The logic of collective action in online real estate

Every once in a while my training in political theory helps me process things in my business life.

So it was that I came to understand the phenomenon I witnessed at Real Estate Connect last week.

It was the week Web 2.0 went mainstream in real estate. The bloggers, the Facebookers, the innovators and other members of the Twittering class crashed the gates of the real estate establishment and rocked their world.

It started Tuesday night with the Zillow Party. Those in attendance experienced a collective “Holy S____” moment ” my god, where did these people come from?

It turned out to be a moveable feast, as the hugging and idea swapping moved a couple blocks to the Trulia party, where conference veterans stood pinned to the walls wondering at the raucous group that all seemed to know one another.

The party never ended, really. For three days, the new breed dominated the discussion. Bloggers gave lessons on viral marketing and branding to seasoned executives; founders from Web 2.0 startups explained to veteran real estate brokers that the web is really about a conversation; at night, entrepreneurs no one had heard of a year ago held forth at restaurant tables throughout The City.

Something big happened last week. The social, participatory, democratic web that surfaced between last year’s Connect and this one obliterated many of the barriers to collective action – the sine quo non of change – in our industry.

If you haven’t read Mancur Olson’s, The Logic of Collective Action, I highly recommend it. Its central thesis – that small groups can act upon common interests much faster than large ones – explains much of what’s going on in our industry right now. It also helps explain the success of real estate social platforms like Active Rain, which grew like a weed by not only grouping people with shared interests, but providing them all, as individuals, with clear benefits.

The genie is out of the bottle. The roiling, churning burning kinetic phantasmagoria that was Real Estate Connect last week is the new normal.

Let the good times roll.

Brian Boero