Manufacturing

Community Building in Progress (Tech Trends Feature)

1 Jun, 2008 By: Kenneth Wong

Web 2.0 social networks empower a new CAD generation.


Around Valentine's Day in February 2005, Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim decided to create a video-enabled version of the dating site HOTorNOT.com. As a result, the 20-something trio gave birth to the popular video-sharing site YouTube. They probably had no idea their brainchild would become a sizzling property, worth $1.65 billion to Google ("The Gurus of YouTube," Time, December 16, 2006). Today, if you're willing to wade through the sea of videos featuring celebrities in compromising positions and teenagers lip-synching to The Backstreet Boys, you'll come across free tutorials on the Boundary feature in SolidWorks, the Sweep command in Inventor, and Mating protocols — that is, mating assembly parts in CAD programs.



MySpace and Facebook, two rival social networking sites, now are home to several emerging CAD groups, including CADWorx (10 members, MySpace), The CADMasters (29 members, MySpace), and CATIA Users Group (79 members, Facebook). What begins as a discussion thread about 32-bit vs. 64-bit computing can quickly spiral into a bantering session. On Facebook, someone from the "SolidWorks is Awesome" group (388 members) comes to the defense of his beloved software in the "SolidWorks Sucks" group's forum (65 members) (figure 1).

As tech-phobic executives reach retirement, they're replaced by tech-savvy graduates whose daily routines revolve around blogging, twittering (broadcasting their activities on Twitter.com), and teleporting into virtual worlds (like Linden Lab's Second Life). In Web 2.0, hierarchy is replaced by equality. Each user is a one-man or one-woman army, a force to be reckoned with.

SolidWorks Overtakes George Clooney

Pcook1 is a familiar name to SolidWorks aficionados on YouTube. His home page is listed as www.cadjunky.com. He's uploaded about 140 clips, ranging from tutorials for beginners to instructions in designing a submersible using the software. Roughly 300 viewers subscribe to his channel.

Pcook1 is the identity of Patrick Cook, SolidWorks' senior Internet marketing specialist. Many of the files he posted on YouTube are also housed on SolidWorks' Web site. They were content created initially to introduce a new feature or showcase a client's project.

"When these clips were on our own site, we didn't have a matrix to measure how popular they are," Cook said. "By using YouTube, we were able to see how many people subscribe to this channel, how people rate this video, and what their comments are."

Figure 1. On Facebook, you ll find a growing international SolidWorks fan base. Also in the mix is the "SolidWorks Sucks" group, with the description, "For all of those who hate SolidWorks and are having a hard time on Dr. Bryant's assignment."
Figure 1. On Facebook, you ll find a growing international SolidWorks fan base. Also in the mix is the "SolidWorks Sucks" group, with the description, "For all of those who hate SolidWorks and are having a hard time on Dr. Bryant's assignment."

One of his clips, "Mega Yacht Production boats designed in SolidWorks," was greeted with reactions ranging from disbelief ("I think he used a supercomputer with Windows") and curiosity ("What is the spec of the computer that Westport [Shipyard] used to create and render their models in?") to outright approval ("SolidWorks rules!"). The clip registered 72,064 views, higher than the 28,208 views received by TV Guide's "Academy Awards '08: George Clooney" footage (as of April 4, 2008).

Mixing Socialization and Commerce

Video-Tutorials.Net and Inspirtech, both CAD training suppliers, also maintain video channels on YouTube. Whereas SolidWorks is a 15-year-old software company with a reseller network across 70 countries, Video-Tutorials.Net is operated primarily by a husband-and-wife team, and Inspirtech is a single person. But on YouTube, everyone's clips stand on equal terms.

Though its clips may compete with SolidWorks' for attention on YouTube, Inspirtech is actually a SolidWorks Solutions Partner for education. Albert Whatmough, founder of Inspirtech, keeps a presence on both Facebook and Twitter.

"On Twitter, people can see that I'm doing something SolidWorks-related, so it's a good way to develop contacts," he said. He also browses the posts on user forums, such as CADTutor.net, and responds to questions.

"Publishers charge a lot," he said, "but they don't do much besides marketing the content for you. With YouTube, I can self-publish with little or no upfront cost. It's free hosting. It's linked back to my Web page. People can preview the quality of the materials."

Figure 2. Video-Tutorials.Net uses YouTube s free hosting platform to promote its training CDs by giving away free lessons.
Figure 2. Video-Tutorials.Net uses YouTube s free hosting platform to promote its training CDs by giving away free lessons.

Having taught parametric modeling at a high school, Whatmough was a natural at creating instructional videos. "I feel the best way to learn the advanced features is by networking with other individuals and sharing ideas. That's where social networking comes in," he said.

Video-Tutorials.Net's cofounder Rosanna D'Agnillo said, "Social networking sites are critical to the success of our business because they level the playing field. YouTube is terrific. It reduces our advertising cost, gives us immediate feedback, so we can significantly modify our products from one edition to the next."

Her husband, Nick Grey, an engineer, creates the instructional videos using Camtasia, screen-capturing and recording software. The pair markets the training CDs for SolidWorks, CATIA, and audio manipulation programs on their own Web site, Amazon.com, and eBay (figure 2). In addition to posting clips on YouTube, they respond to CAD-related questions on Yahoo! Answers (http://answers.yahoo.com) to promote their business. Sometimes customers who've used their tutorials contact them to inquire whether they're available to provide onsite training.

Figure 3. Autodesk Freewheel established a home page on Facebook.
Figure 3. Autodesk Freewheel established a home page on Facebook.

Bloggers at Large

Melanie Perry is a familiar face at the annual Autodesk User Group International (AUGI) gatherings. She's a facilities CAD coordinator for a healthcare company by day and a CAD writer/blogger by night. She's responsible for the salary survey published yearly in the AUGI World magazine. She also happens to be the AutoCAD Community chairperson and president of the Gateway Autodesk User Group. She maintains profiles on various networking sites.

Because her technologist friends similarly juggle multiple identities, Perry uses Plaxo Pulse (www.plaxo.com), an online application that helps her keep track of her friends' videos, photos, and profile updates — that's the only way she can keep track of who's doing what. Facilities management is a niche, so Perry relies on both online and offline networking to locate experts and potential collaborators in her field.

In February, when Perry published a post titled "Some AutoCAD 2009 Thoughts" in her blog at Blogspot, she inadvertently started a discussion.

An anonymous reader took issues with Perry's assessment that the new Macro Recorder would "open the door to automation to a lot of folks." The reader commented, "I have to disagree regarding the [Macro] Recorder . . . It's only slightly more powerful than script files. I just don't see how this will 'open the door to automation' to anyone."

Perry shot back with "I'm sorry, but I disagree with you disagreeing with me. It will open the door to people who have never created editable code."

Just as other AutoCAD users regularly visit her blog, she bookmarks and visits her favorite bloggers to hear their thoughts about new products and features. She lurks in the AUGI Forum and the Autodesk Discussion Group to learn about her peers' concerns.

Blogs and Forums
Blogs and Forums

SolidWorks encourages some of its power users to publish blogs. Among them, Ricky Jordan's and Mike Puckett's (see blog listings in "Blogs and Forums") have cultivated a loyal following. Bill Taylor, SolidWorks' community marketing manager, commented, "One of the reasons people read blogs is because they know these aren't corporate messages."

A number of Autodesk employees, including Lynn Allen and Shaan Hurley, maintain blogs. They invariably include disclaimers that state Autodesk has no influence on the content.

Tread Carefully

AutoCAD has a new face. So does Autodesk Freewheel (figure 3). Both products have dedicated home pages on Facebook. At the moment, AutoCAD has 146 fans, and Freewheel has 29. Their parent company, Autodesk, is paying for targeted advertising on some social networking sites.

"We have found that Facebook and MySpace enable us to target students based on their interests and attract them to the Autodesk Student Engineering and Design Community, our Web portal where students and faculty can network; download free Autodesk software, curriculum, and other tools; and search for jobs and internships," said Paul Mailhot, Autodesk's senior director of worldwide education programs.

SolidWorks, however, is staying away. "We're watching the activities [on social networking sites]. But to date, we haven't advertised on them yet," said Cook. He's concerned that advertising on these venues might turn off users who've come here to escape the commercial atmosphere of vendor-sponsored conferences.

When AutoCAD made its debut 25 years ago, Inspirtech's founder Whatmough was a two-month-old baby, Video-Tutorials.Net's cofounder Rosanna D'Agnillo was experimenting with her first Commodore 64, and CAD blogger/writer Perry was still learning her alphabet.


About the Author: Kenneth Wong


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