Sponsored

Don’t fight a Bidding War! It’s a Losing Fight! Simply goSnipe!

Last week, Mike at Slapstart published a phenomenal article about auction sniping.  He closed out by saying auction sniping reminds him of an old Buddhist saying “The one who is good at shooting does not hit the center of the target.”  We at goSnipe could not agree more with this ancient proverb.  And in the world of auction sniping, we would classify the best shooter at the one who can successfully snipe an item at a price that is close (but slightly above) the final selling price of a given item – which is very hard to do.  Why not hit the target?  Because as an eBay bidder, if you match a bid you will lose the item.

In the world of auction sniping, you must aim to hit the correct market value.  But how does one determine at what value an item auction will end; what economists call the market’s ‘true value’?

goSnipe

This is a difficult question to answer; mainly because one person’s true value differs from that of another person – and also because no matter what the value of an item is, we are predisposed to want to pay less and get a bargain.

Vying to ascertain the market value predates to our earliest ancestors who would barter over food, tools, and resources amongst other basic commodities.  As time passed and civilizations became more sophisticated, they moved to metal currencies and now we are in a world of fiat currencies.  And in this global environment in which we live, this question is still one which is very complex – even to nations and multinational corporations that have a scarce amount of goods and resources and must decide how to best channel their energies and stay competitive in a global environment.  Many corporations have developed sophisticated pricing mechanisms which take into account market, social, environmental, and other factors.  And in some cases where consumer choice is inelastic, prices are simply set; and when they move up, consumers continue to purchase nearly the same amount of goods.  Either way, in the primary market, where goods are sold by large corporations, consumers pay nearly the same MSRP for a new Ford or a new Apple iPad anywhere in the world; depending on your negotiation skills you may be able to get a slightly better price on a Ford.  But what about a used Ford or a used iPad – these goods are now in a secondary market and are being sold by consumers.  In this case, every element becomes a factor – age, wear and tear, supply & demand, location of the item, who owned the item, it is a limited edition Beatles album or has it been signed by Kobe Bryant or by LeBron James, is the seller creditworhty or has he been known to sell faulty products, what is the market for similar items and for competing items, and a multitude of other factors.  Even the personal attributes of the buyer come into play.

And in many cases there is in fact no real answer to what the market value is and this market value changes by the minute – for proof just look at what five nearly identical used eBay items all sell for – it is never exactly the same price.  Which makes the task of bidding on eBay an even more difficult matter.  However, people often times can determine at what price they would, with absolute certainty, acquire an item – and that is why many users bid low when they see an item listed for cheap (with near certainty they will not win).  But with millions of eBay users scanning the worldwide marketplace daily, thinking you will win with a low bid is often wishful thinking.  And that is often where the average eBay bidder begins – he puts the lowest in the range of values that he would be willing to pay to purchase an item and from there awaits to see if he will be outbid.  And many of the other users follow the same pattern.  Which is why you will see multiple bidders bidding in a back-and-forth pattern like they are playing a tennis match against one another.  Once someone else bids higher, the user who is outbid makes a decision that he is still within the acceptable range or even if he exceeded it he will find ways to justify the higher price to himself.  And one of the mechanisms an eBay user will use prior to placing the higher bid is to justify his higher bid on the fact that the user who outbid him believes the item has that worth (as you read this, I am sure you are thinking to yourselves, ‘I have done that a few times’).  This process is not only tedious and time consuming but also leads to inefficient outcomes resulting in you, the end user having to pay higher price points for your desired eBay item.

But what if, rather than sending a volley back to that other bidder, you decided to disengage?  To not outbid him but to let him and the other eBay users think – until that final second of the auction – that they will win?  Then you stop bidding your own price up.  And assuming no one else will bid, you will win the item for much less.  Sniping actually allows eBay users who bid in the final seconds and really want an item to bid at a price well above what they expect it to sell for.  This is because the winning bidder to an eBay auction pays only one increment more than the second highest bidder.  So by sniping auction items, you can aim a bit above the price you think the market will value the item at.  In intentionally missing the target, and with the power of goSnipe at your side to pull the trigger in the final seconds (something better done by a computer and goSnipe’s powerful redundant servers than by humans), you can solidify your standing as a very good auction sniper.

goSnipe’s auction sniping services are always at work – even while you are playing.  These services can be performed while you are out to lunch, or in an important business meeting, or watching a sports game, or travelling.  Using the goSnipe auction bidding sniping software is as easy as 1-2-3.  Try goSnipe now today for free – log on at www.goSnipe.com.  We are confident you will be pleased with the auction sniping experience.  And we thank the editors of Slapstart for giving us this opportunity to showcase our product to its audience at SlapStart.

-The goSnipe Team

For more information, goSnipe can be emailed at [email protected]
goSnipe, Inc., a California Corporation
Sponsored

Fonize: Let your customers call you, boost online sales

The other day I had to call, like, my insurance company or something, and, well, you know how it goes.  The rules of physics and logic made it simply impossible to talk to a human within a reasonable amount of time.  Impossible!  It was very frustrating, and I won’t dwell on it because a) it’s not healthy, and b) it’s not exactly news to you, loyal reader.  But it really does make you wonder.  Specifically, why do businesses intentionally try to avoid customers?  Why do they create all these hoops and mazes and labyrinths?  Perhaps it’s not my place to understand their logic.

The idealist in me, however, imagines there are a bunch of businesses out there, who, y’know, actually want to engage with their clients.  I don’t know, maybe even make money, generate leads, and increase online sales.  If you’re a member of this rare breed, then Fonize is just what the doctor ordered.

FonizeHome

Fonize is simple.  It’s a widget that can be embedded on any website to allow visitors to call the site owner or company.  The calls are made directly from their computers (using their micro), and don’t require any downloads or installations.  The basic plan is free, with options to upgrade for unlimited calls, more phone numbers, and longer talk times. They also have an industrial strength Sales+ package geared towards a team of people all responding to calls.

On the home page, I was prompted to preview it for myself.  You just type in your company website and phone number and take it for a ride.  I did that very thing, using SlapStart as my business; the proof is in the pudding.  Check out the screen shot below- or, check out the bottom right of this page.  I put the embed code in this article. It’s no different than embedding a Youtube video or pictures of Shirley Bassey.  Note that I intentionally set it to leave a message, though if I were anticipating calls I could send them straight to my phone.  As a user, all’s you gotta do is click it, and, if your microphone is properly configured, you’re calling.  Talk about easy access.

Fonize with SlapStart

The client can choose whether to use the “Flash Button” (pictured above) or a “Click to Call” button. The Click To Call button appears in a configurable pop-up window. You can change the logo background, logo title, the background of the body, and the text, to match your site design. On top of that, the admin menu has the following useful features. The first one is my favorite, though the third is a close second. (pun not intended…)

  • Can specify working hours and timezone (so you don’t receive phone calls at 3AM in the morning!)
  • There’s a call history tab, to keep track of who contacted you.
  • The Click to Call and Flash call widgets can be configured from the admin interface without touching a single line of code. You install it once to your website, and can customize the button later.

Fonize goes after the Bermuda Triangle of online commerce: the web site visitor who goes to the site (so far so good), but doesn’t “convert” into a sale (not so good.)  I don’t have the stats handy – my intern is at a permaculture workshop – but I’d venture to hazard to guess that the ability to increase online sales is an enormous opportunity for growth for online businesses. Small-to-medium sized businesses can both generate leads and increase their closing ratio by being able to connect with the customer before they leave the site.

There’s one noticeable feature too Fonize’s homepage- it has all the information about their service on just one page.  No tabs, menu bars, nothing!  It’s actually nice not to have to navigate around to look for details about the service.  That said, I found myself scrolling a bit.  Perhaps put the Pricing piece on a separate page, as well as the FAQs.

One elephant in the room must be mentioned about this service however. Fonize- pronounced “Phone- Eyes”, looks very much like Fonzie.  Like, Fonzie from Happy Days.  Aka, “The Fonz.”  What a cool dude.  Remember when he’d just hit the jukebox with his fist and it’d turn on?  How’d he do that?*

* That said, I always considered him somewhat of a semi-tragic figure.  Emotionally impenetrable, afraid of love, etc.  Textbook case.

Sponsored

Jibidee: The place we’ll one day be

We all know things are changing. Today Adobe Flash is the tool of choice to embed multimedia online, tomorrow it may be HTML 5. Or, subconsciously we’re all irritated when we click on a PDF. It freezes your browser and makes everything slow. One day that will change too. (and not a moment too soon!)

There’s one major change that’s been taking place over the years. It’s on a slow cycle, lollygagging on its way in. I’m talking about the downfall of the PC and rise of centralized servers. Even now our computers are more and more becoming conduits to information stored out there somewhere- in the nebulous internets where only George Bush could possibly find it. We store our pictures on Facebook, videos on Youtube, our diaries on blogs, email with Google, Yahoo, or a few others. Not to mention our calendars, schedules, contact information, and documents- these are all moving online.

The advent of Google Apps proved that desktop applications can be moved to the web. Now people are taking it to the next level- moving the entire desktop, to the web. Jibidee created a tool that begins to do just that. It appears like a desktop, but is accessible from your web browser. It’s hailed as, a webtop.Jibidee WebtopJibidee’s webtop consists of the following features: Calendar, Contacts, Photos, List/Notes, Documents, and Fax. They have easy to use sharing functions that integrate with your contacts. (Calendar sharing functionality is coming soon.) The List and Notes tool gives you the option to create notes, lists, notes with columns, as well as checklists. Photos can be arranged into Albums, set as the webtop background, and shared with your contacts. Jibidee took a different slant with their contact book in that it’s reminiscent of the kind we used to use before computers came into existence. It has pages that turn and fancy headings. It’s kind of homey- familiar in a way. The fax functionality is a noticeably cool anomaly in this already ground breaking webtop. To those who don’t know, online fax services are an entirely separate vertical. Most often it’s the sole product offering of the company. Our friends at Jibidee tacked the entire thing on as a feature within their product, for about the same price as other providers. Faxes can be sent and received from your webtop using a personal, dedicated fax line. Standard users have 100MB total storage, but it’s come to our attention that there’s a free 3GB upgrade to those who ‘like’ them on Facebook. I’m not sure there’s any reward for their Twitter followers, but we’re following them just in case.

One of the niftiest features is that everything you see on the webtop is mobile accessible- including faxes. So, you write a to-do list at home, head off to the grocery store, and it’s all right there on your phone. Then you need to fax some papers to the client. You can shoot those on over while you’re in the frozen foods section at the Piggly Wiggly. Here’s a full list of features Jibidee offers to help you get organized. I have to mention these packages come along with the hands down most resoundingly pleasant demos known to webkind. It’s almost like the folks at Jibidee are a happy and functional cohesive unit. I thought the web was reserved for us dysfunctional folks, but I digress. And I digress some more. Let’s talk about some digressions that could further usher in those predictions that are steadily approaching- namely the webtop.

Digression #1
Filetransfer- The number one thing Jibidee needs to do is to not forget the past before moving on to the future. The past is the desktop, and migrating desktop documents to the Jibidee webtop is one of the keys to their success. It needs to be easy and seamless. The current process is to individually select and upload files, (or have them faxed). This isn’t particularly convenient for someone who plans on moving large amounts of documents. There’s actually two pterosaur sized birds that could be knocked out with the same stone here. Bird one is that the file transfer process could be improved. Bird number two is much larger than bird one. Jibidee by nature, is a storage tool. I.e. If I really wanted to I could utilize Jibidee to safely back up my local files to a secure server. But, as squawked by bird one, this has to be done individually. The single stone solution to this, is, (wait for it), conquer yet another entire vertical- backups, also known as, storage.

By providing a tool that can sync the user’s local folders with their Jibidee account, Jibidee will open the floodgates to people being able to migrate to this new way of life. Not to mention tackling another industry. Not too shabby, I’d say.

Digression #2
Multi-level file structure. I have close to 500 labels in my Gmail account. Why? Because the folks at Google in their infinite wisdom did not think that I needed to have subdirectories. Long rants have been spent on this sad state of affairs for webmail. Jibidee’s service follows this de facto standard for web applications, providing one level of folders. I suggest that adding the subfolder functionality would be a key step towards people migrating to a webtop. Without subfolders there’s an upper limit to how many documents can be reasonably managed. It also happens to be necessary in order for digression #1 to be implemented.

Digression #3
Applications. Google apps made it clear that we can use Word Processing applications online. The lists and notes features are useful and provide moderate document creation and editing abilities. As of right now if we upload Word or Excel docs however, they can only be read, shared, downloaded and faxed. What if I could edit them? Turns out it’s not as hard as it would seem. Some brainiac’s took it upon themselves to call themselves Zoho, and also provide a complete set of Productivity apps (Word, Excel, etc…). Why Jibidee may care is that the Zohoians also provided an API. Its purpose is to provide “open access to as many of its online application services as possible.” My suggestion is to look into it, and see if they succeeded.

The service of Jibidee is a strong paving stone in the direction of a fully functional webtop. They provide a complete set of tools that would help organize sales professionals, self employed individuals, as well as families or groups who would like to share pictures, notes, documents, and soon, calendars.  This may be a happy niche to stay in and is certainly helpful in staying organized and getting things done. Perhaps, on a lazy Sunday afternoon, they’ll also indulge themselves in a digression, or two.

Sponsored

FlashUSAmap: Put Your Website On The Map

FlashUSAmap rebranded and expanded their service. It’s now Simplemaps and covers more map areas.

There are many oddities about the human race. In particular, how we assess our fellow man is sometimes not the most logical of activities. One quirk we all have in common is how much emphasis we place on one’s geographic origin. Whenever we venture out into other parts of the world the first question is often, “Where are you from?”  Based upon this we’ll immediately make judgments about that person. We’ll size up their character, habits, intellect, and how much we may or may not like them. Geography is so important to how we see ourselves that many of us go to great lengths to find out where our ancestors were born.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to where you are on the map- literally. In the United States, we focus on the division between states. There are red states, blue states, the North, the South, East, and West. Of course there’s my favorite state, the one everyone thinks is going to fall into the ocean. We view people from other states and regions in a certain light; sometimes positively, other times negatively. Sometimes it’s fun to perpetuate our own geographical stereotype. When I was thirteen, I went to Baltimore on a trip. When I told people that I was from California they would ask me about surfing. I guess on a map and on television, California looks like one big coastline. At first I would correct them and tell them I’d never surfed. Later in the trip I gave up and began saying that everyone in California surfed. We surf to school or work I told them- every morning in fact. This revelation no doubt inspired wonder and jealousy in my impressionable peers. And it was all because of where I was from on the map.

In the online world maps play a crucial role. If you’re a real estate agent, a nice map can visually show people what areas you serve. Or let’s say you own a chain of restaurants and need to illustrate where they’re all located. At this point you have to call your web developer and ask them to build such a tool. Either they’ll fall over because it’s a rather complex project, or you’ll fall over when they tell you the price. Such an endeavor is non trivial. Fortunately, FlashUSAmap provides an interactive map of the good ole US of A, for exactly this purpose.

flashusamap

FlashUSAmap offers a fully-customizable map, rendered in Flash, that can easily be installed on any website. It works by pulling data from XML files, (pronounced my-ex-smells), that can be edited with a standard text editor. Each state acts as a separate link and can have its own target URL. While hovering over it the state can create a pop-up that reveals more information and also an image. Or, if you don’t have any information to convey about a particular region, it can be deactivated. It’s completely resizable, and links, colors, and text can all be customized. It’s supported on multiple platforms, including PHP, ASP, Python, Ruby and Perl. The Examples link shows more details about the various options.

The price of the map is a staggeringly low $59. Graciously, there’s a free trial version to take this map out for a test, er, cartography ride. From a web development standpoint this map not only saves you money, but precious sanity as well.

FlashUSAmap honed in on solving a specific common problem for the benefit of web developers and site owners around the world. As a result of their effort web developers can install and configure this map, and then move on to other pressing tasks.

promotional video paid for by the Sponsor

Panopta Sponsored

Panopta: A scalable outage management service

In all my years, I’ve learned many things.  For example: the old adage “liquor before wine, feeling fine,” is good in theory, not in practice.  To that end, I’ve also learned that bad things happen.  It’s true.  Sometimes you can control it, often times you can’t; all you can control is your response to these bad things.  This is why we pay “crisis management” consultants hundreds of dollars an hour.

And in the world of online businesses, bad things can turn into really bad things, really fast.  Simply put, if not handled properly, an outage to your online business can be devastating – even fatal.  Panopta is an advanced server monitoring and outage management service to help mitigate this risk.

Panopta

Before I delve a bit further into the Panopta’s site, let me depress you into submission first.  Back in 2008, the seemingly impervious Amazon.com was down for several hours over two business days.  Estimated losses totaled a million dollars an hour in sales.  To steal a quote from the New York Times:

“Technology companies have branded the Internet as a place that is always on and where information is always available. People are disappointed and looking for answers when it turns out not to be true.”

And as any small business will tell you, you don’t have to be Amazon or eBay to be financially affected.  Quite the opposite: due to limited resources, most small businesses often cross their fingers and hope for the best when it comes to preventing outages.  (And small businesses outages simply aren’t headline news.)  And this is where Panopta rocks: it acknowledges the inevitable, and helps you manage the damage efficiently and effectively.  On its home page, Panopta succinctly frames their service’s features by addressing some of the key failure points that hamper outage management.  Here they are:

  • The “Who” problem: Namely, who gets notified of the outage.  Seems simple enough, right?  Well, not so much.  Many businesses lack a chain of command, and Panopta provides it with automatic team-based escalation tools.  (In other words, if Todd the IT guy is out watching Shrek 3, the monitoring system immediately pings his underling, Gary the Trekkie.)
  • The “What” problem: “What” meaning servers, of course.  But not all servers are the same.  An outage to, say, the servers housing sensitive financial data can be crippling; an outage to, say, the server housing the St. Patrick’s Day Planning Committee docs? (green Jello shots!)  Not so much.  Panopta manages servers in terms of quality, designed to scale to large numbers, as well as quantity.
  • The “When” problem: Panopta is fast – it scans the servers every 60 seconds.  If something bad goes down, it will be picked up almost immediately.  And its reports can help you detect trends to prevent the next outage.
  • The “Where” problem: If you were to ask what “Where” applies to, I’d say, “Your online business, of course!”

As you can expect, users navigate these waters on Panopta’s monitoring dashboard, which is below.  It’s simple interface shows Active Outages, Recently Resolved Outages, and Announcements.  And the other tabs are equally intuitive: Servers, Outages, Users & Contacts, Notification, Reports, Settings, Billing, and Support.

Panopta Dashboard

From a first-time user’s perspective, it seemed simple and easy.  It includes a 30 Day Free Trial, which should be long enough to determine that it’s the right solution for you.  The Pricing plan are reasonable, and geared especially for small businesses.

Outage management isn’t about a single tool or piece of software; it’s a process, a service.  The whole package must be scalable, efficient, and user-friendly.  If it’s not, it sits on the proverbial shelf until the inevitable happens, and you, the business, are burned and broke and bummed.  Not good.  Panopta, an intuitive outage management service, acknowledges this, addressing the key failure points in the outage management lifecycle.  Bad things happen, but with Panopta, outages can be not so bad.  And that, in and of itself, is also not so bad.  If that makes sense.

StyleCheckUp Sponsored

StyleCheckUp: Which Dress Looks Best

Every morning, all across the world, people wake up to face the new day. Amongst other morning rituals they each in their own way, decide what to wear. For some, namely, men, this is a simple procedure. Pants, shirt, shoes- hopefully they match. Women face a different ordeal altogether. Three to four outfits later they finally select the décor that works for them. That’s why when you notice a girl’s shoes or cute hat, a compliment goes a long way. Those were the ninth pair of shoes and second hat she wore that day before braving the world. Side note on the hat, if I’m ever caught complimenting a cute hat, I like the girl, not the hat. I’m fairly passé on the whole cute hat thing.

The decision of what to wear is exacerbated seven fold by an event, or dare I mention, a date. Long hours are spent finding the right dress to attend a wedding, nice top for a casual hang out, and all the events that take place in between.

StyleCheckUp is a site that assists with just that- helping women the world round pick out what to wear. Its plush purple pages provide an interface to upload three different outfits and then allow friends, family, and your favorite internet anonymous strangers to vote which is the best. Along the way it also provides how to videos, style suggestions, promotions, fads, and everything in between. All you need to know about fashion can be found through the venue of StyleCheckUp.

Decide What to Wear

My favorite part of StyleCheckup is the hot or not functionality. I particularly like that I didn’t have to register to vote which dress looks best. I can click on the Vote on Styles link, review the various photos and cast my opinion. All the while helping to create a better, more confidently dressed woman. I found the magazines, forums, classifieds sections to be full of content. From videos on how to do my eyebrows to their own mini Classifieds section, it has a variety of different draws above and beyond the voting functionality.

A big promotion going on at this very moment is none other than, the “Big Contest.”  They’re giving away six, yes you heard me six, Coach purses. When I’m completely honest with myself, the only real fashion distinction I can make is that there are women who have a Coach purse, and those who do not. StyleCheckUp knows this and is giving new users the allure of winning one of these prized chic totes.

The biggest improvements I would hope to see revolve around my favorite part of the site- submitting and voting for the various styles. This is the heart of StyleCheckUp and what makes it fun and altogether compelling. They say to succeed in the web today, go an inch wide, and a mile deep. Submitting and voting on styles is StyleCheckUp’s “inch.” As such, I want it to be more discoverable and more developed. At the risk of making a joke gone terribly awry- StyleCheckUp has found their inch. Now do as women have done for millennia, and take it a mile- deep. Specifically, I have two requests. (Not counting a third, coyly mumbled, lip quivering request for the ever fashionable StyleCheckUp to let me take her out.)
1) Place a rotating mini Style check up widget on the homepage. This will tell even someone as slow and bumbly as me, that this site is one where I can submit and vote on various styles. It also gets people interacting with the site right away.
2) The next Suggestion is to have unique pages for each fashion submission. That way tweens the world round, and the lovely women they grow into, can email their pressing fashion questions to their friends. This page would have tons of potential, such as comments, share it on facebook, etc. Plus, the current voting section does have a “story” section, but we all know it does no justice to some events. It allows for a minor story, not the epilogues these dresses deserve. I mean, don’t we need to talk about the date’s eye color and that he remembered to call the next day. Or maybe he seemed a little distracted by the waitress until you ‘accidentally’ spilled your water on the table. (Don’t think I don’t know all your tricks!) These are all essential details needed to help pick out one’s next outfit.

The StyleCheckUp page is a fun and promising site. The fascination of checking out and voting on what other people are wearing will be the big draw. Once users get used to voting, they’ll start making their own submissions too. Soon women will be hitting the town dressed a bit more confidently, and perhaps a bit more stylish for the occasion. In my case, I’ll just go with pants, shirt and shoes- no hat. Let me know when you’re free.

StyleCheckUp did the one thing we never wanted them to do- left! Was it something we said? I swear I won’t hang out with the guys anymore on Fridays or leave my socks all over the house. As time passes we’ll slowly begin to accept the reality that she just isn’t coming back- leaving the forever we had together, forever in the past.

Sponsored

StackMeUp: Compare, get advice, set goals

It started 200,000 years ago when one ape ate a bigger banana than another one.  The stares.  The jealously.  The gossip.  And since then, it’s encoded in our DNA: everybody is trying to keep up with the Joneses.

We hear through the grapevine that that huge mansion down the street sold, and we immediately look up the price.  A friend of ours got a job and we’re really curious about his salary.  We meet somebody at a bar and immediately ask their age, sign (sometimes?), college, job, whatever.  We size people up.  We judge.  In the business world, it’s called “benchmarking.”  In the real world, it’s called being human.  It’s fun!  And now there’s a place to compare yourself across a set of categories with all types of people.  It’s called StackMeUp.  And validation, goal-setting, and “life benchmarking” (I just made that up) never felt so nice.

stackmeup11

What I like about StackMeUp is that it aggregates all this juicy data that normally you’d have to dig up on multiple sites.  For example, on the Individual Income tab, you can find out how your income compares by age, gender, ethnicity, education, and even your profession.  Whereas on the Net Wealth tab you can find how your net wealth compares by age, gender, ethnicity, education and more.  You can also compare real estate and compare sex-related stuff; the latter of which may help you with that special someone and/or get you fired if you compare it on your computer at work.  At the same time, it also doubles as a sounding board where people can simply get advice.  While I’m personally beyond advice – I’d like to think I have everything pretty much figured out (keywords: Omega 3s, Vitamin D, and primal scream therapy) – the gossipy, what-are-other-people-doing? component of the site intrigued me greatly.  So I signed up.

Upon doing so, I was prompted to select sub-categores in which I’d consider myself an expert, eg. “Top Stacker.”  So for the Athletic Performance category, we had “Bench Press,” “Pull-ups,” etc.  Ditto for other categories: Education, Health, Income, Sex, Real Estate, etc.  And you have to put your money where your mouth is: your description lets you talk about awards and recognitions, so people know you’re legit.  You can also select “Areas of Expertise,” and let people contact you for advice.  I also like the “My Brain Trust” portion of the profile – people you’ve come to know and trust for insight and advice.  But this is not just a static advice site.  StackMeUp also lets you set goals, put them in writing, and track them over time.  You can make your goal public so your pals, Brain Trust, etc. can cheer you along.

stackmeup21

So this is where things all tie together. Your goals are only as practical or achievable as your network of experts.  The more you can educate yourself, the better, and Stackmeup succeeds in building a nice little community of support and encouragement.  In addition to helping you compare salaries, home prices, and other quantifiable measures, the site can do even cooler things, like, telling you the statistical chances of meeting a person who makes a certain income of a specific gender/race/age/religion in your county.  My only navigational comments are as follows:

The copy at the top of the page is insightful (“Now you can privately compare your personal information or share your knowledge with millions of other people”) but I believe it could be made even punchier; unlike other sites where you can share knowledge, StackMeUp is different (see everything above.)  It’d be worthwhile to accentuate this difference crisply (e.g. “StackMeUp: Compare, Get Advice, Set Goals.”)  Just a thought.

You know, there’s an old saying, “No man is an island.”  There’s also another: “It takes a village.”  Also, “You can’t turn a rat into a gazelle.”   Two of these three saying suggest that we are all inter-connected and, like it or not, reliant on our fellow man/woman.   StackMeUp creates an interesting online community where you can not only rely on your fellow man/woman, but seek out experts for advice, “life benchmarking,” and support in reaching your goals.  Kind of like a life coach, except StackMeUp isn’t $200/hr and doesn’t still live with his mother.

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FindTheBest: You Decide What’s Best

I love to shop; I do it all the time. From clothes, to tools, to buying books online, I’m always looking for good deals. And the best way to shop is to be able to compare things side-by-side. This allows you to evaluate items by contrasting similar features and real, hard numbers. It makes it so you can clearly identify pros and cons, compare price-versus-value, show other people (co-workers, a spouse, etc.) exactly why you’ve decided on a particular product. It’s the way I like to shop.

While there are many websites out there that allow you to do this, they only let you compare tangible products and some services. What if you’re not shopping for a product, but trying to decide which breed of dog is right for your family? What if you want to compare colleges? Or technology blogs? Or airports? How about only airports in Spain? Or dinosaurs? You can compare all these things and more, at FindTheBest.

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Did you ever wonder how tall the tallest carnivorous dinosaur was? (Seismosaurus – 84 ft.) Or did you ever want to know what the healthiest thing is to eat at Popeye’s Fried Chicken? (Sadly, not chicken: corn.) Yes, there are many more important things to compare. What I like about FindTheBest, isn’t that it helps you compare products and cost. It’s that it helps you reach a conclusion based on what you want. It’s about being able to make an informed decision and decide what’s best for you.

FindTheBest is an unbiased search engine specifically designed to help you make comparisons and, ultimately, decisions. The array of options for narrowing your search is dizzying and comparison “apps” are designed to help you make comparisons that might not otherwise pop out at you. The site is community-driven and users can add/edit listing, suggest new apps, and post reviews and comments.

The website is divided in to nine categories with multiple subcategories that cover a slew of topics you might want to compare. You can compare ski resorts, celebrities, cheeseburgers, dog breeds, pizza nutrition facts, soccer stadiums, and much more. Each entry under the categories is an app that gathers specific information together to answer a question. It’s a way to parse the raw data and present facts in a way that lets you make an informed decision.

After typing in a search term, you’ll find a list of app pages that offer ways to compare aspects of your keyword and also a list of informational pages so you can learn more. Typing in “dogs” for instance, will pop up comparison app pages for dog breeds and dog runs in New York City, as well as information on various dog-related organizations, books, films, and websites. Choosing a comparison page will open up a chart containing information that relates to the subject. Following our example, choosing “dog breeds” brings up images, maximum height and weight, groups of breeds, life expectancy (in years), and temperament. By clicking on a column heading, you can sort the information into groups, and by adjusting the sliders at the left side of the screen (or typing in more information) I can further narrow my comparison. I can choose to see only dogs that weigh less than ten pounds, are hypo-allergenic, and are good with children. So you can hone in on just what you want and then compare those few options side-by-side.

The sign-up process is simple and allows you to participate in the community, which is really where the website begins to differentiate itself from other comparison engines. If there is any missing information that could potentially influence why one product/service/place/thing is superior to another but isn’t listed, you can edit that listing or provide a review on subjects so that another user won’t make the same mistake you did. Things might look good on paper but end up another story after you’ve committed to it. At FindTheBest, you’ve got a voice.

In addition to being able to do your own comparisons on FindTheBest, you can also share your research with the rest of the world. FindTheBest has a share button that allows you to share your findings with Twitter, Facebook, Digg, Reddit, and a number of other social networking sites. Also, you can embed apps in your own website or customize a widget for showing information on your blog, website, or HTML email messages.

In an ideal world, it would be a boon to have a way to create your own apps, rather than just be able to suggest them. I’m hopeful this will be integrated into the site sometime in the future. Also, some apps are difficult to understand because if the first column of a group of entries is left blank, it will show up first in the app. Most notable is the “Cell Phone Reception” comparison page, which sometimes lists all of the blank entries on the first page, depending upon how you get to it. It should be noted that the site is only in beta right now, but still has a ton of features and is entirely usable.

FindTheBest is easy to use and share, and it will continue to grow and offer more functionality. I’m looking forward to seeing how it develops in the future. There are already a variety of search options and ways to look at and compare information that puts the site head and shoulders above regular search engines. FindTheBest isn’t just a comparison engine; with reviews and facts from a growing user base. It’s a real, unbiased, decision-engine. The best things about FindTheBest isn’t that just that it tells you what’s best. It’s that it allows you to define what you think is the best, and then find it.

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GoSnipe: A free auction sniper

It’s a Zen-like art form akin to walking on water, whispering to grasshoppers, or moving spoons with one’s mind.  Some would say it’s black magic.  To others, the Holy Grail of digital commerce.  I am talking, of course, of the mysterious art of getting stuff on eBay by bidding at the last possible nanosecond.

We’ve all been there.  Like good, law-abiding boys and girls, we submit our bid on an auction.  We are mildly pleased to see our bid is live; in fact, we are mere half-minutes away from scoring say, some nice glassware or used LPs, when the gates of Hades open and viperous locusts descend upon your auction, driving up the price, and bumming you out.  Even if you had the wherewithal to repel them, the item has far exceeded your price range.  Oh well, maybe tomorrow.

But you now have an ally against these eBay asps!  It’s goSnipe, an auction sniper site that places your bid at the last possible second so you can get what you want at the price you want.

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For those not in the know, auction sniping is the process of watching a timed online auction, and placing a winning bid at the last possible moment (often seconds before the end of the auction), giving the other bidders no time to outbid the sniper.  goSnipe automates this process, which is a lot less stressful than sniping manually.  The life of a sniper is inherently stressful enough.  At the last possible nanosecond, goSnipe executes your eBay auction bid, and once goSnipe wins the item on your behalf, it alerts you accordingly.  So I took a spin.

The first thing that grabbed my attention was the search box in the middle of the screen, prompting me to enter my eBay search keyword or item number.  So I tried the former, entering “record player,” and up popped a bunch of them.  For each item, I saw the last bid, remaining time, number of bids, seller, end date, and category.  Most importantly, for each item I could “goSnipe!”  By pressing that button, I was prompted to enter my eBay user name and keyword.  This, as you can imagine, made things quite easy (as opposed to registering to goSnipe from scratch), especially since goSnipe is a trusted site.

I then entered an eBay item number into the search box.  In this case it was for a used copy of the Bee Gees’ “Spirits Having Flown” album.  And, as certain as I’m writing you, the record popped up, where I saw all important information.  Let it be known that I particularly enjoyed the layout of the search result page.  The layout – see screen shot below – echoes that of eBay, however it’s far less cluttered.  (Specifically, goSnipe omits the big, cluttered “Refined Search” toolbar of eBay’s).  This is nice, because, goSnipe is perfectly synced with eBay, so you can do all of your item searching on the more aesthetically-pleasing goSnipe.  And, it naturally makes the eBay sniping process itself seamless.gosnipe21

Security is something that goSnipe took great measures to provide to its users.  All user logins are handled over SSL connections and eBay login information is encrypted.  Many other sniping sites overlook these security concerns – goSnipe understands that protecting their users’ information is of the utmost importance.

A couple of quick navigation suggestions:

  • The “features” page was very helpful, but I was also looking for an “About Page.”  That said, if you’re a remotely savvy eBay-er, you’ll know immediately what this site is all about.
  • On the Features page, we are told of their dashboard.  I imagine it’s totally cool – would be nice to have a robust screen shot of it.
  • Lastly, on the login page, I was told “Before you can begin sniping auctions you must register for your goSnipe account below.”  While that is true, the idea that all I have to do to register is enter my eBay account is quite alluring.  In fact, I’d advocate more copy to that extent throughout the site (e.g. “Just enter your eBay username and password and start sniping!”)

Although minor, I thought I would reach out to the goSnipe customer service and offer my suggestions.  The goSnipe team was quick to respond, courteous, friendly, and thanked me for providing input they felt could enhance the user experience.  A personal attribute often lost in the dot-com world we live in today.  They understood that these changes, in the valuable opinion of a user, would simply accentuate goSnipe’s features and functionality.

In fact, I was wondering if there’s a catch, and from what I can tell, there wasn’t.  goSnipe is presently free, and even if the company does move to monetizing the auction sniping service, the service can save you tons of money and time (which is also money) by acting as a cool, cold, calculated eBay sniper and assassin.  In fact, this reminds me of an old Buddhist saying – I actually looked one up – and it goes like this: “The one who is good at shooting does not hit the center of the target.”

How, exactly, this saying applies to goSnipe, I’m still not sure.   But it sure makes you think, eh?

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BidaGig: Platform for independent and freelance artists to find work

As any musician or artist will tell you, there is no too far a distance to drive or fly for your passion.  Think about it.  You have the South by Southwest festival every year in Austin, TX.  Bands drive thousands of miles from all over the country just to play.  Sure, a small, naive subset of them think that by playing for the right person, they can catch a big break, but the smart ones know otherwise.  They know their commercial prospects are nil.  Rather, it’s a fun drive and a fun gig.  They love to rock and tour!

But if there was money involved?  Forget about it.  Bands – and most artists, I’d wager – would move mountains to get and play the gig.  And in today’s economy, any paid gig is a great one.  And if the person paying for the gig could decide between multiple vying bands/artists to get the best bang for their buck?  That’s gold, baby!  Or, to those in the know, that’s what BidaGig – a platform for independent and freelance artists to find work – does.

BidaGig Home

BidaGig lets the consumer/buyer, who is seeking to hire artists, live entertainers, and service providers, post their gig – via an RFP platform (Request for Proposal) – with full description, details, and requirements for their event.  Artists, in turn, submit their Bid Proposals for gigs of interest to them.  This model empowers the artist to go get work, rather than rely on, say, booking agents who can take 20-40% (!) of artist earnings.  Conversely, having multiple artists competing for the gig benefits the consumer/buyer: they can pick the best, affordable artist out there.

Example: Let’s say, in some distant, bizarre fantasy world, I get married.  I’m seeking to hire a wedding band, so I would post my event details and requirements as a Gig.  Bands who feel they meet my requirements can submit their Bid proposals.  They can be as competitive as they’d like with their proposal and re-bid at any time if they feel they can beat a previously submitted proposal.  The bands are vying for work, but ultimately, it’s my choice: I simply do my due diligence and select the bid proposal I like best.

The home page grabs you immediately: a rotating set of applicable pictures: bands, event planners, dancers, etc.  I first dove in under the context of someone looking for a band.  I clicked on the Artist tab.   I checked out the profile (below) of Hector Cuevas, a performer of Cuban music, based in Rhode Island.  I could check out his feedback, areas of expertise, hourly rate, and portfolio, which includes a picture of the band.  Artists can upload their video and/or audio; this will naturally be a critical input for any consumer weighing the different artists out there.  The artist Audio section displays in their full profile (check out an example here), while the audio can be found in the Portfolio tab.    Most importantly, I could “Invite to Bid,” where I could reach out to them and invite them (and others) to play my event.  Then let the bidding begin!  Meanwhile, the process of setting up a profile as an artist was equally simple.  Simply register and away you go.  Sit back and wait for the bids to come in, or proactively reach out to artists.

BidaGig Sample Portfolio

I also sensed a concentration on wedding bands, which is a huge market, and also one that benefits musicians.  (Some insider knowledge here: many bands who perform original tunes also have “money bands” – essentially wedding bands covering classic hits, which, not coincidentally, helps pay the rent.)  At the same time, certain wedding bands can – how can I say this diplomatically –  gouge people, particularly those within a certain geographic area.  Again, there are countless bands who’d take a smaller cut in pay and drive an extra hour or two to get the gig, build connections, and impress people.  Duh!  But, of course, that doesn’t mean the band will be lame.  Quite the opposite: BidaGig allows consumers/buyers to review the profiles, portfolios, and feedback scores of the artists that interest them. Once they do their due diligence they select the artist that will meet their needs the best.  And again, rather than be beholden to commisson-getting booking agents, most of whom manage multiple artists themselves, BidaGig’s platform empowers independent and freelance artists to control their own destiny.  When you stop to think about BidaGig’s business model in totality, you wonder: Bidagig, where have you been all our lives?