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A Neighbor With Truck Nutz Is A Small Price to Pay

Maybe you've seen recent news of KLM and other airlines exploring the use of social networks to allow fliers (who opt-in) to pick their seatmates based on user profiles. Will this work in the airline context or will it just lead to weird swinger scenes on planes? Who knows, but it does raise some interesting thoughts about the use of social media in marketing personal real estate.

The use of social media to market residential homes- whether single-family home or multi-family- is old hat (well, as old as social media, anyway). My neighborhood broker regularly posts her listings on Facebook. But the more interesting development of social media usage may be providing people the ability to evaluate profiles of potential neighbors when selecting a neighborhood or building in which to buy a home.


It's easy to imagine a plug-in to Facebook that would allow current home owners or renters to post a limited profile of information that is viewable by perspective residents. Sound a little creepy? Maybe a security step could be required to have perspective residents register through the service and be authenticated before they could view the profiles. What would be the motivation for the current residents? Why would anyone allow their profile to be viewed by complete strangers? Because it would be a mechanism for a neighborhood or condo or apartment building to reinforce the current demographic of the community and help perspective residents "self-select" whether to move-in or not. (Plus, based on a quick check of my Newsfeed and a friend's post about her vomiting child, we're generally losing our qualms about posting personal information.)

Social-Media-for-Home-Shoppers would be a prime example of the Internet at its best - delivering more information to consumers which allows them to make informed, better decisions. Additional information of residents could be especially beneficial for home-buyers considering it's likely the most expensive (and personal) purchase many of us ever make. Of course, home shoppers generally have ideas of the make-up of neighborhoods they are shopping, and brokers provide more information. But there is a clear benefit to the ability to see the names, ages, number of children or occupations of the people on a street before you put that offer in on the charming 3/2 with a first-floor master and professional kitchen.

So more information, better decisions, satisfied home-owners- sounds good, yes? That equation may not, however, lead to stronger communities or cities. There is a seedy underbelly to such an implementation of social networks. Humans are a pack animal, and we tend to follow packs that look, act, and think like ourselves. Despite growing diversity, most American cities are largely still very segregated by race, income levels and other corresponding demographics. The use of social information may lead to the reinforcement of segregated communities by refining the arrival of new residents.

Imagine a young, white buyer is looking to buy a condo in a Midtown Atlanta tower. That person is aware that building's residents are culturally diverse which is acceptable, but upon review of the building's social network profile, she discovers that the building is 60% black, or gay, or Georgia Tech grads, or those people that hang chrome male genitalia from their trailer hitch (unlikely, but possible). Whether consciously or not, that percentage may be too high for our perspective buyer and she takes her interest to a development that more matches her desired community. If that cycle perpetuates itself, you end up with more and more homogeneous buildings, developments and neighborhoods.

And pockets of homogeneity leads to a (more) highly polarized America. We're already headed down that path. Thanks to expanding media options, we carefully self-filter our news and media, Facebook's algorithms feed stories we are likely to prefer, and political gerry-mandering creates political homogeneous districts. The use of social media to allow us to even more effectively place ourselves in like-minded communities has the potential to increase this polarization. Increased polarization can lead to more fighting outside of our communities but we may end up no happier in them. Interaction and collaboration of people across lines of race, ethnicity, age and income levels and exposure to different ideas and experiences is the secret sauce that builds rich, vibrant cities.

Social media's promise is to enrich our lives by strengthening our human networks, but if it inadvertently leads us into building communities where these novel interactions don't occur, we may end up blindly moving into much more boring places. This may be crying wolf for a phenomenon that will never occur. We hope it doesn't. But in any event, be comforted by the knowledge that social media will always being willing to tell us that our co-worker read that article "What's That Brown Liquid Running Down Christina Aguilera's Leg?" Thank you, Washington Post Social Reader.