Archive for Slaven

Monday’s LibGuides Server Issues Post-Mortem

We waited until today to post the explanation behind yesterday’s LibGuides connectivity issue because we wanted to make sure that the fixes we deployed took care of the issue.

Here’s what happened: a couple of weeks ago our hosting facility had a big infrastructure upgrade – new routers, switches, the whole nine yards. But yesterday something went wrong with the shiny new stuff which caused one of our critical servers to be overloaded with access requests. Pings and connections were failing or being delayed, and  those delayed requests would then hit the servers all at once. We designed our servers to handle large loads and handle spikes in usage, but when you get a rare “super-spike” things slow down. A lot.

“Why don’t you just add more servers and hot-swap them?”, you may say. Well, adding more servers instantly in the case of LibGuides is not so simple: for some critical servers (like the one that we had problems with yesterday) any institution with the custom domain mapping option (most of our libraries have it) would have to update their local DNS records to point to new servers and it takes time (hours, sometimes even days) to propagate the changes to all DNS servers around the world.

In any case, we worked with our hosting provider to alleviate the networking issue and also made some changes to our server cluster so that it can handle way more traffic – about 10x more, to alleviate negative effects from any other potential super-spikes.

Here are a couple of important takeaways:

  • Server issues happen – internet connectivity is complex beast – and unfortunately there are no guarantees that our infrastructure won’t have other issues unrelated to this problem. You can be sure of this, though – we monitor our infrastructure round-the-clock so we are the first to know whenever there are any issues. And whenever there are issues we spring to action immediately to remedy the situation asap.
  • Whenever you have issues accessing LibGuides please check our Twitter webpage first to see if there’s a known issue (http://twitter.com/springshare). When we get thousands of support requests in a span of a couple of hours—literally, no joke—it is impossible to answer all of them quickly. If it’s a known issue our support team is already working on it and will fix it faster if they don’t also need to respond individually to thousands of emails.

    If you see an issue posted on Twitter, we are working on it and will post regular updates as well as “all clear”.

    If you are still having issues after things are back to normal (or no issues are mentioned on Twitter) you should send your support request and we will take a look at it asap – as we always do. 🙂

Again, we apologize for the problems accessing your trusty LibGuides yesterday. It was a networking black-swan type event (and just to reiterate—it was in no way connected to the attack on GoDaddy – please see this post). Remember, we are always doing everything we can to prevent these problems from happening in the first place.

It is worth noting that even counting yesterday’s issues, our uptime has been in the 99.99% range since we started LibGuides in 2007 – meaning it’s been down for only a handful of hours in the past 5 years.

Thank you, and onwards and upwards. Now we need to sign up 10x more libraries, because there’s a lot of room to grow in our infrastructure. 🙂

Best,
-Slaven & the Springshare team

Springshare does not support SOPA or PIPA

As we were wrapping up some fixes regarding the LibGuides connectivity issues today, we noticed some tweets alluding that we somehow support SOPA/PIPA because the attack on GoDaddy coincided with the LibGuides server connectivity issues. Let me be clear in no uncertain terms – we do not support SOPA or PIPA, and LibGuides issues  today were not due to the attack on GoDaddy. To wit, we have a couple of other domains registered with GoDaddy, like libanswers.com – and that service was fine today.

Let’s set the record straight:

  • When I started Springshare in 2006, before SOPA and PIPA existed even in theory, I registered bunch of domains with GoDaddy (including springshare.com & libguides.com – the two original domains) because GoDaddy was among the most affordable and most reliable registrars back in the day.
  • We have never used GoDaddy for anything other than a domain registrar (for about $12 per year) – i.e. we haven’t used them for DNS, hosting, or anything else. Our DNS is hosted by Amazon Web Services; server hosting is with multiple providers, but it was never with GoDaddy.
  • Springshare owns almost 100 domains, all of them related to libraries and library software – we have big plans for the future and will be releasing a slew of exciting new software and services for libraries, so we wanted to reserve these domains ahead of time. As soon as the SOPA/PIPA debacle happened and GoDaddy stood on the wrong side, we moved 95% of our domains to another registrar, EXCEPT these 4  domains: springshare.com, libguides.com, libanswers.com, libanalytics.com.

    We decided to move these by the end of 2012 because we wanted to plan this move very carefully, without causing any downtime to these services. When a service is used by millions of people every day, one can’t just move domains on a whim, regardless of politics. Our users are more important than politics. So any transfer of critically important domains must be planned and executed carefully.

    These are the only reasons we still have (less than 5%) of our domains registered with GoDaddy – legacy reasons (from 2006/2007) and because we want to plan the move carefully. The move will happen before end of this year.

  • Last but not least, I’ve spent my entire professional career in and around libraries, the majority of our company consists of librarians (yes it’s true – that’s why we’re so awesome ;), not to mention the little-known fact that my mother is a librarian in my native country of Bosnia. Hence, both personally and professionally our ties to libraries run deep and everybody at Springshare stands with libraries and librarians on the issue of SOPA and PIPA.

Thank you, and let me know if I can provide any further clarification regarding this, I can be reached at slaven@springshare.com. In the meantime, we’re continuing to take steps to diagnose and resolve any issues regarding the LibGuides connectivity some clients experienced today. We’ll post an update here to ensure everybody knows what went on.

Best,
-Slaven Zivkovic
Chief Springy
Not a supporter of SOPA/PIPA

Announcing Mobile Site Builder and LibAnalytics

After we gave a sneak peek to our clients via last week’s newsletter, today I am pleased to announce that the Mobile Site Builder and LibAnalytics systems are now available for anybody to check out. These two new tools expand our Springshare web platform in two important directions – mobile web and statistical analysis. Both of these are hot topics for libraries, and since our goal is to bring the latest and greatest web technologies to our clients this is a natural extension of our product lines.

Mobile Site Builder (http://springshare.com/mobile) works with LibGuides or CampusGuides and it enables libraries to effortlessly create and maintain a professional-looking mobile website. We handle the coding, the automatic redirects for mobile devices, hosting, etc. – you just log on, create menus, submenus, add content and voila – your mobile users have information on the go. Mobile Site Builder is offered as a module to LibGuides/CampusGuides so our clients will feel right at home in terms of the ease of use and familiar interface. Oh, and did we mention it costs only $299/year? You won’t find a better deal for a comparable mobile tool, so get in while the going is hot. 😉 For more information, check out http://springshare.com/mobile, and let us know if any questions pop up.

LibAnalytics (http://springshare.com/libanalytics) is our new platform for recording, tracking, and analyzing data at your library. LibAnalytics grew out of our Reference Analytics module in LibAnswers. We took Reference Analytics, which was targeted for gathering reference statistics only, and added tons of new features, more fields (up to 30 metadata fields to track) and data types (multi-choice, numeric, & free-text), improved filtering, better charts and reports, greater flexibility, and … LibAnalytics was born.

If you like statistics and data (who doesn’t, right?) LibAnalytics will feel like data-Nirvana. Instruction Statistics, Reference Statistics, Workflow Statistics, … literally any type of statistical information can be recorded, tracked, and analyzed in LibAnalytics. And the pricing starts at $299/year for a single instance. Yes, you read that right – it’s affordable, it’s powerful, it’s great looking, it’s easy to use, it’s… a typical Springshare web-app. 🙂 Take the first step toward becoming a Data Ninja: http://springshare.com/libanalytics.

Developing these tools wouldn’t have been possible without our awesome client libraries who are always giving us fresh ideas and great feedback, so big thanks to everybody who contributed their comments, feedback, and ideas which resulted in these two really neat, and really useful new tools. Onwards and upwards!

New LibAnswers Features Released!

We are very excited to announce a brand-new release of LibAnswers system with tons of new features and improved functionality. The updates went out this past weekend so everything is live already. Here is the rundown of the new stuff:

  1. LibAnalytics. We introduced a new product called LibAnalytics, which borrows from the functionality of the current Reference Analytics module. This is for libraries who require the statistics functionality of the Analytics module but do not need the rest of the LibAnswers system (public q/a, the ability for patrons to ask questions, etc). In LibAnalytics, libraries can define multiple analytics instances – each instance can track up to 10 metadata fields with up to 30 values per field. You can track anything you want with LibAnalytics, i.e. it is not just limited to reference. So, track and analyze away! 🙂 Please contact us if you would like more information on LibAnalytics.
  2. The Reference Analytics module has been expanded to support additional instances as well (just like the LibAnalytics product but this is integrated into LibAnswers).  Now the Reference Analytics clients can define multiple analytics instances (i.e. if you’d like to track statistics at the circulation desk, info literacy sessions statistics, or media desk, etc – you can track anything you’d like). Contact us if you’d like more information on the expanded Reference Analytics module.
  3. The “More Ways to Contact Us” box now has icons/options for phone contact and email contact (previously it only had twitter/sms contact icons). With this enhancement your patrons can easily note how to contact you via the phone or email.
  4. Private questions can now have replies. Emailed answers include a link for the recipient where they can comment/leave a reply to the answer. These replies/conversations are threaded in the View/edit private answer page.
  5. It is now possible to “close” a question without sending an answer.
  6. Linked answers! They are here, at last! When answering a public question you can “link” to an existing answer, so any changes to the original entry will automatically be propagated to all “linked” answers (it works just like linked pages/linked boxes in LibGuides).
  7. Added privacy/access control options. Now you can put your entire system behind an IP access/address range, or you can password-protect access to the entire system. There is also a new option to disallow search engine indexing.
  8. Improved QuerySpy interface. QuerySpy is the unsung hero of LibAnswers – people love it and for a good reason. Now it’s easier to use – you can delete entries from the grid, set date range filters, export data to excel, etc. Check it out – it’s cool!
  9. Improved “Comments” for q/a pairs. Comments can now be edited directly from the admin interface. Logged in users’ comments are approved automatically, and you can automatically send an email to the original questioner, with the text of the comment.
  10. “Change Topic” dropdown now appears on the homepage, to enable visitors to easily browse the list of topics.
  11. “Featured Questions” box on the homepage – now you can customize which questions will appear on the homepage (this works just like the featured guides box in LibGuides).
  12. Improved mobile interface – you can now set the default text inside the “Ask us” box in the mobile interface.
  13. The “success” message on the question form submission page is now fully customizable.
  14. Emailed answers now explicitly note if there is multimedia (videos, or attached files) associated with the answer, and point the email recipient to the anchored page where they can view this multimedia.
  15. To see other questions from the same email address you can click on the email address in the “Unanswered” tab or click the link next to the email in the answer/edit page for the individual answer.
  16. Link checker! Yes, you read it correctly, your eyes are not playing tricks on you. Link checker is now available in LibAnswers, too – it will periodically (twice a month) check the validity of links you included as part of your answers.

Phew, that’s a lot of new stuff, so check it out when you get a chance and, as always, please let us know what you think. Thanks to everybody who contributed their ideas, comments, suggestions, testing, and blood sweat and tears which went into developing this awesome new LibAnswers release.

LibAnswers Code Update – Mobile, Multi-lingual, Faster… Oh my!

If you noticed a lack of code updates for LibAnswers in the past couple of months, that was just the quiet before the storm because we are excited thrilled to announce a major LibAnswers code update which went live last night. There are lots of little fixes in this update but the biggest changes are:

  1. Mobile version of LibAnswers. It’s here. And it looks awesome! Just like with LibGuides, the system will auto-detect when the user is accessing LibAnswers from a mobile device and serve mobile-friendly pages. You have to try it out. The Auto-suggest feature works great, and the question submissions via mobile are enabled as well. Here’s an added bonus – now your patrons can send you SMS questions just by clicking on your local SMS phone number – how cool is that?! You do have to have our SMS module for this SMS functionality to work – those of you that don’t have it, what are you waiting for? 😉
    In general, the mobile version of LibAnswers is looking great, working great, and we look forward to hearing your suggestions and ideas for making it even better!
  2. Multi-lingual interface for public pages. We have worked with several of our international clients (in Sweden and France) to translate the public screens in LibAnswers and we’re pleased to be able to offer a multi-lingual interface for LibAnswers public pages. If you are interested in translating your LibAnswers system into your local language, please email us at our standard springshare support email and we will send you the translation files.
  3. We also made many behind-the-scenes improvements in the code and in the database so the system is now faster than ever!

Big thank you to all our clients who contributed ideas which went into this update, and also thanks to Derik and the LibAnswers team who made it all happen! As always, we’re here if any questions pop up, and please continue sending us your ideas and suggestions for further improving LibAnswers.

New Features for LibGuides/CampusGuides and LibAnswers

Over the weekend we successfully completed another major code update (without any system downtime – kudos to our tech team!) and rolled out many new features. Watch for the full details of all new features in our upcoming October newsletter, but here is the summary:

LibGuides/CampusGuides:

  1. Mobile interface for your guides! The system auto-detects mobile devices and serves the mobile version. It’s pretty cool, check it out. Also, we don’t want to let the cat out of the bag too soon, but watch for a super-major announcement in a few weeks – a cool new tool which lets libraries easily build mobile websites. The process will be as easy and as fun as creating guides!
  2. Including non-LibGuides guides in the LibGuides index. Now you can create “placeholder” guides in the system which can point to non-LibGuides pages, and display those pages alongside your LibGuides/CampusGuides content. Say you have a page which you want to make accessible/searchable from LibGuides. Now, you can place that page’s URL in your system, assign it all the standard LibGuides markup (title/description/tags/subject categories/etc.), and display it alongside your LibGuides/CampusGuides. This way your LibGuides/CampusGuides can aggregate *all* research and guide-related content at the library. The potential of this is far-reaching, to say the least!
  3. Unique CSS class for each box type. Now you can customize the look and feel of individual box types to your heart’s content.
  4. Folder support for E-Reserves (CampusGuides-only).
  5. More streamlined way to import your course lists into E-Reserves module (CampusGuides-only). We can help you import your course lists into our E-Reserves module simply by populating a simple Excel spreadsheet.
  6. Updated Asset Management screen (now includes “Books from the Catalog”) and Guide Index screen (more/better filtering options for finding guides).
  7. Custom Homepage Redirect – now you can assign a custom guide to act as your LibGuides/CampusGuides homepage (rather than the system default) by using the “Custom Homepage Redirect” option in your Customize Homepage screen.

LibAnswers:

  1. Keywords for enhanced searching/better auto-suggest matches. Now you can include up to 5 keywords with each Q&A pair. These are hidden fields (for the patron) but they will greatly enhance searching/finding answers).
  2. Much improved SMS Module. It now includes “Send a follow-up” option for librarian to send a follow-up message to the patron, to make sure their question has been answered. We  also have new and improved SMS Statistics with detailed charts for auto-responders, keyword-responses, turnaround time, “direct messages”, and more!
  3. The new LibAnswers html widget. Fully customizable html widget which can be embedded into any webpage, to make searching the knowledge base available from anywhere – literally.
  4. The Reference Analytics module can now track up to 10 fields (up from 6) and each field can have up to 30 values (vs 25 in the old version)
  5. Librarians can record Analytics information right on the “answer” page, without having to be redirected to the Analytics module screens. This makes recording analytics a snap!
  6. Improved Statistics screens – more charts and graphs, more statistics options, and the ability to filter statistics range by day (as opposed to monthly statistics in the old version).
  7. You can now use the handy “Edit Answer” link on the public question/answer screen to edit/update questions (rather than searching for the question in the Admin interface).

There are many other “small improvements and fixes” for both products, but we wanted to give you the heads-up on the most important changes in this post. The full details will follow in our Newsletter next month.

Many of these new features were developed as a direct result of your suggestions and feedback, so here’s a big THANKS to everyone who contributed ideas and helped with testing. Please let us know what you think!

Promoting your LibAnswers SMS/Texting service

Our client libraries will really like this new thing we’re doing – namely, we have started creating marketing/advertising/pr materials to help our clients promote the wonderful things they are doing with our products – LibAnswers, LibGuides, and CampusGuides.

The first marketing/advertising “how to” we put together is for LibAnswers – http://help.springshare.com/advertisingsms. It’s full of great ideas and practical advice about how to encourage patrons to use your LibAnswers SMS service – things like tear-away flyers with your SMS number, business card stickers, adding your SMS number to your databases, using keywords in classroom instruction, etc. There are many *free* templates you can download and customize for use within your library.

http://help.springshare.com/advertisingsms. Use it, and don’t lose it! 🙂

If you don’t have our SMS/Texting module for LibAnswers, check out what you’re missing!

100,000 Library Guides (and counting…)

We were so excited about the just-released code updates, new products, modules, etc. that we almost missed a super-cool milestone for our flagship platform. As of last week there were 100,000 guides in our LibGuides community. That is an amazing achievement by our community, and it speaks volumes about the ease of use and the popularity of our platform. In just 3 years librarians have created over 100,000 guides (as of today that number is 101,557) to share knowledge and information with their users!

Hence, a big round of applause and congrats to all librarians using LibGuides (and CampusGuides/CommunityGuides) to publish and share information. Librarians are the best information/knowledge professionals out there and, in our opinion, many of these guides represent the highest quality information found on the internet. Wikipedia, who?

Keep up the great work. Onwards and upwards to the next milestone. Dare we say 500,000? We’ll get there sooner than you think!

New LibAnswers Features

We came back from ALA in D.C. full of ideas for new features for our products. We’ve already coded a bunch of new stuff for LibAnswers (the LibGuides/CampusGuides update is coming soon as well) and here are the new features we just rolled out:

  1. Importing of LibGuides accounts into LibAnswers. It’s true – it’s here and it is not even Christmas yet! Now our libraries who have both LibGuides/CampusGuides and LibAnswers can import their LibGuides user accounts into LibAnswers.
  2. Improved accessibility for public pages. We’ve taken a big step towards making the system 100% compliant in terms of accessibility on all public pages (properly organized and nested headers, alt tags on images, title tags on links, “skip to content” links for screen readers, improved form labeling, and more…)
  3. RSS feeds for new answers and answers by topic. This is a biggie – note the orange RSS icon on the homepage and on every topic page. You can take these RSS feeds and embed the questions/answers from the system anywhere (including LibGuides/CampusGuides, of course!)
  4. The notification emails (when patron submits a new question) now include the demographic information about the patron (if provided).
  5. Better email notifications when transferring/emailing a question to another librarian to answer.
  6. Custom email signatures and more email options for answering questions. When an individual librarian is answering a question and an email gets sent to the patron, they can include a custom email signature (defined in the Edit Profile screen). System admins can also decide whether outgoing emails have the “From” line of the individual librarian answering the question, or whether the email comes from the general system-wide account.
  7. SMS Questions/Answers: the ability to see the previous message exchanges with the same user.
  8. Reference Analytics module: improved Visual Data Analyzer filtering – you can now filter data and create graphs in the Visual Data Analyzer for individual librarians (filter data by user).

There you have it. The best web 2.0 reference tool just got a whole lot better. As always, we thank all our users who submitted the ideas and we look forward to hearing more of the good stuff which we will then turn into new features.

Enjoy and let us know if any questions pop up – support@springshare.com

New Features of the SMS Module for LibAnswers

We are pleased to announce a first major update of the SMS Module for LibAnswers. Our SMS Module clients now have these 3 exciting new functions available to them:

  1. Send an SMS.
    You can now send direct SMS messages to patrons from LibAnswers (i.e. not just reply to a text message sent by a patron but also initiate a text message as well). On the My Admin screen click on the “Send SMS” link, per below:


    This opens up many new opportunities in utilizing the SMS module functionality. Here are several scenarios for when this new feature comes in really handy:

    For example, if a reference librarian is helping a patron at a reference desk but needs more time to complete the research, they can send an SMS message to the patron when done – while the patron is somewhere else in the library, e.g. studying or browsing the stacks. TXTing them is less intrusive than a phone call yet more timely than an email – an ideal use for the new “Send an SMS” feature in LibAnswers.

    Librarians can also use this new feature to notify patrons when a book or an interlibrary loan they requested arrives. Another neat use scenario is the following – say a patron is at a reference desk asking for a specific item – rather than taking a printout with the information about the article/book/whatever the librarian can simply TXT the information to the patron so they will have it with them in their phone for easy access.

    These are just a few exciting ideas on how to use the new “Send an SMS” feature to make the communication and interaction with patrons more effective!

  2. SMS auto-response keywords.
    This is just too cool. Imagine texting “hours” and getting an automatic response with the library’s working hours. Or texting “summer reads” and immediately getting back a list of fun summer reading recommendations compiled by librarians. How about texting “new dvds” to get the list of new dvd arrivals?

    Our new SMS keywords feature makes all this possible. With it you are able to define any number of SMS “keywords” and when patrons text that keyword to your local LibAnswers SMS number they get an instant auto-response that you defined. Pretty awesome, right? We thought so too! The possibilities for this feature are truly endless. You can get as creative as you want in getting timely and useful information to patrons. It’s an ideal tool for conducting marketing campaigns in your library.


    You can define as many keywords as  you want, and each keyword can have a response of up to 300 characters (e.g. two sms messages of 150 characters each). The keywords are not case sensitive, so if you define “Hours”, it will work just as good as “hours” or “HOURS”.

    Besides the examples mentioned above (“hours”, “new dvds”, “summer reads”) here are a few more ideas to get started with the keywords feature for your library:

    – For libraries with multiple branches or multi-library campuses text the library name for hours of each location.
    -“Directions” for the directions of how to get to the library.
    -“Book club” for the book club meeting times/locations.
    -“Events” for the listing of events at the library for any given week/month.
    -“New arrivals” to get the list of new arrivals.
    -“Keywords” – an automatic message with all the available keywords you defined! 🙂

    As you can see, we are super-excited about this SMS Automatic keywords feature and we hope we were able to pass some of that excitement on to you because your library marketing and patron communication can take a big leap forward with this new feature.

    The SMS keywords are set up in the System Settings tab, under the “SMS Module setup” submenu.

  3. Ability to define “off-hours” autoresponders for each day of the week.
    This is not an entirely new feature but an enhancement of the existing one. Previously, you were able to define “off-hours” auto-responders (i.e. if someone sends an SMS question at 2am, you are able to define the off-hours automatic response) but you were limited in defining one for the weekdays and one for the weekends. This worked well if your hours are the same for Mon-Fri, and then for Sat-Sun, but if you had different hours on Fri than on Mon-Thu (for example) it didn’t quite work for you. So, we re-coded this feature to let you define the hours of operation for every day of the week separately. If you had the auto-response times defined previously please go back to them and redefine them for each day.

    These are customized in the System Settings tab, under the “SMS Module setup” submenu.

As always, let us know what you think (support@springshare.com) and if you have your own ideas on how to make the LibAnswers and SMS module work even better, please let us know – we’re all ears when it comes to this stuff!