The "user-gen" concept has spread to industry conferences, with some well-known players in the real estate technology field piggybacking on an annual industry event in San Francisco to launch what’s believed to be the first ever "RE BarCamp."

BarCamps — the name is derived from the hacker slang term foobar — are get-togethers where participants discuss early stage Web applications and open source technologies. BarCamps have been held in more than 350 cities worldwide, according to Wikipedia.

The real estate technology-themed RE BarCamp coming to San Francisco this month will focus on Web applications and tools for real estate professionals. The free event will be held July 22, the day before Real Estate Connect San Francisco 2008 kicks off.

Organizers say the timing is no coincidence. Connect — an event sponsored by Inman News — draws real estate industry brokers and agents, consultants and Web developers from around the world. The list of those planning to attend RE BarCamp includes many familiar names from the blogosphere, suggesting that timing the event with Connect paid off.

Equally notable is that others coming to the RE BarCamp appear to be Silicon Valley tech workers who are presumably interested in learning how the real estate industry is using the Web, said real estate technology consultant and blogger Dustin Luther, referring to another list of attendees posted on a Yahoo local event guide for San Francisco.

"In San Francisco, the curiosity level of the tech folks is so immense," Luther said. "You can see that among the people who have signed up (on Yahoo), there are a decent number of people I have never heard of from the tech space, which is a very positive sign."

Luther said other BarCamps he’s attended attracted leaders in the technology field eager to brainstorm and demonstrate their own technologies.

At one BarCamp he attended in Seattle, a team of developers gave away CDs with a suite of AJAX (asynchronous JavaScript and XML) applications they’d developed, at a time when people were "just starting to figure out" the new Web 2.0 tools, Luther said.

"I’ve yet to go to one of these where they just bombed and things don’t work," Luther said. "I’ve always learned a bunch. It’s a time to brainstorm. Ideas turn into projects, teams get made, and (projects) get funded."

Morgan Brown, author of the blog Blown Mortgage, said he will attend RE BarCamp in his role as director of marketing for TurnHere, the video production company headed by Inman News founder Bradley Inman.

"From TurnHere’s perspective, I’m looking forward to meeting a lot of the early-adopter bloggers in an intimate setting, and learn from some really smart people about where video can come into play in real estate marketing," Brown said.

One RE BarCamp organizer, new media consultant Todd Carpenter, said that the best place to be at an industry conference is often in the hallways.

"The interactions between people is super important," Carpenter said. RE BarCamp is intended to be "kind of like a full day of being in the hallway."

At a BarCamp, it’s up to participants to not only choose discussion topics for discussion, but lead the discussions.

"As great as it is to have all the big names at Connect, there are still a lot of great ideas from the agents in the field," Carpenter said. "I don’t know if you could even plan to (invite a predetermined set of speakers to a BarCamp) and have it all come off."

Carpenter said he’ll lead a discussion for agents to share success stories — "little things you did that made your job easier, or made your marketing more effective."

Brown said the event should be a great "roll in" to Connect, complimenting some of the bigger concepts and themes that will be discussed there.

"I think it’s a great way to start things off," Brown said. "I think almost everyone who’s going to RE BarCamp is going to Connect. It’s a chance to meet in small groups, and take some of those conversations and thinking into Connect."

RE BarCamp is being held at the Swedish American Hall, a historic building on Market Street within walking distance of downtown that’s a popular venue with locals for everything from business conferences to weddings.

Carpenter said that organizers have landed enough commitments from sponsors — including Inman News — to cover the event’s costs, which include renting the hall. That means organizers won’t have to charge attendees, but more sponsors would be welcome to help cover extras like t-shirts, Carpenter said.

One piece of news that’s expected to come out of RE BarCamp is the release of a survey on real estate blogging. The newly formed Center for Real Estate and Social Technologies, or CREST, is conducting the 14-question survey in an attempt to provide some quantitative data about how real estate professionals can best use blogs.

Much of the advice that’s offered to real estate professionals about blogging and social networks is based on anecdotal evidence, said Ben Martin, director of communications and new media with the Virginia Association of Realtors, which is providing financial backing for CREST.

Survey results will be subjected to statistical analysis and bloggers from around the country will write up an executive summary that will be provided free to all who complete the survey by the 9 a.m. EST July 11 deadline, Martin said.

As of Wednesday, nearly 100 people had completed the survey, which was limited to just over a dozen questions to minimize the length of time needed to complete it.

CREST intends to conduct similar surveys four to six times a year in order to provide hard data that can be used to test the conventional wisdom about "best practices" for using blogs and social networks, Martin said.

Martin said the Virginia Association of Realtors holds regular conventions for bloggers that are similar to BarCamps in that participants choose the topics and lead discussions. The association’s next BloggerCon will take place Sept. 26 in Baltimore, coinciding with VAR’s annual convention.

While real estate bloggers on the West Coast have plenty of chances to get together — including the July 23 "Bloggers Connect" workshops at Connect and the "Beer with Bloggers" reception the night before — there are fewer opportunities to meet in person on the East Coast, Martin said. Such face-to-face opportunities are not to be missed.

"Once you get to a certain point in your blogging career … you can’t learn anything from the so-called experts, or (from) the blogs about blogging," Martin said. "Having conversations and comparing notes with other folks are the ways I really learn."


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