Google Voice manages your calls, messages and phones for free

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Image by adria.richards via Flickr

Most of the topics we cover here on AuctioneerTech come from technology news. In the last couple of weeks, however, one of the stories that rose to the level of national consumer news is the FCC‘s involvement in a dispute between Apple, AT&T and Google. In letters to each company, James Schlichting, Acting Chief of the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, made it clear that the FCC wanted to know the reasons and circumstances behind the blocking of Google’s Voice application from the iPhone store. TechCrunch has copies of each letter and is doing a great job covering the politics, so let’s look at what Google Voice is and how it can help auctioneers.

Google Voice started as a company called GrandCentral which Google purchased in summer of 2007.  Google immediately stopped allowing new customers to the product, though existing customers were able to use it while it was rebranded into Google Voice. We were lucky enough to have been using GrandCentral at the time it was purchased, so we’ve been enjoying the private beta since 2007. Google recently began sending invites to the new Google Voice, allowing new customers to start using the service.

In a nutshell, Google Voice manages your calls, messages and phones for free and does a better job than any carrier or other provider. With one phone number, you can ring your house phone, your mobile phone and your office phone as if they were all on the same provider. In addition to traditional phone access to voicemail, Google Voice puts transcripts of your voicemails in your email inbox.

The full list of features is huge. Of course Google Voice supports features like call forwarding and conference calling. What Google Voice does that your standard phone carrier won’t is allow you to create custom rings and ring-backs for users based on contact groups. You can block calls and route the calls to specific phones based on who is calling. You can create custom voicemail greetings based on who is calling. You can switch phones during calls.

The way Google Voice works is simple. When someone calls your Google Voice number and you pick up one of the ringing phones, you’re met with an automated prompt that asks you which of four options you’d like to select. You can accept the call, you can send the call directly to voicemail, you can listen in on the call as you send it to voicemail or you can accept and record the call. Of course all you have to do is press the button, so the prompt doesn’t make you or the caller wait more than an extra second or two.

Web access to voicemail couldn’t be simpler. If you’ve used a Gmail account, Google Voice will be very familiar. You can access the voicemail and SMS messages through the traditional Google interface, allowing you to read your voicemail conversations – Google has transcribed them to text for you – or play them through your computer speakers. You can forward, email or download your voicemails and recordings – it even provides you with embed code so you can insert a recording into a web page as easily as you can insert a YouTube video. Speaking of YouTube videos, watch the official Google Voice overview.

Many mobile phone platforms have Google Voice apps, though you can absolutely use Google Voice with any mobile or landline phone. If you dial from your home phone, the caller ID on the other end will show as your home phone number unless you call Google Voice first and then punch in the number you wish to call. The Google Voice apps allow you to more easily make calls through Google Voice rather than from the device number from which you place the calls. The apps also allow SMS (text messages) to be handled by Google Voice instead of your carrier.

The downsides to Google Voice are few but important. Other than the issue just mentioned about the extra step needed to ensure calls look like they originate from your Google Voice number, the biggest downside is that Google Voice currently requires a new phone number. If you get a new phone or are switching numbers anyway, this requirement isn’t an issue. If, however, you’ve always advertised the same business number, it may be difficult to start advertising a different phone number. Google is working to allow number portability so that you can actually take the phone number that’s been ringing at your office for the last 10 years and assign it to your Google Voice number, but they haven’t released a time when that functionality is expected.

Our biggest pet peeve with Google Voice is that you can’t have more than one Google Voice account assigned to a device, nor can you assign a Google Voice number as one of the phones on an account. This means that the grand scheme – which we can only assume would be common – of having one Voice account for work and one Voice account for personal purposes isn’t yet a possibility if you want both of them to be able to ring the phone on your hip or in your purse.

Why are phone carriers like AT&T scared of Google Voice? They make a ton of money selling text messages. Last year, CrunchGear did the math and reported that AT&T’s text messages are billed at a rate of $1,310 per megabyte. If all text messages are free through Google Voice, consumers wouldn’t have to worry about the text-messaging packages on their phone bills.

We were excited about GrandCentral and we love Google Voice. The Voice apps available for the Palm Pre are rough but they’re quite sufficient to make the switch. If you have an iPhone, don’t worry. The inclusion of parts of HTML 5 in the latest release of mobile Safari is allowing Google to develop a mobile Web app version of Google Voice that you can access through the browser that duplicates many if not all of the features that were included in the app that was rejected by Apple.

Are you using Google Voice? Have you found an exciting use for it or a downside we forgot to mention? Let us know in the comments.

UPDATE: if you’re using a mobile device, you can reach the Voice mobile page at www.google.com/voice/m – even on the iPhone.

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Auction item categories add complexity, reduce viewing

How do you categorize items in your auctions? Item categorization is an important, though often overlooked and undervalued, part of a marketing strategy. With Internet bidding providers and auction calendars allowing auctioneers to place items in customized categories – and allowing users to navigate directly to those categories – it’s crucial to consider how to maximize the valuable traffic to each item by using categories correctly.

Remember why we have categories
First, let’s think about the reason behind categorization. The theory is that not every user is interested in every asset type. This concept is fairly true, and there is value in allowing users to filter out the uninteresting categories by drilling directly down to categories that interest them. However, the rule is that the more categories you specify for an event, the fewer users will see the items in the event.

Don’t over-categorize
For the same reason it’s a good idea to send your emails out to everyone on your list rather than filtering based on interest, it’s important to try to get all the visitors to your inventory to view every item. It’s impossible to predict when last auction’s coin buyer will be next auction’s real estate buyer. By keeping categories to as low a number as possible – and making sure to always default to an all items view – the number of viewers for each item can be maximized.

Make categories parallel
Categories need to be easy to use and understand. If your event has vehicles, be sure that you don’t have both a cars and automobiles category. Most software allows for items to exist in only one category, and having a general category and a specific sub-category with similar items in each splits your viewers between each. There’s no reason to have categories for tractors and tillage and forage equipment if your farm auction only has one or two of each kind of asset in each category. Breaking up inventory into such small groups only serves to make it harder for users and reduces the viewership for each item.

Tailor categories to the event
A speciality auction and a consignment auction should have very different sets of categories. A consignment auction with firearms has no business with categories for pistols and rifles when a firearms category would ensure that anyone interested in weapons would see all relative items. However, a firearms-only event should indeed have categories for differing kinds of guns.

Categories are bad
In summary, categories are dangerous. If there were no categories, each viewer would browse all items. The more categories in an event, the more broken-up the prospective bidder pool becomes. While it’s intuitive to think that more specificity in categories allows bidders to find items that are more relevant to them, the consequence of this approach is that the benefit of cross-promotion from different asset types is lost.

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Auction Video Podcast Episode 2 – AuctionServices

Stuart Bain from AuctionServices talks with Aaron Traffas from AuctioneerTech about the new Ignite auction software suite. This episode was recorded at the 60th International Auctioneers Conference and Show in Overland Park, Kansas, on 18 July 2009.

Learn more about AuctionServices at www.auctionservices.com.

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Live blog from Kansas regional auctioneer bid-call contest

KAA east regional bid-call contest contestants

KAA east regional bid-call contest contestants (from left to right) Lance Fullerton, Aaron Traffas, Dan Bales, Luke Hansen, John Kisner, Ty Mitchell; picture by Diane Poe

12:25
Leaving now for Abilene, Kansas, to the Kansas eastern region bid-call contest. This is our first event with CoverItLive, so we’ll see how it works! More within the hour!
1:24
Nearly to the fairgrounds. 7 contestants to compete. I’ll post a roster when I get there.

Aaron Traffas, CAI, ATS, CES

Aaron Traffas, CAI, ATS, CES

1:28
90 degrees today. Going to be hot in the suit.

1:55
Lance Fullerton, John Kisner, myself and three other contestants. One no-show…looks like six total.

2:20
Ron Shivers selling chainsaw art pieces. Contest will begin soon.

2:31
Ty Mitchell starting as contestant 1.

2:35
Luke Hansen from Beloit selling second now.

2:39
third to sell is Dan Bales from Garden City.

2:39
I’m going forth. Here we go!

2:49
I just finished…feel ok about it.

John Kisner

John Kisner

2:49
Lance Fullerton now selling fifth.

2:52
Final contestant is John Kisner, selling sixth.

2:54
The PA system here in the barn is pretty aweful, but the simplified scoring system and lack of a finals round means we should have results soon!

2:58
Three judges are all from KAA hall of fame.

3:14
Final places: Lance Fullerton champion, John Kisner reserve champion.

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Microsoft releases another emergency update

Image representing Microsoft as depicted in Cr...
Image via CrunchBase

Last October, we shot out a heads-up regarding an out-of-band update from Microsoft. An out-of-band update is one that is released outside of the patch Tuesday update schedule, the well-known pattern Microsoft has established for releasing updates to its products on the second Tuesday of each month.

Today, Microsoft has released another out-of-band update. This update fixes a critical security hole in Internet Explorer that could allow an attacker to compromise a system and gain control over it. Microsoft doesn’t release out-of-band updates often, so when they do you can know that they’re fairly critical.

Read more about today’s critical update from Microsoft’s website.

Just because you’ve switched to Opera or Safari or Chrome or Firefox and don’t use Internet Explorer regularly doesn’t mean you should ignore this update. It’s our belief that IE is so integrated into so many parts of Windows that it’s much better to be safe than sorry. Updates are easy and you should check for them frequently and install them immediately. Here are a few tips.

  • If you’re still using XP, go to update.microsoft.com and install all available updates.
  • If you’re running Vista, congratulations. Windows Update is a start menu item and can be accessed from there.
  • If you’re running IE7, upgrade to IE8 even if you don’t regularly use Internet Explorer.

Microsoft isn’t the only company that releases updates. Last September, we wrote about a great service called Secunia that you can run to tell you what other programs on your computer have updates that are available. It would probably be a good idea to run their free web scan to check if you’re using an outdated version of Flash, Java, iTunes or any other program that has recently patched security holes.

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