Editor’s note: The Inman Community section is attracting some engaging topics and vibrant discussions. Stefan Swanepoel, CEO for the RealtyU group of companies and an author, speaker and management consultant, stirs up a lively online conversation about online real estate communities and comments — there are already dozens of comments about his post.

Congratulations to both ActiveRain and RealTown that have reached that magical six-figure membership number of 100,000 people.

Add to these two frontrunners the re-engineered Inman News that now includes an online real estate community (where we are having this discussion right now) and the rapid expansion of the real estate side of LinkedIn and the evidence supports that social networking and community have officially taken hold of real estate. They are here to stay and are on the short list of major contributors to shape the residential real estate industry.

Granted that some of the 100,000 participants are vendors, technology nerds, people with duplicate accounts and even others who may visit their online accounts infrequently, but the critical mass is there and is generating sufficient buzz. Topics are being posted as frequently as on any online news service and the responses are frequent and increasing in number.

Stories or posts, as they are usually referred to, sometimes break on a news service only to find a part of the whole story analyzed and dissected on a blog where RSS subscribers receive immediate notification. And very quickly, within the seven degrees of separation, comments bounce from yonder to form a thread of discussion.

This is truly a new marvel for real estate — open discussion between many agents. Agents now have an outlet to immediately express their opinion (pro or con) concerning a wide range of topics and products as well as their broker or Realtor Association.

Now it’s true that some of the comments are not always polite, politically correct and can even be a little too sleazy. But more often than not they are well thought through and real estate is doing well overall at this early developmental stage of the "almost anonymous" debate.

This online conversation is slowly but surely creating an influence — an influence that needs to be heard, managed and respected. The question is: How much of it is pointless chatter and how much is quality commentary, and how do we distinguish between the two?

In the end it’s the substance (quality commentary), the diamonds in the rough, that will become the foundation for the continued reengineering of the real estate business process. To those who are already participating and joined one or more of the online communities, good for you. To those who are not yet participating, grab a keyboard and join in — whether you know and can share or need to learn and grow — there is much to say and so much more to still do.

What are you thoughts about the future of online real estate communities?

Click here to participate in the "Real Estate Online Communities and Networks: Novelty or Necessity?" discussion.

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