NEW YORK — At the beginning of the Real Estate Connect conference last week, Brad Inman gave a presentation on the concept of real-time and what it might mean for the real estate industry in terms of business practices and technology.

However, there were several technologies that may present an opportunity along a different dimensional axis: "real-place." Bear with me as I work this out in this week’s column.

There are several layers of technology and cultural trends that are coming into alignment, based on what I observed at the latest Connect. I’m going to use what I saw to flesh out my thoughts on real-place.

NEW YORK — At the beginning of the Real Estate Connect conference last week, Brad Inman gave a presentation on the concept of real-time and what it might mean for the real estate industry in terms of business practices and technology.

However, there were several technologies that may present an opportunity along a different dimensional axis: "real-place." Bear with me as I work this out in this week’s column.

There are several layers of technology and cultural trends that are coming into alignment, based on what I observed at the latest Connect. I’m going to use what I saw to flesh out my thoughts on real-place.

At the very end I’ll give out some ideas on how it might be useful for the real estate industry. I’m very interested in your thoughts and feedback on this as well. Feel free to contact me directly or via the comments.

SEO vs. social media

Social media was clearly the reach-focused marketing effort that most attendees were interested in. Interest in search-engine optimization techniques and tactics has waned in terms of buzz and bodies in chairs.

There was a lot of conversation about how to use the different tools and networks out there in social media. A lot of that conversation was focused around "authentic" communication and, ideally, providing value for the audience.

The value in social media is centered around providing personal, human context around online relationships. When we Tweet about things or update our Facebook status or whatever it is we’re doing with these social tools, we’re putting some small bit of our human experience in context with someone else’s human experience.

It’s a little pointy-headed, but hold this thought for later: Social media encourages the creation of content about our own experiences and positions content/experience in relation to others who know us.

Search, on the other hand, is about being found and, ideally, about some level of objectivity. Back in the day, when we wanted to find a restaurant’s phone number we would look in the phone book, not the review of the restaurant.

SEO is like getting listed in the phone book: it helps you put yourself in front of an audience that already knows what it is looking for (in fact, they type that as their search keyword). Pointy-headed thought for later: SEO uses the practice of creating a clear structured-data approach to encoding our human experience, so that computers can understand the main topics of the content.

Many of the core aspects of solid SEO come down to putting in the effort to making good content and then publishing that content via a solidly coded publishing platform.

Mobile devices

So, of course mobile was everywhere. There was chatter about Google’s NexusOne. IPhone apps were released and announced. Everyone pretty much knows they need some sort of strategy that takes mobile into account, but they aren’t sure how just yet.

Contemporary mobile devices have a few things in common — a few very important features: a camera, the ability to put text and images online, GPS location, and basic communication features. Using these features, people are going around publishing small bits of information, or photos or videos. These bits of data often contain the GPS data of their location: the geek term is "location aware." …CONTINUED

At one level, we’re all going around taking pictures and commenting on our location and publishing this. At another level, when the layer of social media functions are applied, we’re providing others with a lens into that location. We’re adding meaning to the space through the media we create and publish there. What starts as a pin on a map becomes a place carrying a record of human experiences, often from people we know and admire.

Pointy-headed thought to hold for later: Mobile devices can automatically add location data about content, allowing for the layering of human experience over geography.

WordPress as a publishing platform

The conference session on "WordPress, the Category Killer," with Chris Pearson of Pearsonified and DIYThemes.com, and Garron Selikken of HomeQuest, M Realty LLC and IDX Blogger, was packed solid with a line training down the hallway. In the halls, conversation often turned to favorite WordPress plugins or configurations.

One of the big benefits of using WordPress is that it gets so much SEO correct right out of the virtual box. This is to say that WordPress offers a nice interface for making content that is structured in a way that search engines can understand it.

But making that content still takes effort. Making those blog posts and so on takes time. Integrating with social media tools like Twitter can change the rate of time used to make content (a lot of little status updates vs. one big blog post) but it still takes time.

Getting real estate content that is relevant to your audience without having to write full time is known as curation. The next round of getting content into all these WordPress sites, and especially for real estate sites, is curation.

WordPress, with its plugin architecture and army of developers, is a choice platform for putting together content curation services.

So for my subtle pointy-headed thought to hold for later: Curation-based publishing strategies involve identifying the best content sources for our audiences.

Using technology to transform "space" into "place"

I promised myself I wouldn’t get into the whole anthropology of place/space and all of that. But if you really want to dig in on this topic, do a search on "space place anthropology" and go wild. But I will start with my pointy-headed statements above (for those who just skipped to the end):

  • SEO uses the practice of creating a clear structured-data approach to encoding our human experience, so that computers can understand the main topics of the content.
  • Social media encourages the creation of content about our own experiences and positions content/experience in relation to others who know us.
  • Mobile devices can automatically add location data about content, allowing for the layering of human experience over geography.
  • Curation-based publishing strategies involve identifying the best content sources for our audiences.

Now the phrase "human experience" is just a timid way of saying "meaning." When we’re tweeting about a place, or busy becoming the "mayor" of the Galaxy Diner, or leaving a trail of videos and photos of some place, we’re creating meaning about a specific location.

We invested our time to be in that place physically (sometimes repeatedly). Our thoughts and emotions were involved in selecting words or images to describe the location. …CONTINUED

The digital record of our collective experiences transforms what started out as a pin on a map into a place with layered meaning. The way this meaning is being transmitted is via social connections: our friends and friends of friends, our business colleagues and associates, celebrity and so on.

We’re beginning to be able to see into the meaning of any given location via the lens offered by our social relationships. We’re able to do this in-the-moment and on location. This is the real-place opportunity.

Using real-place

Today, I can use digital tools to identify any location and find content about it that was created by people I may have some sort of relationship with: my Foursquare friends, my Twitter friends, people I know via LinkedIn, and so on.

As a person trying to navigate the world and find the best restaurant or something interesting, this sort of information is valuable. But what about for a publisher? What about for a publisher looking for a real estate focused audience?

All of these social media tools create streams of information. Our Twitter-stream, our LinkedIn status updates, and our friends’ locations via Foursquare all provide the ability to curate and present information to others.

For real estate professionals, as content about the locations in which you market property becomes available, some of it will be worth presenting in relation to specific properties in specific locations.

The aggregate life-stream of neighborhoods collected and curated via Twitter, Foursquare, LinkedIn, random blog posts, Pegshot, Flickr or anything else that can carry location data can help give meaning to those neighborhoods.

The real estate professional who can effectively curate this information will not only have a greater personal understanding of his or her market area, but will learn about the people who create content in that market area as well.

Since you made it all the way to the end of this column (or just skipped to the end) here’s a real-place bullet list of challenges/opportunities:

  • Working with existing sources of location-streams will allow you to begin identifying potential real-place data.
  • Developing technical experience with location-streams will position you to publish real-place data.
  • Learning how your audience makes and consumes meaning will help you become a better curator of real-place data.
  • Observing how your audience responds to real-place data (via Web analytics and other methods) will allow you to create and curate better real-place data.
  • Google is very interested in local. I’ll leave it at that.
  • Oh yeah, the obvious place to begin surfacing real-place data is in maps. But a good augmented-reality app would be cool, too. And the non-obvious places might be great, too.

Gahlord Dewald is the president and janitor of Thoughtfaucet, a strategic creative services company in Burlington, Vt. He’s a frequent speaker on applying analytics and data to creative marketing endeavors.

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