The state auctioneers association website solution

I’m in my eighth year writing for AuctioneerTech. Over that time, I’ve proclaimed a correct solution for many things – the best Android podcast app, the best note taking and document management system, the perfect backup solution, the best network storage solution, the correct professional email signature, the best way to brand your company on the Internet and even the best way to roll cables. I’ve even written a series about writing an RFP for building a new, accessible website for an auction firm – even though it was eight years ago, most of it still holds up today.

Today, I’m going to address websites for state auctioneer associations. Auction Zip has historically hosted many – if not the majority of – state websites. However, as Auction Zip becomes more difficult to work with, many associations are left wondering how to transition to a new website that provides membership listings and auction calendaring functions without paying a firm to develop one from scratch.

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The KAA website

I have extensive experience with association websites, having served on the NAA’s Technology Committee years ago when we designed the last auction calendar. I’ve also served on the Kansas Auctioneers Association’s Technology Committee since 2010 when we built our own website and have managed it since. I believe our current solution in Kansas is the right answer for most, if not all, state associations.

I know there are vendors in the auction industry who either specialize in or offer this service free to associations. I applaud them for providing this service, because while it’s valuable to the associations who haven’t had many other options until now, it must be a huge headache that’s both thankless and unprofitable. However, there’s no reason now that an association can’t own its web presence.

Let’s first look at the requirements. While these will vary from state to state, I think it’s safe to say that most would like to have a web presence that fits the following criteria.

  • Modern, responsive layout that looks good on any device
  • Auction calendar that displays member auctions
  • Member list that shows a profile or at least contact information for each member
  • Listing of upcoming association events
  • News and event recaps
  • Payment mechanism for dues and event registration
  • Complete control of content by the association without relying on a third party

While these criteria make the project seem challenging, there are modular solutions that, when tied together, make for a simple, elegant solution.

WordPress
In order to solve the last, most important bullet in the list above, we’ll start with a content management system. Using a CMS ensures that anyone in the association has the ability to add or change the content on the website. We’ll select WordPress, since WordPress is as easy as it gets – if a board member or executive director can check email and use Microsoft Word, he’s got enough skills to handle WordPress. While stats vary, WordPress runs more than 25% of all websites on the Internet, and has greater than 50% market share among those websites that use a known CMS. If it’s good enough for Disney, CNN, TechCrunch, Vogue – you get the picture…it’s good enough for an association website.

I’m not advocating that the association set it up. It’s good to have a vendor on your side who can deal with installation and configuration. Finding a local firm will ensure that you have face-to-face support when you need it, and should help keep costs down and your money local compared to national design companies. All said and done, you should be able to find someone who can help you select a modern theme and get it up and running for fewer than a couple hundred dollars. Maintenance costs and domain registration should be under $50 per year.

Now that we have a good looking theme running on WordPress, we’ve satisfied most of the requirements listed above. We have a place where anyone in our association with permission can post pictures, news and events that looks great on all devices.

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Membership listings with Siteshot

Connections
Because WordPress is open source and runs so many of the world’s websites, there are a ton of plugins available that are either free or inexpensive. Membership management is crucial to an association website that has the goal of facing the public. There are several plugins available that serve this function, but the KAA selected Connections Pro. It lets us house our membership database on our website, so that anyone on our membership committee can see who is and who isn’t a member without having to contact our executive director. It does a great job displaying profiles for each member, and my favorite feature is Siteshot, which shows a thumbnail image of the members’ websites next to their profiles.

Auction Guy
While there are exceptions, most auctioneer associations want to provide a calendar to the membership where members can post auction listings. This requirement is what has historically limited the ability of an association to build a website itself. Developing an auction calendar isn’t easy or cheap, so they were limited to vendors such as Auction Zip and Auction Services. While those providers can serve the need, Global Auction Guide Media Group has released a WordPress plugin for its free auction calendar, Auction Guy.

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Auction calendar plugin

Auction Guy is the largest calendar of auctions in North America that I’ve seen. Using the WordPress plugin allows an association to have its members’ auctions show on the association’s website without having to handle the headache of auction calendar management. The association simply tells Auction Guy which auctioneers are members and gives the members the link to add the auctions. Auction Guy has the vast majority of auctions already in its database, so it’s rare that a member will ever even have to manually add auctions.

I know there are other auction calendaring plugins, and I have experience with all that I’m aware of. Some are difficult or confusing to use. Some don’t allow formatting or restrict the ability to list complete descriptions and pictures of each item with direct links back to the members’ websites. Some actually charge the auctioneers, which should be an immediate red flag for an association. Auction Guy is the best looking, most customizable and easiest-to-use WordPress calendaring plugin – and did I mention it’s free to the association and the members?

Flint
I’m a member of several associations, and dealing with the hassle of paper registration forms for conventions and dues renewal is a headache, not to mention the stress involved in writing a credit card number on a PDF that I’m getting ready to email. An association needs a payment processing solution that can handle traditional in-person physical credit card payments as well as website integration that doesn’t involve PCI compliance or handling secure transactions on the association’s website. There are myriad Internet payment options, but we’ve recently begun to implement Flint at the KAA. It doesn’t require any physical hardware – simply use the camera on your phone to take pictures of the credit card and it processes the transaction. It’s cheaper than TSYS, easier than Stripe and will integrate with our website and with QuickBooks. We’ll be implementing it in Kansas in the next few weeks.

Summary
State auctioneer associations should own and operate their websites. Turning that responsibility over in its entirety to a third party introduces friction for the board of directors and the membership. Building a site from scratch is cost prohibitive and unnecessary. The right answer is using WordPress and a few third-party products to provide complete functionality for the public and benefits to the membership.

Posted in design, featured, websites | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , |

Samsung Galaxy S6 edge+ on Verizon

We auctioneers love our phones. We like fast phones with great cameras. Some of us consider our phones to be fashion statements. I was excited when my friends at Verizon gave me the opportunity to play with the Samsung Galaxy S6 edge+ for a few weeks. I wanted to see if this it could be both stylish in a unique way as well as powerful.

IMG_4741Let’s get one thing out of the way. The edge display is a gimmick. But it’s a really cool gimmick. Not only do the edges of the screen curve, the software allows it to display content like the time or a sports ticker while the main screen is off. It’s not as functional in my opinion as the secondary screen on the LG V10, but it’s neat nonetheless. I took the edge+ to a couple different auctioneer conventions and was frequently asked about it, with comments ranging from how thin the phone is to how slick the curved screen looks.

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The edge+ display can show time and notifications even when the rest of the screen is off.

The glass back and metal edges make the S6 edge+ feel like the premium phone that it is. It takes most of its design cues from the Galaxy S6, which I reviewed last spring, which is smaller and lacks the curved edges on the display. It has the same camera and internals, but boasts an extra gigabyte of memory. It’s remarkably fast and I couldn’t find any instance of lag or a time when I wished it were faster.

Like the S6, the S6 edge+ has a fast and accurate fingerprint reader and a stunning camera that’s both extremely fast and feature rich. I’ll post some pictures I took with the S6 edge+ at the end of this article. I found myself taking more pictures with this phone than I normally do. I honestly think that it was because the camera is so much faster that I didn’t mind using it more.

I prefer to stream auctioneer competitions to YouTube when I have my computer, but I’ve been forced to use UStream at the Kansas State Fair since YouTube doesn’t support streaming from phones. The camera on the S6 edge+ actually does support streaming directly to YouTube, which could lead to a much better experience watching our state auctioneer championship this fall.

I was very surprised with the battery life on the S6 edge+. The original S6 had atrocious battery life. The S6 edge+ does have a slightly bigger battery, but I assumed that it wouldn’t hold up to the big, beautiful screen. I was wrong. The battery life seemed on par with my Nexus 6, lasting the better part of a work day. While the S6 edge+ unfortunately doesn’t have a removable battery, Samsung did include both quick charging and wireless charging, so at least it’s convenient to charge and can be charged in a hurry when necessary.

Nolan playing with Verizon's Star Wars Cardboard viewer

Nolan playing with Verizon’s Star Wars Cardboard viewer

The S6 edge+ is a great all-around device, pairing quickly and easily to my Zenwatch and LG Tone headset army and various other devices. Nolan sure enjoyed playing with Verizon’s Star Wars Cardboard viewer that they sent us to play with ahead of the release of the new film.

While there are many reasons to love the S6 edge+, there are some things that Samsung could do to make me love it even more. I’m actually not a fan of the glass back, which becomes a fingerprint magnet. It’s not really an issue, however, because there’s no way I could use this phone without a case. It’s simply too thin. It’s so thin that it’s actually not easy for me to pick it up when it’s laying flat on the table – I found myself looking for things to lean the phone up against so it would be easy to pick up. I ordered a $9 belt clip case from Amazon, and while I was waiting on it I printed one from Thingiverse. Putting a case on the phone is undesirable because it takes away from the beauty of the edges and actually makes it harder to type on the keys at the edges of the screen.

IMG_20151228_184137 Samsung is known for installing extra software and apps, and they did again with the S6 edge+. Luckily, these apps are fairly easy to disable. Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy way to fix the physical buttons, which are switched from every other modern Android device. The biggest single improvement Samsung could make would be to simply remove the physical buttons like other phones.

Backwards physical buttons and the extra software notwithstanding, the Samsung Galaxy S6 edge+ is an absolutely beautiful piece of hardware. While the edge display probably isn’t my cup of tea, the phone is an excellent choice for anyone who wants to make a stylistic statement without compromising on features.

Here’s the photo gallery – as usual, I’ve made no edits to these photos. They’re straight off the camera.

Posted in Android, gadgets, hardware, reviews | Tagged , |

Internet auction bidding units cancel

unitsHow’s that for a click-bait title? As many of you know, I farm during the summer and fall and work in the auction industry during the balance of the year. As I was doing the math this summer for seeding rates and fertilizer application rates, I noticed some parallels between converting gallons per minute to gallons per acre and deciding what changes to make when going from an in-person auction firm to one that implements Internet bidding.

We learn in algebra that we can convert one value to another by using a unit multiplier. If I want to convert 5 miles per hour to feet per second, I have to multiply 5 miles/hour by 1hour/60min by 1min/60sec by 5280ft/mile.

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We can cancel one unit in the numerator with the matching unit in the denominator, leaving us with (5 x 5280) / (60 x 60) = 7.33 ft / second. We use minutes in our math, but we don’t have minutes in the original problem or the solution because they cancel out.

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When auctioneers begin to consider implementing Internet bidding in their auctions, many wonder about changes they’ll have to make in their business model, advertising methods and data management processes. Changing a variable as important as the way bids are collected in an auction must mean fundamental shifts to many other parts of the business.

In fact, nothing should change as a result of taking Internet bids. Advertising should always be based on the asset type and the appropriate demographic, not the way in which bidders are expected to participate. Data management processes for a good in-person auction marketer should already be based on taking pictures of individual items and listing them separately. The business model of a professional auction firm is no more tied to bid calling than my farm is tied to which crops I produce or which equipment I use to do it. If changes must be made to advertising, data management or a business model due to changing the way bids are accepted at an event, something more fundamental is wrong in the operation that won’t be fixed by flipping the Internet bidding switch.

I’ve found that bidding type doesn’t actually matter much to the rest of the operation. If the auction business were a long equation, bidding method would cancel out. Internet bidding is like the minutes used in our algebra example. We need it to get the desired result, but it’s not something that we use when identifying the problem nor do we expect it to be present in the solution of a successful event.

Posted in bid calling, theory | Tagged , , |

The LG Watch Urbane is a beautiful smartwatch

I’ve been an Android Wear enthusiast for over a year now. I ordered the Samsung Gear Live when it was announced and shortly thereafter upgraded to the ASUS ZenWatch. Both of those watches are rectangular, and I never had the opportunity to use a round Wear device – until now. My friends at Verizon let me spend the last several weeks with the LG Watch Urbane. While the specs are very similar to my ZenWatch, it’s clear that the Urbane is designed with an emphasis on style.

IMG_3454Android Wear works better on rectangular devices; there’s no way around that. While a round watch is best for displaying an analog watch face, every other use I can imagine involves interacting with text or images. These interactions are inherently less efficient if the image or text is reduced in size or cropped to fit a round display.

Unlike rectangular Wear watches, however, the Urbane doesn’t make me feel like I’m that guy wearing a calculator watch. It gets noticed as a watch first and a computer accessory second. It also has a completely round display, unlike LG’s competition in the round Android Wear arena, the Motorola 360, which has a notch out of the bottom of the screen that’s commonly referred to as a flat tire.

IMG_3455Android Wear performs great on the Urbane. Interactions are snappy and it’s great to be able to delete emails and dismiss other messages without having to take out my phone. The button on the side brings up the launcher, allowing a quick way to launch common or recently used Wear apps.

The stitched leather strap that came with my silver Urbane demo watch looked nice but seemed somewhat difficult to latch and unlatch. Perhaps that’s something that would break in over time, but the Urbane supports standard 22mm straps for easy and inexpensive customization.

The charger on the Urbane is much better designed than the Wear watches I’ve owned in the past. Other watches utilize a clip-on charging cradle that can break or be arduous to attach every night. The Urbane has a dock that weighs enough to sit on a table and stay put when you lay the watch on top of it at night and remove it in the morning.

The Urbane is a little thicker than I like, and I’m not sold on the round shape as the most efficient display for day-to-day functionality. However, if I wanted a fashion accessory that was also a smartwatch, it’d be difficult to imagine a more stylish way to carry Android Wear. The LG Watch Urbane is a really good looking round watch that runs Android Wear very well.

Posted in Android, gadgets, hardware, reviews | Tagged , , , |

The LG G4 on Verizon is the perfect phone for 2015

It’s been a fun year for phones. I wrote about my Nexus 6 in March. My friends at Verizon let me spend some time with the Samsung Galaxy S6 in April and the HTC One M9 in May. Each phone had strengths and weaknesses, but when I needed to select a phone to use this year on the farm, I bought another LG G3. When Verizon offered in June to let me try out the new LG G4, I was excited to see how it would perform against the Nexus 6, the S6, One M9 and, most importantly, the G3.

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The LG G4

The G4 is the perfect size. The gorgeous 5.5″ screen is significantly bigger than the S6 and M9, but pleasantly smaller than the Nexus 6. The G4 is slightly larger than the G3, and features a slight curvature that’s stylish enough to be neat but no so pronounced that it’s annoying. The plastic back doesn’t feel quite as good as the aluminum of the One M9, but it’s much better than the glass back on the Galaxy S6. The power and volume buttons are located on the back of the phone just below the camera, like the G3, which makes them easy to access regardless of which hand is used or how it’s held.

The 16 MP camera on the G4 is the best camera on a phone I’ve seen so far. I don’t have a lot of requirements in a camera nor do I use many of the advanced features, but I do want a camera that’s fast and produces great pictures. I love the laser autofocus and optical image stabilization on the G4, two features that allow the 16 MP camera to outperform the 20 MP camera on the M9. The pictures from the G4 seem as good if not better than the pictures I took with the S6. The G4 also has a huge 8 MP front camera. I’m not big on selfies, but it also takes great pictures.

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Power and volume buttons are located on the back below the camera

The G4 is fast and cool. I notice no appreciable difference in performance among the flagship phones. While the One M9 had a tendency to get hot when charging and while under heavy use, the G4 doesn’t seem to get nearly as warm. I did, however, have the G4 turn off on me once. I was working outside when the temperature was around 100° and had the phone in a holster on my belt. It’s unfortunate that the thermal protection kicked in due to the outside temperature, but it’s not an environment that the average user will likely encounter on a regular basis.

IMG_2204I selected the Customerfirst LG G4 case as an inexpensive belt holster case and it worked very well. I received my G4 just as I started drilling milo and I immediately transferred my Google Voice number and podcasts to it in an attempt to use it as my primary phone. Unfortunately, I found the battery life to be only slightly better than the S6 and One M9, lasting me only from about 6 a.m. to just after noon on the farm. I got a good 8 hours or more out of the battery using it around the house. I wish the G4 would have shipped with wireless charging, but the availability of aftermarket Qi charging stickers makes that oversight easy to fix. The expandable battery means that the G4 is the only one of the recent flagship phones that I’ll actually be able to use on the farm without worrying about finding a charger during the day. The expandable storage means I’ll be able to use an SD card to hold all the podcasts I want without having to worry about filling up phone.

IMG_2205The software on the G4 is definitely colored by a custom overlay on top of Android. It’s not as intrusive as Sense on the M9 or TouchWiz on the S6, but it’s definitely not as clean as the stock experience on the Nexus 6. As with any non-Nexus device, I recommend immediately installing the Google Now Launcher and SwiftKey to get a jump on creating a clean and productive Android experience.

I really like the G4. It’s the perfect size and has the best smartphone camera I’ve ever used. The expandable storage and upgradable battery make this phone far superior for my needs than the S6, M9 and Nexus 6. I’ll be upgrading as soon as a company releases an extended battery for the G4 so I can get through the whole day.

As always, here’s the gallery of unedited images taken with the G4. You can easily download the original from the attachment page by clicking on the dimensions link above the picture.

Posted in Android, hardware, reviews | Tagged , , , , , |