Archimedes and Web 2.0
2,000 years ago Archimedes famously quipped “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world”. Theoretically, he was right, but practically it remains impossible to this day. Where would the fulcrum rest? What material would we use to create a lever that stretched to another star system?
Many social networking applications suffer from the same “theoretically great, but practically daunting” problem. In these applications, the fulcrum is a critical mass of participants eager and ready to contribute, and the lever is the compelling experience offered by the system (a combination of content and functionality).
Neighborhoods, from Point2 Technologies, is one such application. Point2’s NLS is a prominent nationwide listing service for real estate professionals. In 2006 they undertook the effort to organize a database of neighborhoods that included not just cities and zip codes, but actual subdivision names. This database allows a Neighborhoods user to specify their city and state/province and see a listing of all Facebook users in their neighborhood (this is a great feature). You can also see people in adjoining neighborhoods, your entire city, and other neighborhoods and cities as well!
For each neighborhood, there is a listing of neighbors and friends, as well as areas to for descriptions, photos, a wall and the NLS listings for the neighborhood. This would allow for people thinking about moving to an area to get information about it, and for residents to keep in touch in a single network. That all makes sense, right?
But there’s a problem. Two, actually. The fulcrum and the lever. Right now there are about 25,000 Neighbors on the app. I live in Scottsdale, AZ; population 242,000. You can see from the view above, the total number of neighbors is 62. There are 214 neighborhoods listed under Scottsdale in Neighborhoods. That’s 4 neighborhoods per neighbor. You will also notice in the picture that there is no information whatsoever filled in about our city. Hmm. Let’s try Phoenix, population: 1.5 million. One ‘About’ and two wall items from a single neighbor on the same day in early August. Chicago (with 3668 neighbors)? One wall enty. If I’m not here for the real estate listings, there’s nothing going on.
Who exactly is supposed to be that “critical mass” of early users? I’m pretty sure Point2 figured that it would be their larger core audience, real estate folks, but they are conspicuous in their absence. Realtors are missing out on a real opportunity to seed the content for the neighborhoods they work.
Which brings us to the second problem. As mentioned above, there’s virtually no content out in the system today. And even if there were content, an About box, a general Wall, and a block of photos doesn’t seem to make for a thriving community. Finding neighbors and then creating a regular Facebook group would offer us all a lot more.
I can imagine an application like this with 500,000 members as part of thriving communities sharing all kinds of information in several media – the web2.0 idyll. I just can’t imagine that application being Neighborhoods given its current status. No fulcrum; no lever.
I wrote this review for FaceReviews.com, but I must admit to being influenced by my old friend Mike Feinstein (VC par excellence), and to Clayton Christensen.
In the original FaceReviews post, I didn't offer suggestions for how to fix the problem. What would you do?
The answer was blatantly obvious to me, and to Bryan.
So let's role play. You're a company that has created a competitor to the almighty Multiple Listing Service (MLS). You've fought them in the courts. You've fought them in the minds of real estate agents. And you've thrived.
One day one of your developers walks into the Marketing department and says: "You know, Facebook is really hot right now and we could pound out a Facebook app in a weekend if you provided the Amp and pizza."
And they all lived happily ever after, except for one detail. Social networks require a network of people wanting to network. How many people are going to sit down at their computer and ask "I wonder if there are any facebook applications that can connect me to my neighbors?"
Zero. Okay, eight. But that's not critical mass, even in one neighborhood.
So if you're Point2's now-embarrassed marketing exec, what should you do?
Ask yourself the following series of questions:
1) Who would benefit from making this a vibrant network (and who do I have a strong relationship with)?
Um. Real estate agents. How would they benefit? Oh, let's say that Agent X puts up a bunch of great information on the neighborhood and its goings-on, demonstrating their superior knowledge of what's going on. Do you think that will generate any extra business for Agent X?
Is the pope Catholic?
2) Do real estate agents have networks that might benefit from such an app?
Are the first two intials of the person buried in Grant's Tomb 'U.S.'?
3) Do real estate agents want to build interactive networks?
Will the sun rise in the east tomorrow?
4) Will real estate agents pay to grow their networks?
Point2 knows the answer to that question. So why aren't they screaming at their premium agents to jump all over this opportunity?
Why aren't you? It's wide open...
posted by Mike at 9:56 PM