26 May 10 Connect Chat Update

As I noted last month, we’ve been testing new versions of the Drupal chat module we’re using for Connect in an effort to resolve random problems some users are experiencing when using this feature. Unfortunately, our tests have concluded that there’s no stable version we can upgrade to at this time.

We’re going to explore alternate modules, but the reason we originally chose the current one is that it was the only stable one that was ADA-compliant and could be integrated into multiple groups (as opposed to just one).

I’ll update here again when we have more information but in the meantime, if your group experiences problems with Connect chat, we encourage you to contact your staff liaison to reserve an iLINK online meeting room. iLINK does offer transcripts, which you can copy and paste into Connect as a record of your meeting.

Thanks for your patience – hopefully we’ll be able to get this resolved in the near future.

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22 Apr 10 Chat Upgrade Temporarily Postponed

There’s a newer upgrade version of the chat room module we’re using for ALA Connect, and we haven’t had a chance to test it yet or investigate some of the reported problems with it. Therefore, we’re postponing the upgrade until we’ve had a chance to verify it will work well on the site.

We’ll post here when we know more about this newer new version and the upgrade is back on. Sorry for the inconvenience.

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12 Feb 10 ALA Contributes First Two Modules to the Drupal Community

I should have posted about this before now, but I wanted to officially note that two of the modules we had Urban Insight develop for ALA Connect — the “cite” feature and the statistics reporting package — were both released to the Drupal community last year. Given how many modules we’ve used to build our site, it feels like a badge of honor that we’ve contributed something back.

What really stunned me was the usage statistics from the site where others can download them. According to the report for the cite module, nine other sites are currently running it (sometimes it’s been as high as 11). For the statistics module, 85 other sites are currently using it.

We’ve also worked on cleaning up the code in the iMIS authentication module to make it generic for general release. We have a couple of internal sites that are going to test it and if all goes well, we’ll be releasing it to the Drupal community very soon.


16 Dec 09 Six-month Review of ALA Connect

In the Requirements Document written for ALA Connect in May 2008, eleven measures were listed for evaluating the success of ALA Connect at the six-month mark. This report, first presented to the ALA Board on October 24, 2009, represents our evaluation of the project to date, according to those measures.

Although we installed Google Analytics in June, the types of statistics it provides don’t tell us very much. It’s good to know the numbers of pageviews and visitors are continuously increasing, but those kinds of generic numbers don’t tell us how folks are actually using the site. In order to get the kinds of statistics we needed, especially for the six-month review, we built our own custom Drupal module for statistical reporting. The bulk of the numbers in this review come from that module, which is available in real-time for any ALA staff member to view….

View the full report (PDF, 9MB)

General conclusion: Connect has been successful and should continue to see cyclical growth as we move further into phase two. We met six of the eleven goals, with three of the remaining measures no longer being applicable and one waiting on an accessibility review from ASCLA. There’s really only one goal we didn’t meet (#4, content activity), but even that one could be considered a success.

We’ll do a follow-up report like this one at the one-year mark in April 2010, and of course we’ll post it here on the blog. Questions? Comments?

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12 Dec 08 Where Is ALA Connect?

If you’ve been following along with our work on ALA Connect, you know that we had hoped to be beta testing by now, getting ready to do a soft launch heading into Midwinter. So why haven’t we announced that here?

Well, we ran into a speed bump last month that we’re just now clearing. As previously noted, all of our membership and committee data is in a software program called “iMIS,” and probably the biggest challenge we’ve faced with this project is connecting our complex membership structure to Drupal. Back in September, we excitedly noted our first success in this area (well, Urban Insight’s success, as they wrote the i2d engine that powers this).

So we were well on our way forward and when the connecting module was finished, we anxiously initiated the big import of committee data from iMIS. Which is when I learned that ALA uses the iMIS committee module for a lot more than just “committees.” For example, as our central repository of data, we use iMIS to track libraries participating in the Public Programs Office’s traveling exhibits, our list of past ALA presidents, and more. Once we saw what came over, we also realized that we didn’t really need a community for the 1999 Annual Conference.

It makes sense to keep all of this data in one place, but it quickly became clear that we needed to do some data cleanup in iMIS and find a way to flag those “committees” that aren’t really “committees,” as well as past events. We asked all of ALA’s divisions and units to pitch in and help identify these things, which they did in an amazingly fast turnaround time of one week (thanks, ALA staff!). We’ve done the cleanup in iMIS, added a flag, re-written the i2d engine, and now we’re re-importing the data, which looks a lot better in Connect. Instead of 1900+ “committees,” divisions, sections, round tables, and events, we’re down to 1,354 of them, with the added benefit of more accurate data in iMIS for other purposes, so it was worth the hiccup.

We’re back on track now, planning to start alpha testing next week. We’ve had to push beta testing into mid-January, hopefully with a soft launch in February. If all scales well, look for an official launch in March.

I know others at several associations are watching what we’re doing closely since we’re the first to be at this stage, so let me just note that if you’re one of those folks, you could do far worse than to look at your iMIS data now and check for any cleanup that needs to be done ahead of time so that you don’t run into this type of problem during your implementation.

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29 Sep 08 Membership Data Appearing in Connect!

Even as ALA staff work furiously to resolve issues with the new website, we’re still pushing forward with ALA Connect. If you felt the earth rumble a couple of days ago, it’s because we’re all doing the happy dance over here because the iMIS import and connection is fully functional.

That means members will be able to log into the system using their regular website login information, and Connect will automatically know which ALA groups they are affiliated with (divisions, round tables, sections, and conference registrations). We’ve had high hopes for this all along, but it’s still amazing to see it in action. In the screenshot below, you can see me logged in to view the ALSC community. Because I’m a member of the Association for Library Service to Children, I can see content posted to the group.

Membership data in ALA Connect

However, when I go to the Association for College & Research Libraries group, I’m not a member so I can’t see any content, which means the system is working as it should after the initial import.

There’s still a lot of work to do on the interface, including the creation of help documents and tutorials. All in all, though, we’re still taking 30 seconds to enjoy staring at the screen with huge grins on our faces. 🙂

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08 May 08 Online Communities Update (with Documents!)

ALA Connect logo It’s been a while since I posted about our Online Communities project, mainly because we’ve been putting things in place and ramping up to get started. Unfortunately, the RFP process took a week longer than we’d planned, and then it took a month for the lawyers to hammer out the contract. Having lost five weeks from our original timeline, we’ve had to revise our schedule.

That said, we are thrilled to finally be speeding full steam ahead with Urban Insight, the company we’ve hired to create our new Communities service in Drupal. UI submitted a very thorough proposal for the project, and we can report that they’re doing a great job so far getting things moving. More importantly, they’ve been essential in the planning process, which has been a big help.

Things are ramping up now, as we have a dedicated server in place specifically for this project. We’ve also contracted with UserWorks to design the interface. You may recognize this name as the company ALA has been working with to redesign our website, so they’ve already got a head start understanding our needs.

So given the initial delay, we’ve had to revise our schedule. It’s no longer possible to have a live, fully-functional product for Annual in June. However, we will have a working demo of a sample committee using the Web Advisory Commitee as an example. Our plan now is to spend July and August implementing all of the features and start beta testing in September. If all goes well, we’ll have a live product in October for use leading up to the Midwinter Meeting.

We’ve been working hard to get to this point, and I think it shows in the Requirements Document & CMS Architecture . This planning document will guide us through the development of this phase of the project, and soon we’ll have a Technical Specifications document to share here as well.

I want to provide some context for you as you read these documents, though. Phase one (which we’re in) involves replacing and enhancing our existing Online Communities service that is designed to allow members to collaborate virtually. In the new version, there will be more tools and they will be a little more social, in that you’ll be able to find fellow members with similar interests, create special interest groups on the fly (including ones such as “librarians who love dogs and knitting and are going to Midwinter 2009”), explore the beginnings of a mentoring network, and more.

But it’s really phase two where we start implementing ways for you to find and connect with other members around professional interests, issues, advocacy, your job, the work of the Association, meeting up with friends & colleagues when you attend ALA conferences, and the like. Although we’ve referred to this as “ALA’s social network,” it’s probably more accurate to think of it as ALA’s professional network, an online version of what has traditionally taken place in the physical world. This isn’t going to be “ALA MySpace,” although there will be hooks into and out of some social sites such as (bookmarks), Facebook (connections), Flickr (pictures), and Twitter (micro-conversations).

I’ll be writing a lot more about this here in the coming months, but for now, I want to note that when you read these documents and see the new site, it will be branded “ALAconnect,” not “Online Communities,” because this is the foundation for the social network (phase two) and a possible CE clearinghouse (potentially phase three). The name “ALAconnect” will be the umbrella for this more interactive side of our website, so we’re implementing the branding now to avoid confusion later.

If you have questions about these documents (or anything else about this project), please leave them as comments here so that everyone can see the answers.

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