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Posted 08/08/2017   11:29 pm  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add ScottEnglish to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
I somehow missed this conversation. There are a lot of issues discussed here and I apologize if I gloss over any points.

Let me address the big point regarding IT staff. I've probably made this point before, but as part of my role as COO managed an IT staff of 45 developing applications, providing network security, network support, and acquisitions of third party applications for 1,000 employees and 85 school districts. Given the transformation of the network we accomplished in four years - I got a first class education. I respect the value of internal staff when it comes to being aggressive IT strategy. When you have a large workforce and a $4 billion budget, making decisions does not cost you a moment's sleep - though I am proud to have accomplished substantial reductions in hardware costs, conforming programming languages from 10 to 4 for the 70 in-house applications, a massive SQL upgrade of 1,000 databases, and implementation of a VDI for most of the workforce - the first in state government. All the while maintaining security for the second largest data collection in the state with 5 million unique identities. That's a summary, but hopefully it speaks to my own experience.

Having said that, in the APS universe, managing the budget, workforce, and implementation of projects is just as challenging as it is for any non-profit. Every position to be created will require increased revenue or reductions in force elsewhere until we can build our revenue generating capacity. In 2015, sales and expertizing lost $100,000 - instead of being at least a break even. Fulfilling the education mission of a non-profit is not a moneymaker and the advertising revenue does not offset cost of production of the journal. We have made gains in each of those areas over the last two years, but the only two options at present would be eliminating staff or increasing the dues. Neither is particularly appealing. That is why I have chosen to take a more modest growth plan, and prioritize where we invest. The goal of raising $150,000 is near completion, which will allow us to move immediately to improve the front face of the website, institute direct content and relation building through electronic means with non-members, and create education content for members. Most of that will rely on third-party resources - which again, is not uncommon in the non-profit world.

The current website was built through a combination of volunteers and an offsite vendor. Otherwise, the investment would be substantial. The American Numismatic Association spent more than $1 million to acquire their current website which includes business transactions and log-in capabilities. I believe they grossly overspent, but there it is. The back end replacement would be substantial unless three or four retired coders were willing to help us build a new model. I'm all ears on this expertise taking the design and PM work and building it in a sandbox. If that's doable, I'd be glad to engage someone who would run the project, assist with discovery, discuss objectives and real costs. Heck, a back of the envelope estimate out of the gate would even be great, if it's not asking too much.

I reported to the Board that we have 22,000 unique visitors a month to our website, about 9,000 fewer than Linn's. What's interesting is that our visitors spend more time on our site than Linn's by about five minutes on average. Most of our visitors come for new U.S. issues, StampStore, and information about what to do if you inherit a stamp collection. Given that, the front page has got to be seriously changed. It was built by a Committee and it appears that way. I focused on raising money rather than trying to oversee cosmetic changes, so that's why it remains that way. Our new CMS will be installed and available in the next 10 days at which point, our staff training will begin so we can address the front end.

Specific to Survey Monkey, yes, a SQL Server Survey could have been built - if we had the internal staff. We do not for the reasons I stated above. Survey Monkey is a perfectly acceptable commercial tool and yes, we do pay a reasonable monthly fee to have the resource available to us. For all of those occasions when we do surveys - and with the new site, there will be smaller surveys instituted through Survey Monkey, we can pull and analyze the data more efficiently since I do not have either the technical team or the analytics team (I also had team of 30 data analysts, so I appreciate analyzing and reporting data in house as well), to do what is readily available to us through Survey Monkey. Our survey designer is a market researcher with more than 30 years of field experience who also happens to be a member and donated all of his time to develop, analyze, and produce the report on our website. That includes traveling to Portland for focus groups and developing the questions. He did a wonderful job with the project and delivered it well under the paltry $7,500 we budgeted for the whole thing. In my previous world of politics, a weekend field survey of 1,500 people started at $10,000.

For the commentor who is planning to travel to the American Philatelic Center, please feel free to drop me a note at scott@stamps.org and we will make sure you get the full tour, which is usually 60 minutes. Hopefully, you'll also plan to visit the Circuit Books and/or the Stamp and Cover Shop while you are here and do a little shopping. There are some great deals and our staff will make you feel like family.
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Posted 08/09/2017   08:12 am  Show Profile Check 51studebaker's eBay Listings Bookmark this reply Add 51studebaker to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
Scott,
No question that doing technology incorrectly is costly. But by myself and on a budget of less than $5000 per year has delivered the Stamp Smarter website. It does not take millions, or even 6 figures, to develop and implement a decent website.

There are multiple examples of a basic misunderstanding of how to use technology at APS. I do not know what the problem is but do know that for whatever reason(s) the culture pushed back at every turn.

For example, when APS spent a large amount of money to develop the current website which was released in 2011, it was already outdated and missed the technology target by not being a responsive design. Responsive design and the trend towards mobile computing had already been well established 2-3 year earlier. So this means one of two things happened; either this critical trend was understood and someone made a bad decision or it was not understood at all. If it was understood than the decision may have been made in the context that the existing APS members were not mobile device users at that time. But even so it would have been the correct decision to develop a responsive foundation in anticipation of the obviously trend.

Having learned that lesson and looking forward, can you help us understand what has changed? Hopefully any new development is being done in a platform which fully supports CMS. Given the resource constraints facing APS it is obvious that they need a better approach than relying upon 3rd party contractors and volunteers. By using CMS, a strong underlying code foundation would be put into place with a layer of defined editable areas of each page. This then allows any 'office personal', with no coding experience, to easily make content changes. The underlying code is locked and cannot be accidently changed, only the defined areas can be modified.

Additionally and given the number you posted (sales and expertizing lost $100,000) the APS Store clearly needs improvement. Dennis (in another forum) described the process as this…

Quote:
We started with 10,000 items and a full-time staff of five (Director, two entering data, two scanning); there are now over 300,000 items on the site, with 500 to 1000 added every day. With the reorganization of the former Circuit Sales Division and ISU into a single unit - the APS Sales Division - there are now only two full-time staff dedicated to StampStore, doing nearly all of the data entry. Another full-time staffer splits time between the two units, doing much of the scanning. The overall director does some data entry and the rest of the scanning is done by volunteers, including me. I am the only one with philatelic knowledge. It is impossible to pre-screen the submissions from sellers due to the sheer volume. Those entering data must rely on the information provided by the seller on the submission form. They also have to decipher handwriting, which isn't always the best. Even when I'm scanning (usually two or three items at a time), I can't take the time to examine each item. That said, I'm on the computer every night and on the weekends looking at the latest submissions and either making corrections or identifying items for later review. We also rely on our members (like ClimberSteve above) to identify issues to the staff through the "Ask a Question" button. We receive dozens of emails every day and each one is investigated and appropriate action taken. I research many of those, as well as looking at many of the returned items to judge whether they can be corrected/reposted or need to be returned to the seller. StampStore, like every other aspect of the APS, is a huge undertaking, performed by too few people doing the best they can.

This is obviously not a cost effective or efficient process. Why not have an online form where APS members submit their listing themselves, doing all the scanning and data entry, before they send it to the APS? Not only would this then provide a great 'heads-up' for planning purposes (since the listing submission would arrive a few days before the material gets there) but it would also free up resources by putting them in a 'review mode' instead of endless mountains of data entry. Of course APS should keep the original service for those who do not have a computer. Keep the existing costing structure for online submissions and make the labor intensive 'we scan and do your data entry for you' a value-add paid service.

The Stamp Store and APS have a huge opportunity with the total failure of eBay to vet the sellers. APS already knows, and has vetted, its members. APS is empowered and can use the vetting of the members as a huge marketing advantage. But obviously the Stamp Store need a complete overhaul. The opening 'search' page is fine for a search page but is an abysmal landing page for the majority of buyers who might like to simply peruse the offerings. The landing page should entice users to explore and buy, it is the 'display window' of the storefront. And of course there are many other improvements which needs to be made including much better image support.

I saw in the last AP where you stated that the APS website should strive to become the 'go to' website for philatelists. I concur 100% but do not understand why the current direction appears to be improving the opening page of the site. Hopefully no one is thinking that improving the opening page is going to transform the site into a 'go to' site. Having a 'go to' site about all about content and features.

But content and features is another area of huge opportunity for APS. What happened to our hobby when the internet became such a key part of our lives? The first thing that jumps to mind is that the supply chain, the ways hobbyists found and purchased their stamps and covers, was turned on its head. Brick and mortar dealers quickly started drying up, stamps shows became more costly and difficult to justify. But this has left a huge vacuum in our hobby, dealers and stamp shows used to add a lot value that online venues like eBay do not fulfill. Education. Learning. Guidance. Help.

In other words, website content. Sites began to spring up all across the web driven by a thirst that the traditional supply chain used to satisfy. Has APS taken advantage of this opportunity? Frankly when I look at the APS site I can't help but wonder if this is all about the legacy culture of 'we limit access to information as a way to attract new memberships and profit centers.' Why would APS fill the website up with free helpful content for newer hobbyists when they are trying to sell the 'Beginner Kit' for $9.95? I also cannot help but think that the reason the World Stamp Identifier (something that was a requested donated effort represents a lot of manhours) has now sat unpublished for over a year is because it would compete with the selling of the 'APS Stamp Identifier' and the ID service.

I am not there and do not know what kind of cultural issue(s) might be 'pushing back' on content and technology development needed to make the APS site the go to site. But as someone who clearly has he experience and background, can you speak to us about how the culture has played a role in this transition? I am sure that everyone there is working hard, I am sure that they are all great dedicated people. But change is always hard in any organization. Have you seen obstacles or justifications on delivering more free content and features to help the APS site become the 'go to' philatelic site?
Thanks in advance for any feedback.
Don

Edit;
You mentioned that 'we have 22,000 unique visitors a month to our website' and this is an extraordinary number. So I checked some third party tools and got this result.



This shows about 7000 visitors per month. Perhaps the delta is what is defined as 'unique visitor'. Can you clarify this number for us?
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Posted 08/09/2017   08:56 am  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add angore to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
Some comments.

I think the key is to bring collectors together (not just visit the web site) so they can interact online just as they would do at a show or visit the APS. The more you can attract they more you can market your own products and services.

Scott made a comment at the APS General Meeting about the decision to have a blog and the discussion on how often it should be updated. I think Scott had the right comment but shows the staff's bias.

I wanted to go the Ambassador meeting to see what was discussed but there needs to be more Internet Ambassadors feeding the APS Facebook page and other online areas. I took at lot of pics and posted some of them here. I did not see many posting pics on places I visit. Linn's did not have regular daily updates.

I look at other forums and find something like Stamporama's approval section an ideal resource for members. I plan to use it soon. I have used the APS Stamp ID service once but find the SCF (this forum) ID service better...fellow members offering advice. I pay for this by supporting this forum.

The challenge with any expenditure it may be hard to quantify the impact of a project without market data. Membership involves retaining and attracting people. The question is where to spend the money for the most effect and often without data it becomes personal preference based upon their own expectations. I also realize APS is very concerned about "losing" control in an online group and some viewing failures in the past as indicative of actual trends when it was an execution problem.
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Posted 08/09/2017   09:11 am  Show Profile Check 51studebaker's eBay Listings Bookmark this reply Add 51studebaker to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
Hi Al,
Agreed but with 22,000 unique visitors per month the site should be generating significant ad income. Membership is something around 28,000, which would mean that each member visits about once a month. I wonder how the AP ad revenue compares to the website ad revenue. They should be fairly close to each other.

I also noticed some confusion at APS with the term 'blog'; some seem to call forums like this and Stamporama blogs when they are not blogs at all. Do you know if the discussion you mentioned was about a blog or did they really mean forum?
Don
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Posted 08/09/2017   11:23 am  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add ScottEnglish to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
Don --

I think you know I am not just talking about the opening page of the website. If that were the case, we would have already done it. When I say front facing that applies to the public side of the website, a comment I've made many times before. Yes, the content needs to be addressed. It's not possible to do a whiteboard session on the forum about how we will ultimately approach this. All I can do is apologize that past endeavors in technology have disappointed you. I am not familiar with the thinking and process that went into them, I, like you, can only draw conclusions based on what I see.

I don't view the World Stamp Identifier as competition with the Stamp Identification or Quick ID. Neither is really a revenue for a generator for the APS, nor essential to our long-term planning, so we are glad to provide other free resources. I am not sure about the background on you being asked to do it, it was represented to me that you offered it to us. If there is something else we need to do, you have all of my contact information and can let me know what's missing.

As for web traffic, I also used a third party so I could compare traffic on different philatelic sites. Here are the results that search provided on unique monthly visitors.



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Edited by ScottEnglish - 08/09/2017 11:26 am
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Posted 08/09/2017   3:35 pm  Show Profile Check 51studebaker's eBay Listings Bookmark this reply Add 51studebaker to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
Hi Scott,
Thank you for your response. Apparently there is some misunderstanding regarding the development World Stamp Identifier application. I did indeed offer to develop some kids games for the World Show but when these were completed I received an email (1/16/2016) from APS requesting development of the World Stamp Identifier. This was completely new to me and not previously discussed but I was happy to contribute.

The web traffic metrics has a lot of confusing terms and techo-speak so I was seeking clarification on the term 'unique visitors'. Web server log files, which contain the actual and definitive traffic numbers, are typically logged daily. So when they say 'unique visitors' the scope is each day. So if the metric is based upon the web server logs, having 1000 unique visitors per month could actually mean 100 different people who each visited the site 10 times (on different days) that month. Using third party tools, which do not have access to the real log files, are estimates based upon other methods that may or may not be accurate.

The APS web server hosting company should be providing access to the web server logs file at no additional cost. In fact, they typically also compile the files into slick web page reports which provide you with all kinds of incredibly useful metrics which can be used to better understand the actual web site performance. This would include things like how many visitors are members, which pages are the most and least popular, where the visitors have come from, etc.

Do you know if the current APS rework of the site will address the CMS issue to facilitate APS office folks being able to change editable page content easily? I can recommend some inexpensive (less than $200) development tools which makes this a simple ROI justification. Even if APS is not ready to apply internal resources right now it would put this important capability in place for use any time moving forward. If it is not done now, then trying to implement this capability later will require every single page to be re-coded at even more cost. If APS is undergoing a redesign then it only make sense to do this now since it is a very low cost 'no-brainer'. (I am, of course, assuming that APS is not headed in the direction of bringing IT internally.)

And do you know if the current rework of the site include improving the Stamp Store submission process and presentation?
Don
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Posted 08/09/2017   4:30 pm  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add ScottEnglish to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply

Quote:
Thank you for your response. Apparently there is some misunderstanding regarding the development World Stamp Identifier application. I did indeed offer to develop some kids games for the World Show but when these were completed I received an email (1/16/2016) from APS requesting development of the World Stamp Identifier. This was completely new to me and not previously discussed but I was happy to contribute.


I have a feeling I know how this came about - it was not a request from the APS, but it's water over the dam. Regardless, you indicated we were not supporting it and I just need to know what further actions we need to take to have it operational.

As for web traffic, the numbers were comparable to your post. One could conclude they were measured the same for both.

RE: CMS, the tool does allow us to edit the website with no coding skills at all. The idea is that it matches with our backend application that pulls data from our databases to provide information to the web. I'll reiterate my open invitation for an experienced volunteer to spearhead the PM and gather the developers for the site. I don't expect anyone to take me up on this offer, but if I don't ask, I wouldn't know.

As for redevelopment, yes, all pages will be responsive. Now that we can initiate the re-design of the front facing pages, adding education and consolidating video, blogging, etc - we have to evaluate StampStore. A basic back of the envelope says we should anticipate $250,000 to start over. I will be looking at it from the perspective of personally upload the items and the APS is simply the marketplace and enforcer of rules.
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Posted 08/09/2017   5:04 pm  Show Profile Check 51studebaker's eBay Listings Bookmark this reply Add 51studebaker to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
The Identifier was implemented and published by Link on the APS server last November at http://countryid.stamps.org/. But as far as I can tell the link has never been added to the APS site, it was never announced, and no one knows that it is there. The opening page was only meant to be a place holder until it was integrated with the rest of the APS website (it was the page used for the temporary World Stamp Show implementation.) If APS would like this redesigned to be responsive and match the rest of the current updates please let me know.

If it is something that APS does not feel adds value to the site, I understand and we can move on. But when I see discussions about APS requiring additional resources to make technology improvements it confuses me when I know they have had this unpublished for quite a while.
Don
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Posted 08/09/2017   10:01 pm  Show Profile Check eyeonwall's eBay Listings Bookmark this reply Add eyeonwall to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply

Quote:
Why not have an online form where APS members submit their listing themselves, doing all the scanning and data entry, before they send it to the APS? Not only would this then provide a great 'heads-up' for planning purposes (since the listing submission would arrive a few days before the material gets there) but it would also free up resources by putting them in a 'review mode' instead of endless mountains of data entry. Of course APS should keep the original service for those who do not have a computer. Keep the existing costing structure for online submissions and make the labor intensive 'we scan and do your data entry for you' a value-add paid service.


Excellent suggestion. Those that have a computer and a scanner could do their own work - this would both reduce the burden on the staff and it would eliminate errors that result from not being able to read someone's chicken scratching.

Personally, I quit trying to use the Stamp Store years ago after a few tries as I became very frustrated. If I searched for something that returned more items that displayed on the first page, when I went to the next pages it would display some of the exact same items again and I was wasting time looking at something I had already looked at. No idea if this has been fixed. The other problem was that much of the material was of low quality there were some very unrealistic sellers (but how do you fix that?). One can guess that decent quality reasonable priced items do show up and get snapped up and one needs to visit often to find such material, but at least at the time the junky overpriced stuff was allowed to stay on the site for a long time (at least a year), so you had to keep seeing it over and over.
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Posted 08/09/2017   10:09 pm  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add TheArtfulHinger to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
For those willing to do their own scanning, why not take it to the next level and just allow member-to-member sales, a la eBay? The APS could still get their cut, and they wouldn't need to do anything except provide the platform. I say that having no clue what it would take to build such a platform or what kind of revenue could be generated or what other kind of liabilities might arise from it, etc.
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Posted 08/10/2017   12:22 am  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add ScottEnglish to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply

Quote:
If it is something that APS does not feel adds value to the site, I understand and we can move on. But when I see discussions about APS requiring additional resources to make technology improvements it confuses me when I know they have had this unpublished for quite a while.


I got caught up on this tonight. I expect the link will be up this week.
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Posted 08/10/2017   09:42 am  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add angore to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
I do not see why APS does not adopt both the eBay and current model.
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Posted 08/11/2017   09:04 am  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add ScottEnglish to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
Don --

The link has been provided on the website (see below). Would it be possible to remove the links for the World Stamp Identifier on the splash page and provide a link back to the APS page?


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Posted 08/11/2017   09:22 am  Show Profile Check 51studebaker's eBay Listings Bookmark this reply Add 51studebaker to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
Hi Scott,
Yes, am at dialysis but will send you a new file after I get home in a few hours.
Don
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Posted 11/12/2017   6:23 pm  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add DrewM to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
"And in the 1950s that television would rot all of our minds?" Yes, but TV did rot our minds, arguably. MIght as well say, "Wasn't it said that opioids would addict us?" Lots of fears turn out to be silly in the long run, but some turn out to be true. I'd avoid making the claim that "We were wrong in the past, so let's not pay attention to the past anymore." (Speaking as a history teacher!)

Better to simply argue the merits of technology today. Technologies of the present seem obviously useful in bringing people into the hobby easily and for distributing basic information like catalogues, album pages that all can print and use cheaply, and many others. A "present-to-present" comparison works better, I think, one in which you describe a technological solution currently used today which stamp collecting could adopt.

A bit of a tangent here, but I guess I'm just a little tired of the "Everyone thought the automobile would never replace the horse and buggy" sort of argument, mainly because it's not true. Many, many people welcomed the automobile and were enthusiastic about buying one. And they adopted cars without even considering the negatives we are all aware of (the expense of highway building, the shifting of police responsibility to traffic duty instead of crime, air pollution, traffic deaths, and so on). Many of us even dream of an "automobile-free" future, something an American of 1917 would found hard to believe.

Because a technology is "new" does not make it good, and sometimes it doesn't even make it very useful. You may remember a certain amount of enthusiasm in the 1950s for private airplanes, hover craft, personal flying devices, and other nonsense that would not have worked at all well. "Technology of the future" predictions are nearly always wrong. A better historical lesson may be that people are often too enthusiastic about new technologies that come and go quickly or that don't really work as hoped. Because it's "new" and "technology" is not a very good argument. Because it's a better way to do what we need to do is.
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Edited by DrewM - 11/12/2017 6:27 pm
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