Facebook's Open Graph: what it (might) mean for real estate

“The future belongs to crowds”

Don Delillo, Mao II


It has been three weeks since Facebook announced its Open Graph API and social plugins. This was a polarizing event. Some believe Zuckerberg revealed himself as an evil geek-savant orchestrating a carnival of counterfeit cares; others believe we have just crossed into a time of marvelous possibility.

Me? I’m not sure. I’ve had plenty of fun conversations about this recently, but right now I’ll stick to just one question:

“Will Facebook’s recent moves impact real estate?”

A few weeks ago, Marc envisioned “Pandora for real estate” – a property search app that could surface the perfect home by learning your preferences and comparing them against those of all who had gone before you. It seemed far-fetched a month ago. Not so today.

Now we have billions of “likes” registered all over the web, pin pricks of intention that can be combined into a form of intelligence. And the social interaction and learning that takes place within the walls of Facebook can now be woven into any site with ease.

3 of your friends like this refrigerator; how about you?

Most people your age like these restaurants; care to join them?

If you’re looking at this home you’d probably like these, right?

This sort of stuff is pretty exciting because it could allow us to make better decisions faster. Or meet people with whom we might form meaningful relationships. But it could also rob real estate (and indeed many things) of the sort of journey that, while messy, makes for a life of diversity and self-discovery.

But back to the point: Imagine if Realtor.com implemented the Facecook “like” and “recommendations” plugin on every listing and implemented the Open Graph API. When you visit the site you no longer begin with a search box. Instead you see an array of homes and neighborhoods those in your social graph and everyone who likes the same things as you, who has the same interests as you and who shares your marital status, political views and affinity for BMW and Beyonce have viewed, liked and bought.

Is that good or bad? Is it helpful, or is it a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist?

What do you think?

The widening gulf

In any case, what Facebook has done has increased the distance between how real estate listings are handled online and how people are experiencing the wider web. We are still parsing IDX regs and arguing over archaic photo rules while the web is becoming increasingly diffuse and personalized.

Inman ran a story last Friday detailing comments made by Move.com CEO Steve Berkowitz during the company’s Q1 earnings call that underscored this widening gulf. It seems the suit of Realtor blue the company has been wearing for fifteen years is getting a little snug.

Berkowitz said, in so many words, that Move was seeking greater “clarity” around the Realtor.com operating agreement (which dictates the terms under which Move operates Realtor.com for the NAR), specifically around what Move can and cannot do in the future to remain competitive. What they need to do, of course, involves creating the sort of experiences Facebook has just enabled.

Whether or not Move can get some wiggle room from the NAR will be something we’ll be watching closely because it bears directly upon how real estate is positioned to play in this new kind of web.

Power to the people Another possibility: to the extent that Facebook can weave collective sentiment into web experiences the potential for collective action increases.

One lesser-publicized Facebook release was the community page, a new form of page that collects people who share interests. Facebook’s goal is to make these pages “the best collection of shared knowledge on a topic.”

So let’s say three hundred people gather at a “Rockridge real estate” community page or, more pointedly, something like “Noe Valley real estate pricing.” Participants share opinions, experiences and preferences in a deeply connected environment that has a history extending beyond stale sold records and thus offers something even more important: predictive power.

Where does the agent establish value here?

And think about the explosion of group buying we’re witnessing at this moment. From Gilt to Groupon, community is being fashioned into commercial leverage. Someday, I may get a Groupon headline reading “List your home with [big brand X] for half off.”

Or not. I know this is still murky. But hang with me on the larger issue: these big shifts in the way people and the web mix are going to impact real estate. Thinking strange thoughts about what that will look like is absolutely necessary.

After all, Pandora for real estate just became a lot closer to reality.