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Magically create a floor plan with your phone

Now you can quickly and easily create unique, customizable floor plans with just your phone’s camera and the new MagicPlan app.

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Most of us have experienced the agony of measuring and remeasuring a home; from getting ready to insert a listing in the MLS or just to double check square footage, measuring with a tape measure can be a hassle. The same is true of office spaces: knowing how much space you have to work with is critical, but it would also be nice to have the ability to visualize several different ways to work within that space.

Having your floor plan on-hand is not always practical, and does little in the way of helping you visualize where to place your furniture, appliances, and other critical aspects of your home or office. Now you can let your phone’s camera and a new app do all the heavy lifting for you.

MagicPlan uses your phone’s camera to measure the dimensions of each room, which means you can have your whole home or office measured in a matter of minutes, instead of spending a couple of hours wrangling a tape measure, or buying a laser measuring tape and running from room to room. It also gives you the ability to place and manipulate objects within your space as well. And with the latest update, users can expect 95% precision when measuring with your camera, but if you are looking for 100% precision the MagicPlan app can be paired with any Bluetooth enabled measuring device.

A quick three-step process

Measuring and recording breaks down to a three step process: take a picture of your room’s corners (if your corners are not visible, you can use the ceiling corner instead), fine tune your room, arrange and assemble rooms with your fingers. When you get ready to arrange and assemble, there are also over 400 objects available to document your inside map; not just furniture, but electrical and roofing objects as well.

Each item is smart and can be completely customized with room plan dimensions, labels, page layouts, disclaimers, title blocks, photos/logos, watermarks, and scale. You can also generate reports, based on the data you enter. You can also download a PDF of your plans, back it up to the cloud, or share with anyone you choose. The free version is watermarked, but it does not interfere with reading the plans or dimensions and is available for both Android and iOS users.

While not everyone is in a constant state of redecorating, there are a million reasons why keeping your floor plan in your pocket is useful, especially when the app is so easy to use.

For Realtors, this is a great way to keep a floor plan of the houses you list, so you can show potential clients the current layout and let them see just how a room can be manipulated with different items. It could also aid in preventing you from showing and reshowing the same property multiple times, due to the client forgetting how the house is laid out. For home buyers, you can use this app to quickly snap the floor plan of houses you tour to keep them fresh in your mind and decide which one will work best for you.

Jennifer Walpole is a Senior Staff Writer at The American Genius and holds a Master's degree in English from the University of Oklahoma. She is a science fiction fanatic and enjoys writing way more than she should. She dreams of being a screenwriter and seeing her work on the big screen in Hollywood one day.

Real Estate Technology

Value privacy? DuckDuckGo is the answer to breaking up with Google

(TECHNOLOGY) DuckDuckGo is a search engine that doesn’t listen to home recordings, sell you stuff, or track your every movement. They just provide search results.

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A popular Wired editorial caught our eye, urging folks to consider using DuckDuckGo instead of Google. We continue revisiting this story. And as someone who does use DuckDuckGo as my default search engine, it made me smile.

In the modern world of telecommunications, the only real currency is trust. When you buy an iPhone or an Android, you’re not really buying a set of features. You’re buying assurance that the cell phone company you’ve chosen isn’t going to screw you over too badly. You have a device in your pocket that tracks you, everywhere you go.

Even when you have location services off, your smartphone knows where you are through a combination of the Wi-Fi networks nearby and your phone’s motion sensor. Here’s an article from nearly a decade ago talking about how this process is 90% accurate. How much better do you reckon it’s gotten since then?

The thing is, Apple and Google both kinda suck at the privacy thing. Here’s an article about Siri recordings being made when Siri isn’t meant to be turned on, and the quality assurance contractors who then have to listen to people having sex. (Apple is ending the contractor program, after a public outcry.) Here’s an article about a big ol’ leak of Google Home recordings, many of which were made without the user activating Google Home. Here’s an article about Amazon leaking 1,700 audio recordings from someone’s Alexa to a complete stranger!

So your phone companies don’t really protect you that well. Apps take advantage of this too. If you still have the FB app, you should probably delete it! Here’s a story about a psychiatrist realizing that Facebook was suggesting that her patients add each other!

So privacy matters, and Google sucks at it. Google is also a HUGE business. It’s an enormous company that wields so much influence on ours lives that there is an entire industry now called “search engine optimization” dedicated to unraveling its whims.

And what whims! One major update a few weeks ago caused a 30-40% drop in traffic for some websites. These updates are pretty opaque, and a whole constellation of websites has arisen to help the search engine optimization workers (or SEOs, for short) untangle what those updates mean, and why their traffic has suddenly gone down.

And at this point, Google only kinda wants to serve you results. Mostly they wanna serve you ads, and highly-optimized shopping results. One of the big problems facing SEO workers right now is that you can bust your ass to get a company to the front page of results, and it may not matter if you don’t crack the top 3. Because people do most of their Internetting on their phones now, and ads take up most of the screen space when someone Googles.

So Google isn’t great at privacy AND their priorities are skewed. But this is an article about DuckDuckGo, right? And we’ve barely covered it! So let’s talk about that a little.

DuckDuckGo doesn’t save your searches. It forgets everything you search. And you know what? That feels incredible. There are drawbacks. When I type the letter L into DuckDuckGo, it doesn’t immediately suggest “Leonard Bernstein shirtless” like Google does. But the ten seconds it takes to type that out is worth the knowledge that my data isn’t being stored by my search engine.

And yes, Google pours a ton of money and attention into their algorithms, and they’ve got a years-long head start on DuckDuckGo. But usually, DuckDuckGo still manages to get me exactly what I want. Sometimes, it’s even better at giving me what I want. Because it’s not serving me ads, or trying to second-guess me. It just…gives me the thing I asked for.

There are still some instances that send me to Google. If I’m looking for a specific image or gif, for instance. Or if I’m looking for a certain news story. And there are certain niche searches where Google’s experience is necessary. But for the vast majority of what I need, DuckDuckGo is there, serving up only what I want and protecting my privacy while it does. And it feels GREAT.

This story was first published in December 2019.

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Real Estate Technology

20 of the best free professional tools for your business

(TECHNOLOGY) Running a small business is a ton of work and you need all the help you can get. Here are 20 free tools that help make it a little easier.

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When running your business, big or small, you’re only as good as what’s in your arsenal. This applies to your ability to be creative and think on your feet, as well as to having tangible tools at your disposal.

Below, we’ve outlined 20 of the top free tools that are designed to help grow your business – let us know in the comments what you love or what you’d add!

  1. Google Analytics – this is a definite need. With the world continuing to grow more and more digital, it’s necessary to know how your business is operating in the online realm. Google Analytics provides data about your small business, including traffic to your site and clicks on links. It gives you an idea of who is visiting and when, allows you to track your goals, and generate audience reports. Google also offers virtual classes that teach you how to master the platform.
  2. Hotjar – want to understand exactly how visitors are using your site without getting lost in the shuffle of numbers and data? Hotjar is where it’s at. You can see a user’s behavior and their exact process of perusing the site. There are also tools like feedback polls that allow your audience to interact with you when using your site.
  3. Canva – this is one of the best visual tools to create graphics for your company, both to print for physical display and to use on social media. The platform is easy-to-use and allows for a myriad of sizing options, backgrounds, and stock images.
  4. ProProfs Help Desk – this is a ticketing system that allows your visitors to contact customer service and start a thread of communication; all while keeping everything ticketed and organized. This also allows for shared inboxes, ticket resolution via chat, and ticket reduction up to 80 percent with knowledge base.
  5. JungleScout – this is your best friend when it comes to learning to sell on Amazon. Regardless of where you are in your seller journey, this tool will help you maximize your skillset.
  6. Kickstarter – crowd sourcing for your business without giving away the equity. This lets you recruit micro-investors and donors for your new business venture.
  7. MailChimp – This is an all-in-one tool that is necessary for all small business users. According to their website, “Bring your audience data, marketing channels, and insights together so you can reach your goals faster. With Mailchimp, you can promote your business across email, social, landing pages, shoppable landing pages, postcards, and more — all from a single platform.”
  8. Shopify – this platform has helped over one million businesses around the world and is continuing to help small businesses thrive. Shopify allows users to create and design an ecommerce website that is backed by helpful tools that help discover new customers, drive sales, and manage your business’s day-to-day operations.
  9. Buffer – provides simple social media tools that receive authentic engagement. Tell the story of your brand while growing your audience. The platform includes publishing, analytics, and engagement.
  10. Qualaroo – this is a customer and user feedback software that states its value as ten times higher than email surveys. It comes with what you need for useful feedback, including AI-powered analytics and reports.
  11. Zapier – a platform to connect your apps and automate workflow. Zapier moves information automatically between your web applications, allowing for more focus on the most important work.
  12. Doodle – a scheduling platform that allows meetings to be booked faster and smarter. No more need for an hour of back-and-forth emailing in order to nail down a meeting time.
  13. Docracy – a home for contracts and other legal documents, created by the community that uses them. The idea is to make these common documents easily available for everyone.
  14. Slack – the ideal way to communicate with your team and keep everyone on the same page at all times. This is a central communication hub where you and your team will stay in the loop, ask questions, and share updates.
  15. GoDaddy Website Builder – this is an extremely user-friendly tool that allows you to build websites that looks as though you paid someone hundreds to build it for you. There’s many options for customization, and they have the tools that help your site look great on both desktop and mobile.
  16. ToDoIst – For many, it’s impossible to stay organized without use of a to do list. With this tool, you (and your team!) can stay organized with the most important tasks and priorities.
  17. Grammarly – When writing copy for your business’s brand, it is important to have as many eyes read through it as possible for any errors. Grammarly is a tool where you can plug your copy in and it will automatically find and highlight any grammar errors or typos. You can never be too careful!
  18. AdobeSign – Formerly known as EchoSign, this tool allows for paperless signatures that help make signing contracts and agreements as easy as the swipe of a finger.
  19. Sumo – a platform filled with tools to help you grow your website. It’s a free email capturing tool that takes only seconds for sign up.
  20. Pixabay – We don’t always have the time or the money to take photos to go along with our website copy and social media posts. Pixabay helps alleviate that need with free stock images that will help your message pop.

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Real Estate Technology

Should HUD allow facial recognition use in public housing?

(TECH) The Department of Housing and Development allows public housing authorities to use facial recognition technology on tenants totally unchecked.

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Would you feel comfortable if someone was monitoring you, your family, and your neighbors in your neighborhood through facial recognition? What if there was no way to know what information they were collecting, or how it would be used?

If your answers to those questions were “no” and “hell no” respectively, then listen to this:

The Department of Housing and Urban Development does not keep track of how facial recognition tech is used in public housing. Like, at all. Nor have they researched how facial recognition is used, or instituted policies to control its usage.

HUD leaves that responsibility to the individual authorities that oversee housing programs.

Complexes that put up facial recognition cameras have been met with protests, but tenants don’t have widespread federal protections to back them up – yet.

Facial recognition is an exploding and lucrative industry that is completely fraught with controversies and concerns. Here’s the biggest ethical elephant in the room – the current industry offerings still consistently struggle to correctly identify the faces of folks who are not white men. Black women are often the hardest for facial recognition software to identify, and while accuracy among transgender individuals has not been widely studied, one can speculate that it would be pretty poor too.

This bears a philosophical resemblance to putting police and metal detectors in underfunded public schools, a practice that a growing number of experts say is actively destructive to students. It invites problems with the law where there would otherwise be none, leaving permanent barriers in the lives of ordinary people.

Criminal allegations, even false or trivial ones, can carry dire consequences for individuals and families in public housing. One could face civil asset forfeiture or eviction, or be cut off from other government benefits and relief programs in the future, to list a few. These are already statistically bigger problems in the lives of non-white non-men, so facial recognition is well-positioned to exacerbate existing inequality.

This story is just one of the latest examples of the recklessness that follows facial recognition, as well as those who supposedly regulate it, at every turn. For instance, Clearview AI is a new facial search engine that scrapes all publicly available image data for faces, including photos others may have taken and posted without your knowledge. One by one, Clearview builds up vast image repositories that can go back for years, and then makes those repositories available to be searched by law enforcement. The company has been accused of ending “privacy as we know it.”

These products, while undoubtedly impressive, have a high potential for misuse. Living in public housing is not a crime, and performing intimate surveillance on innocent people against their will is highly unethical. Everyone deserves a say in what goes on where we live, regardless of what we’ve got in the bank.

HUD has no excuse, and they should have taken decisive action long ago. But hey, late would be better than never.

This story was first published here in July 2020.

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