Gigapixel cityscapes, user-supplied media content ranging from questions and answers to business ratings and personal profiles, and home improvement videos are among the barrage of new tools by real estate search company Move Inc.
It’s part of a broad plan to integrate user-generated content and social-networking with the company’s existing search sites, including Realtor.com and Move.com. Company officials discussed the plans during an “Investor Day” presentation last Wednesday.
Among the offerings is high-resolution city imagery, which the company calls “Gigapixel Neighborhood Views,” that allow users to zoom in on particular neighborhood areas. Errol Samuelson, president of Realtor.com and Top Producer Systems, demonstrated the technology to zoom in on San Francisco’s famous, winding Lombard Street from an original view that included the entire city. “We’re pretty excited about this technology,” he said, which is expected to be available on the site this month.
In addition to the detailed imagery, Samuelson discussed other earlier-announced initiatives to bring neighborhood and school information, aggregated real estate-related blog postings, as well as richer media content such as video and interactive mapping, to the site. Other Move Inc. divisions, too, are incorporating this data to bring new options to searches for new homes and rental properties.
While the company historically has focused on consumers who are actively engaged in buying, selling or renting real estate and use its Web-search tools for a two- to three-month period, company officials said its new strategy seeks to draw a broader base of consumers who are in the “settling in” and “nesting phase” and keep them coming back to the site.
The new strategy represents a significant transformation for Move, said Lorna Borenstein, a former Yahoo executive who took the reigns as Move Inc. president in May. “It reminds me a lot of Yahoo and Google and the lessons learned from the different approaches that were taken,” she said of the Move Inc.’s shift.
Google, she said, “came along and optimized (its business model) for the consumer. Yahoo, unfortunately, is paying the price for that. If in the long run you don’t optimize for the end user, for the consumer, you will always fall prey to someone who is optimizing for relevancy,” she said.
Borenstein said that the Internet has served to amplify the importance of word-of-mouth communication by consumers, and that Move has an opportunity to build a platform that encourages online discussions.
She discussed the concept of “brand advocates,” whom she described as “individuals who self-identify as being leaders in their own communities” and who “love to be looked to for advice” and recommendations. These Web-vocal consumers can help to spread the word about the company and its offerings, she said. “You need to figure out who your most influential constituents are. They will carry your message and amplify it far more than you ever could.”
She added, “Search and social media are interwoven into the daily lives of these advocates. Social media is absolutely integral to our future.” The company, she said, should “build an ecosystem around the most important purchase in peoples’ lives — and that is their home.”
Samuelson said that a neighborhood search component that the company is launching will feature demographic information about neighborhood areas, and will allow consumers and Realtors alike to upload content such as photographs and videos. Mapping tools will display a variety of heat maps, such as color-coded displays of average listing price data, Samuelson said. Other neighborhood tools planned by Move divisions will allow consumers to enter personal profiles, participate in question-and-answer sessions, contribute photographs, videos and event information, and provide user-generated reviews of local businesses.
Eric Thorkilsen, president of consumer media for Move, said the company’s ventures will facilitate targeted contextual advertising and neighborhood information to new homeowners, both offline and online. One of the online ventures allows neighborhood residents to post short descriptions of themselves and to connect with other neighborhood residents. The slogan for the initiative: “Neighborhoods are back. And you’re in charge.”
Thorkilsen said such tools can provide “an immediate and very emotional entry point” into a locally focused online community. “I think one of the most attractive features will be the ability for consumers to post pictures and events. Local newspapers have to be concerned about a site like this coming into the town,” he said.
“It will become a go-to destination for not only the newcomers in a town but the longtime residents as well.”
Another area at the Move.com site will be a “video-centric” home and garden destination, he said. “Video is really where it’s happening with consumers online. We intend to be the leading player in providing it to them.”
Mike Long, Move CEO, said that search technologies are integrating with social media, and, “We need to be part of that reality. When search and social networking combine that’s when the leverage in our business model will be fully exploited.”
Company officials did not provide any details about a secretive business venture, led by former Realtor.com President Allan Dalton and former National Association of Realtors Chief Economist David Lereah. Long said during the investor conference that the venture is not yet on the table for discussion.