While we here at SPAR try to be measured in our evaluation of 3D technology and its business impact, there's no doubt that there's an element of evangelism to what we do here. While laser scanning and other forms of 3D data capture are no panacea for the world's ills, they can certainly be awfully helpful in certain situations. But only if you know the technology exists. And many people don't.
So we spend a fair amount of time and energy spreading the word. Sure, that means the stories I write about new products and advances, but it also means a huge attempt to reach out beyond our current audience to people who don't know 3D data capture (or SPAR, for that matter) exists. You know: phone calls, Google ad words, Facebook ads, list swaps - all the ways you can think of. Here's just one of the "101-style" white papers we point people to in hopes that they'll be hungry for more information.
It also means I pay a lot of attention to the ways that the manufacturers in the space are doing the same thing. Leica's release this month of a set of three professionally produced videos introducing the laser scanning technology concept got me thinking about what's available on YouTube and what kind of introduction a newcomer to the technology would get. Is it an accurate impression? Would it get them excited to use the technology for their businesses? Are there spammers trying to hone in our potential new community members and head them off with bunk before they get here?
Let's take a look.
First, say you went to YouTube and just searched "what is laser scanning." This is a thing that people do, I can assure you. Now, I might not get the same results as you do, thanks to YouTube being part of the Google empire and the introduction of personalized search results, but it's probably pretty close. First video for me is this one:
It's a pretty nice piece of work, released by Faro Great Britain about two years ago, and with 17,785 views already, which is a great count. Professionally done with a nice voiceover, it goes through a scan of an old castle, which you might apparently want to document in three dimensions. It's in strange vertical aspect ratio, though, which is a little weird for the YouTube viewing experience, and while it's very in-depth, I wonder if it's a little too in-depth for a first impression. The video goes through actual settings on the on-board software and even lets you know what the tone sounds like when the scan is done.
Sure, this is a great instructional video for someone who already has a scanner, but is it a little "too-long-didn't-watch" for a newcomer? Possibly. The average view time for someone on YouTube is still under four minutes, even with a push for more long-form content, so eight minutes-plus might be asking a little much.
Up next on the list of returns is much-shorter piece uploaded by Michael Xinogalos, with simple animation, no specific product references, and a good use of the "show-me-don't-tell-me" school of though, converting real scenes to point clouds and doing well with some pretty pictures:
Of course, the only technology mentioned is time of flight, so there's a slight bit of bad information here, and the Bizet in the background is kind of annoying, even if it's not the bad techno that usually characterizes amateur YouTube videos. Still, as introduction to the technology, I can't say this is "bad," and 37,000+ views means a lot of people have seen this. There are even some comments!
The third result is a screen capture from a BBC One television morning show that's doing a feature on forensic science. It doesn't get to the laser scanning right off, and it's a good bit of fluffery. At least it shows laser scanning is hitting mainstream communications channels, but it's basically worthless. It probably doesn't do any harm, I suppose, but it's a bit too bad this comes up as a third result.
Fourth up is a nice piece from Topcon, a product introduction video for the company's GLS-1000 scanner:
Here, there's an implied assumption you have some familiarity with the technology, but if you're a surveyor, especially, doing research, you're probably going to be relatively at home here. There are people who look like you doing work in the field and you get a good explanation of the product technology from people talking into the camera with professional video treatment and using the professional terms you're comfortable with - "traverse," "back site," etc. At five minutes, it's a pretty good length, but it's maybe a little salesy, as it pitches the Topcon product as better than others, and that might be a turn-off if you're new to the technology and just want the straight dope.
Next up is an entrant from a UK service provider, Deri Jones & Associates, uploaded in 2009. Take a look:
Yes, it has some things working against it: No sound. Low res. Very basic titles, etc. But the 16,000+ views and the comments say that this is something that people are checking out when they're investigating the technology. Four months ago, someone left the comment: "How many million quad poly was it?" Which made for a brilliant opportunity to spread the gospel: "There are no polygons in this rendering, it's all done directly from the point cloud using Pointools. Modelling this scene would have taken a heap of work, but recording it and re purposing that data to make a pretty animation is relatively straightforward," someone at Deri Jones replied.
That's why I find it strange when corporations close off comments on their videos, like Topcon's above and like the Leica videos, which I'm getting to. The back and forth is where social media rules! If you put up ads, people will passively accept them as ads, but if you put up cool stuff, people will be curious and engage with you (maybe), and that's your opportunity for follow up and potentially some business.
The next few results are interesting - 70,000+ views for a homemade x/y laser scanner; an ad from Qualitech about using scanning for reverse engineering (215 views); a 45-minute recording of a webinar from Beck Technology on using laser scanning in the AEC industry (157 views); a video about building and using a David table-top scanner (47,000 views); and a video about a crazy piece of laser technology from Japan that is able to trace lines on pieces of paper and stuff (203,000 views).
Seriously, go watch that last one. The laser-light pinball is worth the view alone. Really, really cool.
But you see what gets views on YouTube: DIY stuff. Amazing stuff. People on YouTube are investigators. Probably a lot of kids just checking out what's out there. How do 200,000 people find a relatively poorly made video about a laser that can trace your shirt? Who knows? But they found it. Laser scanning is cool enough that they'll find that, too, if you let them.
In just about a month, with little promotion, 2,000+ people have found the new "what is laser scanning" videos from Leica. Here's chapter 1:
It's an interesting amalgam of all the other videos we've seen so far. First, it's a little bit advertising: The Leica logo is front and center and our pair of happy hosts make sure to refer to Leica as the global leader in laser scanning and to pimp up the company in the closing. Still, it's not completely in your face, and there's a ton of practical information being delivered in an easily digestible manner that's likely to be attractive to those coming new to the technology. It's kind of like one of those infommercials that come on late at night and you have a really hard time clicking away from.
These hosts are just so damn chipper! I want to be their friend! The time, at six minutes, is also sort of right in the middle between just a taste and full on product pitch. Nor is it geared just toward Leica's traditional survey base, though there's enough in there for surveyors to feel at home. Good balance, I'd say, between a b2b video and one that has mainstream appeal. Not surprising it's resonating on YouTube pretty well.
Will it reach the 165,000+ that the LaserScanningForum-posted "Know How" video about building your own laser scan has, which comes up right after Leica? Maybe not. But Know How is an actual, like, entertainment vehicle, and it involves someone's mom twirling around in a chair. Hard to pass that up.
Is there a lesson here? It's hard to say. This is one search, and one collection of videos, and people like to surf YouTube like its their job, while all the people who actually have jobs probably have much less time for it. But that's why it's so important to grab their attention right out of the gate. If an architect sits down and searches "what is laser scanning," will she be happy with the results? Will she be inclined to find out more? If you have a vested interest in that, you might want to make sure the videos that pop up early, or the links on Google, tell the story you'd hope for a newcomer to hear.