So I ask an innocent question recently on Twitter: “What’s the difference between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0?”
And I got a number of interesting responses. So of course I have to blog about it, heh.
Heather Elias (@heatherflynn) wrote: @robhahn interruption marketing versus permission marketing. Actually, I take that back. More like broadcasting versus engagement.
Stacey Harmon (@staceyharmon): @robhahn I think Realtors should have 1.0 websites, but participate in web 2.0 communities. I don’t advise agents to create web 2.0 site …although there is an element of “dynamicism” that Realtors should use on their 1.0 websites which make them more 2.0 like…
Derek Massey (@derekmassey): @robhahn 1.0 is push, 2.0 is push and pull. 1.0 is presentation, 2.0 is discussion. 1.0 is looking big, 2.0 is acting small
And of course, @matman had the best observation: If my math serves me correctly, Web 2.0 is Web 1.0 x 2!
The profound simplicity of Matman’s formulation aside, all of these quotes suggest something without going so far as defining anything. What is an observer — and more importantly, a practitioner — to do?
[Now, to be fair, let’s be clear that the above people were responding via Twitter with its 140-character limits. So by necessity they had to be general; therefore, none of what is below should be seen as criticism. In fact, I rather hope they’d come and participate and expand on these thoughts.]
Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of the typical real estate agent who is discovering the wild and woolly world of online real estate. She goes to a conference, like RE Tech South or Inman Connect or perhaps a RE Barcamp. She hears everyone talking about Web 2.0, about social media, about leveraging the most powerful form of marketing ever invented.
She’s got herself a website from one o’ dem website vendor fellas, and she figures she needs to get with the program. She desperately desires to join the Web 2.0 world and the rest of it.
What is she to do?
Her current site is ‘broadcast’ whereas she wants to go to ‘engagement’. Rather than presenting stuff, she wants to discuss them.
In practical terms, what does this mean for our newbie realestista?
The picture gets cloudier still when she realizes that the sites usually brought up as exemplars of the Web 2.0 movement are sites like Flickr, YouTube, and Wikipedia. YouTube is literally broadcast for our newbie — she goes there to watch videos. Flickr isn’t much different — she goes there to check out photos from other people.
Blogs are said to be the quintessence of “Web 2.0”, but she visits most blogs to read stuff other people have written. Sure she can see that some folks comment and such, but hasn’t ever done it herself. How is this different from people coming to her site to read her market reports page?
Her site allows users to search for listings, then returns results to them. It’s all rather one-to-one in her view. So what’s so Web 1.0 about her basic search site, and what would she have to change to make it a Web 2.0 site? Just add a blog, or let users comment on the listing?
What does “dynamicism” mean anyhow for her?
The Disservice of Vagueness
Every time I go to a real estate conference where newcomers are introduced to the heady concepts and la revolucion sweeping their industry, I come away thinking that they all have the somewhat happy-but-dazed look of people who sat under a waterfall for a few hours.
They all go away feeling that they have to do something, and that they have heard the key to future success, but with precious few concrete action items.
The problem, I think, is the very imprecision of the terminology we throw around. The vagueness performs a disservice to newbies. Unfortunately, the imprecision and vagueness is built-in to the whole “Web 2.0” meme/movement.
This seems a good place for a digression of sorts: What is Web 2.0?
In our initial brainstorming, we formulated our sense of Web 2.0 by example:
Web 1.0 Web 2.0 DoubleClick –> Google AdSense Ofoto –> Flickr Akamai –> BitTorrent mp3.com –> Napster Britannica Online –> Wikipedia personal websites –> blogging evite –> upcoming.org and EVDB domain name speculation –> search engine optimization page views –> cost per click screen scraping –> web services publishing –> participation content management systems –> wikis directories (taxonomy) –> tagging (“folksonomy”) stickiness –> syndication
The list went on and on. But what was it that made us identify one application or approach as “Web 1.0” and another as “Web 2.0”? (The question is particularly urgent because the Web 2.0 meme has become so widespread that companies are now pasting it on as a marketing buzzword, with no real understanding of just what it means. The question is particularly difficult because many of those buzzword-addicted startups are definitely not Web 2.0, while some of the applications we identified as Web 2.0, like Napster and BitTorrent, are not even properly web applications!)
The post by Tim O’Reilly — I suppose the father of the term “Web 2.0” — goes on to make claims like “Web 2.0 doesn’t have a hard boundary, but rather, a gravitational core.” And then O’Reilly supplies us with a helpful “meme map”:
If the “gravitational core” of Web 2.0 is “The Web as Platform” then every single real estate website in existence today — including the original Realtor.com circa 1996 — is Web 2.0. If the key to Web 2.0 is “You control your own data” then not one real estate website today is Web 2.0. Because not one real estate website controls its own data — nor does any user of any real estate website.
Look at some of the other “core competencies” like “Harnessing the collective intelligence”. Whatever this might mean in Web 2.0, I think it’s safe to say that few real estate websites today are Web 2.0 under this scenario. And the ones that might be able to make that claim are all portals aggregating the “wisdom of the crowds” of thousands of individuals — Trulia Voices, Zillow Advice, ActiveRain, and the like.
In other words, NOT an individual broker or agent website.
Then look at the peripheral concepts, such as “Trust your users” and “Hackability”. In some ways, real estate web is almost defined by not trusting your users and not being hackable.
You can (and if you’re really interested, you probably should) read the whole article by Tim O’Reilly. But for those who want to get to the meat, the conclusion brings the juice:
Core Competencies of Web 2.0 Companies
In exploring the seven principles above, we’ve highlighted some of the principal features of Web 2.0. Each of the examples we’ve explored demonstrates one or more of those key principles, but may miss others. Let’s close, therefore, by summarizing what we believe to be the core competencies of Web 2.0 companies:
- Services, not packaged software, with cost-effective scalability
- Control over unique, hard-to-recreate data sources that get richer as more people use them
- Trusting users as co-developers
- Harnessing collective intelligence
- Leveraging the long tail through customer self-service
- Software above the level of a single device
- Lightweight user interfaces, development models, AND business models
The next time a company claims that it’s “Web 2.0,” test their features against the list above. The more points they score, the more they are worthy of the name. Remember, though, that excellence in one area may be more telling than some small steps in all seven.
While Tim O’Reilly is speaking of “Web 2.0 companies” rather than “Web 2.0 websites”, if we apply the same checklist to websites especially in real estate, confusion reigns.
Based on the above list, for a savvy agent to transform her website from “Web 1.0” to “Web 2.0”, the following would have to occur:
- Leave the MLS and institute a proprietary listings database, with direct input from users of the website. How else to get ‘control over unique, hard-to-recreate data sources that get richer with usage”?
- Listings without pricing — fully auctionize (is that even a word?) the real estate process. Let buyers simply bid what they would pay for a particular house, rather than list a price for a home. How else to “harness collective intelligence” or to “trust your users”?
- No more “contact me” forms, but a “here’s the password to the lockbox” forms. How else to enable “customer self-service”?
I am, of course, being just a wee bit facetious. It would be impossible — or nearly impossible — to do any of the above, nevermind all of them.
It may be that Web 2.0 simply cannot apply to real estate sites that are of interest to the newbie realestista. They’re not interested in starting a wholly new business model premised upon consumer self-service, wisdom of crowds, and control over proprietary data. They’re simply interested in marketing themselves and their services (and the listings they are marketing) better.
So how do we do that?
Dispelling the Shadows: Getting Specific
First step, I think, is to get away from vague exhortations and move towards specific action items.
Rather than “engage the consumer”, perhaps the recommendation should be “Have a blog”.
Rather than “push and pull”, perhaps the recommendation should be “Put a RSS feed on your listings”.
Whatever it is, ye legions of web designers, social media experts, and Web 2.0 evangelists need to get much more specific than you have been to date. There needs to be concrete differences between a “Real Estate 1.0” site and a “Real Estate 2.0” site of the sort that can be put into an actionable format.
And those concrete differences have to be meaningful and measurable in some way. There has to be a reason to put in a blog on a website, or to incorporate user comments onto listings. The expert who is recommending a course of action should be prepared to deliver performance metrics.
What might be a great step forward is for conference organizers to consider creating a whole separate track for newcomers to the modern real estate web. This “Newbie Academy” track would eschew broad statements and grand gestures and focus on action items with specific things they can do.
For example, rather than telling real estate agents that they need to make their websites more engaging, the expert instructor might step through different modes of engagement:
- Professional Resume: Since the consumer is seeking a professional to provide services, you will want to engage the consumer with a clear statement of your professional qualifications, track record, and accomplishments.
- Action Item: About Me section on the website, with a detailed professional resume, including education.
- Action Item: A link to your LinkedIn profile which duplicates your detailed professional resume. Do not assume that users will click over, but make it an option.
- Personality: Because real estate is an intensely personal affair, consumers will want to feel comfortable with their agent. And you will want to feel good about working with a consumer. Showcase your personality in various ways.
- Action Item: Make sure that the overall design of your website, from the homepage to the font selection, matches your personality. Do not settle for a template site you haven’t even looked over much. Work with a designer if you must to express yourself through the design of your site.
- Action Item: Put a list of your favorite books, or books you are reading, in the sidebar of your website. You can use websites like WeRead or Shelfari.
- Action Item: Put your favorite movies on your site with Flixter.
- Action Item: Put your favorite musicians and songs on your site with iLike, or create a streaming radio station with blip.fm.
- Action Item: Create some movies of yourself talking about yourself, your family, your hobbies, or your interests with a webcam or similar and post them on the site.
- Expertise: Consumers expect real estate agents to be experts on the whole home buying and selling process, as well as the local market.
- Action Item: Put together a detailed market report for your market including inventory, last sold, median listed price, median sold price, price trends, and days on market. If you can’t put it together yourself, at least get a pre-packaged tool from sites like Altos Research or Zillow.
- Action Item: Offer consumers a detailed look into your market with both statistical data about population, median income, employment, etc.
- Action Item: Provide consumers with information about the schools, both public and private, in your market. [Of course, if it were me doing this Newbie Academy, I would have to mention my employer….]
- Action item: Etc. and so on, and so forth.
- Whatever Else: Yadda, yadda, and yadda.
And so on. In this manner, the newbie walks away with a specific action plan to improve her website from its current sad state to a modern Real Estate 2.0 website. She doesn’t need to get confused with all the vagueries of theory about what principles constitute Web 2.0 vs. Web 1.0, or whether social media encompasses video or not, or what-have-you.
Those topics are for the illuminati who already know the basics. And typically, we just argue about them and debate them in an effort to boil down the misty wilds of imprecision to a more coherent set of understanding.
For the Illuminati
And those of us who are the Web illuminati… I think we have to get better at our craft. We have to get better at understanding what the hell we are talking about, so that we can put things into the sort of precise language and specific courses of action that a newbie can follow. If we can’t speak of things in precise and specific ways, then we probably don’t understand it well enough to advise anyone else on it.
This is partially why I like to say that I have no answers, only questions. Because Web 2.0, social media, and the like are so seriously ill-defined at times that I have nothing specific to recommend. Categories seem arbitrary — e.g., what makes Flickr “Web 2.0” and Ebay not? Metrics seem invisible at times. Evidence is always thin.
Under those circumstances, I suppose being circumspect, hedging bets and statements, and freely admitting ignorance are strategic advantages. Something for the illuminati to consider…