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I first heard the term WebGL a few months ago when a new and important network connection asked me if any of my teams were using it for displaying 3D animation.  I run into new technologies all the time, but fortunately, as a sales person it’s perfectly OK for me to plead partial ignorance, with a response, like “sure, but I don’t know too much about the technical details”.

I first heard the term WebGL a few months ago when a new and important network connection asked me if any of my teams were using it for displaying 3D animation.  I run into new technologies all the time, but fortunately, as a sales person it’s perfectly OK for me to plead partial ignorance, with a response, like “sure, but I don’t know too much about the technical details”.  Of course, that only works with relatively new technologies like WebGL.

According to Wikipedia “WebGL (Web Graphics Library) is a JavaScript API for rendering interactive 3D graphics and 2D graphics within any compatible web browser without the use of plug-ins”.  In plain English that means that WebGL lets developers create a 3D animation that users can see and manipulate using any up-to-date internet browser.

At Software Development Resources one of our teams that specializes in 3D modeling is using WebGL to enable package design agencies like Lamiroult Advertising & Design to take a 2D package design like the box below…

Box Artwork 2D

…and present it to their customers in a realistic virtual 3D rendering that they can click on to manipulate using only a standard browser.  Go ahead, click the image and see for yourself!

3D Product Visualization

With the ability to render any 2D or 3D animation, WebGL can be used for a whole lot more than just package design.  Think – virtual tours, simulations, games, training, interactive infographics, interactive films…

If any of this stimulates your imagination, contact us and we’ll figure out a way to make your idea come to life with WebGL.

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Who needs another pair of three letter acronyms to make marketing technology even more opaque? By now even the most technophobic marketers have heard these two – SEO and SEM, but may not really know the difference or why they should care. The “SE” part is actually the same for both and stands for “Search Engine”.

Who needs another pair of three letter acronyms to make marketing technology even more opaque?  By now even the most technophobic marketers have heard these two – SEO and SEM, but may not really know the difference or why they should care.  The “SE” part is actually the same for both and stands for “Search Engine”.  The more widely recognized of the two acronyms, SEO, stands for “Search Engine Optimization” and refers to the art and science of getting your web site to show up near the top of the organic or natural listings on the major search engines – think: Google, Google, Google, Bing and Yahoo (see US traffic share below).

US Search Engine Traffic Share

SEM, which stands for “Search Engine Marketing”, should really be SEA for Search Engine Advertising, because it refers to those pay-per-click advertisements that we see on the top and right side margins of search engine results.  Not surprisingly, those ad results in the “margins” are the most prominent, since they drive the bulk of search engine company revenue.  For Google in 2013 that was $37B in sales from Adwords and other Google site advertising.  Google also sold $13B of advertising through its ad network, another effective advertising tool that I’ll discuss in a future newsletter.

 Sample Search Results - Organic and Paid

So which is better?  Well, like most answers to marketing technology questions – it depends.  Organic search results are free, but good organic search results are hard to come by and require both expertise and lots of hard work, neither of which is free.  Each search engine has its own proprietary algorithm that determines the ranking of organic listings for a given set of search terms.  Although these algorithms are being updated all the time, factors that generally improve rankings include:

  •       Placement and frequency of search terms on the web site
  •       Back links from other highly trafficked, authoritative sites (e.g. www.wsj.com)
  •       Freshness of relevant site content
  •       Richness of relevant site content – tagged videos and photos weigh more heavily

 

The investment in SEO required to achieve first page positioning on search engines will vary tremendously depending on how much others are investing to achieve top results.  A podiatrist in a rural town could easily rank first on a search for “podiatrists” in that local area, where there may only be one or two others.  Whereas, a jewelry store in New York City might be competing for search terms like “engagement rings” against hundreds of others in the same area including well-known local stores and online national retailers which could be investing tens of thousands per month in SEO.

SEM might be a better bet for that New York City jewelry story, even if it has to pay for every click on its search engine advertisements. In most cases however, a combination of the two strategies will be the most cost effective.  Fortunately both approaches enable extensive analytics to help companies find that ideal mix of SEO and SEM for each set of key words.  Since an SEO campaign will take some time to become effective, it often makes sense to pay for search engine ads at least until your SEO investment starts paying off (see chart).

SEO vs. SEM cost per click trend.

If you are considering investing in SEO or SEM but don’t really know where to start, or if you are not sure that your current plan is optimized, please contact me so I can connect you with some very talented teams with expertise in both areas.

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Growing up in the 60s and 70s I was fascinated by what futurists had in store for us on the next millennium. The Jetsons promised personal space ships that would enable us to commute to school or work in minutes. Star Trek envisioned a device that would deconstruct us into our essential elements and transport us seamlessly through space to then reconstruct us aboard the Starship Enterprise.

Growing up in the 60s and 70s I was fascinated by what futurists had in store for us on the next millennium. The Jetsons promised personal space ships that would enable us to commute to school or work in minutes. Star Trek envisioned a device that would deconstruct us into our essential elements and transport us seamlessly through space to then reconstruct us aboard the Starship Enterprise.  Of course the Jetsons and Star Trek were both brought to us by a technology that only 30 years earlier would have been considered magic – delivering moving images directly to our living rooms over miles of thin air

Although transportation technology hasn’t evolved much in the last 40 years, the technology that brought those visions of the future into our homes has developed at “warp speed”.  Recent advances in computing speed, sensor technology and video processing will soon bring truly immersive experiences of new worlds, both imagined and far away, right to our desktops, phones and virtual reality goggles (yes “goggles”).

By now, most of us have seen 3D movies like Avitar at least once.  Avid video gamers regularly explore virtual 3D fantasy worlds through popular games like World of Warcraft. Affordable 3D modeling and visual rendering tools like Unity 3D have made these virtual worlds much more accessible and realistic as in this amazing lifelike tour of a virtual mansion, which will soon be a commonplace marketing tool for high end real estate brokers.

Virtual Mansion Tour

The company Oculus VR has taken the virtual reality experience to the next level with its Oculus Rift goggles.  Using a suite of sophisticated, yet low cost technologies including stereo monitors, accelerometers, and powerful microprocessors, the Rift puts the user inside the virtual world with a 360 degree view of his/her surroundings visible by simply turning one’s head.  The Youtube video pictured below does an excellent job demonstrating the how the Oculus Rift user (bottom center) controls his point of view in the virtual world by just looking around.

Oculus Rift Demo

Oculus Rift enthusiasts around the world have been creating even richer virtual experiences by integrating the Rift with other technologies.  William Steptoe is one such pioneer at University College London.  William has integrated stereo video cameras, and a spacial positioning system to create a virtual augmented reality experience where 3D avatars like the one pictured below can be inserted into a stereo view of the real world.

Oculus Rift and Augmented Reality

Software Development Resources is now representing a talented NYC based team of programmers that is bringing these technologies to life for a handful of clients on the cutting edge of marketing technology.  Call or email me if you would like to learn more about this amazing team.

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The first time I heard the term “stack” in the context of software, I immediately pictured my regular Sunday morning breakfast which I learned to make from scratch (recipe below).

The first time I heard the term “stack” in the context of software, I immediately pictured my regular Sunday morning breakfast which I learned to make from scratch (recipe below).

Pancake Stack.

Clearly, I was missing the point, but still wondered where the term “stack” came from and what exactly it meant in the context of software.  Most of us are familiar with the smoke stacks, or stacks of books, which conjure up the image of an orderly vertical pile.  It turns out that software is also structured in orderly layers with the lowest layers interacting directly with the computer hardware and the top layers exposed to the users.

Software Stack

The top layers, sometimes called the “Front End”, consist of the web browsers and servers which communicate via Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and which comprise the primary user interface for all web applications.  The middle layers, sometimes called the “Back End” consist of the databases and programming languages which manage the data and control the behavior of the application.  The bottom layers are often considered “Infrastructure” because they are so closely tied to the underlying hardware – think roads, bridges, tunnels, etc….

Now that you can picture a technology stack, the only thing you need to know to be nearly fluent in technobabble is which versions of each layer work well together and therefore define a specific software stack such as WISA/.NET, LAMP or LYME.

Common software stacks.

Since these acronyms get confusing, even for techies, and because some layers such as the operating system and web servers work across several stacks, many software developers just refer to the programming language and/or framework to define a software stack.  Some of the most common of these languages and some paired frameworks (in parentheses) are: C# (.NET), Java (Spring), Python (Django), PHP (Codeigniter), and Erlang (Nitrogen).

If your head is now spinning from too many acronyms, you may want to make your own stack of fluffy whole wheat buttermilk pancakes (shown above) from scratch:

Ingredients:

  •       3/4 cup milk
  •       2 tablespoons white vinegar
  •       1 cup all-purpose whole wheat flour
  •       2 tablespoons white sugar
  •       1 teaspoon baking powder
  •       1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  •       1/2 teaspoon salt
  •       1 egg
  •       2 tablespoons butter, melted
  •       cooking spray
  •       greek yogurt (optional topping)
  •       fresh berried (optional topping)
  •       maple syrup (optional topping)

 

Instructions:

  1. Combine milk with vinegar in a medium bowl and set aside for 5 minutes to “sour”.
  2. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Whisk egg and butter into “soured” milk. Pour the flour mixture into the wet ingredients and whisk until lumps are gone.
  3. Heat a large skillet over medium heat, and coat with cooking spray. Pour 1/4 cups of batter onto the skillet, and cook until bubbles appear on the surface. Flip with a spatula, and cook until browned on the other side.
  4. Wash, cut and microwave berries to create a hot sweet sauce.  Add syrup to sweeten further.  Spread each pancake with Greek yogurt and top with fruit sauce, layering to create a stack.
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How can anyone spend $392M for a website that doesn’t work?   That is the question many Americans including congressmen, senators and the president are asking about the botched launch of the new national health insurance exchange website.  There are really two parts to this question – 1) why doesn’t it work? And 2) why has it cost so much?

How can anyone spend $392M for a website that doesn’t work?   That is the question many Americans including congressmen, senators and the president are asking about the botched launch of the new national health insurance exchange website.  There are really two parts to this question – 1) why doesn’t it work? And 2) why has it cost so much?

Broken HealthCare.gov v3

Most of the debate has focused on the first question, which is actually the easier one to answer.  HHS, the government agency that oversaw the development, and its contractors simply didn’t allow enough time to thoroughly test the system before the October 1st deadline.  The first full test of the system was delayed until just two weeks before the launch date, when it should have happened at least two months prior.  Ultimately the glitches will be fixed, the web site will work properly and the bumpy start of the program will be long forgotten.

However, the American taxpayer will still have spent $400M or more on a website that was originally budgeted at $94M!  Granted, the Healthcare.gov website is complex with a lot of connections to other government systems, but it’s nowhere near as complex as Facebook which took 6 years to spend $500M, or LinkedIn which has lasted on $200M in funding since its inception.  I sell custom software, so maybe my indignation at this government excess is really just me channeling my jealousy of the government contractors who walked away from this deal with a huge bundle of cash.  I would have been happy to take on the assignment for a mere $50M and we’d all be better off  Smiley_gif.

Fed IT Spending v4

Rather than trying to explain how our government can burn through so much of our hard earned taxes on a website, let me offer a few tips on how you can avoid overpaying for custom software:

  1. Get quotes from multiple vendors – The cheapest bidder isn’t always the best choice, but be wary of any vendors who are significantly more expensive than the rest.
  2. Ask each vendor for their average hourly rate – A high rate may be indicative of better programmers, but it may also mean you are paying for excessive overhead or profit.
  3. Hire an expert – If you don’t have the internal expertise to evaluate technical proposals from different vendors, hire someone who does.  You will save you money in the long run.
  4. Invest in documenting your requirements upfront – Vendors will be in a better position to quote a fixed price, with fewer conditions, if they know what you want.
  5. Schedule payments based on measurable milestones – If the selected vendor fails to deliver as promised on the earliest phases, consider ending the relationship before the project gets completely derailed.
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Re: Seeking mobile app developer.   As someone who sells custom software solutions for a living, a subject line like this always catches my attention.  Skipping all the other unopened emails, I double click on this inquiry first to see if it’s a real, live lead.  As I read through the body of the email, I look for some indication as to whether the prospect knows what he/she is getting into with a mobile application and whether a mobile website might be a better option.

Re: Seeking mobile app developer.   As someone who sells custom software solutions for a living, a subject line like this always catches my attention.  Skipping all the other unopened emails, I double click on this inquiry first to see if it’s a real, live lead.  As I read through the body of the email, I look for some indication as to whether the prospect knows what he/she is getting into with a mobile application and whether a mobile website might be a better option.

Are mobile websites and mobile apps really interchangeable?  Isn’t a mobile site just a mobile optimized version of a website designed for easier viewing on a smart phone?  What if I need something that’s more interactive than a mobile website?  These are all good questions that often arise when I ask someone who thinks they need a mobile app, whether they have considered a mobile website instead.

There is no doubt that MOBILE APPS ARE COOL!  They are fast, flexible, don’t need an internet connection, and can take advantage of all those great smart phone features like the camera, GPS and gyroscope/accelerometer.  On the downside, mobile apps are harder to access, expensive to build and costlier to maintain than mobile websites.

A classic example of the trade-off between a mobile app and mobile website is the options offered by the airlines.  The United Airlines mobile site has pretty much everything I need, particularly if I only fly United a couple times a year.  It’s also only a bookmark away on my mobile browser.

United Airlines Mobile Site

The United Airlines mobile app has nicer colors and cooler interface than the site, but it offers pretty much the same features – Book Flight, Check In, Flight Status, My Account etc…  Once I download, the application, it’s also only a single click away, but I do have to take that extra step at the app store, which I may not be inclined to do unless I’m a frequent flyer.

United Airlines Mobile Site

My perspective as a user is only half the story.  If, like many of our customers, United could only afford to build and maintain EITHER the mobile site OR the mobile application, they would seriously consider the fact that the mobile application has to be written for and maintained on at least 3 phone platforms –iOS, Android and Windows Mobile.  Whereas the mobile site only needs to be designed once for a mobile browser and can even accommodate multiple screen formats if built with responsive design – a topic for another day.

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Are you often baffled by the techno-jargon used by software programmers?  Do you sometimes wonder what all those acronyms mean – CMS, PPC, PHP, CSS, C++, .NET...?  Rest assured that you are not alone.  Just like lawyers and doctors, programmers have their own technical jargon.   If you are not a lawyer, doctor or programmer, you can’t be expected to be fluent in their language.  However, that doesn’t mean you can’t be informed, particularly when you are in need of their services.

Are you often baffled by the techno-jargon used by software programmers?  Do you sometimes wonder what all those acronyms mean – CMS, PPC, PHP, CSS, C++, .NET…?  Rest assured that you are not alone.  Just like lawyers and doctors, programmers have their own technical jargon.   If you are not a lawyer, doctor or programmer, you can’t be expected to be fluent in their language.  However, that doesn’t mean you can’t be informed, particularly when you are in need of their services.

Confused by techno-jargon

This blog is designed to make marketing technology more accessible to those who need to understand it for their work but don’t have to actually create it themselves.  Some of the more techno savvy readers might find the presentation too elementary, while the technophobes among us might find it somewhat confusing.  I’ll do my best to satisfy the broadest audience in the middle.  I’ll also ask those of you with more in depth knowledge to keep me honest with your comments, and those with less knowledge to ask questions if something doesn’t make sense.  Hopefully we’ll all gain in the process.

Let’s jump right in with a discussion about a software system that is now ubiquitous in the marketing technology world – WordPress.  What is it?  What’s is good for? And what are its limitations?

WordPress Log

According to Wikipedia “WordPress is a free and open source blogging tool and a content management system (CMS)…”  Let’s dissect this definition.  First, WordPress is “free and open source” which means that anyone can use WordPress software, without paying a licensing fee.  It also means that programmers can contribute their own enhancements to the code (“plugins”) to expand its core functionality.  As of this writing, there were 26,801 plugins available for WordPress.  With so many plugins, shouldn’t WordPress be capable of almost anything?  Not necessarily since many of these were built to compensate for WordPress’s limitations, and they certainly aren’t all of equal quality.

Next, WordPress is first a “blogging tool” and second, a “content management system”.  It was initially released in 2003 as a blogging platform and still retains many of the idiosyncrasies of a system designed for blogging, including a heavy leaning toward chronological publishing.  To the credit of the WordPress development community, the platform has been tremendously enhanced into a fully featured content management system for building and maintaining websites and web content.  In fact, WordPress dominates the market for open source content management system with a whopping 58% market share!

Why is WordPress so hugely popular?  The same reason Google, Facebook and Twitter dominate their markets – they are easy to use and at some point they all built a critical mass of followers, and strong brands to make them unassailable.  With a huge base of users and developers, WordPress has earned its place as the default content management system for most standard website applications.  If your website isn’t too complicated, or doesn’t have to communicate with too many other systems or databases, then WordPress is probably your best choice as a content management system.

Lego House

In short, WordPress is a lot like Legos.  It is a compilation of standard parts that are, well designed, intuitive to work with, and can be used to create some amazing structures.  However, when you need to build a house to withstand the elements, concrete, 2x4s and sheetrock do a much better job.  In a future issue/post I’ll discuss what other content management systems might be more appropriate for building more industrial strength websites and web applications.

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