Auction Podcast Episode 9 – Interview with Brandon Harker – Auction Flex

brandon_harker

Brandon Harker - Sebae Data Solutions and Auction Flex

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AuctioneerTech – Hello and welcome to the ninth episode of the AuctioneerTech Auction Podcast for the week of 27 October, 2008. My name is Aaron Traffas, and with me today is Brandon Harker from Sebae Data Solutions, makers of Auction Flex and the guys behind Bidopia. Hi, Brandon, and thank you for joining me.

Brandon Harker – Hey, thanks for having me.

AT – Before we get to Auction Flex – and tell me, is it Bid-opia? Is it Bid-o-pia? How do you pronounce your bidding platform?

BH – We pronounce it Bidopia, kind of like a derivative of utopia.

Sure, and that’s how I pronounced it but I want to check and be sure that I wasn’t going to make a fool out of myself by pronouncing it incorrectly. Tell us a little about Sebae and how you became a vendor for the auction industry.

About ten years ago I had the fortune to get introduced to the live auction industry. It was about that time I was kind of ending my job before I was starting this. So a few years after, I was introduced to it and just came to survey the software that was available at the time and kind of decided that we could build a better moustrap. So that’s what we set about doing and here we are eight years later now.

What is Auction Flex?

Auction Flex is full auction management software for the live auction industry. We work for cataloged, non-cataloged, Internet and multi-parcel auctions, and we do all that without modularizing the software which was kind of one of our basic tennants when we got started.

Right. Because other solutions will charge a base price and then if you want to add, for example, inventory exporting and importing capabilities or your multi-parcel – they will piece it out and charge accordingly, which has its benefits, but it also certainly gets a little frustrating as an auctioneer having to, once you’ve decided to add something to your business model, then you say oh now I have to go and buy the software in addition to what I already have, so that’s certainly impressive. Talk a little about the inventory management capabilities of Auction Flex, as far as the integration with Bidopia, your Internet bidding platform, as well as other platforms and how you can get inventory in and inventory out.

One of the reasons we decided to call the software product Auction Flex was, you know, flex stands for two things which was flexibility and power. And so we actually have a bunch of different ways that you can get inventory into and out of the system. You can get into fully detailed inventory management where you’re managing inventory outside of auctions with bar-coded labels. You can have user-defined fields where you could capture information, like in the case of antiques it might be providence, dimensions, weight. In automobiles you would collect VIN, year, make, model. In heavy equipment it would be hours, model, you know, et cetera. The whole point is that you can create your own inventory types and the types of information that you want to collect and get as detailed with that as you want to. Or, for the other side, you can just start entering a catalog with a lot number and a quick description and leave it at that. You can import as many images as you want or attach images directly to the inventory or to the catalog. We actually have a really cool tool that will actually read bar codes off of an image. So that means that if you take a picture of a barcode on a piece of inventory, our software can actually recognize that barcode and assign the subsequent images to that particular lot automatically. So we have a bunch of really cool tools to get as detailed as you want to be or as quick and brief as you want to be.

So you can, for example, based on a category – in other words if I go in and say that for antiques I want to capture these three specific data types – I can specify that so that anybody entering inventory in the system is then required to enter those custom types?

Exactly. And that’s a good point you bring up. A lot of times, in larger auction companies especially, you have more than one person entering your inventory. And what the inventory types help you to do is kind of standardize the information you’re collecting. So instead of ending up with three variations of how somebody enters, let’s say an automobile and maybe one person enters it 2000 Ford F150 but the next person enters it Ford F150, 2005, and you can imagine all the different variations.

Oh yes.

Well by standardizing those user-defined fields, it then forces those descriptions into whatever you’ve defined. So it really helps the catalog be more professional looking.

Very nice. While we’re still on inventory entry and management, what kind of user tracking abilities, if any, do you have. In other words, can I tell what user logged in and entered these items or maybe the last person who edited them?

I’d have to dig in. I want to say a workstation is recorded. A lot of our customers actually don’t even force users to log in so we have mechanisms behind those things to track what workstation things happened at too. I’d have to dig into that some more to know exactly to what detail you could get that.

Sure. I supposed it’d probably be fairly easy if you can provide custom fields. That’s a question there in that can you specify when you’re entering inventory if one of your custom fields is displayed to the public or if it’s for internal use?

Absolutely. That’s a great feature. We actually have a few user-defined field captions that you can use that are specifically for internal use. One is a consigner item number. A lot of times, a consigner will consign a whole truckload full of inventory and they’ve already attached their own inventory numbers, if you will, to that merchandise. And so when they get their consigner settlement out, they want that information relayed back to them. Well obviously our bidders don’t care what number our consigners have assigned to an item, but we can capture that information and give that back to the consigners on the settlement sheet. Another feature like that is something called auctioneer notes which is something the house wants to record that they might want to announce during the auction but not necessarily want to put on the catalog. Well, that would show up on the auctioneers’ copy and also on the auctioneers’ screen.

Very nice. How then are those fields – when you look at exporting the data out of Auction Flex into whatever bidding platform the customer utilizes – what kind of capabilities does the auctioneer have as far as specifying the schema or the arrangement of those fields in the output files?

They have complete control over what fields should be included with an export and in what order. With that export routine you can also export the images. Our software automatically takes your higher resolution image, automatically copies that to a web-enhanced image – so it’s going to be a lower resolution, a smaller size – and so as part of that export routine you can choose whether or not to export the original, high-resolution image or the optimized web image. You can choose whether or not to export all the images or just the first one and then you have a whole slew of the standard file types – Excel, CSV, DBS, et cetera.

Right. As far as images go, first of all where are they and how are they stored? Do you have any standardized directory structure or anything like that? And secondly, when you look at exporting images – and that’s very neat, I didn’t know that it resized and batch-processed the images – in that processing, will it allow you to rename it according to a specified schema, rename those images?

We actually handle the images internally. We rename them. The software renames them internally to keep track of them. It’s not according to – it’s actually a random filename, and it does that for uniqueness. Obviously if we named the image for lot one 1.JPG then the next auction we would have a duplicate 1.JPG so we keep track of all the inventory through our own folder mechanisms and through our own internal tracking. But, when you export, it gives you the option to rename the image as the lot number or as the inventory number so it takes away all the manual renaming that people are used to doing. Obviously if you have multiple image it will give you the option of what schema to use to handle those multiple images.

So when you enter the description, and by description I mean your auctioneer-assigned item number and the category and all of the custom fields you’ve specified that are appropriate for that kind of item – when you enter that, do you then go and say let me assign the pictures and open a dialog box and select the images that you have take for that? Is that kind of how the system works, then?

You can. At that point, you can actually drag and drop images right onto the item. That would be the manual process of doing it. We also have the batch image import which tends to, I think, be used a lot more than the lot-by-lot. But certainly it’s up to you. Again, flexability is the key. Everybody has a different way that works best for them, so we accomodate all those different ways whether it’s batch image import or just one at a time.

Very nice. We’ll talk a little bit when we talk about Bidopia, and I certainly want to cover that here in a little bit, we’ll talk about how that integration process works. But one of the things that I have personally salivated over when I’ve looked at Auction Flex is the handheld capabilities. Talk a little bit about the handheld devices that you have integrated and the range and what an auctioneer can do with those handheld units.

Sure. When we were researching handhelds, probably five or six years ago now, there were a couple things that standard PocketPC-type handhelds didn’t do for you. And a PocketPC-type handheld is kind of like a smartphone. It’s got the color screen and you can get them with the little keyboards or you can get them with just numeric keypads on them, but typically they all going to be consistent in that they’re going to use Wi-Fi, which has a limited range, and secondly they have a color screen which completely washes out in sunlight. Thirdly the battary live when you are using Wi-Fi tend to not last as long as an auction, so now you have to start worring about having hot spares avaliable. So we wanted to find a hand held solution that resolved all of these issues. So the hand held that we found and that we have implemented into our software A) has a screen that does not get wash out in direct sunlight, no matter how bright it is you can still see the screen. B) It uses a RS signal that is at a lower bandwidth than WIFI which allows it ,its just a measure of physics here, that allows the signal to travel further without breaking apart. So our typical range with our hand helds is about 1000 feet. And then lastly the batteries, its just three double A batteries nothing fancy and they will last over 24 hours of continuous use. Wow. So we kind of resolved all three of the issues we have with the hand helds when we found that unit and made it work with our software.

Very nice and with the hand helds you can obviously clerk an event what other, are there any other things you can do?

There are, there are a couple applications for the hand held. The first and most often used of course is the clerking capablility. It can be very handy especially in a catalog sale to just walk around and clerk the auction, in that mobile sale where you do need that ability to walk around. It also comes with an optional built-in barcode reader. With that bar code reader you can actually scan lot labels that you have printed out with barcodes. Another function you can use the hand held for is lotting an auction. What auction houses and some heavy equipment and other types of auctions that manage inventory. What they have to do is they kind of have a multi step process that means they take the inventory in they give it an inventory number but they are doing that before they know necessarily they won’t know what lot number they are going to give the item, they may not even know what auction they are going to sell the item in. They have to have a means to track inventory. So they may go ahead and barcode the inventory stick it in the warehouse, stick it on the lot, whatever the case may be. So what the hand held allows them to do is lets say later on they get the auction lined up and in the case of let’s say an antique gallery they pull items out of the warehouse till they have enough for an auction they can walk the line, if you will, with that hand held and scan the inventory labels and assign that to a lot number for the sale, so that the catalog is in order.
Another thing you can do with that built-in barcode scanner is you can decode VINs. So as inventory is coming in, in this case vehicles and I want to say it is from ’94 on, I may be a little off with that, but there is a barcode label on newer vehicles that you can scan with a hand held, and our hand held will then decode and say hey this is a 2001 Ford F150 XLT with a V8 and the automatic transmission. So it can really make the inventory entry in the case of scanning VINs much faster, and obviously less prone to errors. And then the last option it has relates to the multi-parcel software thats is built-in to Auction Flex. The hand held allows you to what-if queries on the fly, so that your ringman can be walking around if somebody wants to know “what-if” for a new contination the ringman can just enter it right there and tell them without walk backing and for to the computer.

Very Nice, While we are on the subject of Multi-par, a couple of the guys that I work with, who when they found out that I had an interview with you, made me promise to ask you if it was in your plans to ever consider releasing a stand alone mulit-par package. Is that something that has ever crossed your mind?
You know we are, again we stay away from that, if for no other reason than it lead to the perception that we offer the software in modules. We are priced competitivly and we have many customers who use Auction Flex only for multi-parcel. So you know it is one of those things that you can get the software and only use the multi parcle or you can get the software and only use the regular auction management stuff or you can use them both. Its up to you, but we won’t be spliting that out, that’s not in the plans.

Sure. Talk a little bit about your customer database, as far as possible multiple registrations per bidder, per seller, per event.

There are obviously there are certain instances where a bidder wants multiple bid cards and of course that is an option in the software that you can assign the same bidder multiple bidder numbers for the sale, but in most cases we don’t want, we want to prevent duplication and in fact when we allow a bidder to check in multiple times we’re not duplicating their information we’re allowing them to check in more than once. Like an alias. Exactly, and we do have functions in the software that when you check somebody in, if you have duplicated a record it will automatically find that duplication and ask them right then and there is this the same person. In fact one of the improvements for 6.02 was the improved, that is version 6.02 of Auction Flex, which came out probably about a month and a half ago or so. One of those improvements was an improved algarhythm for duplication checking.

Very Nice, that has been something that we have faught in the past was, when we have our internet bidders and our live bidders how we handle those. And so that is certainly something that is very near and dear to me is making sure that we, that the software has the capability of doing that. There was also a question posed recently on the NAA forum about the need to register seller under different live numbers, without the duplication. And so your software allows that on the seller as well as the buyer side.

Yeah absolutely, and what that topic was related is some auctioneer that do, typically it’s used a mulit-consignor non-catalog sale, non-catalog meaning we haven’t pre-entered any lots ahead of time, we are just going to clerk it on the fly as we go. So we have to tell the software what it is, who we sold it to, for how much and how many there were. In that instance it is common for customers that have multiple consignors non-catalog sales, to want to give, to want to reuse the same range of consignor codes for each auction, so let’s say they want to reuse A-Z. And they like to do that for a couple of reason, obviously the first is if we have to give every consignor that ever comes in our auction house a unique different number then pretty soon we are going to start having some very consignor codes. You can imagine if you are trying to clerk a sale with four digit consignor codes the probability of the clerk having tranposition errors goes up greatly. So the desire there is to A) keep the consignor codes short and B) alot of times we don’t want the same consignor from auction to auction to always have the same consignor code, cause our bidder for whatever reason may start to identify that code with that bidder and the consigner wants some ability to be annonoymus with what they are selling. So it serves those two functions.

Sure. You mentioned you released version 6.02 a month and a half ago or a couple of months ago, I noticed on your website that you just release 6.03 and so what’s in the latest and greatest release and maybe what are some future plans, what you’re looking forward to after that release.

Well 6.03 is pretty much, kind of just a roll up to version 6.02, 6.02 was really our last big release. A couple things came out with 6.02 is a new enhanced check out form, we also came up with this new idea we had, called an auto back up tool. I don’t know your familiar with the trail printer auctions, and what a trail printer is for those who don’t know is when an auctio is being clerked on the fly or in a cataloged format, if the auction house chooses to clerk that auction live and not keep a hard copy, the trail printer can serve as that hard copy, and what it does it is automatically prints a trail of the auction as it is being conducted and so we wanted to take that one step further and we came up with an auto-back-up tool. And what that does is every “X” minutes, obviously for flexibility purpose you define X, we recommend somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes. So every 20-30 minutes the auto-back-up tool automatically makes a back-up of all the data to that point and includes it on another machine that is not serving, that is not the server. And what that does for you if at any point in time, luckily computers are very reliable now a days, but in the instance that your server computer should die on you in the middle of an auction, you could actually re-purpose a secondary work station or a client work station as the new server, use that back-up and be up and rolling.
Very nice. Is that just the back-up of the event in progress or an entire database back-up?
It would be an entire database back-up.

Wow. Very Nice. What’s next on the development list is there anything that you’re looking at?

I’m actually working on a really cool tool right now, that we’re going to be rolling out here probably within the next week or two. One of the challenges our customers have had, particularly our auction galleries is generating a phone bid schedule. If you can imagine, higher end antiques typically have a lot of phone bidders that will want to be called when their particular lots that they are interested in come up. Well when you get a few hundred to a hundred to two hundred phone bidders that are wanting to be contacted on maybe an average of maybe a dozen or so lots each, generating a schedule for a bank of phone employees can be quite a task. And obviously your phone bidders have to have things like so many lots between phone calls so they have time to establish the phone call with the next bidder they need things like maybe some clients only speak a certain language so we have to restrict who they can talk to in the phone bank. There are alot of variables that go into the phone bids, generating the phone bid schedule, and up to now it has been a fairly tedious process to generate that schedule and I am actually almost done with a new phone scheduler that takes that multi-hour process that the auction house is manually doing now and making it completely automatic.

Wow. You had mentioned earlier about how you have a fee structure that you want to keep it all together, I know that you have a rental option, for lack of a better term, why don’t you talk one time a little bit about the fee structure for the Auction Flex product.

Sure, sure early on we, you know, I have always kind of compared buying software to getting married, in essence at the time when we got started, basically everybody wanted you to buy their multi-thousand dollar software with out really giving it a test run. And I kind of equate that to marrying somebody on the first date, you know what I mean?

Absolutely, Aaron McKee’s anology for that It’s kind of like a mother-in-law you have to take it home and learn to love it once you made the decision.

Yeah, I like that. So we kind of had a different approach to that and that was that we were going to offer our software as well as that typical out right purchase we are also going to offer it on a rental plan. And the way that that rental plan is different, is it is literally month to month which means that if we don’t make you happy for any way shape or form you can cancel and you will never get another bill from us. And essentially thats the put up or shut up mentality. And so we think if we do our job and provide the service and provide the software the rest takes care of itself.

The rest of the transcript for this podcast will be posted just as soon as we can find time to type it. For now, give it a listen and let us know what you think by posting a comment or using the form at www.auctioneertech.com/feedback

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Critical Windows update released today

Image representing Windows as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

Microsoft a few hours ago released an unscheduled update for pretty much all versions of Windows. They normally release updates once a month, but today they released an out-of-band updated because of the severity of the attack vector. It’s pretty bad in that it allows someone to gain access to your computer if you have file-sharing enabled. You can read more about it here and here, but the important thing to do is to be sure that you always run Windows Update whenever you get the opportunity to install new patches and fixes. Here’s how to do it.

For Windows XP users
Go to update.microsoft.com and follow the instructions to install all critical, recommended and optional updates.

For Windows Vista users
From your start menu, run “Windows Update” and install all critical, recommended and optional updates.

For Linux users
You can try running “sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get dist-upgrade –yes” all you want, but you’re not vulnerable to the attack. Keep spinning the propeller hats.

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Ustream provides easy, free live video streaming on any website

Ustream Mobile Live
Image by stevegarfield via Flickr

Imagine being able to easily stream live video of your events. Imagine being able to embed that video on your website along with an optional chat window. What would such a system be worth to you? Ustream does all these things for free.

After creating a free account on ustream.tv, you can click the broadcast now button. This button takes you to the control screen which prompts you to allow the program access to your webcam and sound input. Once you grant the access, the video feed pops up and you can start broadcasting. You can adjust some of the quality settings, for example reducing the video quality and enhancing the audio quality if you’re on a slower connection and want to be sure your viewers can hear you. It will also tell you how many current viewers you have.

Ustream generates the code for you to embed, or insert, the stream on a page of your desire. It functions exactly like embedding a YouTube video. You can embed it on your website or on a forum. All it requires is that the broadcaster and the user have Flash installed, and most do.

Streaming .TV shows by Ustream

Ustream allows you to record your streams on their servers so that once you’re done streaming you can embed the recording for posterity. You can also build a community on Ustream. It provides you with your own customizable page, showing your current stream and past recordings you’ve made available to the public. You can also download your recordings at any time to any computer in a variety of formats.

To the right is an example of a public video embedded on a website. This one was pre-recorded, but it would look essentially the same if it were a live stream.

While I’ve certainly used Ustream successfully with the webcam and microphone built into my notebook, the quality can be increased by plugging in a corded webcam or a consumer camcorder that can be viewed as a webcam by the operating system. You can also use an external microphone, or for better quality, use a line-out from a PA.

We’ve used Ustream to broadcast auctions, shows and meetings. Most live auctions from Purple Wave are broadcast on purplewave.tv as they occur using Ustream.

I was playing a show once at a sports bar in Manhattan, Kansas, once and streaming the show via Ustream. Two separate viewers from the west cost called in and ordered rounds of drinks for the band. I initially questioned the logic of streaming the video, thinking that there may be a decreased attendance if people could stay home and watch. These results, similar to the effect of allowing Internet bidding at auctions, put any concerns I had to rest.

It works great for meetings, too. If you have a meeting with attendees in other locations, why not stream the video? Ustream allows you to password-protect your streams, so you can provide a simple password to users you wish to invite. This feature makes it great for company meetings or business proposals.

There are other, similar, services available to stream audio and video. Yahoo’s doomed Live product and Stickam.com are two examples, but I’ve found Ustream to be the easiest to use and the most respectable.

Are you currently streaming video for your auctions, meetings or other events? Do you use a product other than those mentioned? Let us know by leaving a comment.

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TrueCrypt provides free, fast and secure encryption

An interesting fact about notebook computers is that they’re called notebooks instead of laptops because the term laptop implies that you can use it on your lap, blocking the ventilation ports and causing the unit to overheat. The industry initiated the switch to the term notebook several years ago not because of a change in size so much as a change in usage patterns. More and more people were buying these notebooks and more and more notebooks were getting faster and hotter. My roommate, my girlfriend and I were watching TV the other night and I noticed that there were four notebooks for the three of us. I’ve seen many people lean back in a recliner using a notebook perched on their laps, thinking to myself that the heat was probably bad on the notebooks and bad on the people.

In any case, as the notebook becomes more prevalent as a part of pop culture and less a rare business expense to be treated like a prized possession, we need to consider the security ramifications in a business context. Now my personal notebook has nothing on it about which I would be concerned should it be stolen or misplaced. Everything is backed up using Carbonite, and while the contents are immensely valuable to me, they probably wouldn’t be very valuable to someone else.

My business notebook, however, is a different story. While I try to make sure that everything is stored on our servers, sometimes important files are copied to it while I’m working on them, and I don’t always do the best job of making sure those files are moved back when I’m finished. I know for certain that I work with others who are even less careful about storing important documents on their notebooks. Enter TrueCrypt.

TrueCrypt is a free and open source industrial strength on-the-fly encryption system. TrueCrypt is so good and so robust that I’m not aware of a commercial solution that is its equal.

TrueCrypt allows for several types of encryption to be used several different ways. The encryption algorithms provided are AES-256, Serpent and Twofish. All that you need to know is that AES, or Rijndael,  is government-level encryption that won’t be broken any time soon.

TrueCrypt allows you to create an encrypted volume, which is essentially a large, single file that can be mounted as a drive. You access the drive like a USB key or another hard drive on your computer, copying files to and from it or working directly on files stored there. When you try to mount the volume, you’re prompted for your password. If it’s correct, the new drive appears.

Another encryption option offered by TrueCrypt, and in my mind the much more important and valuable option, is full drive encryption. With this option, you can completely encrypt an entire drive such as your USB key, an external hard drive, or – most importantly – your main hard drive on your computer.

Full system drive encryption requires you to enter your password on boot. TrueCrypt prefers passwords greater than 20 characters in length, so you can rest assured knowing that nobody will be able to brute-force your password any time soon. If your computer is lost or stolen, you know that nobody will be able to get to any of the information stored on the computer.

The next logical question relates to how TrueCrypt works without slowing down the computer’s normal function. Because TrueCrypt completely encrypts every byte in every sector of your hard drive, Windows and any other file utility can’t read it. If you enter the correct password, TrueCrypt loads its special driver into memory that is allegedly faster (PDF) than the stock Windows drivers.

The first thing I do when I prep a new notebook is load TrueCrypt and enable full disk encryption. It’s very careful, forcing you to burn a recovery CD and allowing you to pause and resume the encryption process at your discretion, so it’s very easy to use without fear of messing up your computer.

There are many more options and features offered by TrueCrypt. The best encryption is open encryption, which means that if you keep something secure by making it a secret, as soon as that secret gets out nothing is secure anymore. The beauty of TrueCrypt is that everything about it is open source, meaning that anyone can verify that it works and works well to protect everything in every situation. It’s great for notebooks, but should also be installed on desktops and severs that may contain sensitive data. Entering a password on boot is a small price to pay for piece of mind.

TrueCrypt is free and open source and it works on Windows, Mac and Linux. It makes your computer faster, it makes you feel safer and should be an integral part of your business practice to ensure that if your notebook or desktop computer does fall into the wrong hands it won’t be anything other than a paperweight.

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Auction Podcast Episode 8 – Google AdWords and DNS

You’re listening to the AuctioneerTech Auction Podcast
auctioneertech.com – Technology, auctions and auctioneers – auction tech for the auction industry

Hello and welcome to the eighth episode of the AuctioneerTech Auction Podcast for the week of 20 October, 2008. In this episode, we’re going to cover two recent topics from auctioneertech.com, DNS and Google AdWords.

Over the last several months, there have been many security bulletins about the vulnerabilities found in one of the fundamental technologies that makes the web work called DNS. DNS stands for domain name system. It’s a fairly complex system, but abstractly it’s fairly simple.

Every device on the Internet is accessed by Internet protocol, or IP address, which is a dotted quad, or sequence of four numbers separated by periods like 208.67.222.222. We remember websites and services and companies by their website domain names. I’ll bet you can name the websites for Google, Amazon, eBay and AuctioneerTech off of the top of your head, but I’ll bet you don’t know what the IP addresses of the servers are that your computer talks to when you visit those sites.

DNS exists to convert the domain names, like auctioneertech.com, into IP addresses, like 67.210.98.40. It’s like a phone book. You know the name, you need the number.

When you type the website www.auctioneertech.com into your browser, you computer first checks its cache memory to see if it has visited the site before. If it has, it further examines the record to see if that record is still valid. If it’s valid, it directs your browser to the computer at 67.210.98.40. If the TTL, or time to live, on that record has expired, the computer recognizes that the information is too old to be valid so it contacts a DNS server to find out the correct IP address of the domain. The DNS server is usually owned by your Internet service provider, or ISP.

Your ISP’s DNS server has a bunch of address records in its memory, each record with its own TTL or time until that record expires. Each time a subscriber requests a site it doesn’t have, it gets it and adds it to memory so it doesn’t have to get the same record again before the record expires.

The problem that’s been in the news recently relates to what is called DNS poisoning. Essentially, it’s possible to intercept the requests made by the DNS server for a domain name’s IP address and reply to them with incorrect addresses. For example, when the record for PayPal expires and the DNS server goes to update that record, a malicious person could catch that request and reply with an IP address for his server, causing the DNS server to tell the requesting subscriber that the IP address to PayPal is a malicious computer rather than the PayPal server. Now that malicious computer would serve a website that looks just like PayPal and have paypal.com in the browser address bar and the subscriber could be tricked into entering his username and password, providing access to his bank account to the malicious person. This attack is not Paypal’s fault, it’s the fault of the original DNS technology which was far too trusting.

Recently, patches and updates have been made to many DNS servers from many different ISPs. The problem is that you may not know if your provider has updated its servers. There is a test located at DoxPara, a link to which is posted on the transcript to this podcast, to tell if your DNS is vulnerable to the latest attacks, but by far the better choice in my opinion is to use a free service called OpenDNS.

OpenDNS makes Internet faster, safer

OpenDNS makes Internet faster, safer

OpenDNS is a distributed network of free DNS servers that are faster and more secure than your ISP’s DNS server. Because they have so many users, the odds of them having the website you’re looking for are much higher, allowing them to return the IP address immediately rather than to have to look it up. They’re on top of their game, which means you can always trust that they’re running the latest updates and patches.

They have a fantastic control panel which not only provides statistics showing total requests, unique domains, unique IPs and more, they will allow you to block categories of websites or specific domains or IP addresses. You can block dating sites, gambling sites, auction sites, adult sites, gaming sites, religious sites, blogs – the list goes on. If you’re an auctioneer, you probably want to allow auction sites but block adult sites. If you’re a school, you probably want to block dating sites and religious sites as well. OpenDNS lets you block these categories and more. I have music sites blocked, but my staff likes to listen to Pandora Internet radio, so I can block the music category but specifically allow Pandora.

OpenDNS automatically blocks known phishing sites, which means that if you try to visit a site that is known to be malicious or to try to extract personal information from you, it will block it until you specifically allow that site in the OpenDNS control panel.

If you manage a network, simply enter the free OpenDNS server addresses in the configuration of your router and rest assured knowing that your router will cause all the computers on your network to go through the OpenDNS servers. If you manage multiple networks, the OpenDNS control panel will allow you to block and allow specific website categories for each network or all at once. If you have a notebook computer and are accessing the Internet at a wireless hotspot, you can use the OpenDNS servers specifically on your notebook to ensure that you’re really going to the sites you wanted to go to rather than hoping that the DNS servers used by the hotspot are not vulnerable or already poisoned.

One final feature is intelligent redirection. If you type example.cm on a normal DNS server, it will take you to either a page not found 404 error or a scam site or ad site hosted by a domain squatter. Type example.cm on a computer using OpenDNS and it will recognize that you probably meant example.com and correctly take you to the site you meant to visit.

How can OpenDNS provide such a fantastic service for free? When you enter a site like example.cm and it doesn’t have a good guess as to what you really meant, it will display a page of Google-powered search results as if you entered that website into the search bar rather than the address bar. OpenDNS takes a percentage of the ad revenue generated if you end up clicking on one of the sponsored links. You can customize the logo using the OpenDNS control panel so it looks like search results from your company, which is a particularly nice feature if you manage a network. The address bar search is so nice that I’ve found myself getting lazy and entering everything in the address bar because I know that OpenDNS will cover for me and convert the malformed website address into a search query.

With all the baddies on the Interwebs, OpenDNS provides peace of mind that when you type an Internet address in the browser’s address bar you’ll end up where you wanted. It provides an increase in browsing speed which translates to an increase in productivity. It makes you safe and boosts your bottom line. And it’s absolutely free. For instructions to start using OpenDNS, visit www.opendns.com.

Now, a question was posted on the page for last week’s podcast by Joe Abal from Florida who asked if I thought Google’s AdWords is a profitable marketing tool. The short answer is yes, but I thought it would be good to discuss what AdWords is and in what context it works best for auctioneers.

Google AdWords logo

Google AdWords logo

Google is a mammoth company, slowly weaving its way into every corner of the Internet by offering free services that are better than the competing for-pay services. The development of these free services is not cheap, especially when Google allegedly requires only 80% of their employees’ attention through their Innovation time off program which encourages each Googler to spend one day a week on projects that interest him or her.

Google makes the vast majority of its money through advertising. Google owns advertising on the Internet, and one of the most prominent advertising services it offers is AdWords.

When you search Google, there are two kinds of results returned. The organic results are those listed on the left while the paid ads, or sponsored links, are listed in a block on the right and sometimes above the organic results on the left.

Eyetools Google search heatmap

Eyetools eye tracking map of Google search results

When test subjects perform searches and their eyes are tracked, the results are pretty clear that the vast majority of the time the subjects look first at the top of the organic results list. There is a very intriguing study from a company called Eyetools showing this concept, and a link to that study is posted in the transcript for this episode. These data confirm that it’s much more valuable to have a high organic ranking than to rely on paid ads.

The problem is that you can’t strong-arm your way into ranking high on an organic search, especially if that search is fairly common. A modern-day snake oil industry has built itself around SEO, or search engine optimization, but the fact is that auctioneers seldom have the time to wait for the tweaking and testing involved in a targeted campaign to rank higher for queries relating to items in an auction.

Google AdWords allows you to buy placement of links on Google search results and on websites using Google’s AdSense product which lets site owners display relevant links and get a portion of the proceeds. AdWords customers are charged based solely on how many users click on the ads. Your ad may be displayed thousands of times, but if nobody clicks on it you’re not going to be charged anything.

For customers, AdWords is an auction requiring three pieces of information. You tell it which keyword you want, how much you’re willing to pay for each click, and how much you’re willing to spend per day. AdWords will display the ads with the highest price first until that customer’s per day limit is met, at which point it will no longer display the highest priced ads, displaying instead those of lesser value. You also have the ability to target specific locations, so an ad can run in Kansas and not in Minnesota, for example.

Let’s say you want everyone in North Carolina searching for auction to be shown a link to your website. AdWords displays about eight sponsored listings per search, so you have to outbid all but seven other AdWords customers. With competition from eBay and Overstock.com, two large companies among many with a vested interest in the term auction, a campaign for such a generic term can be quite costly.

Take the keyword phrase combine auction. Because there are fewer companies targeting that search phrase, it’s going to be cheaper and easier as an advertiser to put that link in front of people searching for that phrase. The downside is that there are many fewer people searching for combine auction rather than auto auction or just auction.

AdWords shines when we try to advertise niche merchandise, and organic returns are more valuable for institutional marketing. It’s far better for a weekly auto auction to work to build a frequently-updated website to rank higher for organic returns for auto auction and to use AdWords to quickly advertise antique or unique automobiles as they come in using AdWords to target those people interested in such vehicles.

We auctioneers have fairly unique needs. We usually have a short time to market specific items. If we had an abundance of time, we could build a website for each item and build the ranking over time. Most times, however, we have a marketing window of a week or two, and AdWords gives us the ability to provide exposure of the specific items we have to specific demographics interested in those items.

That’s it for episode eight. I have three guests who have accepted my invitation to participate in interviews over the next several weeks. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, help promote it by telling your friends or auctioneers you may know or writing a review on iTunes.

You’ve been listening to the Auction Podcast from AuctioneerTech. If you have suggestions, questions or comments, or are interested in being a guest, please let me know by going to www.auctioneertech.com/feedback and leaving a message. You can also post public comments about this or any other episode, as well as find show transcripts, on the auction podcast page of auctioneertech.com.

Thank you for listening. Now go sell something.

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