PocketCake partners with 360 Architecture at Scouting 500

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At Scouting 500, Saturday, May 17 at the Kansas Speedway, more than 600 scouts took a virtual tour of a stadium being designed by 360 Architecture that won’t be built until 2017. The simulation, developed by PocketCake, was part of the Careers and Education section at Scouting 500, a first-time event that attracted approximately 15,000 scouts from all across the Midwest. PocketCake’s virtual reality services, coupled with the Oculus Rift, allow users to inhabit real space, walking wherever they want. “I came over here because of my interest in architecture,” said Tommy Starkes, 17. “Now, I think I’d rather do what these guys get to do for a living.”

Starkes was referring to PocketCake’s programmers, Parth Patel and Jonathan Hockman. ”I’m impressed by the depth of understanding about this technology among young people,” Hockman said. “They know nearly as much about this stuff as I do.”

From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Patel, Hockman and PocketCake employees Hugh Welsh, Kim Allen and Cordell Pointer guided scouts through the simulation. It wasn’t long before they imposed a one-minute time limit. ”We allowed the first few scouts to take their time going through the simulation,” Hockman said. “And then I noticed the line was growing exponentially.”

Suddenly, there were 30 individuals waiting their turn. For the remainder of the day, despite the one-minute rule, there were never fewer than 10 individuals in line. ”It felt like we were operating a popular amusement park ride,” Welsh said.

The representatives of 360 Architecture were as smitten by the simulation as the scouts. Tim Meyers, a senior designer with 360 Architecture, wore the Oculus Rift headset on three separate occasions Saturday. ”My excuse was that I am designing the stadium and therefore needed to use the technology to gather information,” Meyers said. “The reality is that I’m addicted to the immersiveness of the experience.”

Virtual reality’s far-reaching role was apparent to many of the scouts, who, of course, were most intrigued by what it means for game development. “I’ve been following this for a long time and cannot wait until they make Call of Duty into virtual reality,” said Todd Oporum, 12. “ I think everyone will eventually own an Oculus and use it for all kinds of stuff.”

Sponsored by the Heart of America Council, Scouting 500 included an array of activities intended for scouts of all ages. Approximately 15,000 people attended. To learn more, please visit: http://www.hoac-bsa.org/scouting-500.

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Virtual reality as a visualization tool for structural engineers

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With the advent of the Oculus Rift headset, virtual reality seems to be the next logical step in visualization for architectural companies.

Among an architect’s greatest challenges is conveying their designs to a client. Due to the ineffectiveness of traditional illustrations, multiple aspects of a finished project are typically different than originally envisioned. While a traditional illustration sufficiently demonstrates proportion, it cannot relay scale. A virtual reality simulation of a 3D model accomplishes both – for a cost that’s comparable to traditional illustrations.

But what about structural engineers, the ones responsible for ensuring an architect’s designs don’t defy gravity?

Recently, PocketCake had the opportunity to present its virtual reality services to Black and Veatch, a global infrastructure company headquartered in Kansas City.

Brian Melton, BIM (Building Information Modeling) director for Black and Veatch, said he was impressed by how well the user could comprehend the size of the environment in a virtual reality simulation. “I think this would keep the audience more focused as discussions are taking place, in turn getting better feedback and understanding of the design,” Melton said.

As invaluable as virtual reality may be to projecting space and aiding client comprehension, however, Melton said that for him its greater significance lay in its ability to display metadata logged in Navisworks. “We need to see what the structures are made of, what lies underneath, if (virtual reality) is going to be useful for us as a review tool,” Melton said. “It’s the infrastructure we care about.”

Melton also said that many of the conventional file formats for conversions (such as FBX and 3DS) are time consuming to export and perform sluggishly. “Navisworks is the standard for viewing models in our market,” Melton said. “If you could get your hardware to work with the Navisworks viewer, that might prove to be a quicker way to review modeled data and take advantage of the features that the Navisworks viewer already provides.”

PocketCake is currently in the process of developing a software that couples the real-time power of Navisworks with the immersiveness of virtual reality.

The rise of the internet on mobile

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By Hugh Welsh

Mobile web browsing has doubled since 2009. By the end of 2014, more Americans will access the internet via a mobile device than a laptop or desktop. The underlying factor behind this trend is smartphone ownership. As more Americans own smartphones, more are likely to browse the web with them. By 2020, 85 percent of all Americans will own a smartphone.

If your website doesn’t display well on mobile, prepare to be left behind. According to a recent Compuware survey, 60 percent of respondents expect a mobile site to load in less than three seconds. Forty-six percent said they were unlikely to return to a site they couldn’t conveniently access from their phone. “Convenient,” in this case, meant the site loaded quickly, wasn’t a chore to view (no squinting or pinching) and had an interface that was easy to navigate and featured the information they cared about most. Thirty-four percent of mobile users will visit a competitor’s site when the targeted company’s site doesn’t meet their expectations.

An example of what Americans will come to expect is best illustrated in Robinson Appliance Repair in Spokane, Washington. Its mobile website allows consumers to get in touch with their technicians faster than ever before, catapulting their company ahead of the competition. Today, perhaps more than ever before, time is essential. When a refrigerator or washer and dryer breaks down, the customer wants it fixed. Now.

According to Robinson Alliance Repair owner Neil Wiltbank: “At times, an appliance will break down after business hours, and you’re left waiting until morning to speak with a customer service rep, but our new mobile website allows the customer to schedule appointments whenever the need occurs. With the implementation of mobility, we’re enabling our customers to instantly reach out to appliance technicians and schedule a repair service quickly. Our website is more convenient; there’s quicker access and less downtime for the consumer.”

Press release don’ts

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By Hugh Welsh

As a former newspaper and magazine reporter, I received dozens of press releases on a daily basis. I admit: I didn’t get beyond reading the subject heading in a majority of cases. Either the heading was sensational, clearly didn’t fit my beat, or was too vague or wordy. On one occasion, I got an email that stated, “Trust me, this WILL pique your interest.” Um, no it won’t. Because I’m not even going to open it. Delete.

In terms of the press release itself, here’s what you need to do to capture a journalist’s attention.

– Don’t send it as an attachment. The last thing a journalist who’s on deadline wants or needs is a virus. So, they’re not going to bother opening it.

– Use simple, straightforward formatting (i.e. no fancy fonts, colors or images). Don’t apply lipstick to a pig. Just state the facts.

– Get to the point: the who, what, when, where, why and why should the journalist care? Don’t go all anecdotal. Leave that to the journalist who opts to give you coverage.

– Introduce yourself ahead of the press release or immediately afterward, ideally in the form of a phone call. If a journalist recognizes your name, he or she is much more likely to be receptive to your email.

IT: The outsource of the problem

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By Hugh Welsh

In the modern business world, technology is interwoven into day-to-day operations. Extract technology and the business falls apart. Minimize it and your competition gets the upper hand.

Forty percent of businesses worldwide keep IT specialists on staff, oftentimes to the detriment of profitability. Full-time IT administrators fetch among the highest of starting salaries, not to mention salary-related taxes and training. And the costs a company can incur on equipment and software can be prohibitive, especially when your company wants to develop unique software.

While the dollar does indeed travel further, there are significant risks involved in outsourcing IT services abroad. Quality control can be difficult to assure: the last thing your business needs is for your problem to become compounded due to a lapse in know how and/or communication.

Outsourcing your IT needs domestically is an excellent way to secure highly skilled professionals who may be unavailable for full-time employment or demand a salary that’s far beyond your budget.

Other upsides include:

– You can react to whatever changes occur in the marketplace.

– You can receive support and maintenance by the company.

– You’ll know about trends in technology before they go mainstream.

– Professional responsibility is guaranteed.

It is estimated that more than 80 percent of companies will use an IT outsourcing service in the next five years.

Don’t let your company get caught in the World Wide Web with the bad and the ugly

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By Hugh Welsh

A majority of companies nowadays have a website. But all websites are not created equal. A bad website can adversely affect a company’s bottom line, according to a study conducted by the University of Portsmouth. It showed that six out of 10 businesses that have a website aren’t considered good websites. The criteria included: good usability, frequently updated, providing a good user experience, promoting trust and ensuring that major transactions (such as making reservations or setting appointments) can be made online.

Too often, a website is a one-page afterthought with a lot of text and a lot of scrolling: a mere ripple for any web surfer.

Ten signs your website may need a new look:

1) Little to no useful content.

2) Errors in punctuation or grammar.

3) Too many of everything (colors, fonts, cute graphics)

4) Overanimated (too much Flash and dazzle)

5) Monstrous graphics or photos that take eons to load.

6) Clip art. (Nothing says generic like stock images.)

7) Too much text that is either too big or in all caps.

8) Poor color combinations. (Orange on blue is never a good idea.)

9) Difficult to navigate. (A to C should go through B, not Q then Y.)

10) Bad search engine optimization. (Does your company’s website appear on the first page of a search when its name is entered? If not, your SEO is a no go.)

The customer’s always first: Why mobile websites are a must-have for any business

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By Hugh Welsh

When somebody locates your website on their smartphone’s web browser, what do they see? Is the entire homepage displayed? Do they need to pinch to zoom in order to read essential information? And how long does it take for the site to load?

Fifty-six percent of Americans currently own smartphones. By 2020, 85 percent of all Americans will own one. One year from now, such users will access the Internet via their smartphone more often than a desktop or laptop.

If your business doesn’t have an app or a mobile-friendly version of its website, consumers are more and more likely to pass your company by. Sometimes, for a competitor who is more in keeping with the times. Patience isn’t a virtue in the technological age.

According to a recent Compuware survey, 60 percent of respondents expect a mobile site to load in less than three seconds. Forty-six percent said they were unlikely to return to a site they couldn’t conveniently access from their phone. “Convenient,” in this case, meant the site loaded quickly, wasn’t a chore to view (no squinting or pinching) and had an interface that was easy to navigate and featured the information they cared about most.

Thirty-four percent of mobile users will visit a competitor’s site when the targeted company’s site disappoints.

A mobile version of your company’s website isn’t a luxury item. It’s a must-have if your company intends to have a solid web presence.

SEO is not dead; it’s reincarnated

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Contrary to what some business writers are reporting, SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is not dead.

It’s just not as easy to manipulate anymore. You can’t simply stress about your website’s PageRank or play keyword roulette to outperform the competition.

Google recently announced six major changes that will forever alter SEO behavior.

They are:

1) All organic searches are now secure, meaning that keyword data for website users is no longer available.

2) PageRank may be disappearing, so other real world measurements would be used to determine a website’s rank.

3) Google’s hummingbird algorithm makes exact keyword searches less important. Conversational search queries will be more than encouraged — they will become the norm.

4) Google+ gains serious SEO cred.

5) Google lends greater SEO weight to authors who write stuff that draws a strong response.

6) In-depth articles will fetch more attention.

What does all this mean? Content marketing will play a bigger part in how your company is recognized on search engines. In other words, your company’s prominence in search results depends on the amount of quality, in-depth content available on the Internet, whether it’s press releases, blog entries, videos or social media interactions.

You see, SEO isn’t dead. It’s not even undead. It’s reincarnated.

If a picture is worth 1,000 words, what’s a video worth?

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By Hugh Welsh

Social media is already becoming less about wordplay and more about imagery. Photo- and video-sharing services such as Instagram, Vine (which allows users to create looping six-second videos) and Keek (similar to Vine, only users are allotted 36 seconds) have emerged as The Next Big Thing within the past couple years. And YouTube’s popularity continues to skyrocket.

More and more so, consumers prefer to learn information about a prospective good or service via multimedia. They don’t want to read an essay, or even a blurb, about why your business should matter to them. They want their presentation (or sales pitch) to be quick and audio visual. Of course, this method has been used for decades by film companies. Moviegoers no longer await trailers during a commercial break. They seek them online. Movie trailers are among the most commonly viewed types of media on the Internet.

A 30-second commercial that showcases your business doesn’t need to cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy TV airtime. It’s something you could post to YouTube and embed on your website’s homepage. You could then use social media and press releases/blogs to drive traffic to the commercial. Such a strategy would ensure an active viewership, rather than a passive one. They’re watching your commercial because they’re curious about your brand.

What might such a commercial look like? Well, it could offer an introduction highlighting your services and what your company does that your competitor does now.

Some examples:

  • If you owned a lawn care business, the commercial might show how you sharpen mower blades on a regular basis, assuring every lawn gets the care it deserves.

  • If you owned a bakery, the commercial might illustrate how your business does things the old-fashioned way.

  • If you were a dentist, the commercial might show the before and after results of your services, maybe even focusing on one patient in particular who is satisfied.

Content marketing: a multipronged approach to sharing the good word about your business

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By Hugh Welsh

It is universally agreed that, especially in this day and age, a company must employ content marketing to be successful. But what is content marketing, exactly?

As it turns out, the definition can be a little muddy. According to the Content Marketing Institute, it is a “marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”

This definition underlies content marketing’s purpose, but not necessarily its means. What forms can content marketing take? And what does a “profitable customer action” look like?

Our definition of content marketing at PocketCake is as such: “content marketing uses such tools as press releases, blogs, advertising, video and social networking to flood the media marketplace until your business rises to the top and your competition sinks to the bottom.”

Content marketing is how you go about communicating compelling information about your company to people who already use your products and services as well as those who don’t but might be inclined to do so. A press release or blog can address such questions as: What sets you apart from your competition? Why do customers keep coming back to your brand? Why should someone who’s not familiar with your business on a firsthand basis buy your products or services? What milestones have your business eclipsed? Social networking, on the other hand, can offer answers to such questions as: What is the day-to-day life like at your place of business? Is it always business as usual or does your motto subscribe to the belief that all work and no play is a dull ploy?