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Requiem for the RE.net: Inman San Francisco, 2012

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To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven. Years hence, we will look back on the summer of 2012 as the time when we in the real estate industry turned a page. That page has been turning for a while, but Inman Connect San Francisco this year will be seen as when it finally happened.

This post is not, and it cannot be, a review of Inman. Because I didn’t attend any of the sessions, as I haven’t for years. It is, however, a review of the moods and trends and conversations and happenings and non-happenings. And it is a prediction — sure to be wrong, or your money back! — of where we go from here.

And it is a requiem for the RE.net, that inchoate, ill-defined group of people that has been so influential over the past few years. Requiescat in pace.

Rich Symbolism of that Which Did Not Happen

The most symbolic event was a non-event: for the first time since 2008, there was no REBarCamp in San Francisco. Considering that Andy Kaufman, together with Todd Carpenter, Brad Coy, and others, started the entire REBarCamp movement in San Francisco, before Inman Connect, the fact that there was no REBarCamp SF this year is… striking.

Consider what the REBarCamp stood for at its height:

The first REbarcamp was held in San Francisco in 2008. Andy Kaufman wanted to bring the idea of the “unconference” to the real estate industry and pulled off the first REbarcamp as a great success. Soon, buzz built around the concept and since then, REbarcamps have been held all over the country (and in Australia). The idea is simple: bring together folks from the real estate industry and let them be the education. Instead of pre-packaged presentations and a parade of social media gurus that don’t even have a Twitter account, the people who work daily in real estate can get together, learn, share, and grow together.

Often called an “unconference,” REbarcamp is designed to shed the “I am the teacher, you’ve paid to hear me speak” vibe of traditional conferences. Here, everyone is equal. If you have an idea or an area of expertise you’d like to share and discuss, then by all means step up and lead a session. Even the phrase “session leader” is a bit too strong – the focus here is on discussion and interaction. Participants in any session should get involved and offer response, feedback, and their best ideas. It’s a two way street. [Emphasis mine]

Take a look at this video:

Am I the only one who thinks wistfully that it feels dated?

In the meantime, while there was no REBarCamp SF, there was an Agent Reboot. If there was ever a clear indication that the “I am the teacher, you’ve paid to hear me speak” vibe has won over the un-conference idea, this is it.

It is as some smartass predicted over a year ago:

The purpose of REBC these days appears to be to provide free training to real estate agents on how to use the Internet, use social media, and whatever else to improve their business. That is a noble goal, perhaps, but I rather think other organizations — such as REALTOR Associations, various conference organizers (such as Inman with its Agent Reboot series, or RETechSouth), and others — are better suited to achieve it.

So on the one hand, the end of the REBarCamp Era suggests that the vast majority of agents want someone to teach them, to tell them what to do. They will happily pay to be taught; they would not happily not pay to share and learn and grow together.

The RE.net Is No More

Closely related to the end of the REBarCamp “movement” is the death of the RE.net. I like to think that I’ve been a member in good standing of that “group” for quite some time now. So it was obvious to me.

It is difficult to use the term “group” since the RE.net was never actually defined, nor was it ever clear who was and was not a part of the RE.net. But like obscenity, you knew it when you saw it.

Consider the fact that some of the core members — individuals that no one would deny are in the RE.net — such as Jeff Corbett, Sarah Stelmok, Lori Bee, Teresa Boardman, Daniel Rothamel, and others… did not even come to Inman San Francisco this year. Brad Coy, a co-founder of REBarCamp and a pillar of the RE.net, who lives in San Francisco, was nowhere to be seen. I missed Kris Berg if she was there. And amongst the other charter members who did attend, many of them have moved on to different phases of their lives with new and greater responsibilities and new and greater opportunities: Jay Thompson is at Zillow; Ginger Wilcox and Todd Carpenter are both at Trulia; Heather Elias is now with NAR.

One clear sign of the death of RE.net is sobriety. This was the first Inman in years in which I did not need to seek out a late-night deli to get a VitaminWater Revive. Other longtime circuit riders remarked on the same phenomenon: not a single hangover… during Inman week. That would have been unthinkable even in 2011.

And perhaps it was time. Everything grows, everything changes, and time marches on. The new groups with ill-defined membership are rising up, and will continue to rise. YPN has in many ways replaced the RE.net as the social center of online real estate, just like Agent Reboot has replaced the REBarCamp as the place for newbies to learn about technology. Maybe in time, RETSO and Xplode and other newcomers will replace Inman as the pre-eminent conference for real estate technology.

Social Is Passe, People, and Technology May Follow Soon

Or maybe not.

Because both REBarCamp and the RE.net were closely linked to the rise of technology as the topic of conversation in real estate over the past few years. Inman has certainly been a major leader in making technology the most important topic in all things real estate.

On the other hand, Real Estate Technology South has changed its name to simply RETSO (kinda how Kentucky Fried Chicken became just KFC), and has keynote speeches like the one by Jeff Turner entitled “Technology Will Not Inspire Action“. I noted in 2011 that I saw a backlash coming against social media at RETSO. And indeed, in 2012, at ICSF, you would have been hard pressed to find a single member of the cognoscenti not mocking Klout… even as the CEO of Klout was on the main stage talking about social influence.

I have not done, and will not do, a detailed analysis of the #ICSF hashtag. But if you have time, go glance through all the tweets on that hashtag. You’ll have to wade through a mountain of congratulations and great-to-see-you’s and the normal social stuff to look for the substance of ideas being discussed. I see a lot of discussion about international buyers, about habits (since the writer of The Power of Habits was presenting) and a whole lot of discussion about the consumer panel that Inman ran (a wonderful trend in my opinion, for obvious reasons) but…

On technology topics? Not so much.

Sure, there was an attempt to drum up some controversy with the same old tired syndication-is-evil topic, but… I’m not seeing the same level of energy and engagement even with that old chestnut anymore. (Which, I’m happy about, since I’ve declared the conflict over.) The MLS track, filled with data and technology people, did have some useful updates on RETS and RESO and had some interesting conversations (here’s a recap by Matt Cohen), but that’s a sub-sector of the industry that doesn’t reach the general public all that much anyhow.

That technology as a whole may be passe as a topic is evidenced by the fact that Dotloop won the 2012 Innovator of the Year Awardthree years after opening its doors. Now, I love Dotloop as much as the next guy, and I think Alex Allison deserved that award. I just think they deserved it in 2009, or at the very least in 2010.

That social fatigue has set in now amongst those who know can no longer be denied. Whether technology as a whole has or has not been a fresh and exciting topic of discussion, of change, of real productivity in a couple of years is arguable perhaps… but today, that argument can actually be had. It could not have been had three years ago when the RE.net and REBarCamp both were at the peak of popularity and influence.

Once again, I love that Inman itself appears to have recognized the shift by featuring a consumer panel so prominently where attendees could hear what consumers actually want and do not want directly from their own lips, in their own words. I happen to be involved in a company whose whole focus is that attention to consumers, but this isn’t about me or HearItDirect or Inman. This is about the next chapter in the story in the industry.

And I think I know what that chapter will be about.

Once More Into the Breach, My Friends

The death of RE.net, the end of the REBarCamp era, the crossroads where we as an industry stand are all things to be welcomed. Sure, we can wax reminiscent about the good old times when ActiveRain could and did throw insane parties on hotel balconies. Sure, we can remember with fondness the great conversations we had, the great ideas we explored, and the great relationships we built within the RE.net.

But we can look forward with greater hope and anticipation. The future, it appears, is actually far brighter today than it was yesterday. Let me explain with a story.

On the last night of Inman, I found myself in a hotel bar with an old friend of mine. Eric Bryn is the Vice President of Digital Innovation at Baird & Warner, one of the largest brokerages in the country. His job is to think about technology, about social media, about digital innovation. And he’s very, very good at doing that job.

You know what we spent a passionate half hour discussing?

Service.

The human connection.

The consumer.

We did not throw around names like Google and Facebook. No, we threw around names like Nordstrom and Four Seasons. There’s the future, ladies and gents. That is what awaits us in the next chapter.

Rest in peace, RE.net. And welcome to the RE.human.

-rsh

 

 

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Rob Hahn
Managing Partner of 7DS Associates, and the grand poobah of this here blog. Once called "a revolutionary in a really nice suit", people often wonder what I do for a living because I have the temerity to not talk about my clients and my work for clients. Suffice to say that I do strategy work for some of the largest organizations and companies in real estate, as well as some of the smallest startups and agent teams, but usually only on projects that interest me with big implications for reforming this wonderful, crazy, lovable yet frustrating real estate industry of ours.

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