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20 Feb 14 Report on Usage of ALA Connect

After some discussion about ALA Connect on the ALA Council mailing list last month (here and here), I put together a report about Connect usage because just glancing at the site can leave the impression that it isn’t being used very much when in fact the numbers show the opposite. This PDF report is current as of January 16, 2014 (there’s also an accessible PDF version).

One thing in particular I want to note is that when someone posts something to a Connect group, the default setting is for it to be private so that only the group’s members can see it. This was done deliberately because many award juries, nominating committees, boards, and other groups that discuss confidential subjects needed to be sure their content was secure by default.

However, there’s a box on every piece of content that the ¬†author can check to make that post public so that anyone in the world can see it without even logging in to Connect. When someone views the Connect home page and isn’t logged in, they only see public content.

When someone is logged in and looks at the home page, they only see content from their groups. This person can’t see the content being posted privately to other groups, so looking at Connect groups you’re not a member of might not show anything new if nothing was explicitly made “public.” In fact, there might be quite a bit of activity going on but you just can’t see it. It’s the same as not being a member of an email list – as a non-member, you can’t see the posts to a private mailing list, but that doesn’t mean the subscribers aren’t using it.

That’s why I put this report together, to present a more general snapshot beyond just what an individual user can see by scanning the site. Look at the data and decide for yourself if people are using Connect or not and then please share your thoughts about how we can improve it to make it even better. We’ll be doing a survey later this spring to collect broad input, but jump in now if you have ideas.

Note that in the next few months, we’ll be implementing a Doodle-like module for scheduling meetings, adding 5,000 financial assistance grants/scholarships to the Opportunities Exchange, and implementing the new search engine that ala.org is using (Apache Solr). We’re also working on a way to email content in to a group so that you don’t have to visit the website to start a discussion.

In FY15, we’ll revamp MentorConnect, match users to groups they might want to join, and create a mobile app (for starters).

What else can we add or change to make Connect work well for you?

- Jenny Levine, ITTS (jlevine [at] ala.org)

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Reader's Comments

  1. |

    A Doodle-like thing for scheduling will be really nice, so thanks! For committee work, it would be nice to have a timeline feature, so chairs could schedule in benchmarks and reminders could be generated automatically.

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      Thanks for the feedback, Kaijsa – we’ll look into the idea of a timeline feature. We’re also planning to offer push notifications in the mobile app for calendar events, which might help with reminders, too.

      Reply to this comment
  2. |

    I think it would be great if members could be alerted when someone responds to a post they’ve made. Also if there could be a fix so that email doesn’t show as #duplicate string of numbers @ ala.org would be helpful.

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      Hi, Elizabeth –

      If you’re a member of the group, you get an email notification anytime something is posted to the group, whether it’s in reply to something you or someone else posted.

      If your account shows #duplicate string for your email address, it’s because you have two accounts in the system and the other account is using your address. This is probably why you’re not receiving emails when someone replies to your posts.

      I’ll look into this and contact you privately to figure out which account you want to keep. This will be an easy fix, so please keep sharing your ideas for improvement!

      Jenny

      Reply to this comment
  3. |

    Even though I’ve been a member of ALA for three years, I still feel like a newbie. I don’t really know what I would use Connect for, nor why I should spend time trying to learn the new software. From my point of view, most people seem to get work done via e-mail groups. If this would benefit workflow positively, I’d be all over it, but it has never been introduced to me.

    I do a fair amount of committee work (Eisner Grant for GamerRT and News Committee for GLBTRT), and I’ve not missed it.

    Also, I’ve never heard of Mentor/Connect. As a new librarian, that’s something I’d be interested in, but have no idea how I would have found out about it.

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      Those are good points, John – thanks for voicing them. Just so you know, I’ve worked at ALA for seven and a half years, and I still feel like a newbie. The great thing about ALA is that it’s so big it has something for everyone. The bad thing about ALA is that it’s so big you can have trouble finding your somethings.

      When I talk to people about Connect, I’m very careful to call it a professional collaboration/networking site because no one needs another social network. So unless you’re on a committee or you’ve sought out a community on the site, you probably don’t have a lot of reason to visit it.

      I’ve tried to deliberately build Connect in a way that makes it useful to you when you need it; in other words, you shouldn’t feel guilty if you don’t use it every day or even every month. But when you want to do something like join a community, post a question to it, find a mentor, explore volunteer opportunities, etc., then Connect is there waiting to help you.

      That said, we’ll be building a group matching system that will help you find your something, and I think that will be useful to non-committee members. We’re also looking at building features for that group of people (which is a majority within the Association).

      Benefits of Connect over a mailing list include the ability to make individual pieces of content public or private, rosters that automatically synchronize with our member database, an easy way to upload and browse files, an easier way to include images in discussions, the ability to collaborate on a document (think Google Docs or a wiki page), archived synchronous chats, and rosters that show human beings versus subscriber lists, all in one place. It’s up to each group to decide if they can take advantage of those features or if they really just want to send emails back and forth – it’s their call. This report shows that a lot of groups have chosen to use Connect.

      As for MentorConnect (and the Opportunities Exchange), we’ve never really promoted it properly, so I’m not surprised you haven’t heard about it. Unfortunately, we have one staff member devoted to the project (me), so I lead development, oversee the consultants who do the programming, provide all of the technical support, write all of the help documents, etc., all in about 30% of my time. I’ve just never had the time to do the marketing, too, although I’ll be trying to change that when we implement the updates I noted in the report.

      I’d love to hear more of your feedback as you start using the site. It’s been difficult to get specific input from people, but that would be very valuable.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment,
      Jenny

      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
      Jenny Levine
      ALA ITTS staff
      jlevine [at] ala.org

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        That makes a lot of sense. I’m sure that as I get more enmeshed in things, I’ll start using this more. And it’s good to know that it has more sporadic intended usage. Just glancing through it, there was a lot of stuff on there, and a few things I clicked on were conversations or groups that had become idle a few years ago. So that helps make sense as to why things would be active or go idle over time.

        That’s a lot of stuff for one person to handle, so I completely understand the marketing fall off to one side. I think that as people learn about MentorConnect and have positive experiences, they’ll start to spread the word themselves. And once it’s revamped, this might be a good thing for new members to be referred to so they can find their ALA sea legs.

        And I’m excited to her about the group matching. I think that will be a really helpful tool.

        In my non-library life, I’m a technical writer and sometimes web designer. If you ever need user feedback on stuff, I’d be happy to help out. Just let me know!

        Best,

        Mack F.

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  4. |

    We store a lot of round table and committee documents on Connect, and my major problem is FINDING them later. The keyword search never seems to pull up what I want. Documents were placed into folders or into Communities that made sense to the person at the time. But our officers rotate out every couple of years and the new folks might approach the documents differently or not even see a community in their left ribbon because they weren’t a member when it was first created. Also, if we want to re-organize our documents into logical folders, it is hard to move documents from one folder to another.

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      Kathleen, the native Drupal search engine doesn’t index file comments and in some cases attachments, which is something we’re working on. Later this year we’ll be switching to the Apache Solr search engine, making enhancements to search both comments and attachments, and eventually providing federated search with ala.org. So this issue should improve soon.

      Not knowing you’re a new member of a Connect community is one reason we encourage chairs to post welcome messages when new terms start. I think that’s good community practice in general, but it also helps orient new committee members to how the group will communicate.

      Can you give me more details about what’s difficult regarding moving folders. You should be able to check boxes on the files you want to move, scroll down to the “Move” section, and pick a folder from the dropdown menu. We deliberately don’t use “drag and drop” because it’s not ADA-compliant, but if there’s a way we can make the process easier, we’ll definitely figure out how to make that happen.

      Thanks for the feedback – please keep sharing your thoughts.

      Jenny

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  5. |

    I get enough things pushed to me that I seldom go looking for new postings on any Web site. When I get an announcement that something new is available on Connect complete with the URL I often click. Otherwise, I don’t believe that I’ve ever visited Connect to look for new material.

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      Bob, does this setup work for you (visit when you need something or when you get an interesting email about content there), or are you looking for more from Connect?

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        I prefer things to be pushed to me and clicking on the link for the info without having to lookup my ALA account/password. If this were possible, I’d use connect more.

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          Thanks for the suggestion, Ruth. We’ll have to discuss that internally and maybe even include a question about it on the survey because that would open security issues.

          Essentially, the link would have to log you in, and if you forward an email to anyone, they’d have full access to your account and groups. We’d have to see if nomination committees, award juries, etc. are okay with that possibility in return for the trade-off of convenience.

          It’s an interesting idea – I’m just not sure how it would work, so we’ll discuss it. Please keep submitting suggestions!

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