High Tech, Low Cost
Wine Industry Technology Symposium attendees learn about cheap, practical tools among corporate solutions
Speakers CPA Geni Whitehouse and Internet consultant James Marshall Berry continued a four-year tradition of highlighting the best—and in a few cases worst—free and inexpensive computer-based technologies to help winery staff work more efficiently. And even though they discussed the topic a year ago, technology changes so fast that they had plenty of new ground to cover.
The main catalysts of late have been the rise of “apps,” programs that run mostly on mobile devices, and the continuing migration of applications and data storage to “the cloud,” the interconnected collection of servers and storage that comprises the heart of the Internet.
“The world of apps is exploding,” Whitehouse exclaimed. “And big companies are taking over smaller companies to integrate their functions into a larger world.”
The first service the two experts touted was LinkedIn, which once seemed languishing but in recent months has grown into a major communications tool for businesses. “We now see far more engagement,” Whitehouse said. This is partly because the network now allows members to endorse each other's skills.
LinkedIn also acquired SlideShare, which allows the posting of content. Whitehouse related that a posting she made about financial statements got 30,000 views very quickly.
The speakers mentioned that one idea, “Adopt a grape” (which calls for volunteers to help at a winery), has gained many followers; but in general the wine business isn’t tuned-in to SlideShare yet.
Facebook, Twitter and more
A second topic was Facebook. “Everyone is on Facebook,” Whitehouse said. One of its biggest attractions for businesses is groups. And now that the popular photo-sharing app Instagram is part of Facebook, Instagram photos pop up on Facebook, too.
Twitter also remains very popular, but Berry and Whitehouse recommend using Tweetdeck or Hootsuite dashboards to access it, as they make the service far easier to use.
Whitehouse, who does a lot of writing, boosted Evernote as a simple way to capture and organize material from the Internet. It’s for words, too—not just pictures—creating a user-friendly database of information you can access from any device or location. It’s also private, not public like many services.
The mighty Google
When it came to Google, the 800-pound gorilla of the Internet, the two have decidedly mixed feelings. Berry hates the way the giant service is trying to take over everything. “I haven’t drunk the Google Kool-Aid,” he said.
He especially is annoyed that every time users try to use a Google service (such as YouTube), it tries to force them onto Google Plus, the company's largely unsuccessful answer to Facebook (which peripherally is also trying to rule the ’Net).
Whitehouse does like Google’s Hangout tool, which allows users to talk to people around the world and allows video streaming much like Skype.
Google’s website optimizer is also useful, while The Mobile Playbook helps take offerings mobile, and Google Analytics is a must for understanding web traffic.
Building a website
Since every company and service needs a website, the duo discussed ways to create and optimize them. Surprisingly Berry, whose business is partly creating such sites, pointed out that anyone can produce a good website with WordPress. “It’s the no-brainer way to build a website.”
Berry said that he charges $1,500 to create a mobile site and $20 per month to host it, but “you can do it yourself. You shouldn’t have to pay to update information.”
That doesn’t mean posting to the limited WordPress site but using WordPress tools. And WordPress.org is a good place for your website. It allows you to integrate ecommerce tools, too.
Berry estimates that half the web traffic now involves mobile devices, and some useful services let you adapt your web pages to this smaller environment. Though some services develop special limited-content versions for smartphone, ResponsiveCheck.com lets you check and adapt your site to collapse to the most important information first.
Likewise, BrowserStack can check your website for compatibility with any browser your viewers might use. And in that context, Berry recommends designing webpages about 1,100 pixels wide (up from the 840 used when screens were smaller).
Other tech products
Quickly running through other products, the speakers recommend Podio and Asana for product management, Intuit’s Weave to create simple “to do” lists, Flipboard to customize Twitter offerings and especially Expensify. “Just take a picture of your receipt, note the amount and it will file it on the cloud and generate expense reports,” noted Whitehouse. “It can even issue expense checks.”
Protonic.com offers free technical support on any subject, while Jiwire will find free local Wi-Fi hotspots. Join.me lets you control your computer remotely (or lets someone else troubleshoot it), as well as organizing on-air meetings.
Rememberthemilk.com creates shopping lists, while Famundo is a shareable calendar.
And for those who don’t want to buy Microsoft Office or subscribe to Office 365, OpenOffice is a free suite with almost all the same capabilities.
Whitehall and Berry highlighted a number of useful graphics programs too. sxc.hu offers many royalty-free images but will also lead you to better ones for pay), while pixlr does almost everything Photoshop does—for free.
Gliffy is a free alternative to Visio for creating flow charts, and while it’s not free, LogoTournament.com organizes a contest among artists to design a logo for $250 and up.
You can generate PDFs free from Soft32’s primopdf and choose and change color palettes at Degraeve.com/color-palette.
Among marketing tools, Tiny Letter is a mobile “Constant Contact,” while Mobi tests mobile sites. Marketing.grader.com from Hubspot will grade your marketing efforts, which Whitehall admitted could be depressing.
Findmyphone for the iPhone lets you find and disable your phone (if the thief doesn’t turn it off first!).
Many customer relationship management (CRM) tools are available free or at low cost, unlike many commercial programs. Camcard, Cardmunch and Zoho.com let you photograph business cards and enter them in a database, or in Zoho’s case, on your desktop.
Cardcloud creates online business cards to get rid of the paper.
And a few miscellaneous aids: Park-Now.com lets you find, reserve and prepay parking at SFO and some other airports.
With Augmented Car Finder (available for iPhone and Android), you take a photo of your car, and your phone will lead you back to it, even if it’s in a confusing airport parking garage.
You can share files with DropBox and send them to others using YouSendIt (now Hightail).
BarZapp lets you verify the front of a driver’s license against the information stored on its reverse, while IFTTT (if this, then that) lets you automate operations on your phone or tablet.
TheTileApp.com sells you a small capsule you can stick on keys and other items you’re like to misplace to find with your phone, and HF scientific calculator turns your phone into a full-functioned device.
That’s a list that would take weeks to evaluate, but there are plenty more free and cheap apps and services on the web. I’m sure everyone one in the audience picked up some practical tips at this useful workshop, as well as more profound insight at WITS’ other sessions.