Thursday, October 20, 2005

My wish list for new QuestionPoint software

In my role as a member of the 24/7 Reference Advisory Board, I was asked to submit a wishlist for the redevelopment of the chat reference software that QuestionPoint uses. I got a very cordial thank you for that e-mail, the text of which I'd like to share here.

Much of my inspiration for how our software should look (especially on the user's end) comes from IM, which in the minds of our users frames their expectations for our "chat" services. We need to make our software run as smoothly and quickly as IM software but make sure it's got the advanced functionality that it needs for a cooperative environment (reporting, tranfsers/conferences, etc.) and for an environment where users can be instructed in the use of library resources (co-browsing to demo databases, web searches, catalog searches, etc.).

(1) Co-browsing is unaffected by firewalls and pop-up blockers. This is my number one request. Everthing else would be gravy. If I can't co-browse with all my patrons, I might as well save my library 10 grand a year and go with instant messaging. There is no reason to expect any patron to have to tinker with their firewall settings just to allow us to co-browse; most users don't know what we're talking about when we ask them to, let alone have any clue about how to do it. Expecting a patron to configure their firewall to be able to chat with us is an unreasonable obstacle.

(2) Co-browsing works on Macs.

(3) Co-browsing works in all browsers (it can't just be IE but also has to be Safari, Firefox, AOL, etc .)

(4) Scroll of chat messages has the newest at the bottom, not at the top.

(5) There's no "End Call" button placed right where anyone will accidentally click it.

(6) Delete the "Scripts" window and allow for them to appear in one simple drop down. Access to scripts should be more immediate.

(7) Make it easier to toggle between multiple chat sessions (the grey highlight feature is hard to see). If you have more than one chat going, you see a line listing details of each one (IP address, user name, etc.). The one you are chatting with is highlighted in green, the ones you have on hold are yellow. Any that disconnect but that haven't had a resolution code assigned yet are red. If you click on one that is yellow, the highlighting turns green and the one you just were in turns yellow.

(8) Speed, speed, speed. Chat messages should ping back and forth; pushed pages should open more quickly. Users have been raised these days on IM; the pace of it is what they expect when they come to chat with us.

(9) Indicator on my screen and on the user's screen that one person is typing. This is a standard feature in IM. How many times have you wondered if you're patron was still there, typed out a "are you still there message" only to discover that the patron was typing a long message to you. And since our messages tend to be much longer than those of the patrons, it would be good to give them an indication that we really are still there and are ardently pounding away on our keyboards with another message for the patron.

(1) Frame with chat messages could be undocked on user's screen and re-docked if necessary.

(2) Process of transferring or conferencing chats between librarians is easier.

(3) All libraries share one standardized system of resolution codes.

(4) Allow member libraries to customize the default initial message. Instead of this automatically being sent to the user at the start of every chat session:

"A librarian will be with you in about a minute.

[Librarian Screen Name - A librarian has joined the session]"

I'd like to be able to customize for my library.

(1) Would accept chat sessions from IM clients. That way, we could also run an IM reference system and one from QP. If a chat came in from IM, it could be transferred over to QP, which would offer greater functionality.

Since eGain may be going by the wayside, I should mention the things in it that I definitely, absolutely don't want to lose:

- ability to see the all the info we have about the user while chatting with them (IP address, link to previous chat sessions, e-mail address, browser, etc.)
- audio signals that a session needs to be picked up
- automatic e-mailing of transcripts provided by the user
- no downloads are required by the user to chat


At 5:03 PM , Blogger librarianpm said...

Looks like the chat display order (newest messages at bottom vs top) is indeed something that can be customized in eGain. See:

At 11:12 AM , Anonymous libwitch said...

All those items on the top of you list I suggested when we got the service 2 years ago. I got about the same reply. Those folks are not exactly fast on the customer service needs. Oh, and they will argue they scroll the messages backwards for ADA compliancy (so screen readers will read the most recent line first), but it seems to me they must be able to do something about that, since Docutek VRL Plus does it the "correct" way and they are ADA compliant.

We are now using only IM, and I am fighting to get Rakim installed for our non-IM users. As far as I am concerned until the library software services learn that from the user's POV, it must be as clean and simple as IM programs, commercial chat software will always be problematic.

At 11:40 AM , Blogger Stephen Francoeur said...

Regarding the comment from "librarianpm," I want to say that I saw that post, too, and added my own comment to it praising Caleb for checking to see what could be customized in eGain. Thanks for pointing it out!

Regarding the comment from "libwitch," I should note that we too have asked for some of these things (or at least commented on them) ever since we had our first trial for the software in 2000. I haven't given up yet on the commercial chat software products yet (although I'd like to add IM to the roster of communication channels we have at the library where I work, but that's going to have to wait a bit), but I am watching very closely how QuestionPoint handles the rollout of its new software.

At 12:57 AM , Anonymous Sarah Houghton said...

Thank you so much for your comments to the 24/7 folks. I've been fighting hard from my weak position as a simple participating librarian for a few years now, with no success. I was repeatedly told, when the merger happens, all your concerns will be addressed and solved. The merger happened, and nothing's better...yet. I'm still mildly (very mildly) hopeful, but my heart lies with IM...and unless these big web-based chat vendors really do some serious reconstruction on their products (as it seems QuestionPoint is doing) then I think they're going to lose a lot of business.

At 6:41 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Although this is a late posting of a comment, there is another problem that I would like to see a solution for in chat software. Often, chat librarians locate great web resources and are able to push these links to the user. However, there isn't a way to be able to send multiple pages so the user can see these at the same time and decide which one to look at. This is because, as you all know, there is only one browser that opens with most chat software being used. Typically, I handle this problem by pushing the first page and then sending the links to the other pages, instructing the user to cut and paste these into another browser to view.

The question beckons as to whether the existing software should be redesigned with the ability to have multiple browsers visible, either within one screen or as pop ups. I cringe at the idea of more pop ups, and with pop blockers in place, this would be a disaster. However, what if you had the ability to divide the one browser screen into at least two, with the ability to resize things? There is already much data to support the ability of online users to multitask in online environments. Alternatively, the software can be configured so that all URLs typed become hyperlinks, like in MS Office products.

Now that I am thinking about this, there is no way in which a librarian co-browsing with a user can transfer the access before signing off. All those who use eGain to chat know that once the librarian closes the session, the connection is severed. Something really has to be done to transfer access to the user so they do not have to restart a search. It is such a diservice to our users when we have to sever the connection.


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