By Petra Jones
Google has a history of producing powerful applications for real estate agents, from real estate listings to residential street views and maps pinpointing property locations. Google’s newest tool, Google Wave, is likely to be no exception.
It’s a live communications tool that combines instant messaging with image, video, map and file sharing. Why should real estate agents be interested in Wave? Imagine being able to display a property listing for free, along with photos, interactive location and boundary maps and associated documents, all on the same webpage. Known as a ‘wave’, it can also be used as a means of enabling three-way communications between real estate agents, vendors and prospective buyers who can join your wave as interested parties and receive notification of updates and exchange instant messages with you and other members of the wave in real time, as with MSN or Yahoo chat messengers.
For those curious to know how it works, Google Wave is rather like a cheesecake built from three layers – product, platform and protocol. The application itself is built using HTML 5, the latest version of the programming language used to write webpages. It’s HTML 5 that gives Google Wave its offline storage capacity, document editing and browsing history management that’s so useful for sharing property files and photos online. The next layer, the platform of Google Wave, is built using various APIs – essentially web services that allow developers to build tools and applications. Finally, there’s Google Wave Protocol, a mechanism that allows us to share and publish our property listing waves on several different websites. The property images, files and documents along with discussion threads are all stored on Google’s servers in much the same way as with Google Docs, Google’s existing document sharing and editing tool.
So why should we consider using Google Wave rather than sticking to Facebook or other traditional networking tools? First, Google Wave provides us with a single way of doing everything from checking our emails to blogging and updating listings or messaging clients. It’s a simpler means of doing all those tasks without having to visit a number of different websites.
Second, you can embed your property listings wave on any blog or website, making it easy to integrate with your existing site. Google Wave is a fast instant communications tool where potential buyers and sellers can contribute and respond to your posts simultaneously, adding a comment to the same property image, for example.
What’s Google Wave like to use? The interface is fairly simple, with a large central inbox containing both your latest messages and wave member’s updates, which you can mark as read/unread or file away into folders or archive. You can search through your wave updates and messages and on the top left, there’s a button for creating brand new property listing waves. To the right of your inbox, there’s a Snapshots panel for uploading and sharing images, where photos can be dragged and dropped to folders, marked as read or unread or tagged with keywords. The navigational panel is on the left, along with your contacts address book that also doubles as an instant messenger to chat with contacts in real time.
Like Facebook, Google Wave is likely to include a variety of applications that all the members of a wave can use, from colleagues to potential vendors and buyers. These can be anything from applications for localized weather reports for your real estate area to anti-spam robots. A gadget called Bidder allows you to produce eBay-style auction waves capable of including conversations with bidders (including sales inquiries), images of the property you’re selling, emails and shared files with product information. This auction application also allows potential buyers to see the names and avatars of other participants in the auction and the ID of the current highest bidder.
The next logical step is for Google to integrate Wave with eBay itself. Then it might even be possible for an eBay wave to be promoted on other websites besides eBay for more exposure.
Perhaps more controversial is Google Wave’s Twiliobot Robot, which allows you to include the text of phone conversations in your waves. It works by using the Twilio Phone API and some Python and XML code to allow you to dial vendors’ or potential buyers’ phone numbers simply by clicking on a link. Twilio then phones that person’s mobile or landline and the conversation is both transcribed as text and turned into an audio sound file to which others can listen.
This technology opens up all sorts of possibilities and potentially some security and data protection implications. Inevitably some conversations are private and confidential and legal regulations govern whether they can or cannot be published online. Google Wave also allows real estate agents to rewind instant message conversations, blog and image posts and discussion thread dialogue to see how property discussions evolved, and use this information to refine marketing and sales technique.
It’s too early to say if Wave will revolutionize the way we present property listings or deal with inquiries from buyers and vendors, but it’s certainly an exciting new development, particularly given that unlike existing collaborative tools (such as Microsoft Sharepoint Services) it’s free and has the weight of Google behind it. Google Wave is expected to arrive on the Internet in September. In the meantime, you can get a glimpse of what we can expect at wave.google.com, where you can learn more about this technology and watch a video of Google Wave’s features.