Few industries worship innovation as much as real estate does. It is perhaps the highest compliment to a company or to an individual in real estate to say, “You’re so innovative!”
Thing is, I believe innovation is disruptive. In fact, I think how innovative something is can be correlated to how destructive it is of older practices. On that basis, I have a feeling — a hunch really — that Hunch.com is an innovation you’re going to want to watch.
Hunch: Social Search
From the Wired profile of Hunch, and its co-founder, Caterina Fake:
Fake’s solution is uniquely, well, Fakeian: Get people talking about themselves — their opinions, tastes, beliefs, idiosyncrasies. Then, once they have shared enough information, mine that data for correlations that provide precisely tailored recommendations for each user. It is a quietly radical premise, implying that our tastes are defined not only by what we buy or what we’ve liked in the past but by who we are as people.
Hunch learns about its members through “Teach Hunch About You” questions. These queries can cover anything — exercise regimens, the ethics of SeaWorld, zombies — and the more of them people answer, the more complete a profile Hunch can create. (Since the site launched in June 2009, it has collected 55 million answers to these questions from its 1 million active users.) Once Hunch’s algorithm collects enough data, it can start finding surprising correlations. For instance, people who swat flies have a thing for USA Today. People who believe in alien abductions are more likely than nonbelievers to drink Pepsi. People who eat fresh fruit every day are more likely to desire Canon’s pricey EOS 7D camera. And respondents who cut their sandwiches diagonally rather than vertically are more likely to prefer men’s Ray-Ban sunglasses.
Back when I was at Realogy, and then at Onboard, I thought something like this would be part of the grand vision of Lifestyle search: finding neighborhoods and homes by where people like you lived. Trying to figure out the search algorithm, however, from a mountain of demographic, psychographic, and behavioral data was a nontrivial task.
Looks like Hunch might have an answer.
What Hunch is trying to do is to put together a very detailed profile of every single person in the world:
Just as Google built a vast index of the Web and Facebook constructed a model of our social connections, Hunch is assembling an extraordinarily rich and detailed picture of each user’s taste. From there it can claim to know or extrapolate everything that a person likes or would like. “The ultimate goal of the company is to map every person on the Internet to every object on the Internet, be that a product, a service, or a person,” Fake says.
Interesting, n’est-ce pas? Then by mapping the connections between persons, Hunch hopes to create recommendations on everything from widgets to dating.
And We Care Why?
Considering the importance of real estate as a search category, it seems highly likely that Hunch will have an impact on real estate if it is successful. Hunch could be either the real estate professional’s best friend, or its worst enemy.
On the one hand, Hunch could replace the entire panoply of property search (think Realtor.com, Zillow, Trulia, etc.) with social search. The days of “price/bed/bath/zip” may be history if I could simply tap into the social search web to find what properties other people like me, with my interests, with my “social mapping” are looking at — with some varying levels of similarity of course. The realtor who receives such a lead — who, by the way, is likely to fit into the consumer’s social map (see below) — will have an enormous amount of information about the consumer to help advise them further.
On the other hand, Hunch could theoretically replace the need for a realtor to be involved very much — except for the pain-in-the-rear transaction management and paperwork piece. The buyer and the seller could connect directly via the “social map” — especially if the social map has some sort of historical memory. Maybe the seller is 45 and looking to upgrade for her teenage girls, and the buyer is more or less her ten years earlier in terms of taste, likes, dislikes, number of children, etc. In that world, the real estate agent is more or less relegated to a clerk who just takes care of the paperwork.
Finally, Hunch (or something like it) would bring to reality the long-held dream within real estate of a “eHarmony for real estate”, matching consumers with realtors with whom they are most compatible. Because real estate is such an emotional business, style and personality fit may be more important than performance metrics. That such a service would have an impact on things like real estate brands is difficult to doubt.
Watch This Space
Of course, Hunch may do none of that, and just be another startup in pursuit of a cool idea that goes bankrupt when the funding dries up. But watch this space. The vision of social search, of people-powered knowledge, a sort of a global Overmind, is real and it’s closer than one might think.