An Update from the Avalanche Center - Part 2 of 2 [Part 1]
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This update continues covering the changes made in the last six months or so, to the extent that I can remember all of them. The icons on the home page serve as a guideline, going from left to right. This "Part 2" will cover the Conditions and Incidents sections, the Education section (lots of work here), and the sections with info about us and for members. There is also some news other than website work. This should cover everything up until now (that I can remember). The auction ends more or less on Friday, but a few items already run into next week and others may need to be extended as well while I try to round up more activity. Out of several thousand people using the site on some kind of regular basis it seems like we're lucky to get very much over 50 bidding, which is always discouraging. I think the website offers a lot, especially considering the level of support. It could offer a lot more if more people using it would help support it. Small contributions add up, whether it's a donation, auction bidding, store purchases, or help in some other way.
One way to help is to assist with a last minute push for the auction. In the past there were active links from various forums, which people don't seem to have posted this year. Incoming links from forums and email are pretty sparse. You can also email a link to an item to somebody from the bidding pages, if you know somebody who might be interested in a particular item.
The auction must continue to be promoted. On one hand I got a late start and have been crunched on the promotion due to the work of posting everything for bidding, and the time spent getting donated items right up until the last minute. On the other hand this has never seemed to matter - regardless of how early the auction is promoted most of the activity ends up being during the last 24 hours or so. And we're there now. Hopefully people who've been waiting and watching will now actually bid against each other until closing.
There are still a few short term specials, and I may post beacons starting at $175 again. I haven't decided and it depends on the level of activity. But most of the items will be ending Friday anyway, and a few end today. Others were posted late and run until Monday. It is likely that some items will be reposted and run through next week. It's always been held early in order to get things to people for Christmas if they wish. But if they haven't bid on something by it's closing Friday they aren't looking for it for the holiday, so we'll try extending it.
The main page still lists items by company in the order received. There is a link at the top of this table to a second index page where items are listed by activity or type in sections. The default auction page that has the categories now lists all items from all categories as well, below the previous list of category pages. I've tried to make it as easy as possible to navigate around, but it's worth exploring a bit and seeing how different linking works. You might find a good deal on something interesting you didn't notice before as well.
There is now a link to post your own outdoor related items. It's late in the fundraising auction now and I don't know if that will be used, but it will be left open for a while after the fundraising items. There may also continue to be items from the avalanche store posted. So keep an eye out and see what's there over the next week or two. There is no fee to post something, and you can choose your own ending time, reserve, etc. We ask that if you do sell something you consider donating a small percentage.
This is our only real fundraising event and we've gotten a lot of good things from the outdoor industry, so be sure to check it out. And remember that all winning bidders get a membership for the following year - even if you win a pair of Chums for a couple dollars.
In Part 1 I mentioned Goodsearch.com and today, by chance, we got our first check. It's only about $10 for a few months, but I've been the only one using it so far. If more people use it the results could be much better. I keep Goodsearch as my default (which is Yahoo search based) and in the few cases where I don't find what I'm looking for I use Blingo, which is Google search based and offers prizes at random times.
Speaking of Google, we had Google Adwords on the site from late last season through the fall. But we got a termination email, along with many, many other sites. They send a canned email that clicks on ads were fraudulent, but they won't define that or justify it. The previous months earnings are kept to "be returned to advertisers", although advertisers have had to take legal action as well. That was a good source of revenue while it lasted and probably kept us afloat last year, since even with it the budget was very minimal. The adwords blocks were built into the pages in such a way that something else can be easily used, and right now it's banners for the auction. After that there is a program to display ads much like Google does except directly, without their involvement. This will take time to cultivate, but it could produce about as much as adwords did.
Another project over the summer was to begin using a site map generator for Google and Yahoo. The Google map is xml and a format of its own, as one would expect from Google. The other map is a text list of all pages on the site. These are for search engine spiders and should result in more accurate indexing of the site. There are small font links at the bottom right of the home page. The maps need to be re-generated periodically as the site changes. We get a lot of traffic from search engines, especially on specific pages other than the home page. People looking for something more specific than "avalanche" usually find a page from somewhere within the site.
Remember that at the top of our page to contribute:
There are several links of higher importance this time of year. One is the "Five Tax-Saving Principles" and another is the " End of Year Charitable Contribution Tip". Donations of old autos or other property is also worth looking into at the end of the tax year. As you plan your 2006 tax strategies consider these pages.
Conditions and Incidents Sections
These sections have not had any major changes or additions beyond the updating, which is frequent in both cases. The main Current Conditions page has mostly good links now, including a few new ones. Such as northern Arizona, among others. A few links, especially international ones, need to be tracked down. Most US advisories are updating to within an hour now, as they do throughout the season. The annual fine-tuning is one of those behind-the-scenes programming chores that goes largely unnoticed.
The Incidents Section is behind at the moment. There are some from Europe from last season that have yet to be entered. Until I do that the figures one can obtain from searching by country will not be complete. But there have been a few late summer incidents (climbing in Asia) and early winter incidents (notably one in Canada and one in Utah) that have been added. After the auction ends I will have to check the last few weeks for any that are not yet added, and hopefully complete last years entries.
Unlike the Conditions section where the updating is automated requiring some programming the Incidents section is largely updated manually. Either by searching we do periodically (daily in winter) or from reports and links submitted by users.
This is a section where I know a lot of work was done months ago, and I've probably forgotten what some of it was.
The "Quiz Yourself" section was improved more. The database of results was cleaned out, and the script was probably fine tuned with a bit of hacking. Anyone can take quizzes and see how they did. To see the detailed answers you need to be a member and log in. Then you can see how everyone did on each question as well, as an average. This is somewhat limited without cleaning out the database more often since there are a lot of attempts that are not serious or not completed, skewing the results.
About a year ago a major university-quality education script was set up in order to develop some online education. During the season a security flaw was used to break into the server to send spam. (Most security problems seem to be used by spammers.) It was discovered quickly with no damage done to the server or site, but the script was disabled. It's now back and the "Avalanche Institute" functions again. You need to be a member to find it and use it. So far there is one brief intro class that was as much about learning how to set one up as anything else. This year I'd like to develop this resource further. Due to the resources involved it's probably something that will primarily or entirely for members since we have no underwriting by government, grants, or industry sponsors.
The danger scales were reformatted to look better and more standard, and all the links under "Resources" were cleaned up and verified, updated, or dropped. An archive of the old "Colorado FirstTrax" avalanche library was found and those articles are available under Resources Online. We never could find out what happened to that site. The material was taken from a public archive which is online anyway, but Dave Sauer - if you're out there let us know. Colorado FirstTrax was his site.
Some resources were moved to the Links section, which is somewhat automated and can periodically check to see if links are valid. And also to see if they link back, which is required unless it's an avalanche resource we added directly. Any site linking to us can enter their url and be in the links section. This is an improvement that was made a while ago, but links still don't get attention often enough due to the large amount of other work to do. You can find the links section from the homepage by clicking on the icon along the right side below the cart and the key. I know I began to add some other links to it but I'm not sure where. In the future it should be a more integral part of the site.
Finally, we have posted some course listings for this season for cooperating programs. So far this is Alpine Skills International in the Truckee area of California and Alpine World Ascents in Colorado. Both have been supporters every season for years now, and AWA has an avalanche course and a certificate for any class or guiding on the auction. Sierra Mountain Center in the Bishop area in California has also been a regular supporter but I've had to postpone listing the classes until the auction is over. They'll be on there soon though. Another new goal postponed until after the auction now is to develop some way of offering a free trial membership of a few months to students of cooperating programs like these. It's logistics as much as anything else.
I don't believe a whole lot has been done here. There was a question on the forums about a mission statement and I posted a couple things from our past grant writing efforts in response. Some of that material should be added to the "About Us" web section sometime, but it's not a priority in relation to other things.
All of our documentation is in this section, including that for our 501c3 nonprofit status. If you contribute and need to document the non-profit status for taxes or anything else you can find what you need here.
This was actually a section where a lot of programming was done, in conjunction with contributions and store purchases. In the past we got details of transactions back when people returned to our site afterwards. If they did. So it wasn't perfect and last winter I spent a lot of time manually cross referencing records and keeping files up to date. We now have transaction information posted back to us whether or not a person returns to the site, and my programming on our end updates the right files. So far it seems to be working right and saving a great deal of accountant type work.
Members now see when they last contributed when they log in, and if it's been over one year they can't log in. However, there is no programming so far to notify people or to delete accounts. So if a new contribution is made the person can log in to the same account they used before once again.
As Part 1 mentioned, the website login is now integrated with the forums and galleries as well. So logging in as a member logs you into those as well. In most cases. (If you registered with different names or set different passwords it probably won't work together.) The Avalanche Institute and the auction are not integrated with anything else in any way at this time, except that to register for the Institute you need to be a member. But you still register separately.
That's it, for now ...
Even split into two parts there has been plenty of news here. You can see that this is not a static site by any means. Operating and maintaining it takes a lot of time and a wide variety of skills. Including avalanche knowledge and computer administration, which I think I do ok at. And fundraising and record keeping which are not my string points.
In order to support all this activity it's been necessary to go in part to a membership paradigm, which takes a certain amount of time to organize, operate, and maintain. This was never part of any master plan, but there really has never been a master plan. Had there been one it would have become obsolete as fast as we could update it given the development of the internet in the 11-12 years since the idea for this project began.
Hopefully we can continue to evolve with the internet, and to expand what we can offer. This is what your support goes towards, whether it's an auction bid, a donation of any size, or any other form of assistance. To those who have contributed in some way we offer thanks both on behalf of ourselves and those who use the sites public resources.