As social networks go, Facebook’s model is primarily built around connecting you to your friends and family. Twitter connects you to your friends and the strangers who share your interests in Arab Spring news and fixed-gear biking. Then there’s LinkedIn, which has carved out a niche in connecting you to colleagues, companies and jobs.
Joshua Boltuch refers to each of these subgroups as the “anchors” of a social network. And this is probably the easiest way to explain what sounds like his pretty unusual pitch: “We think a huge untapped anchor yet is buildings,” he says.
The built environment, Boltuch and his colleagues believe, is in need of a social network of its own. So today they’re launching one – called Honest Buildings – that could connect people to the physical spaces where we live and work, the landlords (or companies) that own them, and the tuck-pointing guys and architecture firms who want to compete for our business.
The scope of the site is a bit mindboggling; as of this morning, you can type in any address in America on Honest Buildings and generate a page devoted to it. Imagine, in other words, if Facebook came pre-loaded with a basic profile for every name in the phone book.
The site has already scraped publicly available and third-party information on individual buildings, including LEED and Energy-Star ratings, for those that have them. And later this year, for instance, when New York City mandates that large properties turn over their energy-use data, that information will go into Honest Building profiles, too.
But the rest of the really useful stuff will have to come from crowd-sourcing. Honest Buildings hopes that tenants and owners will use the platform to communicate about renovations and repairs – and that service providers will then chime in vying for that business.
“We’re talking about the whole supply chain, really from an HVAC unit installer all the way up to an architect,” says Boltuch, the project's chief marketing officer. “It really can be anyone who does work on a building.”
Those service providers can sign up for a paid, premium membership to hawk their work online (but you get to tool around the site and look at buildings for free). Because this is a social network, that architect can link his page to the projects he’s completed, the buildings where that work was done and the happy tenants and property owners there. The whole network could, in essence, replace that antiquated sign in your neighbor’s front yard that says, “Bob’s roofing company was here.”
It’s easy enough to see how this chain of connections – service providers-projects-buildings-people – could be useful from a number of entry points. If you’re a prospective homebuyer, you may be able to research the history of different buildings, the renovations that have been done there and the reputations of the companies behind them. If you’re a landlord in search of a good HVAC guy, the site could theoretically help you find one nearby. Or if you install LED lighting for a living, you can compete for business (or scour for energy-inefficient potential customers), all online.
The ambition behind the project – spanning as it does the whole country – suggests that Honest Buildings will need to attract a really big crowd to seriously crowd-source all this data. But Boltuch insists the site will be useful on a small scale, too. Depending on what you want to do, you may need only the information and connections surrounding your own apartment building.
“It doesn’t necessarily need all 8 million people of New York to be using it to be effective,” Boltuch says. “Of course, we want that, because then you can really start doing the most comprehensive type of comparison possible of all the different buildings. But sometimes that isn’t really what’s needed.”