As I participate more and more at Active Rain, I find myself wanting more from Active Rain. Jonathan Washburn recently asked the question "How Can Active Rain Be More Than Itself". If you haven't read it yet - I suggest you do. It certainly sparked debate (Which I'm sure was the intent). But then, just a week later- Anthony Clark asked the question "Has Active Rain Hit The Ceiling"
I have to admit - it wasn't hard seeing Anthony's point of view. I've only been here a few short months but I find msyelf wanting more from AR. One of the most compelling aspects of Active Rain is the availability of AR Staff. Did you know you can view all their profiles in the About Us Section?
Earlier this week I submitted a question through the Contact Us section at the bottom of the page. I was surprised to get a call (voicemail) from Bob Stewart asking me to expand on my suggestion. Before Calling him, I checked out his AR profile, read a few of his blogs and even looked for him on a couple of the social networks. When I called - Bob answered the phone directly. It was a pleasant surprise. He made the mistake of asking if I had any other suggestions - so I burned his ears for 15 or 20 minutes. The active interest Bob showed in understanding to implement my suggestion should be a model for how all companies should respond.
Even during the short time I've been at AR - I've seen improvements roll out. Auto populating the blog tags, Active Rain Blog Customization, Google search of blogs, etc. For people who have been here since the beginning- it may be hard to look at the big picture. Active Rain is still becoming. Whenever I read the posts by AR Staff I can see that they are searching for ways to improve, engage and create a more compelling user experience. 2 years may seem like an eternity in web time - but things are changing at a rapid pace. Many of us here may take "Widgets" for granted. But in the political arena - this is really the first year of the political widget.
So, in response to both Johnathan & Anthony's posts, I have created a list of specific improvement suggestions for AR. Some may be pie in the sky - some are probably already being worked on behind closed doors.
- Favorite Blog Widget or RSS Feed. Create a widget that allows AR members to share their favoite blogs with others on their website, in their blog, etc.
- Truly Private Real Estate Conversations. I love talking to people at AR. But I tend to hold back on asking those very personal business questions related to customers, specific situations, etc. I don't want those to exist forever out there in cyberspace. What if we had a truly private space where only licensed real estate professionals could chat with other licensed professionals. Ask questions, get answers. And then have the conversations disappear.
- Article Libarary. Sorting through all the posts to find information can be daunting. What if AR created a library of some of the best blog articles about specific issues that are always top of mind for RE Professionals.
- Tool Ratings. Allow members to rate different tools/services available to Real Estate Professionals. Honest advice and opinoins about the services offered to us.
- Some sort of live conversation. Are chat rooms dead? How about a twitter room?
- Bookmark Blowout. The ability to bookmark articles is great. But get a few dozen articles in there and now it's hard to find that favorite article. Create a more robust bookmarking tool that allows users to categorize posts. Maybe even add our own tag. Then, reader tags could be compared to Author tags. You could even display a "Tag Targeting" percentage that shows what percentage Authors actually tag articles the same way their readers do.
- Separate the voices. I maintain two blogs on AR. One for consumers (My Realtor Identity) and one targeted towards Real Estate Professionals (My Blue60 Identity). It's a pain in the butt. The reaon I did this is because I knew that RE Profesionals reading my blog would not want to see all the listings I post and content targeted toward localism/consumers. Good Idea? Bad Idea? I don't know. But what if we had a way of separating those identities in our Blog? Maybe it's two different blogs under one proflie. Maybe it's the abiliity for Active Rainers to subsribe to the professional posts or consumer posts - or both, for each author.
- Get rid of the ads in email. It's annoying!
- Richer Contact/Email Experience. This is one of the suggestions I made via the Contact Us tool and later discussed with Bob Stewart. I want to have the ability to reply to AR members through that "Contact Received" message in my home page. I get too much email - I would rather maintain those AR Conversations with members through the AR Contact interface. Let me click on reply in the message panel. Make Hyperlinks clickable. Let me keep track of an email conversation with a member.
- Robust Q&A. As it is, the Q&A section just isn't good enough. I'm sure it was rolled out quickly based on a suggestion. But it has a lot of potential. This section could also benefit from a cagegory structure of questions - allowing consumers to easily search through questions already asked to first see if their question has been answered. Currently, when the consumer is in Localism - and clicks on "View Recent Questions" it takes them to active Rain. I think this should stay in localism like the blog content does.
- Syndicated Content. Every Real Estate website is now launching blogs for Realtors. Are we really taking advantage of promoting the content here at AR other than SEO? What about syndicating content to other real estate portals? Of course, this brings complexities like getting authors permission. What if Authors received free services for sites that featured their blog? Or giving authors the ability to check boxes in their profile that shared their posts with other sites.
- Follow Web Standards. If you guys haven't already read "Don't Make Me Think" by Steve Krug, buy everyone in the office a copy! Simple things- like when you are crusing through the full blog posts, make the links at the bottom like they are on google. links to 10 pages, forward & back.
- More Blogging from AR Staff. I think every AR Staff member should be required to blog at least weekly. That's right. Blog about what's happening at Active Rain. What are you doing, how are you interacting with members, talk about your interaction with members.
- Improvement of the Week/Month. I see so many people saying "What's Going On With Active Rain" and I hear AR staff keep saying "You folks don't see what's happening behind the scenes". Well, show us. Are you making small changes every week? Month? Why not highlight the best suggestion/improvement of the week/month. How about an Active Rain Team Blog "What's New" that keeps us informed on improvements.
- Associations -vs- Associates. Put member photos in the association section. I don't always recognized the names, but I always recognize the faces. And why are there 2 separate Association sections? I know that one is for people who have made an association with us - and one is for people we have made an association with. It's a little confusing.
- Localism. Localism. Localism. I know that a new improved Localism is already in the works and I'm anxious to see what it will become. Localism already has some great ways for consumers to drill down to neighborhood levels in most cities. I think Localism needs to have an even more separate identity than Active Rain. What about consumer blogs? I guess they can already do this. But maybe they could be orgainized by town/neighborhood. What about letting Active Rain Authors build community info. Links to the the village, neighborhood association, etc. This would have to be edited so every agent doesn't submit the same thing. A link or piece of content gets added only once. How about an easier way for consumers to pull up market reports by agents? I'm sure some will hate this - but Look at the Way Trulia displays Market Trends on their front page. Current Posts should be near the top. I realize now it is probably by points. But in many cities - the top posts are a year old. That's just embarrasing. Articles by topic is being neglected. If I click on Staging - two articles come up. Both are from early in 2007. Is anyone actually updating these articles? I know there are a lot of great articles on staging- I'm reading them every day!!
- Organize Blogs by City & State. Yes, I realize this is already available. Have you ever tried to get there from the front age? Other than clicking on the city/county/state next to your name? For the life of me - right now I can't figure out how to do it. For Consumers -starting with a map of the US is great. But then it takes me 3 more clicks to drill down to the neighborhood level.
- Add RainDrops. Why not have a widget on the front page of AR that shows the most popular tags being used? Or a Tag cloud for the entire site? Maybe just the top 10 or 20. Give us an idea what the most popular topics/conversations are on any given day/week/month. Let members click on the tag to get a list of blogs with those tags - I know this is already used elsewhere in the site and could probably be easily adapted.
- Organize Groups. Just how many groups are there? I started going through and subscribing the other day but it's cumbersome. Can't these be grouped into relevant categories? Give group leaders a list and an other category. Give them a month to categorize, let them suggest new categories, then put anyone into the other category who doesn't make a choice.
- Organize Messages - when I subscribe to comments from a popular blog, my message list becomes overwhelming. Why not organize these messages. A tab for blog comment subscriptions, a tag for comments by group, a tab for contacts, a tab for comments made on my blogs.
Okay, I'll stop there. I could go on and on brainstorming. Overall, I think many of my suggestions fall into the category of 1)Imroving Usability, 2)Adding features, 3)Leveraging the wealth of content. If you haven't already posted suggestions at Johnathans blog or Anthony's blog - please post them here!