Archive for the ‘software’ Category

I read an interesting post on The Verge today: The Lost Secrets of WebOS. For those not familiar with WebOS, it was Palm’s last gasp before HP finally killed it. The article makes a brief mention of upcoming LG TVs that will run WebOS before launching into an interesting discussion of the software’s history.

I was a heavy Palm user back in the day, and it’s interesting to realize that the whole Palm ecosystem is virtually extinct. Hardware, software, accessories, app stores (before today’s current app store model came into existence) – all gone.

That actually makes me think of some housecleaning I did a few weeks ago. It was time to go through my password app and clear out those old usernames and passwords I no longer use. Of course there were logins for a number of Palm-related apps and services that don’t exist anymore. There was an online game from a major entertainment company, a library service from a major content provider, and even services such as Gowalla and Meebo. Of course the last one made me think about all the services that Google has developed or acquired and then terminated.

When the (conservative) housecleaning was complete, I had deleted over 40 usernames. I could probably delete at least that many more without much effort. For me it was an interesting reminder of the rise and fall of tech services. Ars Technica has an interesting and somewhat related article: Ars deathwatch 2014: Companies on the edge of relevance.

Bad Updates and Bad PR

Posted: August 6, 2013 in software, tech support

I have a particular app on a mobile device that I use heavily in the course of my daily work, and I’ve used a version of this app for over a decade. I originally discovered it when I was using Palm-based devices, and it has worked well for me over the years. In fact, I like the app so well that I didn’t switch over to my current mobile platform until this specific app was available.

Unfortunately, the developers are suffering the effects of a buggy update that has had a number of obviously unexpected side effects:
1) Some users have lost data.
2) For some users the app simply stops working after the update.
3) After updating, some users are being prompted to make in-app purchases for functionality they’ve already paid for.

All in all it seems to be a pretty bad update. From the numbers of people who are having problems, questions are coming up about how thoroughly this update was tested before it was rolled out. If you can believe the flamers on the company’s support forums and in app store reviews, the company will likely have no customers left after this debacle. Of course many of those reviews are highly over-reactive and unfair, but in a way the company is inviting such vehement criticism due to a simple lack of communication.

Perhaps the most tragic thing about this whole problem is that the company is doing nothing publicly to reassure their customers. No damage control. Nothing.

Many of the forum posts are simply going unanswered. The ones that are answered get a stock reply inquiring about OS versions and suggesting that the customers open a support ticket.

I actually tried that approach. Shortly after discovering update-related problems, I opened a support ticket. Over 24 hours later, I’ve received nothing but an autoreply. I’ve done a lot of fiddling with the app, and I’ve added some information that I think might be helpful, but as far as I can tell, no one from the company has even looked at this ticket.

To add insult to injury, I wrote a forum post that could have helped at least some of the people struggling with update problems, but it disappeared into the ether. I submitted it on the company’s website, and it simply never showed up. It was almost as if someone didn’t want to see any solutions showing up on the website.

The developers are probably struggling to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it, but in the meantime their customers are left in the dark. A simple post on their forum outlining the known issues and what they are doing to rectify them would at least let people know that SOMETHING is happening. But the company is strangely silent. Surely they must realize that this whole experience is damaging their brand. At the very least, the extremely critical reviews are likely costing them sales.

At the moment I’m fairly calm. My app is working, albeit with problems. I haven’t lost data. I can carry on with my work. And I still have time to move to a new solution if that proves necessary.

For my fellow fans of this app, you have my complete sympathy. It could easily have been my device that lost data.

For the company who has yet to acknowledge a widespread problem, we, your customers, are still out here. We’d like to hear from you. Good or bad, at least talk to us and let us know what’s going on.

No one wants to have a project blow up like this, but you can tell a lot about an organization by the way they take ownership of problems (or not) and how quickly and clearly communicate a repair strategy.

Where did my tech support go?

Posted: January 31, 2012 in software, tech support
Tags: ,

With the incredible growth of the iOS app store, I’ve occasionally had a need for tech support for some of the apps I use. Increasingly though, I’m finding that the quality of tech support for some iOS apps falls between ineffective and non-existent. When you stop to think about it, this can be interesting, disconcerting, annoying, and understandable – take your pick.

 

Interesting – I find it interesting, because if people want to roll out a new software product, I’d think that they also want to provide support. Good products with good support usually translate into happy users. Happy users recommend the product to their friends, and that translates into even more happy users. So when companies have bad or no tech support, it sends the message that they want to make the initial sale, and they don’t care if it breaks after you buy it.

 

Disconcerting – It’s disconcerting as well, because when I find a product I really like, I tend to use it a lot. I want to know that the company is going to be able to take the product successfully through future OS upgrades. I’d also like to know that they’re still working on the thing. After all, if they’re just going to abandon the product (and ultimately me), I want to know that as well so I can find another product that does have some support.

 

Annoying – When you find a “good” or even “okay” product, it can take a little time to get it to do what you want, integrate it into your workflow, and find the little ways to get the most out of it. When you can’t figure something out or when something just plain doesn’t work, you want to be able to get an answer from someone.

 

Understandable – Finally, the lack of good tech support is understandable. A lot of apps are free. Many cost only 99 cents. If you’re not see much (or any) return on your work, there isn’t a lot of incentive to provide support beyond that of personal satisfaction and knowing that you’ve done a good job. Additionally, many apps are rolled out by individuals rather than companies. Often software development could be just a hobby or a sideline. With other responsibilities, perhaps tech support just isn’t one of them.

 

If my bad experience with tech support had just been a one-off, I probably wouldn’t have bothered to write about it, but increasingly I’m finding this to be the rule rather than the exception. I’ve found bad tech support on apps ranging from free to $15, from almost unknown developers to well-known companies with far greater resources.

 

As I said, the quality really varies. At worst, an e-mail to technical support just floats off into the ether never to be heard from again. The next step up comes from companies who helpfully provide an immediate auto reply but never actually follow up on the problem. Then there are those who actually reply, solicit a lot of technical details from you, and then do nothing with your feedback. There are developer who do painstaking testing, replicate the problem, but tell you that unfortunately there is nothing they can do about it. And then there are those who promise that it will be fixed in the next release.

 

And somewhere out there at the far end of the spectrum, there are those developers who see the problem and either help you fix it or roll out a timely update that addresses the issue.

 

Unfortunately, those developers are few and far between – at least in my experience. When I first started working with software, there was a lot more tech support. It wasn’t always good, but – given enough time – they usually got the problem solved. And at least they knew how to return a phone call or an e-mail message.

My Missing Software

Posted: November 5, 2009 in smartphone, software
Tags: ,

Sometimes you find a piece of software that works well for you on a number of levels. First – and most importantly – it does what you need it to do, and it does it well. Hopefully, it also matches the way you like to work. And occasionally you find a piece of software that just does something no other program does.

Right now I’m really missing my ListPro. I’ve used ListPro for years. Most recently it was on a Windows computer in conjunction with a Palm Treo. ListPro handles nested lists very well, and it’s very customizable so I can make my lists into just what I need them to be. The Treo version combined with the desktop application gave me a good combination that did just what I wanted, and I haven’t yet found its equal.

Oh, I’ve tried. Believe me, I’ve tried – not because I WANT to move to another app. Ilium just doesn’t have an iPhone app on the market. When I considered the move from the Treo to an iPhone, ListPro was a must-have app. Unfortunately, although I saw the press release that Ilium Software was releasing an iPhone version of ListPro, I missed the later retraction that said the app wasn’t going to be ready on time. Yep. Completely missed it. I saw it AFTER I bought the iPhone and tried to find ListPro in the app store.

In a typical workday, I pull up ListPro (desktop) at least 4 or 5 times a day, and I used to pull it up even more frequently on the Treo. A recent development update from the company rekindled my hopes, so when I saw a tweet about an early shopper discount on ListPro I knew that the time had come and the app was nigh ready for release. Alas, it was not to be. And being so blatantly reminded that I can’t use ListPro on my iPhone reignited my search for a comparable app. I’ve tried several – some free, some paid – and I just can’t find it.

There are all kinds of list apps out there, but they’re too rigid. They want to be a grocery list, or a to-do list, or a checklist of one kind or another. They don’t offer the flexibility to work the way _I_ want to work. And then let’s talk about a desktop companion. For the most part, those other apps just don’t have it. There are a couple that try to get around it through e-mailings to/from the app, and there is one that offers an option to add data through a Google Docs template. But that’s just not what I’m looking for.

You wouldn’t think that a person could be so particular about a list-making app, but ListPro is just that good – at least for what I need it to do. And so I wait, not with bated breath, but with a kind of quiet, longsuffering patience. I have the desktop app, but no mobile counterpart. I’m not happy about it, but at the moment I simply don’t have any other choice. Unless . . . perhaps . . . Hey, Ilium, how ‘bout it? Maybe a little something underneath a guy’s tree?

Google Wave – Jason Griffey

Google describes Wave as e-mail if you invented it now.

Check out more info at http://www.yourbigwig.com/node/154.

Wave seamlessly knows if people are online or offline. The service is synchronous if everyone is online, asynchronous if they are offline.
If someone is added to the wave, the new person can see everything that has happened in the wave, and – if allowed – they can edit everything that has happened. It allows real-time and asynchronous editing of multiple pieces of information by multiple people.

Google is planning to open-source this product. It will be downloadable an installable to local servers.

A wave is an embeddable client. You can get to it from anywhere. For example, you could have a reference wave with all reference librarians a member, and students can be part of it as well. Multiple libraries can participate in shared wave reference.

You can write plug-ins for it. Google demoed a robot plug-in that can parse text and automatically respond. This can happen with no human intervention. For example, a student needs resources for a Sociology 101 paper. The robot could parse "sociology 101" and recommend the sociology subject guide, the top sociology databases, etc.

A robot could parse the name of a book, search the library catalog, and automatically return results to patrons.

Semantic Web – Julia Bauder

The underlying concept is to make the web machine readable. The idea is to eventually make the web work like Wolfram Alpha: you ask a question and the answer gives you an answer.

With this concept, the answer just pops up. This raises the obvious question of information validity.
To make the semantic web work, everything (including people) has a universal identifier. Privacy concerns.

Q – What are companies doing to facilitate this?
A – Not much yet. There are semantic web browsers out there, but you have to know a subject’s universal identifier. You can’t do natural language searches.

 

Facebook Pages – David Lee King

Using Facebook to push programming – Facebook Events
Meetings are listed selectively because this facility hosts thousands of meetings. They’ve tried some discussions through Facebook, but that hasn’t gotten particularly good response. Status updates have been the most successful tool.

The Facebook statistics have revealed some information about their users, and they have used that to market to their high use constituencies.
Content is updated by David, two web people, and the marketing person (but mainly the marketing person).

Q – Do you have photos and videos?
Y – We’re using boxes for YouTube and Flicker.

Q – How are academic libraries increasing use of their page?
A – We’re posting fun things such as news stories about the anniversary of the Sony Walkman. We’re trying not to be too librarian-y.

Upcoming instruction sessions can be advertised. Some libraries are are friending their student workers, and that leads to some additional friends.
One of the big issues is deciding what your Facebook identity is.

Facebook can also be used to give status updates and construction and renovation projects.

 

Cloud Computing – Matt Hamilton, Cindi Trainor

Computing power moves from your local device to the server on the web.
Cloud computing is like Play-Doh. Break off a little or large piece depending on what you need. When you’re finished, it goes back into the big lump for everyone else to use.
There are software and tools aimed specifically at libraries: Liblime, SFX, ILLiad are all available as hosted services. You don’t have to have staff who can manage server hardware and OS.
Other tools – Google Docs, DropBox
Distinction between having servers in the cloud vs. having services in the cloud.
Amazon idea – companies spend a lot of their resources on supporting the infrastructure. What might happen if you could shift the infrastructure support and focus more local resources on development and innovation?
What about the security of your data? When you put your information on someone else’s server, you’re subject to their privacy policies, their backup procedures, their disaster recovery plans, etc.

 

Government Information Mashups – Rebecca Blakely

Think about extracting raw data and combining it with services to make something new.
www.data.gov

Individuals and non-profits are using this information. Check out www.ilive.at

www.recovery.org – Non-profit site used the http://www.recovery.gov data to create something better.

EPA – Toxic Release Inventory

www.opencongress.org – Pulls data from other government sources.

Managing Staff Furloughs – Melissa Shepherd

Used Drupal to manage furlough information. Many user-developed modules already available.

 

Mobile Websites and Applications – Cody Hanson

Beta site is in development for the UMN community.
Site is developed primarily for the iPhone because it has the most forgiving browser.
Mobile site is php-based.

Site is using Metalib to provide mobile-optimized search results/interface for specific databases.

Q – What level of expertise is required?
A – The lead developer has a lot of PHP experience as well as experience with the ILS.

Q – Did you have a lot of demand from the users? Is that what drove the development?
A – No, we just thought it would be cool.

Q – How much development time has been invested?
A – We’ve just had one developer who sent 2-3 days.

Q – What kind of usability testing will you be using?
A – We do a fair amount of usability testing, but our usability lab is setup for desktop testing. Still trying to figure out how we’ll do this in a mobile environment.

The Open Library Environment Project: Building an ILS for Service Oriented Architecture Integration
McCormick Place West, Room: W-196a

Beth Forrest-Warner, University of Kansas
John Little, Duke University
Robert H. McDonald – Indiana University
Carlen Ruschoff – University of Maryland

What is the OLE Project?

Community source alternative to current ILS

International participation from libraries and consortia
100+ institutions, 350+ individuals

Planning phase: September 2008 – July 2009

The goal is to have a reference implementation model available in 2011

Why OLE?

"Our current library business technologies cost too much and deliver too little. We need to rethink our services and workflows, and to use technology that enables innovation rather than locking us into the status quo."

There is a growing need for library systems to integrate with other enterprise systems: Financial, identity management, course management, content management

Library technology systems have not kept pace with changing users and a changing information environment.

OLE Campus

Manages locations
Manages resource subscriptions
Integrated into: course/learning management system, accounting, student/HR, consortia
Flexibility
Community Ownership
Service oriented architecture
Enterprise-level integration
Efficiency
Sustainability

Audience poll: What do you think is most critical to the future of your library? (From above list)
Respondents ranked Flexibility as being much more important than Sustainability.

Why OLE now?

Current ILS products are inadequate
Growing need for library systems to interact with other enterprise systems
Vendor consolidation

Community Source Projects

A group of institutions sign an agreement to contribute specific resources. Under this model there is an established level of buy-in as opposed to open source in which a community may or may not develop. The Community Source participants have an ongoing commitment to participation and support.

Have sustainability over the course of the product development
Invest in the community of practice for long-term support and development
Fosters innovation and shared knowledge
Coordinates institutional goals rather than individual goals

Looking at better integration and interoperability with campus enterprise systems – not just "tacking on". Why are we looking at our own patron databases? Those are campuswide functions. This will ultimately result in more efficient processes and better use of campus investments.

From Theory to Reality

Approximately 30 months build time.
The project will build on existing pieces.
RICE – Enterprise level middleware

Kuali Nervous System
Kuali System Bus
Kuali Enterpise Workflow
Kuali Enterprice Notification
Kuali Identity Management

Use Existing systems
Existing data feeds
Open ERM data
Shared database feeds

Two Year Timeline

Year 1 Deliverables (will focus on one of these)
Management of Electronic Resources Services
Leased and owned eContent
Peer Resource Sharing Services
Sharing content – peer to peer
Sharing workflow – consortial
Acquisitions
CRM

Year 2 Deliverables

Integrations
Orchestrations
Functional Scope

Risks of Participation

No CS project has yet failed, but . . .
Achieve consensus
Acquire sufficient resources
Deliver software of adequate functionality
Problems could arise with contract software
Adoption
Build sufficiently large vendor services community

Benefits of Participation

Cost savings
Access to emerging technologies
Use monetary resources in a productive and directly influential fashion
Leverage ROI on campus for enterprise systems

Build partners are agreeing to put some portion of OLE into production. At the end of the 30-month build cycle, it will be possible to close out at least one module from the legacy ILS in favor of an OLE module.

Cash Contributions Needed

$5.2 million total partner contribution
7 partners – $185k per year
6 partners – $216k per year
5 partners – $260k per year

A colleague and I were recently talking about some Internet access trouble he was having at home. Strangely enough, this trouble only seems to manifest itself when he is in the middle of a World of Warcraft raid, and stranger still, it seems to affect only World of Warcraft. All other Internet apps continue to work properly. This discussion led to some of the exotic troubleshooting techniques he has seen suggested on various support forums.

For quite a long time, I have felt that most of the significant hardware advances we see are the result of gamers. Gamers’ needs push hardware development. If it weren’t their needs for better sound, better graphics, more RAM, more processing horsepower, and larger/faster hard drives, most standard productivity applications probably wouldn’t be nearly as advanced as they are today. The GUIs wouldn’t be as advanced. The programs probably wouldn’t be as powerful because the baseline for processors and RAM would be much lower.

Just as games have pushed hardware along, I think they are also pushing along troubleshooting skills – at least for gamers. Gamers are working with firewall issues and router configurations. They’re checking software and driver conflicts. They’re installing new components to optimize their computers for the game-playing experience. They’re exploring the innards of their computers in ways that their peers find intimidating. The result is a group of people who, from a young age, are being trained to diagnose and solve technology problems. I find it interesting that it takes a game to draw some people into the realm of troubleshooting. But more people developing these skills should be a good thing, right?