Augmented reality: How to make it easy, affordable and fun

For newsroom leaders already struggling to produce and monetize daily content, I understand how augmented reality tools might seem out of their reach.

Though tools from Google, Amazon and Apple can be daunting with their requirement of coding knowledge, there are tools that make it easy for those of us with small budgets, little to no coding experience and limited time. 

When I produced an Innovation in Focus episode on AR, I looked for a tool that journalists could use, whether they worked for a large newsroom, a small weekly newspaper or a home-based operation. The best tool I found that fits this need right now is ZapWorks

Last week at the Institute for Nonprofit News Days conference in Orlando, Florida, I taught attendees how newsrooms can harness AR tools like ZapWorks to better engage readers in a new, creative and exciting way.

With ZapWorks, a person can use the multilevel tool to build a basic or intricate AR experience, depending on the time and effort you put into it. Readers then experience the zapcodes you build by downloading and using the free Zappar App. ZapWorks offers a 30-day free trial, which makes it easy for you to test out the tool before you commit to paying for a year.

If you want the easiest and fastest route, go with the widget option. You can create a simple AR experience with your drag-and-drop skills to build a Zapcode that includes photos, video, website links, calendar event information and even a contact card — all in less than 10 minutes. With a pre-built circular design, you’re just plugging content into a structure that already exists. You upload the content that rotates around a circular image, which (as shown below) can be your logo or some type of branding image for your project. 

Feeling confident? Then it’s time to take the next step and dive into the designer tool, which allows you to build the layout and design within your Zapcode. In addition to this ability to customize the look of the experience, now your readers can also explore multiple scenes in the order and manner you designed them. The scene function allows you to show (and your readers to experience) related content on multiple pages in one zapcode by moving from scene to scene. 

I also taught about how to build tracking images within a Zapcode. Tracking images are created by embedding a Zapcode into an image through a tool like Adobe Photoshop and then uploading that edited image into ZapWorks. Take the moving version of that image – a video or an animation you built – and place it on top of the still image. When the reader scans the Zapcode with the Zappar App, the image will come to life in AR. 

My favorite example in Zapworks’s showcase is the “Happy Feet Two” movie poster. Scan the Zapcode (lower left corner) with Zappar and see the penguin come to life.

The most advanced tool ZapWorks offers is the studio tool, which you download to your computer to create animated worlds, 360-degree content, individual characters and other more advanced experiences.

Some of the common questions I’m asked about this tool came up at the INN conference. Here are four of them:

Q. Do you have any affiliation with ZapWorks?

A. No, I simply enjoy using the tool and think it’s a really great option to try out AR on a budget.

Q. Can you print the Zapcodes on any type of material?

A. I printed them on window clings and they worked great. During my tests, I also printed them on standard printer paper and poster board. They all worked. I’ve scanned Zapcodes displayed on computer screens and Zapcodes printed on wrinkled paper. I never had any problems with Zappar reading the codes.

Q. What are the monetization options? How can we make money?

A. I think it depends on your audience’s needs, your marketing objectives and your own creativity. Options include printing Zapcodes on product wrappers, using Zapcodes on stickers or coupons to provide discounts or deals, and embedding Zapcodes in an event’s flyers, posters and handouts. You can also create a donate button within your Zapcode, or a subscribe option that takes them to your website. The options are endless.

I also suggest you consider charging clients for Zapcode experiences based on the digital advertising models that already exist. Much like digital advertising sold based on a certain number of video views or clicks, the analytics provided with Zapcodes can help you sell the experience by giving accurate numbers of how many people interacted with the codes.

Q. What is going to be our biggest challenge when using Zapcodes? 

A. Since your audience has to download the Zappar app — though it’s free — to engage with these Zapcodes, I think the biggest challenge is getting them to download it and scan it to interact with your Zapcodes. Like with anything new, readers will have to be shown what it can do and see the value in it for it to be successful. They have to get some benefit out of the experience, whether that benefit is that it’s fun, they get a discount or it provides needed information.

There is truly so much potential with this tool in an easy-to-use format for your readers. The biggest challenge you’ll face is making them aware of the possibilities with each scan of their phone. 

About the Futures Lab

The Reynolds Journalism Institute’s Futures Lab, based at the Missouri School of Journalism, uses technology and innovation to strengthen the news industry. Lab members regularly speak at conferences, produce a journalism/technology web series — Innovation In Focus and partner with industry professionals, students and researchers in work that finds new solutions to journalism’s challenges.

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