It’s Been a Tough Start to the New Year at ALA….

The last two weeks have been a sort of “perfect storm” of online-related problems at ALA, and as the person here who probably does the most tracking of what’s said about us online, I think I’ve pretty well heard everything you have to say about that storm.

Except what we want to say. With the holiday breaks (ALA was officially closed on December 26 and January 2), it was difficult to coordinate some of the discussion, but now we’ve had a chance to talk about some of these things internally, and we want to update you on decisions we’ve made to try to fix some of the problems.

The first issue that came up was in a blog post by Jason Griffey, in which he praised ALA’s willingness to try something new and accept YouTube submissions of questions for presidential candidates.  He then questioned why we wouldn’t accept videos from non-members or anonymous posters. While we still won’t include videos from anonymous users, we’ve changed the guidelines to accept submissions from non-members for consideration. And actually, we hope non-members *will* submit videos, as well as members. The deadline to post your question is January 16 (see the instructions here), and we encourage those of you who are inclined to participate in the election this way to ask your questions, whether you’re a member or not.

The second issue came up on the ALA Council email list when councilors began trying to plan their schedules for Midwinter. Even though we’re on our third vendor for the planner and we’ve requested changes to what was the default service, clearly this tool still isn’t what it should be. We got some valuable feedback from Nicole Engard and Jessamyn West that noted other concerns, such as a notice that the site recommends Internet Explorer and security issues around making the password the same for everyone and then posting that password on the page itself. Mea culpa (us-a culpa?) on both counts.

We’re going to put this issue to rest once and for all by working closely with the Website Advisory Committee to research and outline exactly what members need and then create it. As some of you know, we’re currently beta testing ALA Connect, which is our new collaborative work/online communities site built on open source software called Drupal. Since each conference will be its own community in Connect and it already uses your ALA login and password, it makes sense to put the event planner there. Naturally, this is going to take some time, especially since we haven’t even launched Connect yet, but we’ll shoot for having a new planner ready for Midwinter 2010. We’ll keep you posted about progress over on the ITTS Update blog, which is also where you can track what’s happening with Connect.

The third issue that piled on top of the event planner happened on Monday when we opened registration and housing for Annual 2009.  I saw at least 27 tweets, not to mention complaints on Facebook and FriendFeed, plus a desperate plea from Karen Coombs on her blog (did I miss any – let me know). We’re truly sorry for the frustration this caused everyone, and it’s not going to happen next time. We’re still talking to Experient about this one since they’re the company to which we’ve outsourced this function, but we’ll be taking steps to make sure that the confusion, busy signals, and frustrated clicks don’t happen in the future.

We’re also going to talk about how to communicate better (differently) when something like this happens again. For example, I was thrilled to see Lorraine Squires tweeting help for the revised start time and Anne the Librarian retweeting that info. Don’t think we didn’t notice that, and thank you both for helping. In fact, thank you to everyone who cared enough to post about any of this in order to get our attention. Consider it gotten.

With Midwinter just over two weeks away,  hopefully we’re sailing into calmer waters, but let us know if you run into choppy water and we’ll try to help.

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9 Responses to “It’s Been a Tough Start to the New Year at ALA….”

  1. rudy Says:

    ALA, thanks for owning up to the tech problems. I will say that the frustration I experienced with registering for Annual was just yet one more problem with the ALA website. I don’t know why a problem is allowed to persist for over three months, but the inability and frustration of trying to get from ALA.org to any other page on the site — hanging up, spinning, limboing — is really intolerable. ESPECIALLY because it is usually happening in an interaction that will end with me giving you way too much money for the time you spent me and the aggravation caused.

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  2. Jenny Levine Says:

    Thanks, Rudy. We’re still figuring out what went wrong, but one piece of it appears to be the bundled registration option. I can tell you that we had staff testing the forms before registration opened, but having 4,000 people hit the site at once, most of whom were bundle registration users, caused problems with the software. That’s why these problems didn’t happen last time, as this option was new.

    Obviously we’ll be doing a different type of testing next time. Like I said, though, we’re still investigating what happened, and we’ll do another post when we have better information.

    Regarding the “moving from page to page issue,” we had some problems last month that we discussed in a post on ITTS Update. We thought those issues had been resolved, so can you contact me at jlevine@ala.org if you’re still encountering them (outside of trying to register for Annual)?

    Again, though, we’re really sorry this was such a frustrating experience. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

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  3. sam Says:

    I would like to be optimistic that the issues with registering for housing at ALA will be improved in the future; however I have encountered technical problems, particularly extremely slow and unresponsive servers for at least the past four consecutive ALA conference housing registrations (and probably more than that). Experient needs to improve its technical service, increase its server capacity, and be adequately staffed and prepared for the barrage of housing registrations which they will receive shortly after registration opens (as those of us who have been attending for years have learned that you must make your reservation immediately if you want your first choice of hotel). I also have resorted to using the telephone for the past 2 ALA hotel reservations, due to difficulties with the online form, which would be my preferred method. ALA has contracted with Experient for years, and these problems are not unique this latest cycle of housing registrations; I wish ALA could leverage its resources to require Experient to offer us better service, or find an alternate contractor who can better meet our needs.

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  4. Pat Banach Says:

    I have not had good experiences with Experient in the past. Trying to make any kind of reservation change with them, such as adding or dropping a roommate, is a nightmare. Is there no other service you can use?

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  5. cathy Says:

    I was online, right at 9am EST, ready to go. I had some very specific room and location and price requirements. Of course, I did not know that the open time had changed. I wasted almost the whole 2 hours trying to figure out what was wrong. I checked back to the ALA MW 2009 web site several times, looking for news. NADA. Finally, I see the new start time. But, once the new start time starts, the connection is so slow that all the hotels that fit my requirements were filled. I had to pick a hotel in a hurry cause I know that rooms fill up fast. It is more $$ and farther away than what I wanted/needed.

    My school has very little professional development money so I am paying for ALA out of my own pocket. This screw up is costing me and my family money and makes my life in Chicago harder cause I have longer to walk.

    Please, please try to do better for MW 2010.

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  6. Mike Poulin Says:

    I must admit that there did seem to be something wrong with the housing registration as I registered during the first hour it was open and there were numerous hotels which were already sold out. That seemed unlikely unless someone was being allowed to make reservations prior to the opening.

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  7. jessamyn Says:

    The password issue on the event planner has really been with us for years now. I’m not sure why this has been allowed to continue. In *2005* I signed up as Keith Michael-Fiels. This year I signed in as Mary Ghikas. At some level if membership can’t be on board with getting a password emailed to them, it may be time for ALA to be a tech leader and decide that

    1. it’s more important to have a secure event planner than appease lowest common denominator confused people, combined with
    2. providing the resources for confused people to get the help that they need either via phone or email in a speedy fashion.

    I work with confused people all the time. I feel like showing them by example how a good website works helps them get more comfortable with technology in a way that actually helps their future learning on the topic. Show them a website with the password written right on it and they have no idea that this is NOT how a website should behave [and if fact one shoudl run screaming from such a website in a normal situation]. If we’re working with novices we have a special responsibility to show them how it’s done right, not just throw up our hands in a “hey it works!” fashion.

    This goes double for the IE banner, there’s really no excuse for someone not catching that and saying “hey this is alienating to Mac users and you shoudln’t be optimizing a site for IE in 2009″ and I notice the banner is still there, so um, is that changing?

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  8. Jenny Says:

    I don’t feel qualified to respond to your comments about registration, because I don’t work with that service, but we’re still looking at what happened and putting together more detailed explanations, so I’ll post a link to all of that when it’s available.

    I can respond to Jessamyn’s comment since that’s my area, and say yeah, we understand what you’re saying. That’s why our plan is to bring the event planner into Connect, which will give us more control over it. (Tangent: it’s my hope to create a new Drupal module that we can release back to the community, similar to what we’re doing with the iMIS–>Drupal engine.)

    Two immediate outcomes for doing this will be to 1) put it on a platform that’s designed to be cross-browser, and 2) use the work we’ve done to allow authentication via iMIS (meaning you can use your ALA website login and password). That will remove the need to give everyone a new password to begin with, since our ultimate goal is to reduce the number of logins members have to maintain.

    We’ll be soliciting additional feedback about desired functionality, but the best place to probably track this whole project will be the ITTS Update blog since this will become an ITTS + WAC project. We hope everyone will participate in that discussion.

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  9. Lois Says:

    I probably will not be going to ALA in Chicago because of the change in housing registration. For many years I have gotten my hotel registration very early and decided by the end of early registration for the conference if I was actually going (very rarely have I canceled a room reservation) I had a change in employment last year, and I’m not ready to commit to attending, and certainly don’t want to commit my money without knowing I will have an acceptable place to stay (acceptable based on my personal requirements of price and limited walking)

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