I was not able to make it to Rosemont for the World’s Fair of Money
but wanted to deliver a statement about the security of the new money.org
website and service. The following was the statement I sent.
I apologize for not being with you in Rosemont to deliver this personally, but I wanted to send this quick report about the security of the new website and the systems that support the website.
Since joining the Technology Committee, my goal has been to ensure that the underlying architecture, the computers and network that connects them, is robust enough to support anything the ANA would want to do and to make sure that it is secure so that the ANA does not add itself to the list of recent attacks.
From the beginning of this project, many decisions were made that has lead to the system being designed in a way that could support anything the software can accomplish. A company with an excellent industry reputation hosts the physical computers. Also, the architecture of the computers, the way they are setup and connected to each other, is done in a way to allow for growth while being able to maintain security.
As someone who has been working in computer security for more than 25 years, it was important for me to make sure that not only my information was kept safe, but that of all ANA members were also protected. I am happy to report that the systems and software supporting the ANA website are properly hardened to resist attack.
I understand that there will be the ongoing question “is the site secure.” The problem is that there are threats out there that we do not know about, threats that have yet to be discovered or created, accidental mistakes, and errors that can cause problems. I can report that this system is designed to protect against known attacks, it is also design to catch many errors and repel as many potential attacks as possible.
In computer security, we work on identifying the risks and what it will take the mitigate them based on how confidential the data is, the integrity that has to be maintained, and how it is to be made available. One area of concern was the personally identifiable information, or PII, of member data including their login information and the credit cards they use with the ANA.
You might have read the news were it was reported that overseas hackers stole over one billion passwords throughout the Internet. I can report that the method they used to steal all those passwords will NOT work on the ANA’s website. Those same protections will help keep the PII of ANA members safe.
Another area of concern what the safety of member credit card information. To protect the confidentiality of the ANA member’s credit card information it is important to note that anytime the credit card information is communicated from one computer to another, it is encrypted using state-of-the-art encryption. After providing the ANA with the credit card and is processed, the services the ANA use to manage member information will not keep the credit card information. The credit card information is deleted and all that the ANA keeps is a transaction number that can be used to verify the payment with the credit card processor.
My family and friends know that when it comes to computer security, I am very paranoid. Many resisted doing certain online tasks like e-filing their taxes until I was satisfied with the security of the site. If a member was to ask me if I would use and trust the website as designed today, I would give it a hardy endorsement and say that I would register even if I was not a member of the Technology Committee. I am convinced everything was done to maintain the integrity of the membership information while keeping it confidential.
Finally, I would like to congratulate everyone on a job well done. Specifically, I would like to thank Jake Sherlock for delivering this message for me and congratulate him on a job well done. I also would like to send my highest commendation to Ann Rahn, the ANA’s project manager, who not only did a fantastic job herding the cats but also put up with the special quirks of the members of the Technology Committee. The next time I see them, I owe them a beverage of their choosing!
Thank you for allowing me to be part of this process.
The future of the American Numismatic Association began on Friday, August 1 with the launch of the new ANA website!
What are you talking about, the ANA has a website.
This is the NEW website with a new look and new technology.
But it’s the ANA, the website must be like putting lipstick on a pig.
No, it isn’t. The website is a complete re-engineering of the ANA online and digital assets to move the ANA into the present and position the organization for the future. First, the computers that the site is running on are no long in the headquarters in Colorado Springs. The new computers are located in a world-class data center run by Level 3 Communications, one of the leading service providers in the industry. Level 3 has an impeccable reputation for being able to manage computers and networks that anyone with a technical background working with the ANA on this project did not question this as the choice for the hosting of the new website.
Supporting the website is a new membership management system that the staff in Colorado Springs has reported as being easier to use and makes it easier to support the members. Rather than having to work around the problems and mistakes of the older software, the new software allows the ANA to update its procedures to better serve the members.
Finally, the website is supported by a new content management system (CMS) that makes it easier to add and change information as necessary. A CMS is the software stores the information you see in your browser and is served up to you on demand. CMS helps keep data in a way to allow it to be more easily managed so that it can be displayed in the browser in a way that will help you stay engaged.
While it looks like the ANA just changed the look of their website, everything about the ANA web presence has changed. It is a new service that will allow the ANA to introduce and engage more members as the world shifts to being online.
Yes, it looks nice, but are they introducing anything new?
Looking nice is important but it is only the beginning. The first application that has been rolled out is the social engagement features. There’s a place to post articles to share with the community, a forum to chat with other numismatists, and a place to show off your collection. There are also ways to interact with the ANA, pay your dues, and read the online version of The Numismatist.
Social media already exists and several forums where people can interact. What makes this so special?
First and foremost, rather than trying to interact with Internet trolls you will be interacting with fellow members of the ANA. While they may decide to participate using an alias, you can be assured that only ANA members will be allowed to register and us the ANA’s system.
So what’s the big deal? There are other sites with numismatic content.
Remember those commercials that touted “membership has its privileges,” this is only the beginning of what will be available exclusively to ANA members. One of the first socialization features is for contributors to earn “coins” or electronic awards for contributing to the numismatic community. Right now, the coins only provide ANA members bragging rights, but in the future, the coins will include potential prizes, discounts with ANA member establishments, and other incentives.
So the ANA has turned the website into a game?
The ANA has turned their website into a one that is more engaging for the membership and to attract new members. The world is moving online and in order for the ANA to serve all members, the ANA has to embrace and expand its online presence. The ANA Board of Governors’ goal is to make money.org be the numismatic hub of the community. The place to go where is anyone has a numismatic question, they can start with the country’s premier numismatic organization.
Well… it looks interesting. I’ll give it a look and see what happens.
I hope everyone gives it a look and provides feedback to the ANA. A lot of people really did a lot of work getting this first release completed on time and on budget. And not only that, the areas where the ANA holds and processes personal information was secure from the beginning because one of the site’s advisors (me) is an information security professional in real life. There was no way I was going to jeopardize my professional reputation by being involved with something known to have security problems. Besides, as an ANA member, they are storing my information and processing my credit card, too!
Everyone please go to money.org and interact with the website. Engage in the forums. Let us know what you think!
“I can’t wait to see what a disaster the ANA new web site will be.”
This statement is not from someone who is just a member of the American Numismatic Association. This is the statement of Laura Sperber who is a member of the ANA Board of Governors.
I am not taking the statement out of context. It is the first sentence of the paragraph that appears in her Hot Topics blog post at the Legend Numismatics website.
Prior to this statement, I tried to give Sperber the benefit of the doubt. I greatly respect what she has accomplished in a male-dominated industry. I also appreciate her fight against coin doctoring and shining a light on the problems with coin doctoring and the grading services because I think it has made a positive impact. Unfortunately, her statement appears to be like throwing a tantrum for the sake of being right and not getting it right.
There is a difference between having an opinion and arguing to be right rather than investigating the opinion to getting it right. If Sperber was interested in getting it right, she would speak with those working on the project from the ANA headquarters to see what they are doing. If Sperber was interested in getting it right, as a member of the Board of the Governors she could ask to see the contract, project plan, and records of the costs. If Sperber was interested in getting it right, she could have asked the chairman of the Technology Committee for a meeting with the committee members, who are ANA members and professionals in the computing industry, for a frank discussion on the project.
In fact, Sperber could have asked to talk with me at the Whitman Baltimore Expo where Legend Numismatics always has a prominent table. I attended the show on both Friday and Saturday providing ample opportunity to meet and discuss her concerns.
“There is no way anyone can justify the price paid.”
Other than throwing verbal stones at Board meetings or in her blog, Sperber has not reached out to anyone to make sure she gets it right. Not only is the price in line with industry standards but the team working on the project at the ANA’s headquarters have really worked to keep the costs down and prevent overruns. As a long-time critic of the ANA’s technical acumen, Executive Director Kim Kiick and her team has done a phenomenal job.
Sperber may be a good numismatics business person but she is not knowledgeable in the business of technology to understand how foolish she sounds.
“I know I have a far more reaching and complicated new web site that cost me MUCH LESS to build at LM Auctions.”
With all due respect, no you do not. Buying auction and shopping services off the shelf is not difficult or complicated. What is difficult and complicated is choosing amongst the dozens of vendors to provide the service. If you do an Internet search for “create an auction site” you will find the list of vendors and instruction as to how to go about doing this. If you have the technical background, you can build the site yourself using any of these services. Otherwise, there are plenty of people who can be hired to do the work for you.
In creating Legend-Morphy, Sperber and her business partners purchased technology for the auction services from Sebae Data Solutions of Ocala, Florida. Sebae may not be the company that did their integration, but it appears the Legend-Morphy site was built on top of Sebae’s Bidopia auction platform.
How complicated could creating an auction website for this company be when her partner, Dan Morphy Auctions, uses Sebae’s services to manage their auctions? Morphy Auctions is well known and respected in the antique collectibles business, thus it would make sense that if they were to branch out into other areas, they would use proven technologies they are familiar with.
The use of Sebae’s software and services is not a problem. What is a problem is Sperber’s misrepresentation of what it takes to build storefront and auction site. The difficult part is to create an experience to entice customers to bid and buy. From what I can see, the company they hired to integrate these services did a good job for what they did, but it is not complicated.
In comparison, the new ANA web presence is not about selling goods and services. The new ANA web presence is about education. It is about providing an experience to welcome people to enjoy numismatics on all levels. The new web presence has to be able to integrate the business of the ANA including processing membership requests, bring the library closer to the members, allow those from the web experience the exhibits of the Money Museum, deliver education, provide a forum for numismatists to meet virtually, facilitate virtual attendance of shows, and possibly be able to allow people to participate in live events such as the Money Talks sessions at the ANA shows.
If you want to compare what the ANA is trying to do with its website versus having a site that is a numismatic catalog such as the one Sperber thinks is so complicated, go to the website of any college or university and look at the content offered. Those sites offer online classes, registration, recruitment, information about seminars, and information about activities including athletics.
Unlike an auction or retail website, there is no commercial off the shelf (COTS) software to support the functions the ANA or any educational-based organization could buy. Rather, the ANA and the colleges have to buy services and pay to have them integrated. In this case, the ANA is buying the membership services and backend processing but it has to be integrated to support the ANA mission. The ANA will be buying other services that can be used to support the ANA mission, but you need something to bring those services to the membership and public.
Think about your car. The automobile manufacturer may buy parts to build an engine but it does not manufacture those parts. They will buy the door assembly because it is cheaper for them to hire a dedicated company to run the electronics or buy the seats that are built to their specification. But when it is all delivered, the automobile manufacturer integrates the parts into the one unit that appears on the showroom floor.
It is the same analogy in the website building business. Legend-Morphy’s business model allows them to choose one vendor with a few selected products that can be integrated without a lot of work as compared to the ANA’s model that has to provide very diverse services that cannot be purchased in one place but still has to be built to look like one product.
Based on my previous conversations with Sperber, I believe she has been in the business of numismatics as long as I have been in the computer and technology business. I respect her passion, knowledge, and accomplishments for what she has done in her career. But when she makes her pronouncements that the Legend-Morphy website is “a far more reaching and complicated new web site” when those of us who know better, then not only does she come off as foolish, but she proves that she is out of her league when it comes to assessing technology.
This initiative was started by then ANA President Tom Hallenbeck. Hallenbeck understood that the Board and the ANA headquarters were not technically savvy enough to do this without help, so he formed the Technology Committee consisting of members who are professionals in all aspects of technology. Current ANA President Walt Ostromecki, who will jokingly be the first to tell you he might be less technically aware than Hallenbeck, was insistent on keeping this committee together to ensure the success of the site.
When this started, the committee Chairman James Reinders reached out to me knowing that I was a staunch critic of the lack of technology used by the ANA. It was also clear that my background in building systems and computer security would be a benefit to this effort. Sure, they were hesitant in contacting me because I had not been exactly complementary to the ANA (examples are here and here).
This was essentially a put-up-or-shut-up opportunity. I could sit in front of my computer and kvetch or I could be part of the solution. I hope my input to the committee, headquarters staff, and Board has been helpful because as a member I am trying to do what is best for the organization.
Laura Sperber is no longer an outsider. Sperber is directly inside as an elected member of the ANA Board of Governors. She has access to the same information about this project as I do. However, she has chosen to throw verbal and written rocks at the issue in an attempt to be right rather than get it right.
Therefore, I challenge Governor Sperber to put down her verbal rocks and get it right. I challenge her to reach out to the ANA headquarters, the Technology Committee, and even participate in our weekly status teleconference to learn about the project. If she is serious about representing the best interest of the ANA as an elected member of the Board of Governors then this is the opportunity to learn about the project.
The Royal Canadian Numismatic Association sent email to its members notifying them that on April 24 someone attempted a phishing scam trying to impersonate the RCNA Executive Secretary trolling for information. The RCNA did not send out an email note asking for information and recommended deleting them email.
Phishing is the term used to describe the attempt to convince someone to reveal personal information by sending them an email that looks like it came from a legitimate source. In this case, the attacker made their email look like it came from the RCNA hoping that members would give up their personal information.
When I am not blogging, meeting with other numismatists, or being with my family, I work in information security for the United States federal government. In my professional life, I have seen a lot of attempted and successful attacks against both government and commercial systems. However, the one attack that is the most difficult to defend are those where humans are convinced to act against their own best interest, such as a phishing attack.
Social engineering attacks are my favorite attacks. One reason is that it helps demonstrate to the organizations that I try to help that security is more than controls, encrypted communications, or anything else you might have read in the news. Security is a process that requires diligence, the same as it does in the real world.
The following are four rules that you can follow to help keep safe online:
Rule #1: Unless you are 100-percent certain that the email is legitimate, do not click on the link!
You will be never 100-percent certain that any email you receive is legitimate so make sure that you are as close as 100-percent certain as possible. One thing you can do is to move your pointer over the link, stop, and wait for the tooltip to show you the address.
Tooltips are those balloon-like popups that will tell you something about the link or element before you press the mouse button. One way to tell that a link is bad is that if the address is not what you think. For example, if the link is supposed to send you to the RCNA website, the tooltip better say that it will send you to rcna.ca. If it does not, then do not click on the link.
When you check the link, the address of the server is the first part of the address. If what should be the server name is not in that area at the beginning of the address, do not click on the link.
One trick the phishers use is to show you what looks like a complicated address in the message, but the link behind it will send you to another website. This is where tooltips can help. If you hover over the address and they do not match, it is an attempt to trick you and you should not click on the link.
If you are using a web-based email client, you can check the address on the status line at the bottom of your browser window. Check to see if the address makes sense is also a good tool. For example, if the link is supposed to be from the RCNA and “rcna.ca” is not the address of the server in the link, then it is a phishing attempt and you should not click on the link.
If you are unsure about the link, then go to your browser and type in the address yourself. Rather than clicking on a suspicious link, you can visit the RCNA website by typing “http://rcna.ca” directly into your browser’s address bar.
Anatomy of a Phishing email
(courtesy of the University of California-Davis)
Rule #2: No legitimate company or organization will send you a form to fill out and email back
One of the tactics that the phishers use to try to trick you into giving them your personal information is to create a form that looks like it is legitimate. Just as it is easy for someone with moderate skills to fake a web page, they can create a counterfeit form. Not only will the form be counterfeit, but they could also embed programs in that form to steal your information.
Embedded code in documents is called macros. Macros are used to command programs to do something for the user. When used in productive environment, macros can be a wonderful tool to create dynamic documents. But the same instructions that can make macros a productive tool can also be used to do bad things.
Unless you are certain about where the document came from, then do not open a document. If you open the document and the program asks if you should enable or run macros, do not enable macros.
This is not just a problem with word processing document. PDF documents can also deliver very nasty malware (malicious software). Not only can an attacker add macros to a PDF document, but someone can embed the technology called Flash in those PDF. Flash is the technology that helps you see videos and add enhancements to the visual interface of some websites. But Flash can be used to attack your computer system. Opening a PDF file sent by someone you do not know can be as dangerous as a word processing document.
Rule #3: Do not open suspicious attachments
Another trick the attackers try to use is adding an attachment named in a way to try to trick you into opening the file. File names consist of the name of a file followed by a period followed by a file extension. The file extension is used to tell the computer the type of program to open to allow you to work with the file. There are three file extension that very dangerous and should never be opened unless you are absolutely sure who sent them to you: .zip, .exe, and .dmg for Mac users.
The .zip file extension tells the computer that the file is something called a Zip archive. A Zip archive is a file that is formatted to allow it to store many files that are compressed. Zip files are used for many legitimate purposes including being the default format of Microsoft Word’s .docx file. Unfortunately, it can contain files that can be used to attack your system.
One of the types of file that can be included in a Zip archive is an .exe or executable file. Simply, these are programs in the same way that Microsoft Word is a program. Once an executable file is opened, it will do whatever it is programmed to do. Among the things that the program can do is key logging. A key logger reads what you type on your keyboard, what you click on the screen, and in some cases what is displayed on your screen. The key logger will be able to capture the user name and password you entered when you visit any website including your bank’s website. The problem is that when a key logging program is run, you do not know it is watching what you type. Nor do you know that it connects to a server somewhere on the Internet to send the information to the attacker.
While Macs are more difficult to attack, they are not immune. Mac users should never open a file with a .dmg file extension unless you know who sent the file. The Macintosh .dmg file is a disk image file. A disk image file is formatted to look and acts like a disk so that when you double click the file, it will mount on your computer as if you plugged in an external disk drive. Because .dmg files are commonly used to install legitimate software, sometimes the installation can be automatically started. If you allow the installation to continue, it you can install software as dangerous as what I described for the Windows .exe file.
Rule #4: When in doubt, throw it out!
While all this seems simple to me, I have been in this industry for over 30 years and am used to the complication. The problem with email is that it was developed as a way for researched to communicate by plain text across the Arpanet, the forerunner of the Internet. Essentially, email is a text-based service that has been extended in so many ways that it has created a complicated series of standards that requires a degree in computer science to analyze.
Even if you cannot fully analyze whether the message is spam or legitimate, if you have any doubt, then just press the delete button. If the message came from a source you know, contact them off line and ask if the mail is legitimate. If you think the email is from your bank, call the bank and ask. If you think the email is from your credit card company but not sure, call the credit card provider and ask. If you think the email sent from the RCNA is suspicious, call them and make and ask.
A little intuition can be of great help in these circumstances.
Stay safe online and have a good weekend!
Computer and online security has been a topic for the news lately. This was because of a mistake made in software that was being used to try to keep your password from being seen by criminal hackers was making it visible to those criminals. In the wake of the news, the Doug Davis of the Numismatic Crime Information Center sent out a message to his list of contacts that had one central message for every dealer and collector:
Shooting simple photos from your smart phone or personal camera can lead criminals right to your location… with pinpoint accuracy using GPS satellites.
You might have heard the term “metadata” in the news in the context of its collection by the National Security Agency. For those who do not know what metadata is, think of it as a description of the data. Think about an exhibit in a museum. The exhibit contains several artifacts arranged in a certain way to try to tell a story. But the story is incomplete because a little more information is needed to put it into context. But the information cannot be shown as an artifact in the exhibit, so the person setting up the exhibit adds a description added to the exhibit to make it more understandable. That description would be the metadata to the exhibit.
Embedded within the pictures you take with your digital camera is a description of the picture that is not visual on the picture. Within this description is the type of camera you are using, the shutter speed, and other exposure information. One of the descriptive items that your camera can record is where the picture was taken. This is called geotagging or geocoding.
Example of what you can find out about your image in the file’s Properties under Windows
Modern cameras, cameras built into smartphones, and even some memory cards that can be inserted into older cameras can determine where you are located and record that in the metadata in the picture you take. And contrary to what you have read, new technologies do not have to use the Global Positioning System (GPS) to figure out where you are located. There are services that use WiFi to record your position. It is called WiFi Positioning System (WPS). Basically, WPS determines where it is located and communicates that to WiFi connected services so that it could be used to determine your location.
I know geotagging can be a lot of fun. A few years ago when my wife and I drove from Portland, Maine to Canada, I had taken pictures of the scenery along the way hoping to find a moose. After all, how can you go through the woods of Maine without seeing a moose?! When I loaded the pictures on my Mac in iPhoto, it was fun to see the plot of where the pictures were taken on the built-in map. I was able to follow the road into Canada just based on the geocodes.
What I did not do is post those pictures while on the road. Aside from the lack of cellular connectivity, posting those pictures would advertise to evil doers that I was not home and too far away to do anything.
If you take geocoded pictures of your coins and post them online, whether it you are posting them to a social media site or a discussion forum, you are advertising where the coin is located. This might not be a problem if you collection consists of what dealers would call ordinary or common coins. But if that 1937-D Buffalo nickel has only three legs, that geocoded picture announces that you have at least one high value coin that someone might want to acquire through less than legal means.
The problem is that I love to see pictures of interesting coins. This is one of the reasons I love Pinterest. Aside from sharing my own picture, Pinterest allows me to pin coin images from around the Internet to create virtual scrapbooks. Do you have an interesting coin? I want to see it. Different types of tokens and medals are excellent artwork.
However, when you take the pictures of your prized collection, make sure you turn off geotagging!
Unfortunately, I cannot tell you how to do it on every camera because the process is different. To help, I found the following two articles that provides an overview of how to turn off geotagging on the common smartphones:
- “How to Disable Geotagging on Your iPhone, Android Phone or Blackberry”
- “How to disable a smart phone’s geotagging feature”
For other cameras, you need to find the manual that came in the box to figure out how to do this.
In the meantime, stay safe online and let’s see those beautiful coins!
If you are a member of the American Numismatic Association, you should have received your copy of the March edition of The Numismatist. Those of us with Basic membership, who access The Numismatist electronically via the website or the app, should have access to the March issue.
March 2014 edition.
Once you open your copy, you might want to check out the article on page 67. It is written by your favorite numismatic blogger talking about the work being done by the ANA and the Technology Committee on the new ANA website.
Please read the article, but I want to reiterate two points:
- The technology committee is made up of ANA members who are volunteering their time and expertise to ensure that everything regarding the building of the website is in the best interest of the ANA. Long time readers know that aside from my background in information security, I had been a critic of how the ANA was technologically unsophisticated. They benefit by bringing in members, especially those of us who have been critical, to help them move forward in a way to best benefit the organization.
- The work being done by the ANA staff in Colorado Springs has been tremendous. First, it was a great idea by then Executive Director Jeff Shevlin to hire (the now defunct) Amos Digital to really kick start the process. Amos Digital did an excellent job helping the ANA manage the request for proposal (RFP) process and coordinating the review and selection process. It is unfortunate that Amos Press disbanded Amos Digital because they had a great team.
Since becoming Executive Director, Kim Kiick has really done a wonderful job in working with the Board, the Tech Committee, and the selected vendor. In fact, Kim and her staff has worked so well with the new vendor that they have found additional cost savings while maintaining the standards we techies want to ensure is maintained throughout this process.
Writing an article for The Numismatist is more difficult than a blog post because of space limitations. There is only so much that can be said in a limited amount of space. Since I do not have those limitations here, I want to take the opportunity to praise the work of the one person who has really done a tremendous job for the ANA.
For those who do not know, Jake Sherlock is the magician behind the scenes making the cobbled together technology work in trying to make the ANA appear technologically friendly. From helping to maintain the website whose software is sorely out of date to figuring out how to broadcast meetings from the ANA convention, Jake has worked hard with very little to do a lot for the association.
What makes this even more awe inspiring is that Jake does not have a technical background. I am sure he will correct me, but I think he told me his background is in communications and public relations. He should be commended by everyone associated with the ANA for stepping into this role and making a big difference.
Once the new technology is in place it will be fun to see what Jake can do with modern tools.
Thank you, Jake!
Since learning to program computers in 1976, I have been a proponent of technology and its positive effects on the progresses we have made in many areas of our lives. This technology has progressed things we can see like the automated teller machine, quicker checkouts at the grocery stores, smartphones, tablets, and even all the gizmos in your car. If I look at the iPhone in my pocket and compared it to the Poly 88 that I first programmed or the IBM 360 that I submitted punch cards to, it would be like trying to compare a Roman Denarius to an American Silver Eagle.
A lot has happened in the world of technology. In the more than 35 years I have been doing this professionally, I have kept up, adapted, and even embraced new technologies looking for ways to enhance whatever I am doing. Not only have I worked to make technology accessible but in the last 25 years I have been working to keep it safe.
For those not olde enough to remember, this is a computer punch card!
I love what technology has done to enhance many aspects of our lives. And you do not have to be a user of technology to have it affect the way you live. Computers help with inventory control to ensure store shelves are stocked; manage traffic control both in the air and on the ground; and generally make the behind-the-scenes management of a lot of things easier including maintenance on this blog.
Since my response to Dennis Tucker, Publisher of Whitman Publishing LLC, I have received a mix of private email notes about one phrase: calling physical books ‘Dead Tree Editions.” In the first two hours after the post appeared, I received more than two-dozen email notes running slightly in favor of physical books. As of Wednesday afternoon, the score was 17-15 in favor of real paper.
I do not know the demographics of those who did not volunteer the information, but based on the comments like, “I have been collecting for umpteen years…” or “I was a teenager when clad coins were just beginning…” it does not take much to get a general idea of demographics.
Of the 17 who responded that they prefer paper books over e-book, I am guessing that 12 are like me, members of the AARP demographic (50 and over).
However, contrary to what some have written, I am not a techno-snob!
I really understand that people have their preferences and that technology does not belong in certain areas. These people have a preference for the “old ways.” Whether they have a preference for books over e-books, classic rock over today’s pop, or a drive classic car whose closest computer is in the driver’s pocket, I have no problems with people opting for paper books over electronic edition.
Scott’s 1974 Plymouth Gold Duster. No computers in this baby!!
For more images of this car, click here.
My complaint is not with the preference but the availability of e-books that will allow me and everyone else to choose. I understand the need for choice because neither Whitman nor I will convince everyone to only read e-books.
However, if you look at the demographics of the ANA and its future, the next generation that are its future members, the so-called Generation X people, is the first generation of significant technology adapters and e-book readers. Gen X’ers are the first big wave of technology adapters who know of a connected world and have a vague memory of a world before Al Gore invented the Internet.
Right behind Generation X are the Millennials who grew up with the explosion of the Internet and probably have never read a newspaper cover-to-cover. While hobby publishers may have some time adjusting with Generation X, they will lose completely to the Millennials if they do not adapt.
Whitman is not the only publisher that needs to better examine its use of technology. Krause Publications is not much better. Where Whitman lacks in vision, Krasue lacks in execution. Rather than embrace electronic publishing that is friendly to e-readers, Krause and F+W Media, its parent, is holding onto the old-style by offering its products using Portable Document Format (PDF) rather than using formats that are friendlier to e-readers.
I have purchased the Krause Standard Catalogues and the various antique guides from F+W on CD or DVD because that is what is available. I use them as part of my hobby and my new professional life in the collectibles business, but I wish I had real e-reader formats so that I can use the tools to bookmark and make annotations.
Standard Catalog of World Coins CD set covering 1601-1900
Even the venerable Numismatic News has stuck its publishing toe in the e-publishing waters by making one edition electronic. However, instead of embracing the newsstand formats that would be friendly to an iPad or Kindle e-reader, they are mailing PDF layouts of this publication. I hope you have plenty of space in your Inbox.
In the meantime, the American Numismatic Association is producing an e-reader friendly version of The Numismatist that is far easier to read than the PDF edition of Numismatic News emailed monthly. Since The Numismatist reader app works well, I stopped receiving the paper edition of The Numismatist opting for a Basic membership and to read the journal electronically. I do not miss the “Dead Tree Edition.”
It is not a demographic issue as it is a commitment to the hobby’s future. I am sure the people at Hemming’s Motor News have a similar problem with demographics as those faced by Whitman and F+W. If you read their publications, you will notice that their demographic skews to an older population. Yet, they have quietly embraced the technologies that some of their readers want while still publishing physical magazines. I recently subscribed to the digital version of Hemming’s Classic Car on my iPad and love it!
How could Hemming’s do this for the auto enthusiasts market but Whitman and F+W cannot do the same for numismatics?
Whitman and F+W have shown that they cannot be relied upon to be the leaders in producing the numismatic information in a way the future of the hobby will embrace. Since other markets have proven that it is possible to embrace technology to enhance the physical world, I can only emphasis my commitment to help the ANA build a better technology infrastructure because if we leave it to the market, they will fail the hobby.
In letter to the editor that will appear in the February 10, 2014 edition of Coin World (now available online), Dennis Tucker writes that the target of the American Numismatic Association website rebuild and acknowledging “’Young Numismatists are the future of the hobby’ are slogans to murmur approvingly, without logical reasoning.” He goes on to give his view of the market to target without recognizing facts of market forces.
For the record, Dennis Tucker is the publisher of Whitman Publishing, LLC whose books are widely read in the hobby. Whitman Expo, a division of Whitman Publishing, runs probably the three largest commercial numismatics shows in the country out of Baltimore.
Tucker, whose business is selling physical books, or what I would call “dead tree editions,” opines that it would be wiser and more productive to target those in the 50 and 60 year old demographic than 10 and 20 year olds. It is obvious that Tucker is looking at the issue from the spectrum of the business he is responsible for rather than the real future.
One problem with Tucker’s argument is similar to those in many other hobbies that rely on the collecting of physical objects: if the hobby cannot be translated to the younger demographic then the future of the hobby will be lost. As the final wave of the baby boomer generation celebrates their 50th birthday this year, empty chairs are becoming more prominent at meetings with fewer standing there to fill those chairs. There seems to be a smaller pool of people ready to join even though the population in the demographic that Tucker wants to target has grown.
Another problem with his argument is that it does not address how to reach this or any other demographic. Based on his company’s business model and his letter, Tucker is implying that even his target demographic is not using technology and cannot be reached using technology. Unfortunately, that flies in the face of researched facts.
One way to judge the acceptance and usage of technology is to look at the most cutting edge device and see who are its users. In 2013, the device still on the cutting edge is the tablet. Whether it is the iPad, Kindle, Nook, or any number of other manufacturer’s device, the tablet can be considered one of the most disruptive advances because it disrupts markets in so many areas. Tablets have created new markets for services as well as forced others, like traditional newspapers and magazines, to change the way they do business.
Pew Internet and Lifestyle Study: For the first time, a third of American adults own tablet computers
Using tablets as a barometer, we can look at the “Tablet Ownership 2013” report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project. In their study, Pew reports that through May 2013, tablet ownership has grown from May 2010, one month after the iPad’s introduction, the number of tablet users have increased from 3-percent to 34-percent. That is more than an 1100-percent increase in three years!
Further, Pew’s research found that the demographic with the most significant ownership are the age group of 45-54 with 38-percent ownership and 35-44 with 49-percent. The first is part of the market that Tucker wants to target while the latter is the market that should be next.
US Tablet Owner Demographics as of September 2013 (courtesy of marketcharts.com)
Pew’s research also looked at tablet ownership by income and found that 56-percent of adults that own tablets earn $75,000 or more per year. If Tucker’s goal is to target those with disposable income, just look at one of the fastest growing area of technology to understand where the markets are going.
Another study recently release by Pew notes that e-book readership has grown as the sales of e-readers have risen. While the study does not say people have not completely replaced their dead tree versions with electronic editions, there is anecdotal evidence that if more titles were available electronically, those with e-readers would take advantage of that.
In a broader look at the emerging online world, Pew Research provides trend data that shows that more people are using the technology in their daily lives. Not only are more than 60-percent of the 50-64 year old demographic using the Internet and associated technologies a large numbers, but e-reader ownership is increasing. It is also increasing in the younger demographics, including those in the 30-49 year old range who would be Tucker’s next generation of customers.
The ANA, like any business, has to adapt to new markets or they lose their relevancy. It is not enough to say to target one group over the other but you have to target the markets where they are moving. Even if the business is concentrated in one market, it has to adapt and diversify within its market or it becomes irrelevant. As a stark example, you can look at the downfall of Blackberry. Once the king of the smartphone, Blackberry, once called the Crackberry because its users were addicted to it like a crack addict was addicted to crack-cocaine, went from the most popular phone to the least popular phone because they ignored the trend set first by Apple then by Google’s Android.
History shows how significant technologies disrupt markets and those that do not adapt go the way of the buggy whip, blacksmith, telegraph, Kodachrome film, and the Motorola DynaTAC phone. If the ANA cannot reinvent itself by adapting technology to what its potential members are doing, the ANA will go the way of Blockbuster, Polaroid, and Borders Books.
Borders, a one-time success story, did not adapt to the changing market and paid for that failure.
Whitman and Tucker could help the ANA by looking at this future and target their books to this growing demographic. While the quality of Whitman’s books have improved, the companies selling tablets and e-readers are reporting increased sales of their products and an increased sales of content for those products.
Amazon is betting a lot on the tablet and e-reader market. They sell the Kindle nearly at their cost in order to lure customers into their dedicated markets. Amazon hopes to sell you a Kindle so that you buy their e-content which they make money by transferring bits. Not only has Amazon built in the infrastructure to transfer bits of information, but they are selling it as a service to others in order to reach the same markets. Amazon is betting that once you are in their market, they can sell you these bits, which are cheaper to store, package, and ship than dead tree edition books.
While the e-book market is growing, Whitman and other hobby publications are dipping their proverbial toes in this market. Although Whitman does offer a number of its books in e-reader format, they do not market that fact nor do they do any outreach in order to build that market. It is as if they publish this content so that when the topic comes up they could say that they do have e-books. They are checking the box, so to speak.
With its premier content, Whitman should be out front of the numismatic market for e-publishing. Tucker and his marketing department should be standing on the proverbial street corner marketing their e-book offerings. This will not only help the hobby but his own company by reaching out to the demographic that the ANA is targeting: the connected numismatist.
Kodachrome; You give us those nice bright colors; You give us the greens of summers; Makes you think all the world's a sunny day, oh yeah!
Growing the ANA is like growing a business; you have to look at what your target market’s demographics are and figure out how to reach them. For hobbies like numismatics, the new target is online where the current generation is moving and where the next few generations will be. Not adapting to those new markets can make both the ANA and Whitman as relevant as the Betamax and go the way of Woolworth’s or Pets.com.
I am glad the ANA is doing something to expand its market.
Trend chart courtesy of the Pew Internet and American Life Project
Data chart of the Pew Research courtesy of marketcharts.com
Image of Borders closing is courtesy of PennLive.com
Kodachrome box image courtesy of Wikipedia
lyrics (image caption) by Paul Simon
Earlier this week I read an article by Patrick Heller how the aging collector population would affect the supply and demand for numismatic items. One point Heller makes is that as collectors pass on and leave significant collections to heirs, he finds “that most heirs do not share the same passion for the holdings as the coin collector who died.”
Heller further notes, “In more than a few instances, those selling the collections have much less numismatic knowledge than the collector who died to be able to liquidate the treasures for the best price.”
Although it was not the premiss of Heller’s article, what really has to be addressed is how to increase the number of collectors and provide help to non-collectors who find themselves in the position to have to deal with a collection left behind by a deceased loved one. Of course there are two books that will explain what those selling collections as part of an estate, but sometimes they need more help.
For those interested in collecting, there needs to be an outlet to find information and be able to participate in the community. Information has to be engaging and the collector should be encouraged to collect what they like and like what they collect.
There are so many ways to collect numismatic items that it will be difficult to list them in one place. One way to start is to try to engage the collector where they are. Today, that means finding them on the Internet.
The future of every hobby, business, and nearly every aspect of life will be online.
Some might suggest that you cannot do everything online. While that may be true, the online world helps open the doors to the off line experience.
I am not suggesting that numismatics should look at the Internet as one large online supermarket or auction house. The Internet can be the gateway to knowledge. It can explain to the family that inherited grandpa’s collection how to handle it without getting ripped off. It can explain that transportation tokens may be the ultimate local collectibles and finding them can be even more challenging than finding coins. It can explain what are the positives and negatives to collecting modern non-circulating legal tender coins. It can open the door to collecting foreign coins and currency from the country your parents or grandparents came from.
The Internet can also explain that your State Quarter collection may not be as valuable as you though, including those purchased on that alleged “special sale” on television. However, that extra tree on the Minnesota quarter may be worth just a bit more than 25-cents!
“Buy the Book before the coin” is a popular mantra repeated in the hobby. But which book? If you look at the catalogs of coin books from all publishers, there are so many books how do you know which one to buy. Some people even recommend reading auction catalogs. While many auction catalogs are really sales pitches, catalogs for special sales have some wonderful information, great images, and even pointer to other references.
There needs to be a central repository for numismatic information from a trusted source that is not trying to sell you on their version of numismatics.
This is where the American Numismatic Association comes in the picture.
Over the last year, the ANA has been working to enter the 21st century to offer more services online. Even though it may appear that the ANA is barely out of the 20th century in technology, employees at the ANA headquarters have done yeomen work with what they have. But the work is only beginning.
Building online services is not easy when your product is not easily defined. Those of us in the information industry call it the “Big Data” problem because data is the driver, there is a lot of it, and managing it is not as easy as it seems. Data can be ordered in more ways than an inventory of coins or a catalog of auctions.
When looking at the problem, data tends to grow and that growth has to be managed whereas a dealer’s inventory can be in flux and auction data is static and controllable.
These problems not only makes what the ANA is trying to do to be that information leader very difficult, but doing it in a compelling manner that makes that could help attract new collectors makes the job even tougher.
Next week at the World’s Fair of Money, the ANA Board of Governors will hear about the selection of a new contractor to help take the next steps in conquering big numismatic data. They will also hear from impassioned members of the Technology Committee who only wants this contractor to succeed and do so in a way to allow the ANA to provide premier online services—a model for other non-profit hobby organizations.
Creating these online services will not happen overnight. In fact, it may take a year or longer to see significant advancements. That is the nature of building these services essentially from scratch. But it is worth the wait.
In the end, there will be resources for members and the public that will promote the hobby in a way that only the ANA can do. Hopefully, it will convince those who let their membership expire to return to the ANA, strengthen the bond between ANA members and clubs, and lure collectors who are interested to join us.
As an ANA member and a member of the Technology Committee, I hope you will support the ANA’s efforts because if the demographics cannot be skewed a little younger, we may be looking at a bleaker future for the hobby.
About the pictures… when I talk about technology I tend to think about the time I started and the Control Data Corp. Cyber 18/30 that was significant in my college days. We used to call her “LC” for Little Cyber. It helps remind me of where computing has come, especially that my iPhone is millions of times more powerful than LC!
Of course if I’m taking a walk down memory lane, I have to include the Poly 88, the first computer I ever programmed!
On Friday, I received a notice to renew my American Numismatic Association membership by the end of this month. Even though a few people wrote to me after the election saying that they would not renew their membership, I believe that the ANA is still a good organization worth of the support of every numismatist regardless of age, experience, and collecting interest. My only question is whether to change to the basic level to save trees.
Members renewing at the Basic level can read The Numismatist online or via my computer or the iPad app. I stopped using the iPad app for a while after having problems. The app was updated and seems to be working fine now. I think I would prefer to read it on my iPad than the paper version. It is more portable. However, if the program could be converted to work with Apple’s Newsstand, the ANA may be able to find a new revenue stream by selling individual issues.
After the election I received a lot of complaints about the the ANA and how it operates. In many cases, I agree with the assessments but I also see where there are changes coming and all of the changes are for the better!
First and foremost, the ANA is being dragged into the technology of the 21st century. In a move started by former Executive Director Jeff Shevlin, the ANA has engaged Amos Digita, the technology arm of Amos Press, the publisher of Coin World. Anyone who has seen the positive evolution of the Coin World website and has read Coin World Next online can see examples of their work. Working with Amos Digital is a very positive step for the ANA.
Between Amos Digital, the commitment of the ANA staff involved, and the Technology Committee (which I am a member) the future to better the ANA’s technology is looking very good!
Technology alone is not going to make the ANA a better organization but the technology will provide a platform to make the ANA more responsive to its members. Technology can help with virtual clubs, education, and to bring the information out to the members. Technology can enhance shows and deliver some of the content to the members who may not be able to attend the shows.
However, technology is only an enhancer—a tool to make the ANA better for you. The problem is that those of us who are putting the tool together may not know what will make the ANA a better organization for you. What do you want to see from the ANA? How can the technology be used to make your experiences better?
Although I have some ideas, I am a systems guy. I put together systems to do what my customers want. And even though I know what I want as a member, it is only my opinion.
As a member of the ANA Technology Committee I want your opinion. What do you want from this tool? How can the ANA use these tools to make your experience as a member the ANA better? I am handing you a blank sheet of virtual paper (the comment section, below). Let me and my fellow Tech Committee members know how we can use this tool to better serve the membership.
Medal image courtesy of Wikipedia.