Social media and CAD

14 January 2009

Can you apply the concepts of social media directly to product development? Two intriguing services that have come on-line in recent months show the foundations are there, writes Al Dean

Social Media is a growing phenomenon. Indeed, as Josh Mings pointed out in the September 2008 edition of DEVELOP3D the likes of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn can give you a real edge over your design and engineering colleagues. But while these services are open to all walks of life, there are also services coming online which are specific to CAD, two of which I discovered in the last two months.

The first came from the mind of long-term SolidWorks blogger, Ben Eadie (solidmentor.com). Ben launched his Solidjott.com service late last year and it’s been growing in both capability and adoption ever since. The concept is quite simple. Here’s a little background.

Most people learn software by one of the following methods - through formal training by a vendor or reseller, through self-teaching by book or tutorial or through peer learning.

Peer learning has always been a great way of learning a tool, of sharing tips and tricks and being introduced to different ways of doing things. Before the Internet, this was usually done in person, in the office, across the room, but today things are very different. It started with the usenet groups of old, developed into forums and is now starting to manifest itself in the deepest dark’s realms of the Social Media/web 2.0 revolution with things like Facebook, Linkedin and the current jewel, Twitter.
SolidJott’s take on social networking is to provide a learning environment that can be accessed directly from within SolidWorks. You create an account, download the plug-in, and hey presto you have a social network, to assist you in your SolidWorks skills.

When you need an answer to a question, simply type it in and, typically you’ll get a quick response. But why would you use this when you’re already paying for support from your vendor or VAR? The simple answer is that it’s quick.

You create an account, download the plug-in, and hey presto you have a social network, to assist you in your SolidWorks skills

From speaking to a lot of those already using it, it’s excellent for those “How do I…?” questions, that typically get the “we have a training day for that” response from ‘official’ channels. Ben’s planning to add new features, such as the ability to grab a screenshot of your SolidWorks session and post it, then follow that up with the ability to post model files, though this is something I can imagine many won’t be too comfortable with.

Around the same time I discovered SolidJott, a comment popped up on the DEVELOP3D blog - a comment from a chap that used to be CEO of one of the most interesting 3D technology companies to emerge for a while, Seemage. He disappeared from our radar, but then he popped up again.

Chris Williams was CEO of Seemage, but after Dassault acquired Seemage the product got reassessed in the DS portfolio, and is now sold through both the SolidWorks and Catia channels as 3DVIA Composer. Job Done. So what’s he up to now?

The answer is vuuch.com. He told me this much but I had no idea what it was all about, so I did some digging. It turns out it’s a start-up at the very embryonic stages. Vuuch takes the same core principles as other Social Media services, but like SolidJott.com, applies it to the professional, 3D user’s world, but in a slightly different manner.

Design is a team effort. Full stop. People work on a product, converse, communicate, adapt and refine. How is that communication done? In person, by phone, by email, by data management or Product Data Man….... No. Wait. Let’s stop there. At the very formative stages of design, PDM gets in the way. But what if there was something less rigid, less formal, less time consuming that would enable discussion around a dataset, a part, an assembly, that you could just… use? This is what vuuch.com is trying to build.

Vuuch is integrated into your CAD app (the current documentation shows a working Pro/E plug-in) and gives you tools to connect to the vuuch.com server, link to a part, add discussions, comments and such. Then, whenever anyone else works with that data, that same data is available and can be swapped between team members. Because it’s a web-service, non-CAD users can work with it too. Essentially, it allows a conversation to happen, without too many barriers.

It’s super early days for both these services but they have the potential to do something interesting here. Let’s see where it goes. I’ve got a few ideas for things they need to build into their services to make it more community-led as a means to reach more people, but these are smart guys. If you’re interested, they’re looking for beta testers. Go on, you know you want to.

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