Editor’s note: The housing market is slowing, but it hasn’t stopped innovators from debuting new technology and communication systems of use to the real estate industry. The Web 2.0 boom is rearing its head and providing new ways for the industry to communicate with clients and market home listings. In this three-part report, Inman News gives an update on some of the hottest technologies in real estate: mapping, video and blogging. (Read Part 2 and Part 3.)

Some stories are dark, like the ones told by Paige, the “Hopeless Romantic,” who charts out her adventures and mishaps in romance on a custom map, or there’s the “Where I was When 9/11 Happened” map. Others are a little more uplifting, like the ones told through maps of people’s weddings and places to propose marriage.

Most of the user-made maps on a new site called Platial are more utilitarian like the one for yoga studios in Los Angeles.

Platial, which coins itself “The People’s Atlas,” launched in December to enable users to create their own maps and tell their stories by adding context around places that hold meaning for them. For instance, some popular uses have been people citing their favorite restaurants, bars, parks and other places.

And of course, there are many real estate stories being told.

Online mapping applications have exploded in the past year as more people began creating mashups with Google’s mapping API. More real estate professionals are using maps in their property search offerings, creating a more user-friendly experience for consumers looking for homes. Platial is the latest application with a new spin on user-created maps that spark up community or chart personal stories.

A Boston-area home buyer used Platial to map out houses he’d seen in his home search and to leave comments about the properties. A real estate broker used Platial to map out local market trends, including which homes have sold for below their assessed value or well below asking price in the Boston area.

Zillow, a residential property data provider, recently used Platial to satisfy the common man’s curiosity for famous people’s homes.

More than 5,000 maps have been created on Platial since launch, according to co-founder and CEO Di-Ann Eisnor. The service is free to users, and any maps created on the site can be published on other sites the creator chooses.

The company, which has six employees and early funding from angel investors, will launch an advertising offering in the next few weeks, Eisnor said, allowing advertisers to purchase a listing on a map. Right now, though, Platial is still in the early adopter phase, she said.

Part of the attractiveness of Platial is how simple it is for users to create maps.

“You don’t need any technology expertise,” said Eisnor, who, along with her partner, came up with the idea for the online service while living in Amsterdam. “It takes some focus,” she said, and people can create a map in about 10 minutes.

About 20 percent of Platial’s visitors are adding places to maps and creating their own maps, she said. The remaining 80 percent are using the site to find information on locations and to view maps.

Bill Wendel, broker for the Real Estate Café in Cambridge, Mass., immediately saw a practical business use for Platial in real estate. Wendel has created a map to show overvalued real estate markets in the United States, as well as one that tracks homes that have sold for less than asking price in his local Massachusetts markets.

Wendel’s real estate maps are listed at http://www.platial.com/realestatecafe.

The broker said he’s trying to create a forum for a nationwide real estate bubble map that invites bloggers, buyer’s agents, home buyers and others to contribute. “The idea is to tap into this grassroots knowledge and quite literally protect people from overpaying,” he said.

Wendel predicts that more home buyers will begin to create their own maps to track and facilitate a home search. “I think someday something like this will be attached to every open house,” he said.

Wendel also sees Platial enabling agents to assemble virtual tours and insider neighborhood information. Agents could invite their clients to add places and comments on local hang outs.

“It’s like throwing a virtual block party and asking your neighbors, ‘What do you know about this neighborhood?'” Wendel said.


Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to jessica@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 133.

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