From One Collector to Another

Just as Scott Lindquist disclaims creative writing cred, I am no blogger. But like Tina Turner’s famous ex once said, “I’ll try anything…one time.”

Shawn Hewitt, the patient, resolute slave-driver behind getting this wonderful new site up and at ‘em for the benefit of our members, seems to think that I as President need to say something in blog form. As if anybody really cares what I have to say. And if you do, you can wait a month and a half and read it in Paper Money! As if!

Shawn is, of course, right. And I have actually thought about this new medium and I hope that I can responsibly engage with it for readers’ interest and enjoyment, and over time, perhaps with less formality than the printed column in Paper Money. But the first blog at the new site is no time for frivolity nor undue experimentation. This is “opening night” [at least for this column], and I am playing it by the script.

This message has been a while coming but is written with enormous gratification. A little over a year ago, spurred by an inspired and challenging e-mail by Governor Shawn Hewitt, your Board carefully discussed and approved a recommendation to completely revise the SPMC website. This was not a “makeover” intended to bring the existing, perfectly “okay” offering up to date, re-decorate the landscape, add a bell or a whistle or incorporate new bits of technology. It was a departure point, a recognition that our world and our hobby have been irretrievably impacted by technology, and that the Society’s future lies in embracing that fact of life.

Fittingly, during our 50th year, we felt that the time had come for a fresh, blank piece of paper. It was time for thinking about the new technology of the world inhabited by our members and thinking about our fellow members’ wants and needs, all with a view to building something of lasting value to the membership.

This is by no means to denigrate the predecessor site. The SPMC’s first website, for which we owe a great deal to Wendell Wolka and Bob Schreiner, has been an intelligent, useful, informative outpost in the cyber world. It has proved highly serviceable for a surprisingly long time, given the rate of decay in the world of web offerings. But it really was time.

Thankfully, we have progressive thinkers on our Board [I am not one]. Shawn and VP Pierre Fricke have heads that think and live in “techno-intellectual mode” more often than most, but they also have pragmatic, can-do orientations to the real world. We also have a positive and practical user of technology in Governor Wolka, a guy who also really understands what drives our hobby, and our members. Thanks to these three members of the SPMC Board, we today have a new, important, and dramatically different web experience to offer our members.

The process leading to the launch was, like the manufacture of sausage, not always pretty to watch. But the outcome pretty tasty. Behind the scenes, virtually all of calendar 2011 has seen steady and judicious work on bringing this new site to life in a fashion mindful of the fact that we were spending our members’ money. As such, the working group fashioned a formal presentation to the Board on the initiative, receiving approval to proceed in principle before spending dime one. They built a “request for proposal,” with a realistic wish list for concrete deliverables. They went shopping for an affordable and demonstrably reliable vendor [not easy qualities to find in one firm], and returned to the Board as promised for approval of the vendor and the amount required to accomplish the work.

Then the real work began of creating and providing content, reviewing and revising initial site layout, working on the crucial elements of the “look and feel,” working to make the functionality as member-friendly as we possibly could. In addition to the working group’s “direct investment” of untold hours in patient project management, we also had help from so many supportive sources they are just too lengthy to mention. However, Bob Schreiner, who has served our Society in so many loyal ways [notably as Secretary and Webmaster], took on and completed the mammoth job of scanning 50 years worth of Paper Money Magazine, page by page, and gratitude for this in particular must be cited.

It must also be said, in no uncertain terms, that the successful launch of the site represents a just plain enormous personal commitment of time on the part of Shawn Hewitt. From spurring initial enthusiasm about this project, doing huge amounts of the actual work, to keeping the focus on the project, he never let his patient resolve flag. Pierre and Wendell have done yeoman’s work all year long, on so many tasks and conference calls at inconvenient times of day that it is not even funny, but when you run into Shawn in the paper community, be it our virtual community or at show, give him an extra “atta-boy.” Or five.

This does not mean that the new site is perfectly polished. It is fulfilling the vast majority of the unquestionably ambitious promises on our “wish list.” We have a “punch list” of identified issues actively being worked down. With your help we will certainly surface glitches. They will go on the list and will be addressed. As will additional site refinements over time.

A note about our gem…Paper Money. We [actually, primarily our fine Editor Fred Reed] provide an absolutely top-flight journal. The officers and the Board have unstintingly supported Paper Money as the principal benefit of membership in the SPMC, and please do not think for a second that we have any plans to change that in the slightest. Maybe someday, technology and member preferences will force a change in how we deliver the magazine, but that is not and was never the point of the website’s creation. I am one of the troglodytes who prefers the paper magazine, I think I always will, and I am pretty sure I have a whole lot of company.

The real value [IMHO] of the new site is in “bringing the Mountain to Mohammed.” As its name indicates, the Society of Paper Money Collectors is first and foremost a Society. I am pretty sure the word “society” has some kind of old Latin root meaning, “a bunch of people sitting by the fire in the cave having fun talking about things they like.” Or some such.

I have always felt lucky to attend shows and conventions, and greatly enjoy talking and learning about paper money and the insights and the fun that goes with interaction with like-minded humans. As long as I have been involved with the SPMC, I have been struck by the limited number of benefits we can provide to the vast majority of our members. But we now have, thanks to technology, the opportunity to expand the options for our members to interact. The paper money community now has a dedicated, semi-private forum for our members to communicate quickly and cheaply and easily, exchange ideas and access, potentially, our entire membership. It is a powerful tool.

In sum, the work that has gone on over the last year is renewed evidence that this is your society. The tireless and hard work that has gone into this project over the last year has been done lovingly and caringly in support of the Society and in the continuing belief in the relevance of its mission. However, the “expanded social universe” which has been created for us is like the concept of democracy – it will only benefit us as a group if we actively participate in making it interesting, constructive and fun. This is truly “your tool,” so please visit it, explore it, use it, and let us know if and how we can make it more fruitful for you.

Warm regards, Mark