Online Home Tours Made Simple, Kinda

By
Services for Real Estate Pros with API Network

Years ago I toiled as a computer programmer.  Maybe you don't know this, but one of the bad traits of "my people" is that we often discount or trivialize the effort it takes to create software.

Because it had been a few years since I had written any code, I wanted to try an experiment to see if I could still do it -- and to remind myself of how terrible we are at estimating time.  I succeeded at both. I could still write code and I could still not estimate time accurately.

The challenge: build a simple image gallery. I had a project where I needed something very basic and after some tiny research, I concluded that I could easily write something that would fit my needs, eh, in about a day. (a day of work is normally 8 hours, but to a programmer, that means you've got a full 24 hours to finish it)

The requirements for my project:

  • All thumbnails would be visible on one page.
  • No categories or albums
  • Easy to add things in the left and righ margins
  • A mouse-over on each would give some meaningful description
  • Clicking the thumbnail would zoom on the image
  • Zoomed images would have Previous-Next buttons
  • URLs could be easily added so that a link would be included in the zoomed image
  • Include a site map so search engines think more of it

Most of the requirements came from Picasa. If you do an export from that program, you get something pretty close to the above. But what it lacked was the nice mouse-over on the thumbs, the URL link in to zooms, a site map, no real easy way to add things into margins...

After about 23 hours, my new program was done... kind of. I named it SIMGAL (SIMple GALlery) and what started with the objective of *simple* is not all that simple to use. Another reason you don't want one programmer defining what simple means.  (I'll send a dozen new Titelist golf balls to anyone who can create a gallery with SIMGAL)

Getting back to my effort compared to a Picasa export. Just so we're on the same page, this is what a Picasa export looks like.

Here's the SIMGAL version of those same images:

Mine does do *everything* I wanted it to -- except the simple to use part.

Example of the embedded URL at the top of the page

,,, and the simple site map

Anyway, even though nobody will ever use SIMGAL other than perhaps a demonstration of why you should resist the urge to create your own-- it was still a fun exercise.

There are three basic ways to show others images

1. Host Your Own (put them on a domain under your full control)

2. RE Specific Virtual Tours (realtourvision, firsthometour...)

3. Public Galleries (yahoo, google...)

Host Your Own - If you don't know how or want to FTP files, then forget about this. Using Picasa Export (or SIMGAL) is can be simple, but it requires you at understand a program like FileZilla and have FTP access to your own site. Many don't want to mess with this or don't have time to learn something new. The upside: Images can be a great way to keep visitors on your site. Hosting your own can be cheap. Search engines will see your site as having more value when people stick around longer.

If you're doing more than just one page of images, then using an open source product like Coppermine is always a great choice. It's simple/quick to install, configures quickly and most can learn how to upload images in minutes.  (Here's a recent Coppermine project that I'll blog about in my next post)

RE Virt Tours - Many excellent ones out there but they can get pricey. Like the public galleries, you're often paying them to host the images which means they're getting the benefit of the traffic you send.

PUblic Galleries Picasaweb and Flickr are so well known I'd be wasting space writing about them. I don't know how popular these are for doing home tours, but the biggest downside would be the ease with which visitors can go elsewhere and the lack of branding for you. Great for sharing your last vacation, not so great for showing a home online.

Here's a final example of a SIMGAL online tour.   To work on that free dozen golfballs, your quest would begin here.

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Rainmaker
713,133
Cheryl Johnson
Highland Park, CA

I'm gonna download it in just a minute ..... Can the user change the number of columns/rows?  Can the user change the background image/color?  I guess I'll know the answers after I play with it for a few minutes.

Oooooo... then I can write a software review  :-)

 

Jul 16, 2008 01:14 AM #1
Rainmaker
595,080
Associate Broker Falmouth MA Cape Cod Heath Coker
http://www.CapeGroup.com & http://www.REindex.com - Falmouth, MA
Heath Coker Robert Paul Properties Falmouth MA

Interesting idea.  When I am not using YouTube for my properties I am looking for a way to display pictures on my own site better and to provide a movie like experience.  You may have something here.

Jul 16, 2008 01:19 AM #2
Rainmaker
713,133
Cheryl Johnson
Highland Park, CA

I just read the .txt file.  It runs off a .bat file.  Been a long time since I've dabbled with DOS.  I'm gonna have to wait till evening when I have more time to play.

Have you ever used BreezeBrowser Pro  BreezeBrowser's Tools ->HTML Page Generation feature resizes and spits out a pretty decent photo gallery.   You could look at it and borrow some ideas.  :-)

Do I win the golf balls anyway, since I downloaded the zip file?  Can you include a couple hours with a young hunky golf pro to show me how to properly use the golf balls?  :-)

 

Heath --Something like http://www.realestateshows.com does the movie-like thing with a group of images ...

Jul 16, 2008 01:33 AM #3
Rainer
26,353
Kasey Kase
API Network - Mequon, WI
I'm not really a pirate

Hey Cheryl: Yes, I'm that old. I miss the DOS prompt and all those batch files. Breeze looks like a *real* application -- which I'll bet took way longer than 23 hours. Sorry, downloading the ZIP was still considered the simple part. :) Thanks for the feedback. (As for the review you won't write -- now that part would be worth the dozen golf balls with the hunky young pro)

Heath: YouTube is great for video tours, but just tossing up a few dozen images with some snappy copy... that was the intent behind SIMGAL

Jul 16, 2008 01:47 AM #4
Rainmaker
713,133
Cheryl Johnson
Highland Park, CA

Oh dear.  Now I'm too tired to tackle it tonight.   I just guess I'll have to have to hire my own hunky young pro.  Oh well.

Jul 16, 2008 01:38 PM #5
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Rainer
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Kasey Kase

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