‘Free’ digital bulletin board

'Free' digital bulletin board | DaveTavres.comLast year I was trying to figure out how to build and display a ‘digital bulletin board’ on Main Street USA. The idea being that it would be remotely updated with text, video, graphics, AND would pull from RSS feeds, or just show scheduled content, and be easily updatable. The idea was to mount a flat-panel monitor or TV against a large window where there’s lots of foot traffic to catch the eye of visitors and residents when they were in town. It took a while, but I found a solution that has worked well for the past few months – Yodeck.com

One of the requirements was that the setup be as zero-touch as possible. That means when there’s a power failure, the system would start up again and go back to displaying the digital bulletin board without someone having to touch it. I grabbed an OLD computer I had (that still had it’s Windows 10 license,) and did some basic setup. First, I did a clean install, made sure that the BIOS was set to ‘power on after power loss’ – that mostly took care of the power failure issue. Next, I set the Windows settings to auto-login, never go to sleep, and (because the computer had Win10 Pro and a WiFi card,) I enabled Remote Desktop so I could login remotely if I had to tweak anything. Lastly, I setup Chrome to automatically start with Windows, and launch a specific webpage in full screen mode. So now the computer would startup and automatically go to the ‘digital billboard’ page. As it turned out, this was the easy part.

yodeck | DaveTavres.comThe hard part was trying to setup a webpage to be the proper size, without scroll bars, AND would automatically refresh at some interval in order to get any updates pushed remotely to the ‘billboard.’ I’ve been building websites since the early 1990s, and have played with lots of technology. That said, I spent HOURS searching, trying, and failing at finding a way to auto-refresh a WordPress webpage. Why WordPress? Because it’s easy. And there’s a bazillion plugins for WordPress that does just about everything. However, I couldn’t find anything to make this work. So I started looking for other solutions that weren’t WordPress-based. Still hard… apparently I’m the goofy one that want’s to do this silly idea. There’s not a lot of options out there. I even looked at Google Slides, as it’s all web-based, but it was way too hard to make it look ‘fancy’, and it would only show a single ‘slide’ – not ‘dynamic content’ like I was envisioning. Then I found Yodeck.com. After much testing, trying, tweaking, and figuring out, it works pretty well – not perfect, but good enough. Oh and… they offer a FREE plan for a single screen! (Unlike OptiSigns and a few others, which charge a monthly fee.)

Now, Yodeck does sell hardware devices that will plug into the HDMI port of a monitor or TV and take care of the hardware problem – but I’m too cheap for that. Luckily, they have a web-based version of their fancy slide deck that auto refreshes, shows dynamic content, pulls from RSS feeds, shows pictures, videos, text, and everything that I wanted. AND for free (for 1 screen.)

Oh, not only can you schedule different slides and schedule different content, you can also schedule it to ‘sleep’ whenever you have low-traffic. It’s a great tool. If we had a need to do multiple displays, I think it would be well worth the money for the service – but for now, one screen for a small nonprofit is just right.

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