There’s another new “community website” on the map for the Carson Valley. This one is www.welovecarsonvalley.com. And I’m not impressed. Why? Let’s do a little digging and find out.
We Love Carson Valley is another one of those “neighborhood template” sites, where someone develops a lowest-common-denominator community website and then sells it to communities across the country. This has happened before, with www.johnson-lane.com (the site is dead now, but I wrote about it a couple of years ago). That site was brought to us by a couple of real estate agents, and it was copied verbatim from some kind of nationwide, one-size-fits-all template.
So now if you do a little digging around welovecarsonvalley.com, what do you find? Oh surprise surprise, it’s being brought to us by a real estate agent! Debra L. Garber of Garber & Garber Re/Max. And so any thought you might have had about We Love Carson Valley being some kind of helpful community resource turns out to be false. It’s really nothing more than one big advertisement for their real estate business.
And if you dig even further, it gets uglier. A copyright statement at the bottom leads us back to the originator of the site, the ones who built it and sold it to the Garbers. That would be www.myonlineneighborhood.com. My Online Neighborhood seems to be solely in the business of providing this kind of boilerplate website to real estate agents across the country. If you read through their site (or, I should say, listen through it, since the owner helpfully provides a sound file of himself reading all the copy on each page), you’ll find that the sites they set up aren’t intended to be anything more than elaborate advertisements for the real estate agency in question. The website isn’t there for the community, it’s there as a “tool REALTORS use to generate more buyer and seller leads than ever before.” You see, they don’t care about the people who contribute to the site at all. That’s not what it’s about for them. The site is just a way to raise awareness of their business, and everyone who contributes to the site (or puts a bumper sticker on their car) is falling right into their trap.
How many people do you know that would put a REALTOR’S bumper sticker on their car? Yet those same people proudly display one of their community web site.
You see? They’re tricking you into placing free advertising on your car. And not only are they poaching the labor of the community for their own personal gain, but they think they’re doing a noble thing! They say they’re “giv[ing] back to the community that had given us so much,” but all they’re really doing it taking, taking, taking. Taking people’s goodwill, taking people’s hard work, and using it to “generate more buyer and seller leads.” Screw them. I’m not donating my time to their marketing efforts.
But one thing you can say about them is that they’ve certainly made a successful business out of duping Realtors. ilovegoodyear.com. welovecapecoral.com. ilovefremont.com. ilovesantarosaca.com. ourballantyne.com. And hundreds more. These sites are spreading around the country like weeds. And you can bet that each one of them represents money flowing in to My Online Neighborhood. The good news is that most of them seem to be empty of any real content, so they’re failing in their mission to bring people together to worship at the feet of the Realtor. Maybe in a couple of years they’ll all be abandoned and the domains taken over by squatters, just like johnson-lane.com.
Jeff Jarvis said it best: Local ain’t easy. It’s tough to build a local site and attract participants, and to keep it going. I’m finding that out already with Around Carson, and I’m not even at the stage yet where I’m actively recruiting contributors. I think the best local sites are going to be built locally. And I don’t mean commissioned by some real estate agent who just wants to increase sales, I’m talking about local people who want to build a site, either from scratch or by cobbling together existing tools, and keep it running for the good of the community. Companies like My Online Neighborhood will always be around, and they’ll always be able to extract cash from guilliable Realtors, but the sites they build will die, and die fast. Because there’s no real local connection to them. The only person who cares about a site like that is the Realtor who started it, and they only see it as dancing dollar signs on a computer screen.
Of course, not all real estate agents are this clueless. There are Realtors out there who really understand the Internet, like Rain City Guide. But for every one of those, there are a dozen others who hear about My Online Neighborhood, or Connecting Neighbors, and all they see is a way to make some quick cash from this Internet thing. Eventually they’ll get bored, or it won’t generate the “buyer and seller leads” that they were promised, so they’ll kill it. And what will be left behind are the sites built by the little guys who really care about making something happen online.
In other words, it’s all about the passion. And We Love Carson Valley is about as cold a fish as you can get.