Social networking around geography

Last week I was asked to speak on “Public Engagement Through Web2.0” at the annual conference of the California Chapter of the American Planning Association (APA).

It started with a request from Eric Fredericks, the guy behind the Walkable Neighborhoods blog, who I’ve known (and liked!) for quite a while now. I’ll happily admit I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect out of the crowd of planners, but I was someone excited since I spent seven years employed as a transportation planner and only asked to speak AFTER I left the industry! LOL!

The theme of the talk that I gave was on trying to understand how social networks can be built up around the concept of geography because I see it being a unique item that links both city/transportation planners and the real estate community. While most social networks are organized around friends (think myspace) or a shared experience (think facebook), the idea behind the communities that are most relevant to planners and real estate agents are rooted in geography…

What surprised me the most was that the questions I was asked during the Q&A were almost exactly the same as I get asked during the seminars I give for agents. Questions like How do you moderate comments?, How do you attract an audience? and How much time does it take?

However, there was one question I’ve never heard from a real estate audience, but I think it is an interesting because it forced me to think a bit differently about access to the real estate website. Essentially, a planner from a local government agency asked: If we set up a blog to communicate to our constituents, how do we reach the 30% or so that do not have access to the internet? I didn’t have a good answer for her (and I still don’t), so I’m glad that I kept quiet and let Eric give an answer. Nonetheless, the idea of being concerned with “full access” is not something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about since my initial angle with this site was much more geared toward hitting the tech-savvy few!

I ended the talk with the concept that we’re not far from a day when our online social networks could have a very useful geographic element to them that could be of use to both real estate professionals and city planners. And while I can’t claim to know what that social network will look like, I look to Google Earth effort to bring avatars akin to Second Life and companies who are bringing in real-world experiences in Second Life for clues… Maybe we’ll hit the sweat spot of “web3.0” when Google replaces our mobile network with gPhones… 🙂