The Obsession of Real Estate with Web 2.0

InmanTV has a 46 minute video of a panel discussion at RealEstateConnect ’08 from New York of a group of industry luminaries called “25 Things You Must Do to Web 2.0 Your Company”.

It’s… moderately interesting, and I do recommend checking it out.

But what I don’t get personally is why the real estate brokerage industry is so damn obsessed with becoming “Web 2.0”. Do they even know what that means?

Because I’m pretty sure that the technology/web industry has no freakin idea what Web 2.0 means, except a magic phrase that seems to shake VC dollars loose.

The panelists all spent valuable minutes talking about “new ways to connect with consumers” and blogging, and… well, blogging. Sherry Chris talked about Twitter, and Facebook, and relayed stories of the COO of Better Homes and Gardens wanting to be his friend on Facebook.

Okay… that’s… neat and all, and as a blogger and a fan of blogging and a believer in the concepts behind Web 2.0, I’m highly encouraged by all this attention. Thing is, there is a serious defect in the understanding of the real estate people about what Web 2.0 is, and therefore, they can’t possibly implement anything whatsoever.

Let me suggest something here.

The Wikipedia definition of Web 2.0 (as good as any other we’re likely to get) is:

In studying and/or promoting web-technology, the phrase Web 2.0 is a trend in web design, development and can refer to a perceived second generation of web-based communities and hosted services — such as social-networking sites, wikis, and folksonomies — which aim to facilitate creativity, collaboration, and sharing between users.

Two observations I will make here.

First, why the obsession with using the web for creativity, collaboration, and sharing? What is wrong with using people for creativity, collaboration, and sharing?

Second, until and unless the real estate brokerage industry completely changes its entire approach to service, no amount of fancy web technology will “web 2.0” any real estate company.

What the real estate people don’t seem to understand is that Web 2.0 is an attempt to bridge an immense flaw of the Internet: anonymity and impersonality. I’ve been on the Internet before the advent of Netscape and the WorldWide Web. When you’re using UNIX workstations, using gopher and newsreaders to access the web, you realize that the Web — as great as it is — is extremely impersonal and extremely anonymous.

That’s great for some things. If you’re looking for porn, that anonymity is fantastic. If you’re looking for just plain old data, the impersonality is wonderful — you can very quickly go find some piece of information you want on some website somewhere.

But that whole anonymity and impersonality is really bad for some things.

For example, it’s really bad for dating. Consider the first-gen dating websites, like Match.com. You see someone’s photo, get a download of their data, then decide whether (a) you believe what you see, and (b) you want to take the next step. It’s basically a computerized online catalog of possible mates — no different, really, than any e-commerce site.

You have no idea whether that picture of the beautiful beach volleyball champion corporate lawyer chick is real or not. Hence, Brad Paisley’s hit song, “So Much Cooler Online“. You don’t know if she’s got an annoying habit, or if you’d get along, or anything. Even if you went to a “filtered” service like eHarmony, it’s all very one-to-many, with the website providing a rich catalog of choices, and you as the chooser.

The so-called web 2.0 services like Friendster, MySpace, and Facebook are much better for dating. Because now, you can leverage your known, existing, real-life networks to get to meet new people. The anonymity goes away to a large extent (although you could carry on a pretty involved deception, I suppose), but you gain a personalization, a humanization in the process. Mystery Woman ABC isn’t just a photo on Match.com, but actually is a friend of a friend of yours. You could track her down in real life. You know that someone you know actually has seen, interacted with, and knows that person.

It’s no longer one-to-many, but many-to-many. This whole notion of consumer generated content — that has been around since the early days of Amazon.com and CNET.com, both supposedly web 1.0 companies — is simply the effort to evade anonymity and impersonality of the web.

What they resolutely refuse to recognize is that if Web 2.0 means anything at all, it means humanizing the inhuman.

The thing I don’t get is that the traditional real estate companies have the one thing that the Web 2.0 folks really really want and can’t have: actual human beings. Instead of all this chasing after the Web 2.0 rainbow, why aren’t these companies going back to basics, of hiring better agents, training them better, and implementing actual customer service?

Forget consumer-generated content — that’s the current rage. How about having agents that aren’t idiots? That has some actual lasting value, and is the single biggest competitive advantage that real estate companies have as compared to the dotcoms trying to muscle in.

-rsh

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