Augmented and virtual reality are the future of social media. Here's how to get in early - Generocity Philly

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Jun. 5, 2017 12:25 pm

Augmented and virtual reality are the future of social media. Here’s how to get in early

Why nonprofits should consider using these technologies, and a handful of tools available now at reasonable prices.

Virtual reality demos at the first Tech in the Commons event.

(Photo by Julie Zeglen)

Tech in the Commons is supported by the Knight Foundation and organized by Generocity.
We’re currently in the early stages of the social adoption of augmented and virtual realities.

But for “every successive technology, the adoption period is about five years” — which means prices and barriers to entry will drop over time, Greater Philadelphia Virtual and Augmented Reality Group’s (GPVAR) Clayton McNeil told us earlier this month.

While AR/VR technologies can seem inaccessible (and out of the price range) of many smaller nonprofits, there are ways to get in on these trends now before they’re widely used.

Visit Philadelphia’s Kristina Jenkins and Drexel University’s Nick Jushchyshyn and Mashaal Syed visited the first Tech in the Commons bootcamp organized by Generocity and supported by the Knight Foundation to share how they’ve used AR/VR tech and how likeminded organizations can, too.

Why you’d want to use AR/VR

Place-based nonprofits can use augmented and virtual reality to show off the best features of their physical surroundings, thus increasing engagement on their web platforms — and, hopefully, increasing visitors to the space itself.

That’s exactly what Visit Philly did when it launched its 360-degree virtual platform earlier this year. The platform gives potential visitors an immersive view of a city’s best features, including landmarks such as the Art Museum steps and Elfreth’s Alley. (True, by some definitions 360-degree photo and video is different than virtual reality, which some purists say have to be designed.)

In the three months since it’s been live, website visitors who engage with the tool have almost tripled their time on the site, from an average of 2.2 minutes to 6.2 minutes, according to Jenkins, Visit Philly’s digital content director.

“Each web visit is an opportunity for Visit Philadelphia to achieve its mission,” she said. Namely:

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  • Improve that person’s impression of Philadelphia
  • Increase their desire to visit
  • Get them to do more things while they’re here

Read more about how and why Visit Philly developed the platform.

How to think strategically + the tools available now

Jushchyshyn, the program director for animation and visual effects at Drexel’s Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, has seen virtual reality applied to projects ranging in topic from dinosaurs to Hollywood fashion.

Each of the teams behind those projects started by asking themselves: What’s unseen about this work, and what could lend itself to an immersive experience for those on the outside?

  • If it cost almost nothing to bring anyone, from anywhere in the world, to see your nonprofit at work, what would you show them?
  • If you could have a multilingual tour guide standing 24/7 at every place in the world your nonprofit has made an impact, what would that guide have to say?

As explained by Syed, a Drexel senior who’s developing a virtual reality surgical training simulator, there are a handful of AR/VR tech tools that are currently available at reasonable prices, including:

  • Ricoh Theta — A handheld, 360-degree camera that records images and video and is capable of live streaming; $300
  • WebVRAn open standard that makes it possible to experience AR/VR in your browser via computer or smartphone; free
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