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FREE (or nearly free) Web Service/Users/adamp/Desktop/Stuff for FAR/Magazine Assets/JUN08/Images/FreeWeb

Take a look at these free (or nearly free) Web services that can help you boost your business.

What has the Web done for you lately? Sure, it’s great for Google searches and property listings, but what about giving your business a boost? We’ve rounded up six must-have Web services for real
estate professionals, all of them free (or nearly free), all of them guaranteed to simplify your workday, improve your productivity and maybe even improve your bottom line.

Social Networking
Start with a little social networking, real estate style. You’re probably familiar with Facebook and LinkedIn, the popular social sites for individuals and business users, respectively. They can be useful for promoting yourself and connecting with other professionals, but they don’t cater directly to real estate practitioners.

For that, look to ActiveRain (www.activerain.com) and Zolve (www.zolve.com), which will set you up with your own blog, help you swap referrals with other sales associates and more. They’re free services; Zolve has a simpler, more stylish interface and forward-thinking approach: It leverages Google Maps to connect you to other members, the idea being to generate referrals.

Storing Property Photos
If you’re looking for a good spot to host your property photos, look no further than Flickr (www.flickr.com). The site makes easy work of storing and displaying photos, and you can’t beat the price: It’s free if you upload less than 100 megabytes’ worth of images per month. If you need more space, you can open a Pro account, affording unlimited storage, for just $24.95 per year.

You can upload photos to your account using a variety of methods. Windows and Mac OS users can install Flickr Uploader, a simple utility that lets you drag and drop photos from your computer. Shooting from a camera phone? Flickr provides a special e-mail address that allows you to send photos directly to your account. There’s even an option that lets you steer photos straight to your blog. And speaking of blogs, check out flickrSLiDR (flickrslidr.com), a free tool that lets you embed Flickr slideshows on your blog or Web site.

Web Accessible E-mail
You may not think you need another e-mail account, but you do. Gmail (gmail.google.com) offers real estate professionals a host of advantages over traditional e-mail, starting with Web accessibility. You can access your account on any computer using any browser. Even better, you can connect to Gmail via your cell phone using either its Web browser or a special Gmail application.

Gmail also offers excellent spam filtering, a robust search capability (it’s a Google product, after all), and gigabytes’ worth of storage space. Best of all, it can integrate with most existing e-mail systems, meaning you don’t necessarily have to give up your current address. Instead, you can route your mail through Gmail, leveraging all its features while maintaining continuity. Like most Google properties, Gmail is free.

Presentations and Slideshows
Why spend money on pricey office software when you can get your work done on the Web? Google Docs (docs.google.com) offers browser-based word processing, spreadsheets and presentations. Granted, the interface looks a little stark compared with Microsoft Office, but that’s a small price to pay for such convenience. Google Docs documents can be created, edited, viewed, printed and shared on any computer. That means you can access your files at home just as easily as you can at work.

If you’re worried about file compatibility, don’t be. The service can import and export Word, Excel and PowerPoint files. It also allows you to collaborate with other users, meaning you can easily pass around, say, a property contract to multiple parties for review and, if necessary, revisions. Best of all, Google Docs costs nothing to use.

Online File Backup
We’ve talked about Mozy (www.mozy.com) before, but the service merits another mention. In a nutshell, it helps prevent a real estate professional’s worst nightmare: data loss. After installing Mozy on your PC and configuring it to back up your most critical data, the software automatically copies files to secure Web storage. You can set this to happen once a day, once a week or even as you work.

The price for this peace of mind? If you have less than 2 gigabytes’ worth of data to protect (a definite possibility if it’s mostly Word documents and Outlook records), Mozy won’t cost you a penny. Break the 2GB barrier, and you’ll pay $4.95 per month, which entitles you to unlimited storage space. In both cases, the Mozy software makes it simple to find the files and file types that you want to preserve.

Add Tools to Your Web Site
Want to make your site stand out from the crowd? Stock it with a mortgage calculator, a Zillow home-value estimator and other handy tools. You don’t need a degree in programming to make this happen; just head to Widgetbox (www.widgetbox.com), home to thousands of “widgets” you can use free of charge.

A widget is basically a little bit of code that runs a program or pulls content from another Web site, usually placing it in a small box. If you’ve ever seen a YouTube video on a site other than YouTube, that’s a widget in action. The owner of that site merely copied and pasted a few lines of code from YouTube proper (something you’ll want to do yourself—see the next item for details). The video player is the widget; the code includes instructions on which video to stream from YouTube.

Widgets can add a ton of value to your site, but don’t go overboard. Nobody likes a site that’s too cluttered.

Upload Videos to the Net
So you’ve just captured some walk-through videos of an exciting new property. Now you need an easy way to add them to your Web site so your customers can see the footage. Enter YouTube (www.youtube.com), which lets you upload unlimited videos of up to 10 minutes each, then “embed” them in your site using its familiar player.

All you do is sign up for a free account, then start uploading your videos. If you shot them using a camcorder, you’ll need to import them into a video-editing program first, and then output them again in a YouTube-friendly file format.

If you used your digital camera, you can skip straight to the upload step. Most cameras record in a format that YouTube can recognize. After the upload is complete, YouTube will provide you with an “embed code” that you simply add to your site. Presto: An easy way to host and display property videos.

Rick Broida is a freelance writer and the co-author of “How to Do Everything with Your Palm Powered Device,” 6th edition. Broida does not have any affiliation with the companies mentioned.

The Florida Association of Realtors® and Florida Realtor® magazine do not endorse any products mentioned in this article.