Google Docs vs. Dropbox

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.

  1. Use Google Docs
  2. If Google Docs doesn’t work or doesn’t make sense, try Dropbox

Image representing Google Docs as depicted in ...

Image via CrunchBase

Google Docs
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.

Image representing Dropbox as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

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.

Posted in services, software | Tagged , , , , , , |

GPS apps Waze and Google Maps obsolesce stand-alone devices

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series All things must end

Remember the last decade? Those were the days. We used MySpace, we built websites that had FAQs and sitemaps, our laptops had DVD drives and we actually spent $100 or more on stand-alone GPS devices that lived in our cars and trucks and told us which way to turn.

Waze on a 7" tablet in Kansas City

These days, purchasing a dedicated GPS device is silly. There’s no reason to have a device with such a limited use that’s outdated the moment you buy it. While it’s true that most GPS units can be updated, it’s still a hassle and an expense for a device that – at it’s updated best – is inferior to something we already carry with us wherever we go. Today, our smartphones and tablets have mapping abilities far superior to anything a dedicated GPS can offer, we take them with us when we leave our vehicles and information we receive from the cloud is always more current than the maps saved and stored in our unconnected and outdated GPS boxes on the dash.

Google Maps for Android

Image via Wikipedia

Google Maps
Preinstalled on Android and iOS phones and tablets, Google Maps is the most reliable and accurate mapping software I’ve seen. Rather than spending a ton of money on a GPS unit, I can now spend $3.57 on Monoprice for a windshield mount that keeps my phone conveniently in front of me. I recently purchased a tablet mount, which puts a beautiful 7″ map directly in front of me as I drive.

A relatively new alternative to Google Maps, Waze has recently become my preference for longer trips. Waze uses crowdsourcing to bring real-time road and traffic conditions to the maps of its users. Waze users are known as Wazers and their devices are continually updating ground speed to Waze. Portions of roads where current traffic speeds are significantly below the average road speed are highlighted and a speech balloon tells you the current average speed. Knowing when there are traffic jams ahead of you will let you find an alternate route. When a Wazer sees a police trap or a road hazard, a couple of easy button presses allows that report to be sent to everyone else using Waze in the area.

Waze brings game features to traveling. Each report of road conditions is rewarded by points which you can compare against a leaderboard of your friends or of all Wazers in your state. Roads that haven’t been visited by other Wazers are signified by dots on the road. When you drive down these untraveled roads, your car turns into  Pac-Man which chomps the dots, rewarding you with points.

Waze works everywhere, but it learns appropriate routes based on the way it’s used. The more people who have used Waze to get to your destination in the past, the more accurate the guidance will be. Accuracy is based on usage, so it’ll be more accurate in the cities than the country. The community reporting functions are obviously currently more valuable in urban settings than on rural roads and will likely continue to be until it’s more widely adopted. Until then, I’m going to keep munching the dots on the dirt roads and using Google Maps when I honestly don’t know how to get to my rural destination.

Posted in gadgets, software, hardware, Android, Apps | Tagged , , , , , , |

Practice calling bids with Virtual Auction

I sold my first lot at live auction exactly 10 years ago next month. I never went to auction school. A decade ago, I was in college in Manhattan, Kan., and driving the 200 miles back and forth from Sharon, Kan., at least once a month. I had recently started working for an auction company and had decided that I wanted to be a bid caller, so I spent mile after mile practicing my chant. Fence posts and telephone poles are too regular, so I took my bids from yellow signs on the highway.

I got pretty good. I had a fairly quick chant, with several variations of filler words and could do fairly good impressions of my bid calling colleagues. My favorable assessment of my own abilities was quickly reset, however, after an auction one night when my coworkers threw me up on the stand and I actually got to practice selling to real people.

People don’t bid like signs bid. Signs are predictable; arbitrarily resetting the bidding increments is unrealistic. To a new bid caller, taking bids from people is very unpredictable – perhaps chaotic or even frightening – compared to practicing alone. Until now, it’s been nearly impossible to simulate an in-person bidding environment that could be used to practice bid calling in private.

Enter: Virtual Auction
Virtual Auction is bid calling practice software that is the first and only in-person auction simulation system I’ve ever seen. I caught up with Virtual Auction’s creator David Whitaker at the Missouri Professional Auctioneers Association convention and got a first-hand look.

With better 3D graphics than some video games, Virtual Auctions allows the user to control the graphics quality, screen resolution, bidding environment, size of crowd, bid speed, difficulty of bid signals and number of bidders.

Virtual Auction simulates five types of bidding environments.

The crowd behaves according to the settings, bidding in unpredictable intervals until the auctioneer says sold and clicks the sold button. The view then zooms to the last bidder who shows a bid card. Each environment features a tutorial. The software even includes appropriate background sounds for each environment as well as audible ringmen “yeps” which, thankfully, can optionally be muted. Each environment has subtle differences in aspects like view angle, crowd positioning and crowd attire. For example, the crowd in the benefit auction environment are all dressed in black and the livestock crowd will request to cut the bidding increments.

In addition to the auction simulations, Virtual Auction includes a battery of number drills that many bid callers will remember from auction school, though the ability to control increment and speed by software makes the drills much more useful. “I want to help students continue doing what they learned in Paul Behr’s class at auction school…a study guide to use at home,” said Whitaker. He says, “I don’t want to teach you how to auction, I want to let you practice.”

I asked David why he created Virtual Auction.

I wanted to create a practice platform to help auctioneers, both old and new, improve their bid calling. I’m trying to make connections with auction schools to raise awareness among new auctioneers and hopefully work with the National Auctioneers Association to get the word out to established auctioneers.

He says the response has been overwhelmingly positive. “The auction schools I’ve contacted so far tell me it fills a very important need within the industry.”

What’s been the biggest challenge so far? In addition to learning the ropes to becoming a vendor and getting the word out, Whitaker says the release itself has been an ordeal. “Finding the developer has been hard. Taking an idea and turning it into software isn’t easy. It took six months to find a developer who could understand the concept as well as handle the animation and build it for a reasonable cost.”

He already has some good ideas for version two. “I’m thinking about voice recognition and competition mode for the next version, perhaps even turning it into a playable game.”

Virtual Auction sells for $149.99. That seems like an easy sell for any professional bid caller who wants to improve or change his or her chant. However, it seems like an invaluable must-buy for any rookie auctioneer or recent auction school graduate.

Virtual Auction works with any Mac or PC with a DVD drive. Learn more and see demonstration videos at

Posted in software, bid calling | Tagged , , |

The auction convention automotive tent

High Peak Frame Tent

Image via Wikipedia

Cars and trucks are very important to the modern auction business. The ability to travel to a seller’s location to meet with him or her is crucial to any auctioneer’s ability to book an auction.

The problem is that vehicles break down sometimes. Sometimes they don’t start quite right, run quite right or have one of any number of other problems. While there are many other places to have vehicles fixed, and it’s hard to find a town without at least one local mechanic, many auctioneers bring a vehicle to the convention and it would be great if we could figure out a way to help members with vehicles that don’t run quite right as a benefit.

Most associations have a few members who are currently or have been mechanics. These members not only use cars in their businesses, they also are good at fixing cars and helping others. I’ll bet these members would be happy to donate their time at the convention to work on cars. I think it’d be great if we could set up a tent for a few hours to let those auto-savvy auctioneers with a little wrench-turning experience and know-how help the other members who lack the ability to work on their own cars. Walk-ins would be accommodated, no appointment would be needed.

I’ve noticed a trend at conventions recently. The technology tent is just as appropriate as my proposed automotive tent. I’m not against offering presentations to groups on how to use technology to improve the business, just as I wouldn’t be opposed to presentations to groups on how to find more efficient transportation methods. However, I don’t believe it’s the role of any association to provide one-on-one help performing tune-ups or tire changes, just as I don’t believe it’s the role of any association to provide one-on-one help removing viruses or setting up email. It’s not appropriate because it’s completely outside the scope of any such organization.

Computer service should be left to a properly trained tech at a local computer shop, just as auto service should be left to a properly trained tech at an automotive shop. Asking those members who have the ability to service computers to volunteer to do so is just as appropriate as asking those members who are mechanics to perform oil changes for anyone who wants one.

Posted in services | Tagged |

QR codes kill kittens

I’m a long time QR code hater. I released an episode of the AuctioneerTech Auction Podcast about QR codes last May where I decided that there were a few valid uses, but overall, most auctioneers use QR codes incorrectly.

I recently came across this video in my Twitter stream. It’s a comical take by Scott Stratten on the frequency with which QR codes are misused. Watch it.

Thanks to JD Patton for the share.

Posted in design, theory, advertising | Tagged , |