The following text is Gil Castle's final draft of the real estate column appearing in Business Geographics, August 1997

Copyright © 1997 GIS World, Inc.

The human condition changes dramatically whenever technology produces an order-of-magnitude increase in performance. For example, consider the changes resulting when horses (6 miles per hour) were replaced by automobiles (60 miles per hour); consider further the changes when jet airliners were introduced (600+ miles per hour). I predict that Internet/Intranet will produce an order-of-magnitude change in information accessibility, with a correspondingly dramatic impact on our lifestyles. In this article I will give my Internet/Intranet Vision—"In-Vision" for short—notably as related to business geographics in the real estate industry.

As Rod Sterling used to (sort of) say at the outset of The Twilight Zone, "in-vision if you will" the ability to obtain virtually any real estate information you need via the Internet, using the computer on your desk, a laptop on the road, or a digital cellular telephone anywhere. Socioeconomic, environmental, property-specific, photographic, financial, or any other type of information is available literally at your fingertips.

"In-vision" that finding the information you need is much faster and more focused than the most powerful search engines, PUSH technologies, or other software agents with which you currently can surf the Net.

"In-vision" that the information can be numeric, textual, graphic, mapped, photographic, satellite, audio, video, televised, or in any other "human-compatible" format—eliminating the need for separate telephones, televisions, newspapers, and most other communication devices; eliminating, too, the need for disk drives and other data storage devices, because all information is kept on the Internet.

Finally, "in-vision" that real estate information is organized in a business geographics format; that is, on your computer screen you can zoom into a map of the United States until you find the region, city, neighborhood, or property if interest, with clear and "click-able" icons at each geographic level identifying all the data bases available. In short, to plagiarize a "Yellow Pages" advertising slogan, "If it's not on the Net, it probably doesn't exist."

Now back to today. Disappointed that you can't have it all, and right now? How quickly and completely we grow accustomed to getting what we want when we want it.

Take heart, the requisite technologies already exist (with even more fantastic tools in the wings), so just be patient. Even within the last few months the announcements concerning new GIS tools for the Internet reveal a sea change in software development and usage. ESRI, Intergraph, MapInfo, and Autodesk (to name a few) now promote vector-based as well as raster-based GIS capabilities for Internet and Intranets. The world is rapidly evolving toward users no longer needing GIS software and data on their desktop.

Indeed, the world is rapidly evolving toward users not needing any generic, full-function GIS—on their desktop or on the Internet. Rather, most users will rely on what I've periodically called "Just Do It Buttons" (see my real estate column in the May 1996 issue of BG). Simple to understand, focused buttons will quickly and accurately select sites, appraise properties, prepare brokerage prospectuses, conduct environmental hazard audits, and so on. The process should be—and sooner or later will be—as easy as: (1) zoom into an area of interest, (2) select an analysis to perform (e.g., site selection, appraisal), and (3) pick a presentation style (similar to optional templates in PowerPoint).

Leading the charge into this Connected New World are a number of national and regional real estate data vendors who are creating "gateways" on the Internet for accessing a broad spectrum of information sources. Most of my consulting work during the last two years has been for such firms, helping them to determine which GIS data layers and Just Do It Buttons are of greatest interest to real estate professionals, and how best to distribute their products and services via the Internet. Their compelling question is: "Why buy a GIS and data for your desktop if you can have it all on the Internet, via a pay-per-view or monthly subscription?"

Non-trivial obstacles have to be overcome, of course, including the following:

These obstacles can and will be overcome. Very soon we in the real estate industry will not only be able to "in-vision" but also "in-act."