Digital Author Services

The producers of information at our academic institutions are brilliant at what they do, but they need help from experts in sharing their work online. Libraries are uniquely suited for the task.

There are three important areas where we can help our authors:

  1. Copyright and Author Rights Issues
  2. Developing Readership and Recognition
  3. Helping authors overcome technical hurdles to publishing online

Copywhat?

Several libraries are now promoting copyright and author rights information services. These services provide resources (often LibGuides) to scholars who may be sold on the benefits of publishing online, but are unclear what their publishers allow. In fact, in my experience, this is one of the most common problems. Like I said, academics are busy people and focused on their area of specialization, which rarely includes reading the legalese of their publisher agreements, let alone keeping a paper trail handy. This is particularly true for authors that began their careers before the digital revolution.

At any rate, providing online information followed up with face-to-face Q&A is an invaluable service for scholars.

Lucretia McCulley of the University of Richmond and Jonathan Bull of the University of Valpraiso have put together a very concise presentation on the matter, detailing how they’ve solved these issues at their institutions.

Another service, which I’m actually developing at my institution presently, is providing copyright clearance as a service for scholars. In our case, I hope to begin archiving all faculty works in our institutional repository. The problem has been that faculty are busy and relying on individual authors to find the time to do the due diligence of checking their agreements just ain’t gonna happen. In fact, this uncertainty about their rights as authors often stops them cold.

In the service model I’m developing, we would request faculty activity reports or query some other resource on faculty output and then run the checks ourselves (using student labor) on services like SherpaRomeo. When items check out, we publish. When they don’t we post the metadata and link to the appropriate online resource (likely in an online journal).

Developing Readership & Recognition

Another area where library’s can provide critical support is assisting authors in growing their reputations and readership. Skills commonly found in libraries from search engine optimization (SEO) to cataloging play a role in this service offering.

At my institution, we use Digital Commons for our repository, which we selected partly because it has powerful SEO built into it. I’ve seen this at work: where a faculty posts something to the repository and within weeks (and even days), that content is rising to the top of Google search results, beating out even Facebook and LinkedIn for searches on an author’s name.

And of course, while we don’t normally mark up the content with metadata for the authors, we do provide training on using the repository and understanding the implications for adding good keywords and disciplines (subject headings) which also help with SEO.

The final bit, is the reporting. With Digital Commons, reports come out every month via email to the authors, letting them know what their top downloads were and how many they had. This is great and I find the reports help spur word-of-mouth marketing of the repository and enthusiasm for it by authors. This is built into Digital Commons, but no matter what platform you use, I think this is just a basic requirement that helps win author’s hearts, drives growth and is a vital assessment tool.

Walking The Last Mile

MacKenzie Smith of MIT has described the Last Mile Problem (Bringing Research Data into the Library, 2009), which is essentially where technical difficulties, uncertainty about how to get started and basic time constraints keep authors from ever publishing online.

As I touched on above, I’m currently developing a program to help faculty walk the last mile, starting with gathering their CVs and then doing the copyright checks for them. The next step would be uploading the content, adding useful metadata and publishing it for them. A key step before all of this, of course, is setting up policies for how the collection will be structured. This is particularly true for non-textual objects like images, spreadsheets, data files, etc.

So, when we talk about walking the last mile with authors, there’s some significant preparatory work involved. Creating a place for authors to understand your digital publishing services is a good place to start. Some good examples of this include:

Once your policies are in place, you can provide a platform for accepting content. In our case (with Digital Commons), we get stellar customer service from Bepress which includes training users how to use their tools. At institutions where such services is not available, two things will be critical:

  1. Provide a drop-dead easy way to deposit content, which includes simple but logical web forms that guide authors in giving you the metadata and properly-formatted files you require.
  2. Provide personal assistance. If you’re not providing services for adding content, you must have staffing for handling questions. Sorry, an FAQ page is not enough.

Bottom Line

Digital publishing is just such a huge area of potential growth. In fact, as more and more academic content is born digital, preserving it for the future in sustainable and systematic ways is more important than ever.

The Library can be the go-to place on your campus for making this happen. Our buildings are brimming with experts on archives, metadata, subject specialists and web technologies, making us uniquely qualified to help authors of research overcome the challenges they face in getting their stuff out there.

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Separate Beds for ContentDM

separate beds for contentdmI tried to make things work, but in the end, short of a divorce, I told ContentDM if things were going to work out between us, we had to sleep in separate beds.

There’s been a lot of talk about “Breaking up with ContentDM” but for a library with limited tech staff to develop our own digital library platform, calling it quits isn’t in the cards…no matter how abusive ContentDM is to us.

Abusive? Well, let’s list it here to be on record:

  • As of this writing core functionalities like the image viewer and search do not work in IE10 due to Compatibility Mode (but then again IE10 users are just asking for it…time to move on folks!)
  • phrase search doesn’t work well
  • stop words are not stopped which is especially bad since phrase searching doesn’t fix this
  • commonly used JQuery UI features cannot be used in custom pages without conflicting with the Advanced Search drop down
  • Worst of all, once you upload a JS or CSS file, it’s in there for good…no deletions are possible!
  • Objects that are composed of an image layer and an OCR text layer do not display correctly in Firefox (but that’s probably more on Mozilla than OCLC)

So, I knew it was time to draw a line in the bedroom when our attempts at customizing the user experience within the ContentDM web configuration toolset went terribly wrong.

Our JQuery almost always caused conflicts, our attempts at responsive design went horribly wrong within the very unresponsive framework of ContentDM and the way ContentDM is structured (with separate CSS/JS uploads for each customized collection) spelled long-term disaster for managing change.

Then came the latest release update when even more went wrong (largely in IE10).

In the end, I couldn’t take it anymore and called up OCLC and begged them to reset the whole site to default configurations, so we could at least start fresh without concerns that legacy JS and CSS were going to cause problems (as I believe they were). They were very helpful and in a matter of 2 hours, had our collections all reset.

We’re doing it differently now as we roll out phased customizations.

Here are our hard-learned best practices:

  • Never upload any custom CSS or JS to ContentDM…at least until OCLC creates a way to delete these. Instead, where you need such things, simply upload a reference file that points to externally hosted files, which you can edit/delete as needed
  • For the system header, upload your banner image and resist the urge to include any navigation HTML. Instead, use the system menu creation tool. You can use your externally hosted CSS file (reference globally) to style these links (but if you have drop downs you need to given them using this method)
  • Use a meta tag redirect to force ContentDM to redirect traffic to your externally hosted home page since ContentDM doesn’t allow you to replace the home page completely with an external page without resorting to this trick. Probably not great for SEO, but avoids the aggravations we endured for so long
  • Use the custom page tools for your collection pages that allow you to replace the whole page (including the header and footer) with an externally hosted page. In our case, we are doing this for the really important collections, but others, we manage directly within ContentDM.
  • Put any custom interface features into your externally hosted pages and develop to your hearts content

The result: users can now enjoy JQuery-powered interface features and more responsive designs from the home page down to the individual collection pages. If you want to add proven page-turning or timeline technologies in your collection pages, you can now do so without worry. The users only deal with ContentDM once they enter search result or image viewer pages.

To help with the browser issues, we will be deploying browser checks that will deliver messages to users coming to our site with IE or Firefox, hoping to head off bad user experiences with one-time, cookie-based messages. In other words, the first time you come to our site with one of these known problem browsers (for ContentDM), you’ll be urged to use Safari or Chrome.

Conceivably, you could use a CMS like WordPress or Drupal to manage your custom pages and start adding timeline, mapping and other plugins as you like. We’ll probably work toward this in 2014 or 2015.

Speaking of user disruption, the other cool thing about separating most of your digital library GUI from ContentDM, is that you can work in test environments, out of sight, and only update the public pages when you’ve thoroughly tested them. This was impossible when we tried to work in ContentDM itself. And when things went wrong, the users in our DL saw every thing in plain sight.

View the current production version of our Digital Collections.

Yeah, separate beds are just what the doctor ordered. Post any questions in the comments as I’m sure I raced through many of the details…

Using Timeliner with ContentDM

This tutorial is based on some experimenting I did recently linking a ContentDM collection of maps to a Timeliner in order to plot the collection items on a map and a timeline. There are multiple methods to make this happen, including using the ContentDM API and Google Spreadsheets to bring the collection metadata into Timeliner.

Background

Timeliner is a hosted application that generates timelines and geo-spatial mappings of a given digital collection. The service is free and can be embedded into any webpage using an iFrame.

Timeliner provides a ready-to-use data template for Google Spreadsheets. An institution need only enter the appropriate metadata from a given digital collection, from ContentDM for example, into predefined columns in the template and then publish that spreadsheet. After entering the URL of the spreadsheet, Timeliner constructs an interactive timeline and map feature.

Timeliner is also open-source and can be installed and developed locally.

Harvesting the Metadata from ContentDM

There are two methods for bringing the data into Timeliner from ContentDM:

  1. via XML export
  2. via TSV export

XML Method

The XML method is preferred, but would require an institution to add specific fields to its collections that Timeliner can use. For example, a place field that provides a human-readable placename for a given location, or a date field. In other words, if the data in ContentDM is structured in a Timeliner-ready manner, creating Timeliner interfaces for collections can be automated and rather simple once basic spreadsheets with ImportXML queries are entered into the appropriate Timeliner columns.

Special Note About Errors

For undetermined reasons, it is possible that ImportXML queries using the ContentDM API noted below will not retrieve data. There are a few possible explanations:

    1. Google limits the number of cells for a given spreadsheet and, importantly, there are limits on the complexity of spreadsheets, such as references to other cells. More information can be found on the Google Spreadsheets Size and Complexity Limits help page.
    2. ContentDM does time out from time to time

An alternative solution, not covered in this document, would be to export the full XML of a ContentDM collection and store it remotely and then have an XSLT construct a spreadsheet that could then be uploaded to Google Spreadsheets (or generated with ImportData calls within the spreadsheet). The one drawback to this solution is that this method will not dynamically update as new items are added to a collection. Thus, an institution would need to run this process each time an update was made to a collection.

As an example of using the dynamic XML method, a query to retrieve date field data might resemble something as simple as:

=ImportXML(XMLPATH,XPATHSELECTION)

for example…

=ImportXML("https://server16106.contentdm.oclc.org/dmwebservices/index.php?q=dmQuery/lpnc1/CISOSEARCHALL/title!creato!subjec!date!descri/title/1000/1/0/0/0/0/0/0/xml", "//date")

Adding similar queries to each Timeliner column will dynamically retrieve the data without any post-ContentDM publication intervention. Again, using the above example, the “date” field would need to entered by catalogers specifically for Timeliner (i.e. using a yyyy-mm-dd format).

Location: Geocoding through open web services

One Timeliner field that might be best handled directly in Google Spreadsheets post cataloging, however, would be Location as it can be automated and save catalogers significant time.

The Location field requires machine-readable latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates for a given place. Fortunately, open-source web services can be queried in a Google Spreadsheet to retrieve these coordinates.

To spare the author of such a spreadsheet from having to write incredibly complicated formulas, it is recommended to carry out this automation in stages:

  1. create a new spreadsheet with multiple sheets:

    1. the first sheet will be your Timeliner Template

    2. the second sheet will be your Geocoding spreadsheet.

  2. Populate the Timeliner Template with metadata using the above ImportXML method. This will include the Place column which contains human-readable place names.

  3. In the Geocoding sheet, create four columns:

  4. Column A will contain a formula that retrieves the data from the Place Column (Column H2) in the Timeliner Template (Sheet 1). For example:

=’Sheet 1′!H2

  1. Column B of the Geocoding sheet will query a geocoding web service to obtain the latitude. We will use the MapQuest Nominatim-based Open Geocoding API: http://developer.mapquest.com/web/products/open/geocoding-service

In Column B, you can query this service using the following XPath query, where A2 is the first row of data in Column A (assuming your columnar labels are in the first row):

=ImportXML("http://open.mapquestapi.com/nominatim/v1/?format=xml&q=" & A2 ; "//place[1]/@lat")
  1. Column C follows exactly the same XPATH statement, but replaces the latitude attribute @lat with the longitude attribute @lon.

=ImportXML("http://open.mapquestapi.com/nominatim/v1/?format=xml&q=" & A2 ; "//place[1]/@lon")
  1. Column D simply needs a comma character entered. This will be used as a separator to separate the latitude and longitude values in the format required by Timeliner.
  2. Remember to copy all of these formulas down the columns. Google Spreadsheets should calculate the correct values as you do so.
  3. Finally, back in the Timeliner Template, under the Location column, add a concatenation formula to combine the last three columns of your Geocoding sheet. The structure is:
=CONCATENATE(LATITUDE,COMMA,LONGITUDE)

your actual Google formula might look like this…

=CONCATENATE(Geocoding!B2,Geocoding!C2,Geocoding!D2)

Generating Thumbnails and other complicated fields

ContentDM generates a thumbnail image for each item. To create this, simply construct the following URL:

SITE/utils/getthumbnail/collection/COLLECTIONNAME/id/POINTER

For example:

http://cdm16106.contentdm.oclc.org/utils/getthumbnail/collection/p16106coll1/id/2

The above example can be broken down like this:

    • SITE = cdm16106.contentdm.oclc.org
    • COLLECTIONNAME = p16106coll1
    • POINTER = 2

The pointer is available as an element in the XML output of a given collection. For example, in blue:

<record>
<collection>
<![CDATA[ /p16106coll1 ]]>
</collection>
<pointer>
<![CDATA[ 2 ]]>
</pointer>

And so, to construct an IMG tag reference for Timeliner to generate a thumbnail, you would create a field in your Spreadsheet with the following formula:

=CONCAT("http://cdm16106.contentdm.oclc.org/utils/getthumbnail/collection/p16106coll1/id/","2")

Often, when constructing these kinds of concatenations you may want to create a third sheet in your spreadsheet called, for example, “Build” or something along those lines. This is a intermediary spreadsheet to begin massaging complicated data that may need to pass through a few ImportXML and Contanetation steps  before it is ready for Timeliner.

For example, in order to generate the above concatenation, you would first want two columns to pull from. For example:

  1. one column would have the URL stem:

http://cdm16106.contentdm.oclc.org/utils/getthumbnail/collection/p16106coll1/id/
  1. the second column would have the pointer, drawn from an ImportXML statement:

ImportXML("https://server16106.contentdm.oclc.org/dmwebservices/index.php?q=dmQuery/lpnc1/CISOSEARCHALL/title!creato!date!descri/title/1000/1/0/0/0/0/0/0/xml","//id")

TSV Method

For those who are not comfortable with XML, it is possible to export Tab-Separated Value (TSV) files of ContentDM metadata. This method is not unlike the XML method, except that the TSV file will be imported directly into Google Spreadsheets and the appropriate fields will then be massaged until the data is suitable for use in Timeliner. This can increase the number of interrelated sheets one might need to lead up the completed Timeliner template.

For example, your spreadsheet might be constructed in the following way:

Sheet 1: Timeliner Template

Sheet 2: Geocoding Template

Sheet 3: Concatenating TSV values (for example, multiple Place fields)

When your data is not pre-structured for Timeliner

Often, ContentDM collections do not have the required fields for Timeliner. In these cases, significant manual intervention will be required. For example, you may have dates combined within the publication field, requiring that a person go through each row and clean up the data so that Timeliner has a simple date it can understand.

Examples

Published Google Spreadsheet ready for Timeliner:

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AjJ_C_koXVI6dE9fcVlPSzBJWkc3TnRtZnJjTGEtWkE&usp=sharing

Timeliner view of ContentDM data:

http://digicol.lib.depaul.edu/cdm/timeline/collection/p16106coll1

The Ugly Truth About Library Websites

The world’s ugliest websites are not library websites. But we’re not far behind.

In the course of my work, I scan some pretty dismal exemplars of this tragic state of affairs. But let’s be frank, we’re not talking about a few bad apples. Bad websites are the norm for libraries.

Now, I won’t draw attention to specific offenders (we’re all guilty to some degree after all) as I really want to focus on what goes into good library design. Nor will I indulge my first impulse to drop a few old-school animated GIFs onto this post to illustrate my point in 16-bit fashion. Let’s keep this civil. No need to induce any migraines or sore feelings.

But in order to highlight the best design approaches to common library problems, we need to first call out the number one cause of usability disasters in the library world.

Clutter

Busy bee librarians have built hives too heavy for their own good. Sooner or later, the twig of user patience will snap and the bears of irrelevance will eat us for lunch.

Here are the commonly heard refrains in library web conversations: Everyone-has-to-have-their-way, everything and the kitchen skink must be on the homepage, repeated ad nauseum from page to endless page, down the rabbit hole. If it is a thing related to the library, their must be a link!

[Your Brain Dump Here]

Clutter is a tenacious problem on any website, namely because it arises from the very sensible desire to help people find things. And for librarians, whose primary service model was built on pre-arranging materials in logical ways, this “helpfulness” seems natural and entirely appropriate.

But the short history of the Internet is littered with the failures of this approach. The clearest example was during the early Search Engine Wars between Yahoo! and Google.

Yahoo!’s approach was to organize the Internet into browsable hierarchies on top of having an okay search product (sound familiar yet?). Google, on the other hand, just focused on the search product (it had to be fast, accurate and dead simple). As you probably noticed, Google won.

Pretty much every library site follows the failed Yahoo! model. Again, this is largely due to the historical approach to pre-organizing information for people. It’s practically in our QP 624.

Meanwhile, Google continues to chip away at the loyalty of our user base. According to the 2012 Academic Library Edition of Library Journal’s Patron Profile Google is the initial choice for starting research for 76% of student respondents. The library was the first choice for 24%.

In some libraries, it’s the dreaded Web Committee that is the primary cause of clutter where the impulse to pre-organize information is compounded by group-think and organizational politics. Other times, it’s a simple lack of understanding of basic usability principles. And in some cases, the understanding of usability is there, but other considerations get in the way, such as clashing web strategies where the website is being used for purposes beyond what its architecture can handle.

Solutions

The Web Committee

The solution to the Web Committee is to break this body up and do an extreme makeover. Distributed content management is definitely the goal, but this must be a curatorial process handled by professionals. Sadly, most “information professionals” don’t come out of library school with usability core to their training. From my perspective, this is a key oversight in our professional strategy and one that explains why libraries no longer lead in terms of delivering information.

As I just indicated, the replacement for the Web Committee is a Web Curator Committee. Actually, it’s less a committee than a group. Whatever you call it, here are the basic outlines of what this body should be about:

  • Small: Limit membership to one representative from each part of the library that is the main service provider for any given content. Typically, this might be one curator from instruction, one from reference, one from access services, etc.
  • Focused: Each member should be a knowledgable expert from their department, that knows the audience their content addresses and the key services being offered. And that one person, will have sole responsibility for the pages they are assigned.
  • Skilled: Each member will either come trained in usability or be trained to do their job well. In my library, this group has been given a measure of informal training, including webinars from usability experts and readings. Plus they get to hear me rant from time to time ;P

Once you have this group in place, it becomes much easier for distributed content management to happen and happen usably. The idea is that the group meets quarterly to keep on the same page but largely they work independently. Most importantly, curators are dynamite at keeping the clutter at bay as these people serve as ambassadors to their departments and often have more trust than, say, someone from an external web team. Their role, then, is to gather input on updating content and then edit ruthlessly using their arsenal of best practices and understanding of the library’s content strategy.

Usability? What Usability?

In many libraries, usability is a new concept. As I mentioned, training in usability principles is not (yet) core to our profession, so if you or someone you care about is one of these people, here are the basic principles of design you should consider.

Four good starting places:

  1. Dan Brown of EightShapes has a great webinar on the principles of good web design. Watch it (or scan the slideshow) and you’re already halfway done.
  2. Usability guru, Jakob Nielsen is slightly more detailed (and ironically, not the most elegant design-wise)
  3. Also, of course, Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think, is an easy classic that is simultaneously funny.
  4. Kristina Halvorson’s Content Strategy for the Web takes you step by step on how to build a framework to do content right.

Mission Creep

Sometimes library leadership knows all about usability…but then there’s what they do for a living. Let’s face it, the top brass are wheeling and dealing, fighting the good fight on a level that we lower down the organization can’t even comprehend. The library website, to some library leaders, is, yes, a discovery layer that needs to be usable, but also a tool in winning friends and allies and keeping the budgets healthy. Thus, we get the library site that is at once a tool for 99.9% of our users to find things, but also built around a host of other purposes.

This can result in lots of content…trough-fulls of it…and it all must be on the homepage.

Until this is managed appropriately, this problem can best be described as mission creep. More complicated than either of the other two causes of clutter, mission creep is actually quite common. In cases of mission creep, it’s important to turn to experts like Kristina Halvorson. While Halvorson is a stickler for holding the line on runaway content, she also understands that business goals are key to content strategy. And if your leadership’s business strategy requires lots of links to keep the lights on, ultimately, your site must provide this.

For the usability purists, this is a hard truth to face. But there are creative options open to us. Consider the following:

  1. As Dan Brown might say, break the navigation. Create content areas on your site that allow you to put new links or images or even blocks of text that meet any business needs your library might have down the road.
  2. Another Dan Brown turism: Growth Happens, so plan for it.Build your architecture so that it anticipates “runnaway growth” in a way that doesn’t overwhelm your typical library user. This can include planning for sub-sites or handing over a menu to meet changing missions.
  3. Let search save you. Fortunately, many, many people prefer using your search box than browsing your pre-organized links. If all else fails, make sure your search tool is central, easily reachable and works.

There are places where professional usability-minded web managers need to draw the line, however:

  1. The left-most menu item is sacrosanct. This should be considered the easiest, most usable spot on your site and every effort should be made to keep it free of content that can mislead or confuse users with too many dead-end options.
  2. The little arm of the F: The above the fold, below the nav bar area just to the right of your left rail is critical. This is where your search must be on your homepage and if you do this, all the clutter in the world will not stop most users from ignoring everything else and getting to your resources. Unfortunately, many users will find your website deeper in the navigation, having come from a link somewhere else, but again, that’s when creativity in design (such as in your navigation) can help save the user.

Best in Show

So what does good design look like? A pretty nice implementation of a clean, usable library site is at the ETH Bibliothek in Switzerland.

The first thing you’ll notice about this library website is that it doesn’t look anything like your library website. You’ll note the slick, modern design that looks like something out of Mountain View or Cupertino, not the Web Committee.

You’ll see that it has the search box visible right smack on the small arm of the F-pattern and that this box appears on every page in exactly the same place.

You’ll also note that this site has a lot of content (look at the fat footer site map). See? Clearly the architect had to build for lots of needs, but used an ingenious technique for meeting those demands, while keeping the site smooth and simple.

So, to sum up: the library world needs a good, strong shot of usability…or else. And the real heroes that will save our users and our relevancy to the world, are the leaders in this area.

Virtual Privacy

Privacy is dead. Security is not.

Last weekend I got on the Virtual Private Network (VPN) bandwagon and thought I’d share some tips on how to get this set up. While running VPN on a computer is relatively easy, there are a few things you’ll start to run into once you get beyond that step, so I offer my lessons learned below.

Getting Started

VPN is simply a way to protect your personal data and privacy. In this day and age of mobile devices, public wi-fi hotspots and sophisticated information poachers from well-organized groups (like the Chinese government), VPN is probably the next big thing everyone will be doing. In a sense, it’s almost as required these days as having anti-virus software on your computer.

For a detailed introduction to VPN, how it works and where to get an account, see this Lifehacker article on the topic. But basically, a VPN service encrypts all your outgoing Internet data, routes it through their servers where it is un-encrypted and sent on to the website you are trying to reach. The information sent back to your computer also routes through their server, is re-encrypted and sent back to you where your machine un-encrypts it for your browser or other web client to render. The beauty is that all this information cannot be tied to you, all data is encrypted while it travels through any public networks and, as is the case with most good VPN services, they destroy their logs, so no trace of your data will be left on their servers.

The easy part is choosing a VPN Service. In my case, I chose Private Internet Access (PIA) because it was cheap, offered multiple US and international services and had high marks from reviewers.

Once paid for, PIA has software you download and install on your machine. In their case, this software lives in the menu bar beside your wifi icon, etc. From this menu item, you can connect to any one of their servers around the world.

To test that this is working, you can go to any one of the IP mapping services a quick google search will bring up. PIA offers a What’s My IP service for their customers. So, if you’ve connected to the London server, this map will show you the IP address and surrounding neighborhood in London where the server you are connecting to resides.

Dealing with the Alarm Bells VPN Triggers

So now that your VPN is working, you’ll probably start receiving distressing emails from Google that there is suspicious activity going on with your account. This is because suddenly your account was accessed from a foreign country (if you’re using, say, the German server run by your VPN service. This is also a sign of success.

However, now you have to configure your google accounts so that you don’t get access dropped as they scramble to protect you from what they think are hackers. To fix this, you need to set up 2-step Authentication. This is a layer of security that is a good idea in it’s own right, even if you’re not using VPN. The way it works is that when you access your Google accounts from a new device, Google will ask you to sign in. If you do this correctly, they will then text you a special access code to your mobile phone. You then enter this code into a 2nd authentication box and only then can you get into your Gmail or Drive accounts.

What’s nice is that once you do this on a new device, you can let Google know that it can always trust that device and so you won’t need to use your phone every time you want to read your email.

In some cases, such as with synching the Chrome Browser or accessing YouTube on Apple TV, you need to create an application-specific password, which you can do quite easily. For using YouTube on your Apple TV, for example, you’ll need to enter the application-specific password (and not your personal password) in order to connect to your YouTube account.

Making VPN on your Devices a Breeze

Once this is done, you will then want to download VPN software to your other computers and devices. With the mobile devices I use (an iPad and Android phone), this is simply a VPN setting under your device’s network settings.

However, making this more seamless requires a few more steps. Most device OS’s are not considering VPN to be as commonly used as it probably will be in the near future. For that reason, VPN controls are usually buried inside the interface, making it a pain to switch back and forth. And let’s be honest, when you stop for your Sunday afternoon coffee, you might be tempted to just risk checking Facebook without VPN. So, making this easier is just a good security precaution.

With the iPad or iPhone, you’ll probably want to jailbreak it (for the legal considerations of this, read this post on the Librarian of Congress’ recent decision on jailbreaking) so you can add some interface features that allow you quicker access to turning VPN on/off. The Cydia app store (for jailbroken iOS devices) offers an invaluable iOS hack called NCSettings that will allow you to add quick on/off toggles to your Notifications Bar. A VPN toggle is one of these options.

For Android, there are a number of apps in the Play Store that allow you to create quick, one-click toggling of VPN.

Once this is all set up, you’re pretty good to go…

Hope that helps!

Best Practices for Google Analytics Profiles and Filters

Recently, I heard from a colleague at another institution regarding how to best configure their Google Analytics profiles, especially in regards to filters.

A Google Analytics profile is a view into one of your web properties with specific sets of filters applied to it. For example, one profile I keep of the university library website which I manage filters out everyone except those users coming through an IP range that is used by our wireless users. This profile, then, let’s me see how our wireless users differ from our lab computer users. It’s particularly important, in fact, because it turns out that the browser and OS choices our wireless users make are very different from what our campus IT provides on the lab PC images (Apple vs. Microsoft, Google Chrome vs. IE and Firefox).

The most important best practice for profiles is to always have multiple profiles. You should always have one profile that has absolutely no filters so that if your data ever looks weird you can see right away if it’s your filters causing problems. So, we have one profile without any filters and then multiple profiles that have various other filters applied. For example, for my main analytics report profile, I have the following filters applied:

  • Filter Name: Case sensitive; Filter Type: Lowercase – Remove
  • Filter Name: LibraryIPfilterout (our IP filter); Filter Type: Exclude – Remove (this filter excludes library staff machines from our data)

Here’s how you create a filter:

  1. Go to Google Analytics, and select the Admin tab on the right of the orange bar
  2. On the Account Administration screen, you’ll see a list of accounts (one should be your library site’s account) – select it
  3. On the account’s page, you’ll see your properties (which should include your main website’s URL). You’ll also see a Filters tab – select that
  4. You should now see a list of all filters applied to that web site account. You will also see a “+ New Filter” button. Click that.
  5. You will then need to fill in the parameters of your filter and then Save it.
  6. Once created, it can be applied to any profile. Simply go back to Step 3 and select the URL you want to create your profile for.
  7. Select “+ New Profile” and create this profile
  8. Then locate the Filters tab and apply any filters that you want, including the one you created.