Virtual Reality – A New Direction

Virtual Reality – A New Direction

It has been a long time (probably not since the first iPhone was introduced) that I have experienced a new piece of technology that really made me say “Woah, this is going to change everything.”

In May, we received an Oculus DK2 Dev Kit at the office and I had a chance to get my first introduction to Virtual Reality.

Once I had it configured and fired up the demo, I believe my first words were:

“Woah!! Oh shit… (thinking “I actually feel a little nauseous”) then “Weird, I can’t see my hands!” then “Hmmm, I kind of feel a little nerdy with this thing on my head” but then finally… “Oh my God, this is amazing! I’ve got to do this!”

The result has been a total shift in direction for me and ever since, I have been immersing myself (no pun intended) into learning as much as possible about developing Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality (AR, VR) and immersive 360 degree content.

A New Emotional Frontier

VR content is both, physical and emotional, at the same time. You experience being in the environment, not just looking at it from a distance through a rectangular window. As a result, you have a much more emotional connection with the content.

At the same time, you feel it physically, because your eyes, ears and brain are reacting as if you are there in real life. A great VR experience is thrilling. A bad one can make you nauseous. (Sim sickness, as it is called, is very real and not fun. A friend of mine admitted that he still felt sick even thinking about his first VR driving experience, weeks after trying it.)

The main point being, the experience is sticky. it can stay with you much longer than traditional media, because it embeds into your memory like a real experience.

As a result, VR is a very powerful storytelling medium for content and it opens up a lot of new and exciting opportunities.

Breaking Outside The Box

Another exciting aspect of VR is the fact that we are no longer restricted to rectangular content. When you think about it, not much has changed over the years in regards to how we consume content. Regardless of the UI, it is pretty much just square and rectangular screens of various sizes that display square and rectangular grids of images, videos, audio, games and text, which is read left/right/top & bottom.

As a user experience consultant and information architect, my job up until now, has been to create new interactive interfaces, websites, apps, software & content to fill them. More and more lately, the design industry has been struggling to come to terms with the fact that much of the web experience from a UI perspective, has been built.

Other than optimization, most of the big problems have been solved. Because of software like Google Material Design, Android, responsive web design, web components, bootstrap & contextual push notifications, etc, the web is becoming standardized. Reinventing the wheel in regards to the web UI is no longer necessary as the main focus.

The future is about experience design and it is all about the content and it’s context. With AR & VR, we can now break out of the box and experience a new immersive type of content that wraps around you in 360 degrees or appears as a layer over the real world.

Going to a movie will no longer be a 2 dimensional box you look at from a distance. Instead, you will be inside it. It has a front and a back, an up and a down. It has depth and you can navigate it like a first person shooter or a MMORPG video game.

It’s like the Wild West again, and I think that is both refreshing and really exciting. Sure, there are a lot of unknowns and a lot of experimenting to be done, but that’s part of the fun when it comes to designing the future.

New Devices & Content

Oculus has announced that their first commercial product, The Rift, will be on the market in Q1 2016, so I am betting that it will be the “must have” gear for Christmas 2016. They are projecting sales of over 12 million AR/VR devices in 2016, with 60% of them being Oculus products. By 2020, they anticipate the AR/VR industry to reach $150 Billion is annual sales.

To meet these projections, lots of VR content is being developed as we speak and many content companies, especially game companies, are switching their focus to primarily VR in the future.

Check out what my old coworkers at Crytek are working on.

There are also a number of other device manufacturers such as Microsoft HoloLens & Magic Leap, that promise some really amazing experiences. Only time will tell, but considering that one of my favorite sci-fi authors Neil Stephenson has joined Magic Leap as Chief Futurist, needless to say, these are really exciting times.

Google Cardboard

We are also not just confined to expensive headsets wired to your computer.  Google has released Google Cardboard, which allows you to take a simple smart phone, insert it into a piece of cardboard with two glass lenses and get a very similar Virtual Reality experience.

cardboard_blog

This makes the point of entry cost for VR experiences really low, allowing for some awesome opportunities for education and social causes.

Check out to my heart.

What I Am Working On

Over the past couple months, I have been basically experimenting and learning everything I can about AR, VR and other forms of sim tech.

One main focus is learning how to develop immersive content for Oculus and Google Cardboard using Unity, which is a 3D gaming engine. The C# coding aspect is proving to be a steep learning curve, but I am taking it step by step and I am committed.

Here’s a little instagram video of an experiment I did in Unity creating a maze for Oculus. Gotta have cats…



One exciting aspect of developing AR/VR content in a game engine is it’s ability to use artificial intelligence. I think the future of content combined with both, the new visual based VR/AR devices, as well as all of the connected products of Internet of Things will require some sort of 3D environment to both conceptualize and to build smart, connected, immersive experiences.

There are a lot of new User Experience issues to tackle with AR/VR projects as well. Lots of use cases, usability and design standards that need to be studied and developed for the industry. The “nausea factor” is a serious issue and a core focus of UX for VR is being gentle with the user and not making them sick. I think these are critical issues that need to be considered, especially for my own work as a consultant.

On the flip side, I can also anticipate a trend in extreme VR sports for the people who want a thrill. I totally anticipate a VR game coming out called “Don’t Puke” that tracks your eyes to make sure you keep them open during extreme, gut wrenching experiences. You win points for not vomiting. Kind of like the future’s answer to a drinking game. Or maybe drunk VR games will replace the mechanical bull?

Who knows…? Mark my words though, it will happen.

Another focus for me is how to better integrate my art in the AR/VR space. I have a few ideas, but for now I am just playing and having fun. As far as an art platform, AR/VR is wide open and there is SO MUCH potential for being creative.

More Apple Support Please!

On a side note, I have also started an Apple developer account and I am getting fluent on how to port content to the iPhone. Doing AR & VR for the Apple platform however, is proving challenging in regards to plugin and SDK support. Since Apple recently purchased Metaio, (which is one of the only AR software companies for Apple) and then shut down new accounts, AR on Mac is a bit limited until they come out with their own AR/VR device (whenever that may be…) Oculus will not be supporting Apple any time soon.

As a result I will probably tackle Android development soon, as well as possibly switching to a PC based machine. It’s looking like the next couple years will really be in favor of a PC based dev environment.

(Apple, if you are reading this, throw us a sign, will ya? At least a teaser that you have something cooking in this space or maybe when we can expect it.)

Getting Connected

I have also been joining a lot of AR/VR communities and trying to network with as many like minded enthusiasts as I can.

  • If you are a AR/VR fan, feel free to connect with me on all the socials. I would love to talk shop.
  • If you are an AR/VR company and have a project that you think might be in need of my skills, please get in touch. I am very interested in getting involved and getting some hands on experience however I can.

In the meantime, I will probably be posting quite a bit more on the topic so stay tuned.

 

Thoughts on The Future – #1 The Internet of Everything

Thoughts on The Future – #1 The Internet of Everything

According to a recent article on Singularity Hub, the CTO of Cisco recently quoted that the upcoming Internet of Everything (IoE) will be a $1.9 Trillion opportunity over the next decade.

At CES 2015 Keynote speech, Samsung announced that by 2020, all of their products will be Internet of Things (IOT) capable. Since they currently manufacture around 20 products per second, that means in 5 years (or sooner) there will be millions of IOT devices, all connected and gathering data about us.


And Samsung is just one of many…

TVs, mobile devices, toothbrushes, refrigerators, thermostats, lightbulbs, electrical outlets, vibrators, the clothes we wear, the vehicles that will drive us, the vehicles that will deliver our stuff, the lamp posts, the public utilities, the paint on the walls, our pets, our plants, our kids, and even the invisible wifi spectrum that floats around us, all will be gathering data.

Most of them already are.

Every aspect of our lives is being recorded and analyzed. Our needs, our desires, our health, where we go, how we feel, who we like, who we don’t like, what we do, what we say, what we buy, what we don’t buy, all will be analyzed by systems that will process our data and attempt to deliver targeted & contextual experiences back to us.

Privacy is a thing of the past. There will be no secrets. Everyone will be naked on someone’s TV. Lying will be impossible.

The Internet Will Come to You

With so much context gathering tech surrounding our daily lives, the role of a website as a destination will no longer be relevant. Arguably, it already has.

In the future, we won’t need to search Google because contextually relevant content will come to us. The internet will fade into the background as an omnipotent, invisible layer, just as electricity or running water did in the past.

For a while, we can assume that it will be insanely spammy. Combined with augmented reality, virtual reality and 3D holograms, things will start to become an overwhelming hallucination of multimedia ads and notifications injected into all aspects of our lives.

Media will be projected everywhere. 3D avatars and monsters will jump out of your burger, follow you down the street, be your companions and/or sell you insurance.

(This video below of a 7D cinema experience in Dubai might give you some idea of what that world could look like.)

Quiet Filters & Digital Prozac

The need for filters will become necessary for survival. Simple, daily tasks like walking down a busy street will become overwhelming. We will need Digital Prozac.

Luxury services will appear that filter only the “organic” healthy data to protect us from the “junk food” data that will fly out from all directions. We will pay a premium for the silence we currently take for granted.

Pop culture fashion & lifestyle choices will be based on which data filter you pick.

Over time, the systems will evolve and be so dialed in, that every action we take will have the most desired contextual reaction delivered to us. The systems will become so smart that they will predict things that we didn’t know yet. We will allow the system to have more and more control because without automation, we could lose our ability to function.

Our brain chemistry will permanently be rewired for constant distraction and constant entertainment. (it already is…) Turning it off will create withdrawals similar to quitting smoking or kicking heroin.

Getting hacked could make you insane or physically harm you. We will pay higher insurance premiums to insure we stay normal, healthy and alive, not just as a means to get paid when something happens.

Autonomous Vehicles, Transportation & Shipping

Autonomous driving will become a huge opportunity for relaxing and hands free media consumption.  As we sit back in these robot cars and consume content, (rolling movie theaters, offices, hotels, restaurants, brothels) the drones will take us to work, remind us of tasks, deliver our food, watch our children, clean our streets, care for the sick and injured and hunt down criminals.

They will make life or death decisions based on who pays the highest insurance. Drivers licenses, traffic accidents & parking violations will become a thing of the past.

Swarms of autonomous vehicles run by a central, corporate transit system will chain together like freight trains or break off into small personal taxis.

Automotive manufacturers as well as the transportation, travel, postal and shipping industries (any industry involving robot cars, trains, airplanes cargo ships, tractors, trucks, buses, etc) will at some point all be disrupted and forced to merge to become one, giant, autonomous shipping industry, focussing on transporting people and things.

(At least anything organic that can’t yet be 3D printed on location.)

Branded Neighborhoods & Cities

In the short term, there will be a chaotic mess of aggregating devices and software that all attempt to capture the data and compete for who owns the core experience. There will be a lot of broken, fragmented experiences, hype and a lot of money will be spent and wasted.

As the systems evolve, the big player data platforms (GAFA – Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon) will buy up the most successful companies, and continue to evolve into mega, lifestyle based, entities that will eventually control entire communities, economies and could influence political structures.

Based on copyrights and digital rights management, your neighborhoods and cities will be determined by your choice of Apple or Google. They will own the homes, the devices, the transportation, the entertainment and the utilities. All will be reliant on being logged in to some larger platform and system, all controlled by GAFA.

Because of DRM, you will own nothing. Nobody will need to (or be able to) own a car or a home, only rent it.  Your whole life will be one big subscription plan.

With so much monopolization and automation of every aspect of culture & civilization, the only areas left for control will be real estate, both in the wifi / communication spectrum as well as physical land and natural resources.

Jobs & Business of the Future

Since many of our jobs will be replaced with automation, our earning potential will be based on our ability to do creative or humanist tasks that can’t easily be replicated with artificial intelligence or robots. Our activity will generate both income and energy that can be sold or traded back into the system.

Everything we do will have the potential to be gamified and income earned from these gamified actions will replace our salaries. Every action we take will be collecting points that can be exchanged for goods and services, both physical and digital, in sub layers of micro economic marketplaces, where modern paper currency is replaced with a multitude of virtual currencies.

Where do we go from here?

For now I am going to stop and use this point as a launching pad for later discussions on more specific topics.

I can honestly say that, based on all that I have seen and experienced, the future looks both exciting and incredibly bleak. Many major disruptive changes will occur in the next few years that could change life as we know it for better and worse. Lots of opportunities, lots of unknowns. In many ways, we are on the verge of a major evolutionary shift.

In contrast to the present, admittedly, the future does seem overwhelmingly negative. I also think that there will be plenty of amazing & positive things on the horizon as well, so I also plan to touch on these things too.

I’ll share more as it comes to me. In the meantime, please comment and let me know your thoughts. If you have suggestions on particular topics related to the future that you would like me to touch on, I would love to hear them.

See you in the future.

Thoughts on The Future – The Series

Thoughts on The Future – The Series

As a consultant, I am frequently asked to share my opinions on the future of technology & innovation. Typically, this is on a micro level, in context to the needs of a particular client, project, industry or use case.

As is the way with consultants, many of these ideas end up buried in a Powerpoint or research document, never to see the light of day again, once the project is over. 

What I feel has been lacking is a larger overview of my thoughts. Some way to get a bigger picture, based on all of the various projects, clients and industries I have been involved with over the course of my career. Some place to document & reference should ideas become reality, or should things change.

I had considered writing book about the future (I still have a lot of books planned) but like most tech related nonfiction books, they take time to write and once published, their information can quickly become dated or irrelevant. A book about the future becomes the present, then the past, very quickly…

The Goal:

My goal is to write a multi-part series of interconnected blog posts about the future, where I touch on  different topics. Some lengthy, some short. I’m just going to wing it and see where it goes.

If it eventually turns into a book, so be it. If not, the important thing is that I share ideas in small bursts when I think of them, as opposed to letting them ferment in the back of my mind, useless to the world.

The hope with this series is to both keep these ideas fresh, to inspire new ideas and discussion. At the very least, it will serve as a reference point to look back on and reflect.

Admittedly, this will include a lot of free flowing ideas that might stray off into sci-fi at times, however I feel that based on a lot of current events, a lot of what I write will happen. I’m usually right on a lot of things…

With that being said, I will list all entries below and eventually collect them all on their own page. I will definitely be asking for opinions, so PLEASE feel free to leave comments, share feedback and let me know your thoughts.

Enjoy & see you in the future. (See Below for all the latest posts!)

Thoughts On The Future:

Thoughts on The Future – #1 The Internet of Everything
More coming soon…

Promoting Your Art on Instagram: #Hashtag Power Tips

Promoting Your Art on Instagram: #Hashtag Power Tips

I did a little experiment yesterday using some strategically targeted hashtags to promote my art on Instagram.

How did it work out? Lets just say the results were instant and dramatic.

BTW, If you are not using Instagram yet to promote your art, you should jump on it! As you will see below, including some strategic #hashtags to your Instagram posts is where the real promotional power is at.

Normally, I would just add two or three hashtags as an afterthought just to get the images positioned and seen. Since my work is primarily pin-up, I would use: #pinup #pinupart #vintage & #retro but would normally stop there. Just by doing so, I would get a couple likes and followers. First, a few immediately, then one or two a week as the exposure trailed off. Nothing spectacular, but they worked ok.

After reading a post over on Art Marketing Resources, I decided to take their advice on using some popular artist related hashtags and put them to the test.

#Hashtag Power

Obviously, you can add whatever hashtags you want, however, the ones that primarily interested me were hashtags related to lists where art buyers might be regularly and casually browsing. In particular, hashtags that are related to buyers who might be looking for ideas for decorating their homes, and more importantly might be inspired to see and purchase art prints.

This was the real “AH HA!” moment.

The strategy behind this is targeting hashtags based on where the BUYERS are, not just the artists or fans. My feeling on this is also that you want to use hashtags for lists where people really do want to browse for inspiration, not just random related hashtags that people add to posts to be funny.

Interesting Hashtags for Art Buyers:

Here are some of the hashtags I used:

#homedecor #interiordesign #architecture #realestate #decorating #fashion #officedecor #style #auction #investment

I also added a few of the more popular general hashtags that were related to pinup art. These are also topics where I am sure people browse on a regular basis:

#girls #babes #love #hotties #redheads #lingerie #rockabilly

Results:

Within a 24 hour period of adding these, I received 92 likes, 7 new followers and 2 mailing list signups. This was all done by updating old art posts with more hashtags. As I type this 2 days later, my Instagram notifications are still going off.

Tips:

You can experiment by either adding all hashtags at once for the “big bang” effect, or try adding a couple each week to stretch out the duration. Not sure yet which approach is best but, so far, the second option seems to be working well. It also makes it more manageable to keep posts visible during peak Instagram usage times. (Still researching and experimenting with what the peak usage times actually are)

I’m going to continue to experiment and I’ll be sure to post more results as they happen.

Do you have any favorite power hashtags? If so, feel free to share.

Follow me!

Oh yeah, while you’re at it, be sure to Follow Me on Instagram! I’ll totally follow you back.

What Sells On Zazzle? Part 1

What Sells On Zazzle? Part 1

I have been doing a bit of research about which products sell the best on Zazzle, so here are a few thoughts.

1. Context

One key aspect of a successful Zazzle product is context. This is a topic that I discuss quite a bit with my consulting clients and is an increasing focus for most digital marketing strategies, both now and into the future. (Big data, the internet of things… it all relies on context)

Context is defined as:

“The parts of a discourse that surround a word or passage and can throw light on its meaning”

In other words, context, as it applies to a Zazzle product, is the primary activating reason or reasons for why a product exists and why it sells.

Usually, people buy things because it serves a need. Yes, sometimes it really is just impulse (which I will discuss in another post) but typically, the reason is some level of need for the item.

This is also a big roadblock that many digital artists get hung up on when getting started. Understandably, we artists put a lot of love into our art and want to share it with the world. We create a Zazzle store, upload our beautiful art onto a bazillion products hoping that we will sell tons, then get discouraged when we sell nothing.

The problem is not that our art isn’t amazing. Zazzle is filled with tons of amazing art, but the reason that a lot of it doesn’t sell, is because it lacks context.

The Ah HA! Moment

A big AH HA! moment was when I read a blog post over on the travel blog PassingThru.com (great blog btw!) where they list their top selling products.

Product number one is this postcard of an old trailer.



Certainly a photo of a trailer would not be something that most people would race to pull out their credit cards for, but when you add the text “We have a new address” over the image, it instantly adds a whole new level of context to the product.

Suddenly, the postcard solves a problem. It provides a reason why someone might want or need to buy it and why someone who receives it might think it is funny.

By adding context to your products, you immediately go from, one of a million yellow zazzle dog collars, to “FOOD ALLERGIES Please don’t feed!“.

Remember, Zazzle is a huge marketplace of generic items. The only differentiating aspect is the paint job. (Your art)

Adding context to your products creates a solution to a problem. It ads value where there previously wasn’t any. It takes a commodity and makes it a luxury item.

2. Customization

With that being said, one of the most important aspects of Zazzle is customization. If you look at their list of best selling items, these are primarily customizable items, such as wedding invitations, greeting cards, business cards, and other types of paper products.

Yes, people buy these things because they have cool art on them, but more importantly, people want to add their own personalized information to them.

 

Using Market Samurai (my favorite SEO research software) I did a couple searches for both Zazzle & personalized gifts. As you can see, some of the top keywords that came up were a variety of invitations. This seems to be a good indication that there is a general affinity for these keywords in relation to Zazzle.

ms_discoveries1

On both the Google Trends Tool, and Market Samurai, the keyword “Personalized” seems to show up as a much stronger search term then “Customized”. I assume the phrase “Personalized Gifts” is a more contextual phrase because it gives a purpose for why someone might want to purchase them.

personalized

As a side note, I stumbled across a great blog called Five Green Lizards where the site owner, Kim, discusses quite a bit about how some of her top selling products are wedding invitations. Just another confirmation that seems to affirm that this is a hot selling topic.

3. Timing

Time of year is definitely a key factor that effects sales. There are peak seasons for selling personalized items, which tend to be December (Christmas) and Early Summer (May to July) which I assume correspond to peak wedding season or wedding planning season. We all know Christmas is the peak sales month, but May is the more interesting factor here.

If you look at the results from Google Trends you can see the seasonal peaks which are compared to both zazzle and personalized gifts.

dec_may

4. Trends

I made a couple interesting discoveries while cross referencing some of the top selling categories as well. (I am not sure if these are due to economic factors or cultural factors or what…)

1. Over time, there is an apparent decline in searches for invitations, weddings & business cards and a rise in the searches for phone cases. Phone cases are also on Zazzle’s list of hot selling items.

phone-cases

2. There is a very slight increase in searches for “baby shower invitations” in relation to a decline in “wedding invitations” however “wedding” seems to be a much higher searched keyword. “Wedding” vs “baby” seems to indicate this trend as well. Admittedly, this is also based quite a bit on current events, such as celebrity babies and royal weddings, so the reality of how this effects sales is unclear.

wedding_baby

3. “Baby related gifts” seem to be trending higher then “Wedding gifts.” as well as “gifts for him” and “gifts for men” seem to be on the rise as well.

gifts_for

5. Localization

Another VERY interesting trend I discovered was the rise in searches for certain items based on different countries & languages, in this case, primarily Spanish.

The keywords: “invitaciones” and “baby shower invitaciones” show very interesting possibilities.

hola_baby

Two important ways to optimize for this is to both, keyword your Zazzle items for different languages, as well as to create items that are targeted for certain languages or cultures.

Summary

Sales success on Zazzle relies on a strategic approach which is based on the taking advantage of the key strengths of what Zazzle offers. This being: the personalization factor.

Keyword research is also very important and I would recommend learning how to do the research as well as how to optimize your products and traffic sources for what you discover. It’s a big game of detective, but if done properly, it will definitely be to your financial advantage.

So, to answer your question, what sells on Zazzle?

I would say that, in addition to all kinds of random stuff, it’s a safe bet that it is a lot about context, personalization, baby shower and wedding invitations. I would also pay attention to growing trends which are both phone cases and optimizing for other languages, especially Spanish.

If your art can compliment these genres, you will definitely have a pretty decent chance at success.

I’ll continue to share my discoveries. In the meantime, I would love to hear your thoughts, so please share them in the comments.

Resources

Market Samurai – The SEO and Keyword research software I use. (I HIGHLY Recommend it!)
Google Trends
Just Passing Through
Five Green Lizards
Rustic Country Wedding Invitations