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Google Sidewiki – What Could This Mean For Real Estate Agents?

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In my previous post, ‘Online Reviews Set To Impact Real Estate Agents’, I mentioned how customer reviews appearing right beside a real estate agent Google Search could ultimately impact which real estate agent a customer may decide to employ. Click here to view previous article

But what if the customer reviews actually appeared right beside your company website?

Google’s Sidewiki is about to change the way your customers can use the internet.

In an announcement from the Official Google Blog:  Sidewiki “allows you to contribute helpful information next to any webpage. Google Sidewiki appears as a browser sidebar, where you can read and write entries along the side of the page.

In developing Sidewiki, we wanted to make sure that you’ll see the most relevant entries first. We worked hard from the beginning to figure out which ones should appear on top and how to best order them. So instead of displaying the most recent entries first, we rank Sidewiki entries using an algorithm that promotes the most useful, high-quality entries.”

At this point the comments or customer reviews are only visible to other users of Google Sidewiki.

Sidewiki users can post a comment, but can’t edit the comments of others.

Michael Arrington of TechChrunch explains that “Other users can read and vote comments up or down. All those votes will create a user ranking for each individual that will determine where their comments fall on the Sidewiki. The higher the ranking, the higher comments appear. The goal, Google says, is to help move better content up and move spammy stuff to the bottom where it won’t be seen. Website owners who have claimed their sites always have the right to the first comment on any URL they control.”

Almost every real estate company relies on their ability to promote their websites & their listings via a one way conversation across the web, but now Google’s Sidewiki allows public commenting on your site & your listings whether you like it or not.

You can find the Google Sidewiki download link here

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45 Comments

  • Glenn Rogers
    Posted September 25, 2009 at 8:00 am 0Likes

    I think the whole idea of publishing agent reviews is rubbish.

    It is wide open to abuse and just won’t work.

    Someone should tell Google to ditch the idea immediately before it impacts on their own credibility……….ummmmm are you listening Google ????

    People should choose an agent as they always have, make a decision after meeting several and go with the one you like best, simple.

  • Ben Stockdale
    Posted September 25, 2009 at 8:35 am 0Likes

    RE: “People should choose an agent as they always have, make a decision after meeting several and go with the one you like best, simple.”

    So how do they decide which agents to meet without reviews or recommendations? Good agents will have nothing to hide.

  • Greg Vincent
    Posted September 25, 2009 at 8:43 am 0Likes

    Glenn, The scary part is that most people won’t even know that have to download the Google Sidewiki to see the comments on their own website.

    It’s going to make it really hard to manage.

    If they decide to continue on with it, I hope they at least send notifications of any new comments to the website owner.

  • Nick
    Posted September 25, 2009 at 8:47 am 0Likes

    I dont think it will get too widespread.
    Most people will never know it exists.

    Even if it does get widespread then I still think the doomsday theories are wrong.
    If your afraid of a unbaised review of your products and services, then you should be reviewing your business rather than blaming Google.

    Yes it could be abused, but Google fixes that with algorithms.

  • Nat
    Posted September 25, 2009 at 9:36 am 0Likes

    Yeah interesting reading… but wouldnt touch it. Refer to the Business2 article on Twittering for real estate!
    Plus, its not about if an agent has something to hide, it about how nasty and below the belt some other agents can get, with each other, and then how easily they can go slander the poor ‘honest’ realestate company. It happens.
    Google need to rethink this all if its going to be used in competetive marketing industries.

  • Peter Ricci
    Posted September 25, 2009 at 11:08 am 0Likes

    How many people would write something nice? The people who bother with this would more than likely be negative.

    Create reviews by 1. Positive, 2. Neutral and 3. Negative and give the site owner the ability to vet reviews/comments. Yes they can hide all negative but it would still impact their final score.

    Still I like that they try, lets see how it pans out after a few months.

  • Glenn Rogers
    Posted September 25, 2009 at 11:11 am 0Likes

    Some people just don’t like you because –

    1/ You couldn’t find them the home they wanted in a prime location at 30% less than the market.

    2/ You couldn’t sell their home for 10% above the market.

    So should they be allowed to post negative comments ? Of course not.

    Others as noted by Nat don’t like you because they are helping your competitor, that is also invalid and you can’t filter any of these out with algorithms.

    How do you know which agents to meet ?
    Well …obviously the ones who sell in your area.

  • Matt Stenning
    Posted September 25, 2009 at 11:37 am 0Likes

    Hey Greg,

    Great post mate.

    U think Google Sidewiki is going to become a great tool for everyone, ultimately all it is doing is opening up user reviews for everyone to see (which already happen via Twitter, blogs facebook etc) the only reason it’s “scary” is because it’s on the persons site.

    I think the biggest mistake people are going to make with the new Sidewiki is that they will “presume” that people wont use it, wont know about and therefore wont care about it. Sidewiki is going to make business online so much easier but also going to bring out flaws in company.

    It’s here, and I think it’ll stay..

    Matt

  • Greg Vincent
    Posted September 25, 2009 at 1:44 pm 0Likes

    Glenn, I know you “think the whole idea of publishing agent reviews is rubbish.”

    Well, you & I everyone else will have to learn to live with it, because Google has announced another new product :- Place Pages on Google Maps ~ http://tr.im/zFv1

    Google are adding information on businesses, restaurants, points of interest, neighbourhoods, and yes that’s right, customer reviews on separate web pages within Google Maps.

    Google said “We want there to be a Place Page for every place in the world, but we might be missing a few places here and there. If you’re a business owner, you can add or update your business details through the Local Business Center. This allows you to make sure your Place Page reflects the most accurate, authoritative and recent information about your business. And if you don

  • Glenn Rogers
    Posted September 25, 2009 at 1:58 pm 0Likes

    Greg,

    Reviews WILL go away once the spamming and abuse starts to roll in.
    Law suits will be launched against Google if they allow anonymous adverse comments on a real estate business to remain on their site.

    I really dont see how anyone cant see this, unless of course the reviews are limited to positive ones which makes the whole exercise pointless.

    Adding information on a business is one thing , allowing anyone to comment adversly on a public forum about a business could lead to litigation, especially real estate businesses where reputation is everything.

  • Craig
    Posted September 25, 2009 at 2:43 pm 0Likes

    Glenn, reviews and feedback have been part of the web since 1994. The issues you are talking about are mostly solved. If they weren’t how could mega sites like eBay still allow reviews?

  • Craig
    Posted September 25, 2009 at 2:46 pm 0Likes

    Greg, I just saw the new Place Pages as well and it looks interesting. What came to mind for me though was if you imagine http://maps.google.com/places/us/cambridge/brattle-st/52/-burdick-chocolate-cafe as a property for sale listing. That would scare a few people!

  • Greg Vincent
    Posted September 25, 2009 at 3:53 pm 0Likes

    Craig, reviews like this sitting right alongside an agent’s listing will become a major concern for agents.

    Imagine if a buyer criticised the property in a collusive way to try to deter other buyers from buying the property. Or even mention that they’d put in a certain offer that was rejected prior to auction & the pricing scared a potential buyer away. It could become an issue for both sellers & agents.

    Glenn, I’m no QC, but I don’t think Google would have a case to answer.

    Suing them would be like trying to sue Alexander Bell for receiving an abusive phone call or taking out a class action against Tim Berners-Lee for his involvement in creating the World Wide Web.

    Whether, a bad customer review is on your website or on some other website (say Twitter or Facebook), the responsibility reverts back to the person who made the comment.

    Also, I’m pretty sure they’d cover this within their TOS when you sign up to download the Google Slidewiki application.

  • Glenn Batten
    Posted September 25, 2009 at 4:03 pm 0Likes

    Glenn,

    Agents would never last long if they sued clients for having a bad experience and telling people about it.

    I think agents should certainly be concerned about reviews but its not really a case of the sky falling in. The worst thing that could happen is a campaign of disinformation from a competitor…. Oh wait.. Jenman already does that !!!! and yes whilst it pisses other agents off I have yet to see a Jenman office highly successful or market leader in their area.

    There is a risk.. it just has to be managed. The smart agents will make it work to their advantage by asking happy clients to comment on the web.

    In fact I just did a search on our area and there is only two comments on real estate agents signs… and both were glowingly positive. By using your Google account to register the comments under, people are probably less likely to make negative comments. They normally do that anonymously and although that is still possible, it takes a bit of work.

    If Google are smart they would use an algorithm to remove comments from an account setup just to post negative comments and nothing else.

  • Glenn Rogers
    Posted September 25, 2009 at 5:29 pm 0Likes

    “If they weren

  • Greg Vincent
    Posted September 25, 2009 at 6:52 pm 0Likes

    Oh Glenn,

    Exactly, “This sort of thing could ruin reputations and destroy businesses.”

    This is exactly what I was referring to by posting this article, and how important it is that agent’s be made aware of it & find ways to manage & use it to their advantage to protect & improve their reputation.

    With regards to comments on listings, I was responding to Craig, maybe I should have been clearer.

    I was talking about the new Google Place Pages & whether Google would use a similar tool for agent’s listings featured on Google Maps in the future & how that would impact agents.

    Rather than suing Google, I’d be interested in your thoughts on other ways that you feel agents may be able to address this issue.

  • Glenn Rogers
    Posted September 25, 2009 at 7:16 pm 0Likes

    ” Rather than suing Google, I

  • Greg Vincent
    Posted September 26, 2009 at 10:54 am 0Likes

    As you said Glenn, “its not really a case of the sky falling in”.

    Understanding that an agent’s online reputation will need to be managed, I was thinking that rather than employing a Sales Creator to door knock & telephone prospect for leads is there actually a more lucrative role now within a real estate agency for a PR/Real Estate Journalist who’s role would be to write blog articles, comment on blogs & forums, build social media profile & manage an agencies reputation online?

    I’m sure there would be some agencies that are already doing this, but in a smaller agency, if it was a toss up between the 2 roles, in this day & age the PR/Real Estate Journo should be able to generate a lot more business for an agency over a year than a Sales Creator would PLUS their content would remain on the web for ever.

    PS: The rest of the team could also leverage the content to promote out to their social networks & database of clients too.

  • Glenn Batten
    Posted September 28, 2009 at 11:32 am 0Likes

    Strange. I can’t seem to find a bad review on Google Maps. Admittedly there are not a whole lot of review up there at the moment, but of all the ones I have found everyone is positive. Because Google ties the review so much to your online identity maybe people are reluctant to be seen as a whinger.

  • Glenn Batten
    Posted September 28, 2009 at 11:33 am 0Likes

    Re last message… I am only talking about australian real estate agents here.

  • Robert Simeon
    Posted September 28, 2009 at 12:32 pm 0Likes

    I am not so sure that agents would post infamatory comments as with our newsletter “Virtual Realty News” – only once have I not posted a comment. I called the agent the next day and told him I would censor his post and identify him – he pleaded for it to be deleted.

    I didn’t post it however I did save it 🙂 (just in case)

  • Nick
    Posted September 28, 2009 at 12:56 pm 0Likes

    Um some of you guys seem to be forgetting that this is Google.
    They dont do things half baked.

    They are using algorithms to demote the abusive comments. They mentioned that quite a bit.
    Its not the latest comments which come up first, its the most relevant.
    Google is comparing many variables, including comments you’ve made for other sites.

    Abusive comments wont be seen at all.
    I dont think there will be any problems with that.

  • Glenn Rogers
    Posted September 28, 2009 at 2:58 pm 0Likes

    They can use filters to take out certain words but not alter the favour of the post.
    If there arent any negative ones in there it loses it’s meaning.
    I just think the whole idea is flawed but wait and see I guess.

  • Craig
    Posted September 28, 2009 at 5:38 pm 0Likes

    Glen, I think you underestimate Google. I think it is totally conceivable they will filter on more keywords. When you employee enough Computer Science PHD’s they can come up with some pretty impressive stuff.

  • Glenn Rogers
    Posted September 29, 2009 at 7:26 am 0Likes

    Craig,

    It’s not hard to pen a legitimate sounding critical review without resorting to bad language or bitterness, Google cannot detect or filter that and if this is to be a genuine effort at producing and publishibg reviews nor should it.

    If it’s only meant to be a positove review feature then say so up front..mmmmm thats not such a bad idea, it’s honest and gives people a chance to give a pat on the back to good agents without allowing embittered people to muddy the waters.

    There problem solved, my bill is in the mail !

  • Nick
    Posted September 29, 2009 at 3:59 pm 0Likes

    Ok a good example of why thats not a problem for Google:

    Google Translate supports 51 different languages and 2550 language pairs.
    Do the programmers speak any of the languages? Nope.
    Not a single Google Translate programmer can speak Chinese for example.

    Vast quantities of computing power and skill allow you to create language models.
    Rather than looking at individual words, Google looks at entire paragraphs to derive meaning.

    Google uses it in Translate, Search and quite obviously SideWiki.
    That plus other factors, like the ‘quality’ of your other comments are taken in to account.

    Its not supposed to be a positive only thing. Its supposed to show quality comments.

  • Glenn Rogers
    Posted September 29, 2009 at 5:06 pm 0Likes

    Easy to be very nice about it and be negative.

    ” I have to say the price obtained and service received didn’t match the sales pitch I was given when I listed my property”

    Don’t try to tell me Google can pick that out and censor it.

  • Craig
    Posted September 29, 2009 at 10:31 pm 0Likes

    Nick, it is interesting what you say about how Google does translation. Another example is the spell check (Did you mean…) in the Google Search. They don’t do spell check in the traditional way that MS Word might, but rather can do it based on statistics derived from the billions of searches being done on Google weekly. When you have such massive amounts of data to mine you can do some pretty impressive stuff.

  • Nick
    Posted September 30, 2009 at 6:00 pm 0Likes

    Craig yep the spell checking is another example of their language models.
    Thats a combination of language models, what people search, and what people click on after searching.

    A good example is searching for ‘perl’.
    That brings up stuff about the perl programming language, and doesnt offer a suggestion because its not in the dictionary but its considered a valid search.
    Try looking for ‘perl jewelry’ and then its knows you misspelt perl.

    Glenn using your example, any decent language model would pick out the word “didn’t” a word which makes the statement negative.
    And the point isnt to censor negative comments, the point is to show the best quality comments up the top.
    A comment can be high quality AND be negative or critical of the site.

  • Glenn Rogers
    Posted September 30, 2009 at 8:22 pm 0Likes

    “I’m glad I didnt use another agent.”

    Sorry it just doesnt work.

  • Haddoo
    Posted September 30, 2009 at 11:09 pm 0Likes

    You have the ability to claim your website Sidewiki so it will always appear first in the list, if this helps a little. Google will at least ‘try’ to sort the list so it is most relevant and try to remove anything irrelevant.

    I think it will take a long time for agents to start using Sidewiki and also for people to start using the tool to read agent comments, but I could be wrong. I haven’t seen a lot of Sidewiki uses in Australia yet…

  • Greg Vincent
    Posted September 30, 2009 at 11:28 pm 0Likes

    In this recent post, http://socialnomics.net/2009/09/30/turns-out-negative-feedbacks-not-so-bad/

    They share some good points that may help agents :-

    “Good companies embrace negative feedback because:

    a) free information about potential product/service deficiencies

    b) gives them a chance to correct the problem

    c) it

  • Bill Burdin
    Posted October 7, 2009 at 5:49 pm 0Likes

    I have a few clients who I mange Google Local Business (Maps) listings for. One of them received a really bad review and I thought it was going to send him to an early grave. I can only guess what un moderated comments made on sidewiki would do the industry once it becomes widely used.

    Sidewiki has the potential to create whole new industries such as the “Sidewiki PR Protection.” industry.

    Face it if you knew your agency website had landed really bad press on sidewiki you would want it removed as quickly as possible. Or have some effective counter PR strategy in place.

  • adam
    Posted October 12, 2009 at 10:21 am 0Likes

    So effectively it’s a unified commenting system across every single website. The web needs something like this as a self weeding system especially with the amount of scams these days.

    As for agents, i see a lot of you moaning. Fact is – Theres a-lot of brilliant agents out there and theres also a-lot of crappy & lazy ones. This hopefully will become more transparent and allow us to weed you out. I wouldn’t be too afraid because everyone will be subjected to the same scrutiny.

    Of course theres always going to be bad feedback, but as always it will be about getting more good feedback than bad.

    Bring it on i say! This is awesome news

  • Sal Espro
    Posted October 12, 2009 at 2:02 pm 0Likes

    “This bloke Adam is a proven wanker over the years. Take anything he says as rubbish!”
    Does that work for you, Adam? Would you like us to test this issue by adding this comment to anything you have said on this Blog? Hmmm….

  • adam
    Posted October 12, 2009 at 2:36 pm 0Likes

    @SalEspro really? Actually its the first time ive commented on this blog. But comment away as much as you like as by the tone of your last message you’ll prove yourself to be a wanker. Thats the beauty of sidewiki

  • Craig
    Posted October 12, 2009 at 3:58 pm 0Likes

    Max, that was my comment previously. Sites like eBay allow feedback and for reputable sellers it is a benefit not problem. People who are afraid of feedback always make me ask why?

  • max
    Posted October 12, 2009 at 3:41 pm 0Likes

    Gents…no need to get you panties in a twist over reviews.

    Like someone mentions above, reviews have been part of the web since ’94 and are normally a positive.

    Sites like Ebay (Glen, plenty of people make their living selling on Ebay) and tripadvisor pretty much run their businesses based on user reviews.

    Get on with it lads.

  • Glenn Batten
    Posted October 12, 2009 at 4:13 pm 0Likes

    I think (well hope) that Sal was trying to prove a point in that a comment like he quoted could be added via sidewiki to any site.. such as this one.

    The comment does not even have to be true for it to change behaviour in people and from the reaction his point was proven.

  • max
    Posted October 12, 2009 at 11:01 pm 0Likes

    Glen, rubbish. You fall into to the fatal trap many agents make. You assume internet consumers are idiots fooled by reactionary comments.

    The truth is there is a natural assumption that small pieces of poor feedback are expected.

    Go to this site:

    http://www.tripadvisor.com/

    I travel and use the above a lot. There is an assumption that every single hotel will have some negative comments, but unless there is a major pattern developing in the form of constant poor write ups there is no issue.

    Sounds fair?

    Tripadvisor, google etc have rules for those offering feedback. More often than not you have to be registered and they track IP address to stop multiple entry’s from the one person.

  • max
    Posted October 12, 2009 at 11:09 pm 0Likes

    PS – I have been out of the loop of late. Does this mean Google are no longer the mob saving us all from the evils of Domain and REA?

    sorry couldn’t resist.

  • Glenn Batten
    Posted October 13, 2009 at 1:20 am 0Likes

    Max,

    Just what is rubbish exactly? The person that Sal’s comment mentioned reacted and so did you. Of course people react to reactionary comments. On the internet its called trolling and some people do it for sport.

    In short, your comments are facts only as far as you are concerned but I think it’s you falling into the trap of extrapolating your personal belief to the masses.

    Certainly you personally might assume that negative comments are to be expected but there is no way you could convince me that everybody thinks that way.

    From your examples your relationship with the review system that the article is about is totally different than many agents here who will be the basis of the reviews not the consumer. In your examples of using a travel site your perspective is that of the individual consumer.

    Here the relationship is that the agents are the ones that could get their reputation trashed because a tenant gets upset he never got his bond back according to the law so they struck out and enlisted their friends and wrote 5 bad reviews on your business. You are the consumer that reads those reviews and moves on to another agent because it wasn’t just one negative comment it represented most if not all of the reviews submitted on his business.

    Personally on any sites I only ever read the bad reviews as I can generally glean more information out of them than a hundred 5 star reviews. I try to read them in context and evaluate just how relative the really are.

    But before you get all worked up.. remember its the other Glenn who is not a fan of the review systems like this.

    I am actually quite ok with it. There is a risk of abuse as the recent BP issue and my “scenario” above highlights but for most website owners, which agents are only a minute fraction, the system will probably work very well, its just unfortunate that some innocents will have it used against them.

    I do think most of the majors like Google, ebay and the travel sites have it working pretty well and that is probably the best that we can hope for because it is going to happen whether we like it or not..

  • adam
    Posted October 13, 2009 at 6:04 am 0Likes

    Glen im still not convinced, and i tend to side with max & my initial comment about this being a good thing.

    Take a look at this article, although talking more specifically about twitter feedback it tackles the issue of negative feedback about how companys are embracing it – http://blog.xero.com/2009/10/why-twitter-matters/ .

    I dont think we will ever reach a consensus on this. Remember those whore are really worried about it dont have to post on the internet if they choose.

    Also, Your personal stance on reading bad feed back will most likely change over time as the whole of the web becomes subjected to the same critique.

  • snoop
    Posted October 13, 2009 at 8:10 am 0Likes

    I think the bigger issue for Agents is the result of this poll.
    Real Estate agents rank extremely poorly in this survey and have done so consistantly.
    Perhaps the Institutes should focus on IMPROVING this rather than trying to be media players and content providers.

    http://www.roymorgan.com/news/polls/2009/4387/

  • Glenn Batten
    Posted October 13, 2009 at 8:36 am 0Likes

    Adam,

    I dont think it is a matter of sides. I too think this is a good thing overall. I can just see situations where it can be abused and because I am an agent my perspective is from a consumers point view AND that of an agent who will be subjected to these reviews.

    Of course in the context of this article it is about reviews on agents, but Sidewiki does not discriminate and everybody with a website will be subjected to reviews and the potential for foul play but agents are a little bit more exposed that most..

    Unfortunately the nature of our job means that we are often involved with conflict. In serving and protecting our clients rights we are the forefront of many disputes such as evicting tenants, and claiming against their bond as one major example. Because of this I believe the potential for these reveiws to be used for michevious purposes is probably much higher than many other industry’s and because you are not actually an agent you may not totally understand or have empathy in the matter

    Whilst it all sounds good just to ignore the bad reviews it may be a little myopic. Many people just won’t. In the BP example a social campaign was run against their services stations and they were all reviewed poorly by thousands of people around the world.

    What if the tenant union decided to run a similar campaign so that every tenant who rang them for advice was directed the tenant to insert a bad review on the agent removing it only if the issue is sorted out in their favour? What if Today Tonight suggest that every tenant that is listed on the tenancy databases retailiate by listing the agent on SideWiki? As agents we have to follow strict rules and guidelines when listing a tenant. We have to state the facts and can’t add in “This tenant is a rude pig and never pays their rent” but agents could be subjected to far worse.

    Many agents have hundreds and thousands of property managements so its not unusual to be in conflict with up to one hundred tenants at any one stage.

    As you pointed out, that was how I personally use online reviews to get value out of the system. I don’t try and suggest that everyone will agree with me or do it the same way. Maybe I will change as you suggest, maybe I wont. As has been pointed out these are not knew and I have been reading reviews for quite a long time now. Time will tell.

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