SiteStuff: Promising, But More Site than Stuff Right Now
Maybe: That's where this site fits in terms of its industry usefulness.
At first blush, at least, SiteStuff (www.sitestuff.com) looks like a promising idea: an online marketplace for property owners and managers. For now, though, you simply can't assess its usefulness.
Nonetheless, SiteStuff has garnered an advance buzz after being sketchily praised by several respected industry sources. But as is increasingly the case in cyberspace, the hype machine has totally outstripped the site development engine.
Advance buzz, of course, isn't a bad thing. In fact, combined with word of mouth, advance buzz is a major element in how the Web works. (Undoubtedly, "The Blair Witch Project" wouldn't have been anywhere near as successful without the buzz generation the movie reaped from its cleverly detailed Web site.)
Advance buzz is a bit more problematic, though, when it comes to real estate Web sites. Most industry players (including even lowly Web reviewers) are stretched out to the max. A visit to a work in progress may well never be followed up when the real thing's in place.
Here's what you'll find at SiteStuff - or, more accurately, here's what you might find when SiteStuff is fully ready . . . and if you even vaguely remember that it's out there by then.
Users begin by choosing a "neighborhood" from a pull-down menu at the top of the screen. The real estate neighborhoods that users choose among are broken down into:
In fact, though, the General Interest option only takes you directly to the site "News Center" section, and from there it doesn't take you much of anywhere else.
Mind you, the site's news items are generally solid, with most drawn from Information, Inc. and Inman News (though most of the content centers on retail - not that there's anything wrong with that).
You'll have the same experience as you click on the other neighborhoods. You'll find news, but not much else.
And that's the meat of our "where's the beef?" beef with the site:
SiteStuff's "Purchasing Center," which promises to be the heart of the site, isn't online yet.
SiteStuff is careful to make noises indicating that the center is coming soon, after it's "pilot tested by our founding customer group, [which] includes some of the top real estate owners and managers in the multi-family, office and retail segments." That founding customer group, the site explains, is made up of Arden Realty, Fogelman, Heitman Capital Management, Lend Lease, Majestic Management, Summit Properties and Urban Retail.
Those, at least, are some well-known industry names. And that may bode well for SiteStuff's future.
Also auguring well for the site is the fact that it already has some action in its numerous discussion groups. For example, we found this exchange on one of the management issues groups in the corporate part of the site:
Robert: "I have seen a number of facility managers treat TQM as a fad and annoyance. However, being customer driven, our business requires solid TQM practices. . . . I want to improve our operation, and am looking for general and specific comments on the topic, as well as any data on the 'results' generated from your TQM processes."
John: "Try looking at 'Quality Facility management : A Marketing and Customer Service Approach' by David G. Cotts. [It] reveals the five key aspects of quality facility management and shows you how to bring them all together to develop a program that fits your particular circumstances. . . . Numerous case studies of facility managers who are building quality into their operation are described."
Real estate is an intensely networked little world. So if that kind of online dialogue blossoms on this site, it will do wonders for usage. The potential for networking alone may be enough to spur some users to register for this site. (We're assuming here that the two online fellows quoted above are real. They certainly seem to be.)
SiteStuff also says it's going to be adding "experts within these discussion groups."
We're less certain, though, of the value of the "customized," for-fee reports on purchasing trends that SiteStuff will be offering.
If this site, at least in its full-blown incarnation, handles a large volume of transactions, with customers ranging from the most titanic REITs to the teeniest property owner, it could accrue some pretty solid data. But the online "sample report" for the obviously fictional "XYZ Corp." looks pretty sketchy - not to mention the fact that the type is so small and broken that it's not even legible in printout form.
SiteStuff also suggests that it can serve as a record-keeping and tracking system for companies with large real estate portfolios. Most property managers and owners, though, already have internal tracking systems. So whether this could be a value-added bit of outsourcing very much remains to be seen.
Finally, a few words about confidentiality, that fast-vanishing species of the new millennium. (Sun CEO Scott McNealy has even gone so far as to say, "Privacy is dead. Get over it.")
SiteStuff has a very long, detailed section on confidentiality. In part, that section reads, "SiteStuff holds the confidentiality of its members and visitors in the highest regard. SiteStuff aggregates user statistics for its own use. . . . in a way designed to protect your privacy and make it impracticable to identify any specific information as coming from any given web site user."
Fine and good, it seems. However, you have to read down a considerable ways before you come to this part of the privacy section:
"When we first collect information about you, we will offer you the opportunity to opt-out of having your personally identifiable information shared with parties outside of SiteStuff (except to the extent required by law, court order, or as requested by other government or law enforcement authority)."
Clearly, users should be aware of that option and respond however they deem appropriate.
Perhaps what SiteStuff's doing with all that verbiage is taking the high road and simply being very, very clear about what it does with its online user data. If so, that's certainly a refreshing change from the increasing numbers of sites that peddle your personal information without your permission.
(And while we're at it, we'd certainly like to hear from any users who feel that any real estate-related Web site has wrongfully used their personal and/or corporate information. And, yes, we want the site name.)
In the meantime, however promising the idea behind SiteStuff, its present manifestation only evokes the pretzel-logic title of a Brian Augur & the Trinity album from the flower-power heyday of the 1960s.
The album's title: "Definitely Maybe."
©2000 Conway Data, Inc. All rights reserved. Data is from many sources and is not warranted to be accurate or current.