SAN FRANCISCO–The sun is setting in the West. But it’s rising in the East.

That was the view of the future Richard Mendenhall, principal of WMWorks, shared Wednesday afternoon with attendees at Inman NewsReal Estate Connect 2004. Mendenhall, part of a session on “A look at the future: What’s coming, why and when,” said most Americans have outdated or limited views of countries such as China, India and Malaysia. In fact, those countries are growing tremendously, attracting the money of American companies looking to cut costs.

“That will have an effect on all of our lives in real estate,” Mendenhall said.

Mendenhall didn’t say exactly how it would affect real estate, but instead simply presented it as one change the future holds in store. He also mentioned quantum computers, currently being developed, that can crunch numbers in seconds what it would take today’s fastest computers 1,000 years to do.

And, Mendenhall said, communities will rule. Communities can come in all forms, he said, giving the example of eBay, which is now the 11th-largest retailer in the United States and attracts customers from all over the country and the world.

“Folks, that is a community,” Mendenhall said.

Reid Hoffman, CEO of LinkedIn, also touched on the concept of communities while explaining what his company does. LinkedIn is an online business networking system where professionals can meet others they’re interested in knowing and do so through someone who already knows that person.

He said it’s a more efficient, less costly way alternative to calling people in a Rolodex and asking if they know someone who fits what you’re looking for. The system instead acts as a search engine, looking for people who meet whatever criteria are specified.

Real estate professionals could use it, for example, when looking for new clients or investors, Hoffman said. Now, about 6,000 LinkedIn users identify themselves as working in the real estate business. That number, however, is likely to grow as the service’s community expands, he said.

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Martin Nisenholtz, CEO of NY Times Digital, however, had a different view on community.

“I think community is one of the most overused words these days,” he said.

New York Times readers, whether online or print, are not a community, he said. Instead, they’re simply showing a brand affinity.

Much of Nisenholtz’ talk centered on his experiences in turning the Web site into a true multimedia site. That meant changing certain parts of the Times’ print culture, including getting the newsroom to think about an all-the-time news cycle, rather than a 24-hour one. The newspaper now has staff reporters and editors who collect and edit information throughout the day from other news desks to post online.

But, he said, content isn’t enough. There must be value in it for the reader. During election season, for example, that has meant adding such features as an interactive political map of the United States. Other features include multi-media presentations of movie reviews and the chance for readers to rate movies and give their own reviews of them.

The validity of those ratings systems, which can be used to rate any type of site or service, is of importance to real estate professionals, he said. Local brokers may choose to have such a function on their Web site, but they need to be concerned that there are enough comments and ratings that the viewer doesn’t doubt their truthfulness.

Since Web site visitors also want to be able to search for items of interest, search functions become of vital importance.

“Probably the place it most lives or is most popular is the real estate section,” Nisenholtz said.

Visitors expect three things from search functions. They want them to be fast, easy to use and involve a bit of magic in the way information is displayed.


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