Pioneers of the Wild, Wild (Mobile) Web

Guns (out of the holster) secured survival in the Wild West – the phone holstered on your hip may secure success on the mobile technology frontier —here’s how.


In my last column, I discussed the use of mobile websites to communicate with a new breed of techno-savvy homebuyers and home sellers. This month, I take those theories to Wireless Ink co-founder, Dave Harper and ask him the tough questions about the feasibility of using the wireless web for real estate agents.

During this interview, I asked about the types of sites Harper sees on the mobile web and if they are primarily business or personal.

Harper said Wireless Ink designed their product to serve individuals both in their business and personal lives. “Once people have access to a web-enabled mobile device and begin to realize the benefits, they tend to start using it in all aspects of their life.”

Harper continued, “We serve the multiple needs of a high-demand, technology driven sector growing at an amazing speed. Furthermore, mobile users are a diverse group,” he explained, “there are multiple daily needs for each individual. It’s really all about providing features that support both personal and group needs.”

These include:

  • The “Me” network, consisting of one person who needs personal productivity tools (a “mobile dashboard”) which includes items important to you, contact information, notes and news or blogs you are tracking and personal mobile bookmarks
  • The “Creative” network, in which a dozen or more friends, family or coworkers keep in touch or collaborate on a project
  • The “Social” network, in which hundreds of people share a common interest need to communicate
  • The “Media” network, reaching thousands of people and delivering access to breaking news and calls to action

According to Harper, the mobile web concept didn’t do well in the US when originally marketed solely to the commercial sector. However, it grew when the mobile industry shifted the focus from “corporate” to “grass roots” and started promoting the use of the personal mobile network. “Camera phones, blogging and services such as ours have made this important in the growth of the mobile web as a personal productivity tool,” said Harper.

Recent technology growth and the adaptation and growth in acceptance of such tools have also made a tremendous impact. Wireless Ink for instance, launched in 2001. Blogging (formerly known as using web logs) has been embraced by the masses and has become mainstream in the last 18-24 months. Owning a “camera phone” was not common before 2002. The integration of communication approaches and tech tools such as these has increased the personal use of the mobile web. Naturally, an increase in the personal use of the mobile web has precipitated a growth in the business use of the web.

I asked Harper what he saw as primary goals of the mobile web for real estate agents. He said that he would like to see RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds used for listings to get them mobilized instantly while still in the field. He would like to see a syndicated feeds channel for this purpose and envisions other feeds, databases and information being pulled into a real estate agent’s mobile site to better serve their clients.

When I first considered the applications of the wireless web and wrote a column about it, I could imagine a potential buyer using the GPS function of a mobile network to “call in” to an agent and say, “I’m on my Sunday drive and I like this area, can you send me all the houses listed within a 5 mile radius of where I am now?” In a matter of moments, a text message would arrive directing him to a wireless website with the listings. Of course, I love technology that stretches the realm of communication and provides cool new tools for that purpose, so I daydream about such things.

Dave said that this was possible, but that location-based services (LBS) in the US are probably still 9-12 months from being on par with the European and Japanese models. Right now, with a web-enabled camera phone, a Realtor® could secure a listing, take a few pictures, insert the most important information about the property and send a blast e-mail all from their mobile phone to anyone in their clientele who has said “tell me when any houses like this come on the market.” Thus, the agent will have personally contacted potential buyers with pictures and essential information about a new listing before they step off the property.

If you ask me, THAT’s real estate marketing and THAT’s “above and beyond” service – for the seller and the potential buyers. Win-Win.

Harper said some agents are already using camera phones to e-mail photos, however, with a mobile website like those offered by Wireless Ink, information including address, directions to the house, agent contact information and anything else can be immediately uploaded for access by mobile web users worldwide.

“The goal of Wireless Ink,” according to Harper, “is to ‘mobilize data to and by the masses’ and recent growth in this segment of the technology landscape is astounding. The number of subscribers to GSM wireless networks has now surpassed the one billion mark. That’s roughly equivalent to one-sixth of the entire world population. In fact, worldwide most people access the Internet not from their desktop or wi-fi notebook but from handheld web-enabled devices.”

“To help other capture this market we make sure our sites will serve multiple platforms so the technology is seamless,” said Harper, “We ensure the real estate agent uses the technology and the potential buyer or seller receives it. It’s transparent, it’s easy, and it’s automatic. It’s NOT like programming your VCR. Mobile technology has to offer immediate results to be useful. We make it our job to provide users immediate gratification.”

I asked about the current membership growth for Wireless Ink Harper said that since October of last year their current registered membership (those individuals and companies building sites) has increased by 5000. He also noted that, just like the Internet, there are many more people using the mobile web than there are people building it. And he gave me an amazing figure on page views. Those 5000 sites are generating between 10 and 13 million mobile screen views per month!

He also noted that since last month’s column on ePOWER NEWS was published, there has been a flurry of activity and inquiries from real estate agents across the nation. He and his staff have reached out to these new entrants into the mobile realm and have asked what Wireless Ink can do to help them build their sites and what tools they need. “We are striving to meet those needs,” said Harper, who added that a new internal business model is being developed to help meet the specific needs of the real estate industry.

I asked him to sum up things that people should know before launching their own mobile website, and he replied, “I read your article last month in ePOWER NEWS and you are right, writing for the mobile web IS different. It’s a surgical strike. It’s not like the writing for the standard web for scanning and surfing. The users of the mobile web for business want to log on, get the information they need and get out. Individuals who want to read for pleasure are discovering topic-based blogs and even micro-novels that are now popping up on the mobile web.”

Thanks for the info, Dave!

What’s my advice? Get a site! It’s quick, it’s easy and it’s hosted for free – and where else can you get that kind of exposure? To reach this mobile market, you have to write specifically for their needs and the size of their screens. Use of the mobile web is constantly expanding, but is still fairly new. Stay tuned and pay attention as technology provides even more tools to creatively market your listings, secure new listings and match potential buyers with their ideal home.

Now, let’s see… 13 million divided by 5000 is…an average of 2600 page views per month per site. And that’s if you assume all mobile sites are created equal. Yours would, of course, be extraordinary – right?

© Copyright 2004 by Angela Allen Parker of Wicked Wordcraft

This article first appeared in the “Word Magic” column at www.epowernews.com in October 2004.

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