Just read this interesting post over on The Big Picture on The Daily, the new attempt by Rupert Murdoch to save print media by using the iPad as the distribution platform. While most of it is pretty neat review/analysis of The Daily, one statement just jumped out at me:
It may just be that tablets are not going to save what used to be called the print world. Electronic distribution places a premium on immediacy. Who hasn’t been captivated by Al-Jazeera English’s live feed from Cairo this week? Print plays up mediation. Great photos don’t look like real life. They look larger than life. (Emphasis mine)
I hadn’t ever thought of it that way, but Marion Maneker, the writer, is absolutely correct. We don’t use email because it’s sexy; we use it because it’s fast. If you want to impress someone with a message, write it on fine stationery with a fountain pen using your beautiful penmanship. (Fact is, I’m so used to typing and computers that my penmanship barely qualifies as human communication.)
Question is, if the distinction between electronic and print — or, put another way, online and offline — is that one is all about speed and the other is all about mediation… should that make us think more about how real estate listings are presented online?
What Does Immediacy Even Mean?
What I’m puzzling over is what immediacy might even mean for real estate, beyond the obvious, like “consumers want listings that match their criteria emailed to them”.
Part of the concept may be that “immediate” isn’t simply a reference to time, but to the degree of artifice; in other words, it stands in opposition to “mediate”. In terms of news, the difference between immediate and “mediate” content is that the former might be a simple live stream of an event (like say the protests in Egypt, as provided by Al-Jazeera’s live feed) while the latter is an edited work that may flow better, tell a better story, but was clearly the result of someone doing work on the information.
With a listing, pretty much all of the information made available to the public is “mediated” in some respect. After all, the goal is to attract interest, get buyers hot and bothered, and to sell the property as quickly as possible for as much money as possible. It’s advertising, isn’t it?
But what the buyer might really want out of an electronic medium is more of the raw datafeed, and as real-time as possible.
So here’s a thought experiment: suppose that instead of taking a lot of glamorous professional photographs, some agent (with the seller’s permission of course) just puts up a bunch of cameras that can be remotely controlled to pan, zoom, etc. Like a Las Vegas casino. Would buyers want that or not want that?
Or, suppose that instead of submitting offers in sealed envelopes to the listing agent, they’re posted right on the listing itself so everyone can see the bid or bids coming in. If I’ve flagged a house as one that I might be interested in, I’d just get an alert and see that someone else has offered $X on the house, along with any counteroffers. Would buyers want that or not?
(And yes, before you jump down my throat, as a current seller of a house, I’m not sure I would want my house exposed like that either. 🙂 But then, buyers and sellers have somewhat opposing economic interests at stake.)
The Bigger Question
I suppose all this theorizing about immediacy vs. mediated content is really asking whether real estate consumers want information or stories. That isn’t a silly question; in many cases, most of us don’t want raw data. We want someone else to package up that raw data and do some interpretation and tell us a story. All advertising is a form of storytelling, after all, and Americans show no sign of truly being tired of good advertising.
If what they want is information, the raw data itself, about a property, then perhaps we need to think about what that might look like for a house. If, on the other hand, what they want is a compelling story that would get them interested in a property enough to go check it out in person, then we certainly need to do more in presenting the story of a house, especially online.
Because today, it feels like what we’ve mostly done is taken the model of newspaper advertising, or magazine advertising, in which there is a photo of the property, a brief description, and some advertising copy, and put that on the web. Sure, we’ve made the information searchable, which is nice, but fundamentally, the “mediated” nature of the listing has not changed much.
In a way, online real estate is much like The Daily: a magazine that has been imported to a new distribution channel, with a few new doodads.
So consider this challenge. If you were born in the last 30 years and have pretty much grown up knowing only the Internet era… how would real estate listings look like? If online real estate were a creature of the Internet, created during it — much like, say, Facebook or Ebay are creatures of the Internet era — what might that look like?