Thursday, September 3, 2009

Mobile-Enabled Silent Auction

We've been recently playing with Twilio, and looking for other niche IVR applications to build. The perfect opportunity arose as we were involved with helping out a local charity event.

During the event, there's a silent auction. Attendees bid by entering their name and the amount of their bid on a bid sheet next to the item, and at the end of the event the winners collect their bid sheets and pay for their item.

Cash and check are obvious -- but using a credit card requires the winner to transfer his information to a volunteer who manually enters it into a payment system. There are always more people looking to check out than volunteers to take their payment, so this process is ripe for automation.

Here's a quick walk-through of how it works:
  1. All bid items are listed in a Google spreadsheet

  2. Users at the silent auction enter their name, bid amount, and phone number on the auction sheets.

  3. When the auction completes, on-site staff enter the winners into the Google Spreadsheet.

  4. Bidders dial the Twilio-provided number and enter their phone number as a PIN (automatic if they send Caller ID). They are told whether they have won, and if so, what their total is (important for those who bid on multiple items!). They are then instructed to say their names, addresses, and other pertinent information and are of course thanked for participating.

  5. This information is then transcribed and posted into the Google Spreadsheet (this is fun to watch in real-time!) The Twilio link to audio is also included in case the information needs to be double-checked.

  6. On-site staff can then complete the checkout at their leisure.
We're using Google App Engine for serving the TwiML responses to Twilio, and the Google Data APIs for connecting to Google Spreadsheet.

There are a couple of issues right now, like that of credit card numbers traveling throughout the cloud -- even though all communciation is encrypted between Twilio <-> Google, some of us have a security background and we like to be extra careful ;) We're also looking @ payment integration to pre-authorize cards, for instance, and a SMS back to the winner to tell them their payment has been verified.

The ultimate addition would be to have the entire bidding process phone-enabled, and a demo of such a system is what we've demonstrated with our Twilio contest entry! You can call (877) 277-9839 to try it from your cell phone. Click here beforehand to see the auction items. (Don't worry, it's only a demo .. bid away!)

But this does show how a mashup that takes just a few hours to build might save a ton of headaches and help out a good cause!


  1. Great work, we'd love to feature what you've built with Twilio on our blog. Not sure if you've already seen it, but we're running a contest this week to give away $1000 in Google App Engine credit plus a Netbook, and the category is App Engine projects using Twilio. Looks like a good fit!

    Contest info is here:

    Keep up the good work, and let us know if we can do anything to help you out with Twilio.

    -danielle @ twilio

  2. Ah my mistake, I see that you actually submitted this morning. Good luck!


  3. Thanks for the feedback, I'm glad that what we're doing could coincide with your contest. Feel free to link to our blog and ask any questions.