Both of these search experiences are static and offer no input from the crowd, leaving sites like Zillow.com to lead in this category. Consumers can claim their home, and update information in real time making it a wiki in nature.
Redfin.com was another leader in the category through its SweetDigs blog that allowed consumers to update information on all homes, review them, and share neighborhood information pertinent to making buyer and seller decisions. (SweetDigs was subsequently fined $50,000 in May, 2007 by NWMLS for violation of rule 190 which prohibits brokers from advertising another member’s listing without permission)
Real estate agents themselves continue to lead overall in information authoring within their own sites and/or 3rd party blogs, wikis, and forums, where others can update suggestions and advice by inserting their own opinions and information pertinent to home buyers and sellers, however, in most cases are not allowed by MLSs to update property information, nor allow property reviews by consumers. Many agents and MLSs believe that this practice remains in the best interest of the home seller, while others continue to argue on behalf of the home buyer’s right to information.
Real Estate Tags & Folksonomy
As consumers are limited in their ability to update real estate information in real time through Realtor.com and MLSs, they are able to share and tag homes via 2.0 sites like Dwellicious using Realtor.com, Redfin, and other consumer search websites, however, they still remain unable to alter the static listings provided by local MLSs.
Many 3rd party search sites such as Zillow, Trulia, and broker sites like Better Homes and Garden Real Estate offer mobile web applications, while none may offer API for open source use of the MLS. IDX is the nearest opportunity for developers to expand MLS through use of plugins, but are limited by bylaws in use. Zillow, Trulia, Redfin, and others still lead the real estate industry, including Realtor.com in the API.
Most modern real estate websites offer RSS feeds of blog content, as do most 3rd party IDX solutions such as DS Search Agent, offering consumers RSS feeds of updated residential property listings by category, and/or tags, however most 3rd party real estate media companies and real estate brokers still require some form of user registration to obtain updates. Unlike RSS that allows consumers to experience the web on their terms, the ideals of data capture still seem to trump consumer experience where real estate listings are concerned. This is a distinct advantage for search companies like Google, and the local agent that serves local listings by RSS. Currently, sites like Craigslist aggregate listing content, however, content is not vetted and is often deemed inaccurate.
Many argue that…
…Web2.0 is a box and is dangerous to growth within any industry, however, I would like to posit two tiny words that should make the tenants of the real estate Web 2.0 evolution a minimum standard:
As described by Wikipedia, “Social Web is currently used to describe how people socialize or interact with each other throughout the World Wide Web. Such people are brought together through a variety of shared interests. There are different ways in which people want to socialize on the Web today. The first kind of socializing is typified by “people focus” websites such as Bebo, Facebook, and Myspace. Such sites promote the person as focus of social interaction.”
Social Web for Real Estate Expanded:
Consumers and real estate professionals are meeting online more now than ever by bypassing MLSs and static websites and are crowd sourcing on media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and by professional referral on sites like LinkedIn, thus scattering ‘the source,’ a title currently held by the MLS through Realtor.com.
It’s my opinion that ignoring the gap of social web allows for the dysfunctional perception of real estate as a practice as it continues to exclude the natural progression of how consumers want to experience and interact with web commerce, including real estate. This creates a trust barrier that further fuels disruption as 3rd party sites seek to fill the need of consumers to vet opinions and facts to reach decisions, thus bypassing the barriers.
I was surprised in the comparison of the basic tenants of Web 2.0 and real estate that MLSs seem to be a barrier to modernity within nearly every tenant, as every other tenant within Web 2.0 real estate is progressing with exception to the one main factor in real estate – people.
We as an industry continue to stifle and ignore the opinions and facts consumers can bring to bear by putting those of the property owner first where listing data is concerned. These value added ‘people data’ are scattered into the wind of the social web, giving rise to relevant people search results within media sites like Twitter. Would up to the minute facts on a neighborhood or property documented within the MLS as ‘people data’ be a value added benefit in the long term? Isn’t allowing people to tag, share, and voice and allowing people to connect around the product ultimately a good thing? Instead of exploring the benefits of people data, we limit the free and open sharing of simple RSS even within so-called Web 2.0 sites in an effort to collect data on people. Would they openly share such data to become a trusted source within an MLS for the ability to update and add content? It seems to work for Wikipedia.
My thoughts and opinions on this subject are wide open, and I’m interested in hearing your opinions on any and all of these tenants, as well as whether or not we should even continue to evolve. Should we take a chance that consumers will get over their need to source the crowd as time wears on, or should we open up the MLS to consumer sourcing and see where it leads us?
My take? Wouldn’t it be awesome to have consumers actually trust and engage us? Oh yeah, they are, within the social web! Isn’t it time the MLS becomes a social web of it’s own, opening up local opportunities for Agents and Consumers to connect?
Web 2.0 for real estate- what say you?