The biggest hurdle for auctioneers wanting to implement Internet bidding is inventory management. I’ve written before that even without Internet bidding, a well executed auction catalog with item pictures and descriptions is worth the labor cost to generate because of the enormous benefits to prospective bidders making the decision to come to an auction as well as the increase in search engine visibility for the auctioneer’s website.
Wavebid is a Web-based service designed to make the cataloging process faster and easier in order to make Internet auctions more available to the traditional auctioneer. Since launch, the company has expanded the service to include a marketing management component, focusing specifically on Internet marketing and tools for auctioneer branding. I spoke with Russ Hilk, founder of the Minnesota-based company, and got a guided tour of the product.
Simplicity and accessibility
Wavebid recognizes that working auctioneers want a product that is simple and easy to access. By designing their software as a web service, there is no software to install, it can be used on any computer connected to the internet and weekly updates and improvements occur automatically.
Auctioneers can configure up to three permission levels for user accounts, allowing employees different abilities within the software. Auctions can also be restricted on the user level, preventing auction employees from making unauthorized changes to specific auctions.
Inventory can be entered and edited in two ways. The standard lot builder is similar to item entry screens found in other auction software. A screen with multiple form elements for item attributes as well as an HTML editor for creating attractive descriptions.
In addition to the standard item editor, Wavebid includes a list view. This is a potentially powerful feature absent from the other inventory managements solutions I’ve seen. With Wavebid, a user can see the items in an inventory list and make changes to inventory direction from that list view. Being able to make these changes without bringing up the item editor provides the speed and efficiencies of a spreadsheet with the data validation of inventory management software. Keyboard shortcuts make navigation faster for users who don’t like to reach for the mouse.
Item listings that aren’t consistent look unprofessional. Wavebid includes about 350 templates that make listing common assets quick and consistent. Simply select that you want to sell a tractor and the description is populated with the attributes that allow you to fill in the year, make, model, engine, transmission, tires, hours and more. Wavebid will even get the actual specs for a vehicle from CarFax for a VIN.
For Internet bidding providers that allow HTML inventory, Wavebid offers some powerful enhancements to inventory listings. PDFs and video can be associated with items to augment the listings. Other optional widgets for each item include maps and shipping calculators for UPS or uShip.
Item tags and images
Wavebid will allow the user to print inventory tags using one of four standard label sizes. These tags are customizable and can include a logo, website, phone number or other text in addition to the barcode.
Up to 1000 pictures can be uploaded at a time. The pictures are resized with Adobe Flash to match the services selected by the user before they’re uploaded to reduce upload time. Wavebid will read the barcode of the inventory tag to automatically associate the picture with the item. Pictures can be ordered for each item by dragging and dropping while the integrated photo editor will allow the user to rotate, crop and balance each picture.
Wavebid can import inventory from a spreadsheet for auctioneers who still wish to use Excel or Calc for data entry. Predefined exports exist for MaxaNet, BidSpotter and Proxibid; the user can manually configure custom exports for other services. On export, the inventory is saved in the appropriate format and the pictures are all resized and watermarked and saved with the inventory.
Wavebid’s marketing system aims to handle task management as well as generate marketing content that is difficult or arduous for auctioneers without a technical staff. A marketing matrix, complete with templates, helps ensure that campaigns are planned properly and completed. For regular auctions with standard marketing campaigns, deploying the Wavebid marketing tools is fast and easy.
Attributes on the data entry screens allow item-level marketing budgets, giving Wavebid the ability to generate a comprehensive marketing spend based on the sum of the budgets for individual items.
Wavebid includes a widget to include an auction calendar on an auctioneer’s website. Upcoming as well as past auctions can be displayed on the auctioneer’s website using a simple piece of code that pulls the calendar automatically from the Wavebid servers. One-button exports of inventory to NAA and Global Auction Guide simplify syndication to third party listing sites. Wavebid can also automatically post items to Twitter or Facebook.
For auctioneers who send HTML emails, Wavebid will do the heavy lifting and generate the content based on the inventory. Its templates use the pictures and descriptions to generate markup that can be copied and pasted into Constant Contact, Bronto or other HTML marketing services.
Because Wavebid is Web-based, it can generate previews of inventory that look and feel similar to listings on common bidding platforms. This feature allows an auctioneer to provide the client with a password to access the listings to review them before the inventory is actually posted for bidding.
Wavebid has apps for iOS and Android. These apps allow auctioneers to add photos to listings as well as update descriptions. Mobile inventory entry will never be as fast or efficient as entry on a real computer, but the ability to make small changes to an existing inventory from a phone or tablet is powerful. The app can also pull up pictures and description of an existing item to assist with auction preview and setup.
The product is very robust and continues to improve. Not only does it handle essentially every conceivable aspect of auction inventory creation and syndication, it’s the only commercially available product I’ve seen that connects the dots between inventory and marketing. For auctioneers who are looking for better inventory management as well as ways to automate marketing, Wavebid is a solid choice.
Yesterday, I posted my experiences with Carbonite and Mozy and explained why they’re not a good option for someone who wants an inexpensive, truly unlimited and fast backup solution. Today, I’m going to explain the solution I found with CrashPlan.
CrashPlan is a direct competitor to Carbonite, Mozy and Backblaze. However, the wonder of CrashPlan is that they separate their software from their service.
CrashPlan Plus is the service. For $5 per month, users can upload an unlimited amount of personal data. The low cost alone sets it ahead of Mozy and Carbonite.
The CrashPlan software, however, has the ability to backup not only locally but also to a friend. The CrashPlan software can be freely downloaded and used without a subscription.
Controls are very easy to understand and use. CrashPlan assumes you want to backup the data in your home directory. You can easily adjust that setting and specifically include or exclude individual folders or files. You can limit the upload and download speeds based on time of day or if you’re present or away from your computer.
Let’s look at an example use case. A large amount of data exists on a file server at the office. I want to automatically backup that data locally and off site. I purchase a Drobo and a large external USB drive. I configure the Drobo at the office and connect it to the file server. I take the large external drive home and connect it to my home PC. I install CrashPlan on the file server and on my home PC, telling the file server to backup friends’ data to the Drobo and the home PC to back up friends’ data to the external hard drive.
I configure CrashPlan on the file server to back up all the data stored on the server to the Drobo connected to it. This action creates a second copy of my data that is stored locally on a different type of media – I’m making the case that storing the data on a Drobo with its drive redundancy is different from storing it on a single drive. I tell it to also back up the data to a friend. It prompts for the friend’s authorization code and I give it the code from my computer at home. It instantly begins copying the data to both the Drobo and over the Internet to the USB drive at home.
On the home computer, I tell it to back up to a friend and provide the code from the computer at the office. It begins backing up any files from home to the Drobo. If I stored important information at home, I could easily tell it to also backup to the external drive in addition to the Drobo to satisfy the 3-2-1 practice for my data at home.
I could also configure Crashplan for my laptops and coworkers by simply giving them the code to bakup to the Drobo. It’s remarkably easy, and only the user can restore the data. The security theoretically makes it safe to back up to a stranger, since you’re only storing encrypted data on the other machine.
I recently had the opportunity to test this configuration. In my configuration, I have my parents’ computer set to back up to my media center. When their computer crashed and they purchased a replacement, I plugged the replacement directly into the Drobo, installed Crashplan and began the restoration process directly, saving the time of having to download the restore files. A huge advantage to CrashPlan is that it can recognize the data storage location both locally and remotely. The initial backup can be done locally and then the drive can be moved to a computer off site.
I’m much more fond of this backup solution than using a commercial service. While the initial cost of the Drobo and the hard drive seems high, factoring in the cost of paying for backup subsriptions to several PCs and laptops each month as well as the enormous expense in the event of a crash makes this solution much more economically desirable in my mind. Remaining in control of the physical backup destination may be more responsibility, but if something bad every happens the solution is to simply retrieve the backup sets from the off-site location, not spending months downloading or spending a ton of money. That piece of mind is priceless.
Have you found a better solution or a problem with CrashPlan? Let me know in the comments.
I take a laptop everywhere, and I know you do, too. When I think about what would happen if suddenly someone were to steal my laptop, there are three aspects about which I worry. What will it cost to replace? What sensitive information was on it that I don’t want anyone else accessing? What data was on my computer that I can no longer access?
Outside of simply carrying insurance, there really isn’t a solution to the cost of the physical hardware. Theft is theft. The second solution is solved by using TrueCrypt, a fantastic encryption solution about which I wrote in October of 2008. This post begins to address the third problem – a way to ensure that data is safe in the event of theft, crash or other loss – by defining the problem and detailing some bad experiences I’ve had with two, popular backup services.
Backing up your data is important, but creating a comprehensive strategy to prevent catastrophic loss can be challenging. The general rule for backing up is easy to remember as 3-2-1. The best solution is to have three copies of your data on two different media types and one needs to be off site. One of the best ways to solve the off-site problem is to use a service that runs automatically on your computer and copies the data securely to the cloud as you work.
Allured by the Carbonite advertisements in my podcasts and other media, I signed up for Carbonite a few years ago. It seemed to work well, didn’t slow down my machine too much, and it seemed to work as advertised.
When I built my media center and began to aggregate all of my personal media there, I began to notice a very severe limitation of Carbonite. After reaching a threshold, they limit the upload bandwidth. Unfortunately for me, that limit was about 200 GB. I needed to upload 1.5 TB including a large amount of video from the Aaron Traffas Band, so Carbonite was no longer an option.
I subscribed to Mozy, Carbonite’s closest competitor who also advertised unlimited uploads for about $5 per month. It took a couple of months, but it was finally able to copy all of my data. Shortly after it caught up, the unthinkable happened. The filesystem on the hard drive storing all of my documents and media became corrupted. I was faced with having only two copies of my data remaining. I had an old copy of everything from a few months before that I stored on my Drobo and I had the current copy on Mozy’s servers.
The 1.5 TB was too much to try to download, so I called Mozy to learn how I could get to my data. I learned that Mozy will send data sets over 200 GB to users on hard drives, but at a significant cost. They would send me all my data on three hard drives for $1,100.
I ended up comparing the old backup with the data on Mozy and downloading the changed files, but it took an enormous amount of time. I learned two very important lessons from my experience. First, the cost of an off-site backup solution isn’t just the monthly fee, the recovery costs need to be considered. Second, Mozy wasn’t for me. Mozy later discontinued their unlimited plan, meaning that they’re not an option for many others either.
Over the last few days, I’ve had several conversations with auctioneers about Google Docs and Dropbox. There seems to be a misconception that they’re operating in the same space and that you can replace the use of one with the other. There are very important differences between these two products. I use both regularly and intend to provide two easy rules to help you get the best use out of each.
- Use Google Docs
- If Google Docs doesn’t work or doesn’t make sense, try Dropbox
If you’re working on a document, spreadsheet or presentation, Google Docs is the answer. If you’re collaborating with others in real time, Docs is the obvious answer because it’s really the only answer. Docs wraps up a document editor like Word, a spreadsheet like Excel and a presentation system like PowerPoint in a single, browser-based service that uses secure cloud storage. This means that you don’t have to worry about your recipients having Microsoft Office or not – anyone with browser can access the documents.
It allows very granular sharing control, allowing you to grant read or write privilege to specific users or to anyone with the link. Distributing documents with Google Docs is easy. Simply grant read-only privileges to anyone with the link and email the link to the people with whom you wish to share. If it’s a confidential document, simply use the built-in sharing controls to submit an email list of only the people you wish to obtain the documents and those recipients will have to log in to view them. It’s much more polite than sharing with Dropbox since it doesn’t create new folders on the hard drives of your friends or colleagues. Moreover, using Google Docs means anyone will have the ability to view it natively, rather than having to convert your Microsoft Office document to Google Docs or LibreOffice.
You can upload any kind of file to Google Docs, making it a great alternative to services like YouSendIt or WeTransfer. Simply upload the file and get the public link. Your recipient will appreciate the direct link rather than having to use a clunky, third-party service.
Dropbox is best thought of as a personal file repository that’s backed up. I see it used for document collaboration, and it is really inferior to Google Docs for the reasons listed above. In addition, two people can’t work on the same file at the same time in Dropbox and expect the changes to be properly merged. Dropbox is much better suited to be used to synchronize your own files among multiple computers.
Dropbox’s strength is in the software that runs automatically on your computers. When you make a change to one of those files, those changes are replicated among other Dropbox installations. If you’re working on an office document and make a change to a document you’ve shared with someone else who is also making changes, you’ll end up with two versions of the file and the need to merge those changes manually.
When you share a Dropbox folder with someone, that folder exists in her Dropbox account until she leaves it. If she’s anything like me, she likes a well organized and uncluttered Dropbox, so asking her to use Dropbox when Google Docs would have sufficed can be quite annoying.
While Dropbox isn’t very good for collaboration on office documents, it does work well for pictures and video. The latest versions of Dropbox allow instant upload for smartphone pictures directly from the phone app as well as automatic import of media from memory cards.
The right tool for the job
Dropbox is great for media like videos and pictures. It’s great for documents you need to keep offline and private. While it works to share office documents, it’s clunky, annoying and inferior to Google Docs. Google Docs is great for document distribution and collaboration, as well as sending large files, but doesn’t work well to share lots of media like movies, photos and music.
Dropbox and Google Docs are great, free tools. I use both each and every day and can’t see how I ever got along without them. Hopefully this article helps disambiguate the two and gives you a better idea of which tool is appropriate for which job.