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Real Estate Wikis: A Leg Up in a Difficult Market

By Andrew K. Burger LinuxInsider ECT News Network
Apr 25, 2008 4:00 AM PT

While Wikipedia may be the best known example, wikis are not only becoming the first place people turn when conducting online research, but also when they're looking to build specialist online communities.

Real Estate Wikis: A Leg Up in a Difficult Market

It's not surprising, then, that wikis dedicated to real estate are emerging. InmanWiki -- part of the Inman media group -- the aptly named Real Estate Wiki and Zillow all are testing the real estate wiki waters. So is Wikia, the for-profit arm of the folks behind Wikipedia, which has high hopes for its online real estate communities.

Wikis and Real Estate Marketing

Real estate wiki Zillow offers a range of online tools designed to assist real estate professionals market and promote their listings and businesses on the Web in Web 2.0 fashion. Agents are able to post property listings free of charge and can offer their expertise through the site's Real Estate Guide, Home Q&A and Zillow Discussions sections, explained Zillow's Sarah Mann.

"The real estate industry is moving online more and more every day. More than 70 percent of all buyers start their search for a home on the Internet, and thus real estate agents and other professionals are finding that it is critical to have a presence on the Web," Mann told LinuxInsider.

If eyeballs are a measure of a Web site's e-commerce potency, then Zillow's real estate wiki appears to be in very good shape: More than 5 million users visit the site each month, according to Mann. "In fact, we currently receive over 25,000 user contributed pieces of information to our community every day. We'll continue to innovate in this space, and offer more tools for agents to connect directly with prospective customers."

Wikia's Efforts

Wiki pioneer Wikia is active and investing in growing its real estate wiki and associated communities. The site contains hundreds of pages of information covering a wide range of real estate topics -- home buying, selling, renting and the home ownership process among them, as well as related information on its finance wiki, where visitors will find more than 1,000 articles on topics such as adjustable rate mortgages, buying a home and foreclosures.

"The goal is to provide a resource of unbiased information for home buyers, sellers and mortgage customers," Gil Penchina, Wikia's CEO, explained for LinuxInsider. "Wikis allow people to share tips on foreclosure management, find and share tricks that allow unscrupulous lenders to overcharge customers or identify language that is unfriendly to the buyer in a contract. The true power of a wiki is that it allows people to share what they've learned for the benefit of all."

Wikia sees promise of wikis' use in real estate going forward, according to Penchina. "We fully expect our real estate-related communities to continue to grow and thrive -- there's undoubtedly an appetite out there for unbiased information about all things real estate given the current housing situation."

Blending Perspectives

Wikis combine elements of e-mail, blogs and social networking sites, taking advantage of the ease of publication, revision and updating that online publishing affords. Hence they are ideal tools not only for the public sources of reference that have defined them, but increasingly within organizations as tools to foster communications and collaboration, explained Martin Cleaver, principal of wiki consultant and developer Blended Perspectives.

"Real estate has only started to discover wikis ... the whole of the social media sphere really," Cleaver told LinuxInsider. "Wikis, if you like, are the simplest way of sharing reference information. They can be distinguished from blogs, which are all about putting forward an opinion, whereas wikis are about creating a consolidated view that becomes a timeless reference."

The open, participatory nature and consensual rules and review of content that govern wikis' operations and contributors' content make their conceptual underpinnings a very radical idea, but one that creates "a very democratic environment," thereby serving as means of improving the transparency of information, according to Cleaver. It also fosters collaboration among contributors and users to a greater degree and on a more inclusive basis than blogs, e-mails or more traditional and static forms of online communication, he said.

This combination of attributes can make wikis effective tools for those looking to build online communities, provide continually updated reference information and facilitate communication covering specialized subjects and markets such as real estate.

"Loads of Web sites are read-only -- not a means to collaborate. You can't leverage your audience to give you useful info. With a blog you can get their comments, but you're making quite a weak promise to your audience: You're saying essentially that me, the speaker, has all the great ideas but you the reader can put comments in some small space. When you put it onto a wiki, you are saying, 'I value your time and we are building this together. The policy is not part of the technology; basically you control things culturally. Users can see who makes what edits, changes, revisions, etc. The tool itself is a very sharp knife; it's just a question of how you use it."

BI Gold Mine

Their nature also makes wikis a rich source of business intelligence regarding competitors, business prospects and opportunities. "Wikis are very good for collecting and digesting competitive information ... and indeed from the business intelligence point of view because a wiki can be used by an organization to describe its competencies," Havens maintained.

Business wikis are still largely an untapped tool when it comes to business intelligence and CRM, asserted Andy Havens of TinkerX, commenting on the use of Web 2.0 technology in the legal profession. "I had high hopes for 'business wikis' when they first hit the business scene in the early 00's. I don't know of any firms, personally, that are using them to record and mine client and matter data for CRM purposes, but it would be a highly useful tool, I think.

"They are unstructured yet connected -- which is good for CRM. Imagine a closed, internal wiki for a firm where all information about every client interaction was kept and updated regularly -- very useful. On the downside, the data in a wiki is less structured than in a standard database, and so complex queries and data relationships aren't as possible. I think that the combination of a wiki for 'qualitative' data and a CRM database would be helpful, especially if one could be linked to the other."


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What best describes your attitude toward social networks and politics?
The value of engaging in serious political discourse outweighs the negatives.
Most of the political conversations seem overheated and ignorant.
Social networks provide a lot of very good political information from reliable sources.
Almost every political post I see is skewed or totally fake.
Political interactions on social networks simply mirror those in the real world.
Social networks remove inhibitions, bringing out the worst in people and politics.