Localism, a neighborhood-focused Web site launched in beta last year by the ActiveRain online real estate network, has retooled with a new design and a plan to join together its real estate members with the general public in defining neighborhood areas and creating content around them.

Localism.com, which draws content from ActiveRain’s user base of roughly 97,000 members, works on the micro and macro scale in allowing users to search for information categorized at the state, county, city, neighborhood and community levels.

And while ActiveRain has served mostly as a professional networking tool for real estate professionals, Localism steps outside these industry boundaries and seeks to draw in far broader participation from all types of folks in all types of communities.

"It is a social network based around communities," said Jonathan Washburn, ActiveRain CEO. "We’re trying to bring the geographic community back to the beginning — to bring people close together who are really close in proximity."

Localism is just one prong in ActiveRain’s expansion plans. Inman News reported last month that the ActiveRain Real Estate Network is offering its members free "outside" blogs that they can customize with their own branding and choose sub-domains within ActiveRain.com or purchase custom domain names.

And ActiveRain allows members to publish their content simultaneously to their various sites.

All of the posts visible at Localism will be reviewed by an editor to ensure that they are relevant to the specified geographic area, whether it’s a neighborhood or a state, Washburn said.

"Every single piece of content is hand-reviewed by a human editor. We have over 100,000 posts that we’re screening through right now." Posts are not edited — rather, posts that are considered to be incompatible with the site won’t be posted there.

The content, Washburn said, "Has to be somewhat interesting and has to be about that market."

During this initial launch period, ActiveRain members are the only ones eligible to upload photos or create blog posts for the Localism site, which is self-described at the site as the "world’s most complete neighborpedia."

In August the site will open up to consumers as "a place for anybody in that neighborhood or community … to write a blog post," Washburn said.

Users will have the option to subscribe to automated data feeds of posts for a particular neighborhood, he said.

Localism is built to be "stumble-worthy," he also said, meaning that the design of the site is intended to encourage users to explore and "stumble" into new areas. "It kind of flows," he said.

There is a revenue model: Users can sponsor communities, at a cost ranging from $7.50 to $15 per month per community, depending on the volume of sponsored communities. There can be only one sponsor per community.

Sponsorships give more visibility to community members at the site, and allow them to post advertising links.

Localism members who contribute lots of content that is featured at the site can also appear under a "Top Neighbors" area of the site that features a photo, name and contact information.

All users at the site can contribute photos of a particular community, and individual parks or schools can be defined as communities, Washburn said.

Localism sports a blog-like layout for its posts, but also features a list of popular communities, an online map tool, and a window for user-supplied photos for each visited area.

Users have the option to "view all neighbors," or "view all photos" in a given area, and there is a short, clickable subject-line list of the latest blog posts for each area featured at the site, followed by the full posts.

Washburn said that real estate professionals may look at Localism as "real estate farming 2.0," and he expects that subdivisions will crop up on the site as individual online communities for people to share content around.

"It has very open (programming) architecture," he said, "that allows the site to grow and breathe on its own."

Originally, Localism was envisioned as a place for only real estate information, with ActiveRain members providing all of the content. Allowing members of a community to add content provides for a far more open conversation, Washburn said.

"We see it almost in the same realm as a Yelp," he said, referring to the online site that allows its community of users to rate and review restaurants and other businesses. The users of Localism are like "local community guides," he said.

Move Inc., the parent company to real estate search site Realtor.com, last year announced plans to allow user-generated information about neighborhood areas, with the ability for consumers and Realtors to upload photos and video, among other content. Move Inc. had courted ActiveRain for a possible acquisition, though the deal soured and led ActiveRain to file a lawsuit against Move.

ActiveRain secured $2.75 million in funding in December 2007 from real estate marketing and lead-generation company HouseValues.

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