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collabortive Virtual Reference Symposium : Session III

Should Virtual Reference Software Work? (A panel of vr software vendors)
Panelists: Susan McGlamery & Jeff Penka, OCLC QuestionPoint : Angela Pfeil & Sean Zinsley, Tutor.com

Facilitator: James Duncan, Colorado State Library

-looking at the disconnect between wants and needs
-what goes in to creating this technology

4 topics:
-authoring, programming, development
-supporting these products - real world demands
-forecasting, research, future developments - what's on the horizon
-pricing - what is involved in establishing a pricing model for your product

What did it take for your company to reach today's point in product software
Tutor: we purchased it from existing company, we saw a problem with reliability
-we wanted to take the existing product and put it on a new platform to make it more stable - took one yr, next yr tweak from customer info/complaints/wants

-number 1 goal to keep stability, keeping people connected and keep vr platform live

QP: 2 yrs ago 24/7 ref and qp came together, 24/7 ref coop initially used different software products
-QP represents 2 things, technology/platform & 24/7 coop
-how do we extend support at a local, national, international level
-looking at tools for adaptation
-reference management system - evolution #1
-combining 24/7 coop and qp
-building tools for coop, we're our own software development - not a lot of vendors out there that fits that so we do it ourselves

What kinds of real world skills do you bring to this field?
Tutor: you have to hire people who know what it's like
-we have tech savvy people in our support roles, good w people in understanding those needs
-there is a high burn out rate, keeping staff that understand your needs can be difficult
-it costs a lot of money to have all the servers and disc space and staff
-technology gets out of date fast - need to upgrade servers on a regular basis
-as we get more customers the problems/demands increase
-nature of the product - want multibrowser/multiplatform software... lot's of questions/requests

QP: we benefit from having the oclc structure to tie into
-training, implementation, are things you think about - points of scale - have to adapt depending on how you're approaching things
-administrative activity
-community management, community engagement, cooperative
-the coop is the way we provide 24/7 service - we have @ 1200 libraries, statewides, regional groups and individual libraries
-energize our participating libraries
-managing the 24/7 back up librarians - @60 in all different time zones
-engaging the wider community in promoting vr

forecasting/research - what's in the horizon? How do you balance needs of today?
QP: the libraries that are currently using the product - QP user counsil - also have 24/7 ref coop advisory board
-meet the users at the point of need (mandate)
-where are our users now? - how can we serve their needs
-when we work w the users' council - watch things like sustainability, work on end user experience
-trying things out - one of the trends we're trying to do is "public preview" but make it scalable
-look at benefits and feasibility such as IM integration - working w outside vendors like AOL
-context - ref brings context - meaning to discovery - how do we make that piece happen
-point of need and set up - we're trying to build qp that allows you to do those kinds of things like advertise in myspace, youtube...
-cobrowse - what its role

Tutor: we watch the same trends
-I'm a product manage for our product and I'm a librarian, we're encouraged to participate in all the listservs, watching all the same things
-at tutor functions fall to different people
-we want to have a stable platform to build on - ease of use features don't mean as much as stability
-make sure clients are aware of upcoming changes
-it's important in developing software as it is as developing collections, we follow the same type of procedures of gathering info from our clients

Pricing - what is involved in establishing or refining pricing for your system or software product?
Tutor: out general pricing policy is to look at size of your patron pool
-estimate how much it will cost to serve that audience, to provide that service
-this isn't a business that's going to make you rich
-contract renewals, depends on how the service was used - need to find a balance for what being used and what you're paying for

QP: we look at trends for adoption
-we're confident now we have a pricing model we're going to keep in the next few years
-the pricing model is preventing collaboration
-there's a priced for the tools, and a price for participating
-our goal is to go after large states and the global arena
-we have regional partners, pricing models that have to adapt by regional

forgive me, this is where my laptop battery decided to end, notes went on paper at this point and I can barely read my own writing...

Questions from the Audience:
Q: Is IM the enemy?
T: No, it doesn't do everything we want it to do:
-no file share
-no scheduling
-doesn't allow multiple logins
-making bots & customizations only work for specific versions, have to update constantly

Q: IM is outpacing VR 3:1
T: you can not discount current software/companies for fads
-trend to drop VR for IM is that where we should be putting concentration? - it's a preference
-it comes down to $$ - eventually we'll have to pay for it in one way, shape or form

QP: everything in QP or Tutor was because someone needed it - you're trying to get that stuff in there
-co-browse has been redefined based on libraries needs
-if you're doing what you need to w/o us then we've done out job
-privacy and storage or transcripts - where is IM with these
-no transfers, no reports
-balancing act of needs

Q: Please detail the what extent your product is ADA compliant
T: we haven't done anything - we run it through screen readers, use 3 rd party
-but not there yet

QP: ADA compliant - InfoEyes - we worked w them to find out what is needed - what does usable & accessible look like?
-we're building a "universally" accessible interface for blind and everyone else

Q:Links to Ask A Librarian services in WorldCat.org, what does this entail?
QP: open to any library that subscribes to OCLC
-don't have to subscrive to QP
-can have Tutor or Docutek or email or just a contact web page linked there
-it's based on particular libraries not a specific service

Q: Do you offer pricing based on function? only email, only chat...
T: our pricing model based on staffing/service not by feature

QP: we tried tier differences but we've simplified things now - standardized
-complexity increases cost

Q: What kind of software training do you offer, how, is it priced differently?
T: I (Angela Pfiel) do all training based off of Buff Hirko's book
-part of 1st yr pricing cost/implementation
-documentation kept online and accessible to all clients
-they also do train-the-trainer
-after 1st yr they could do something special but encourage to go to online docs.

QP: part of 1st yr. implementation
-contact person, to make sure things are going smoothly
-can do in-person training, self-paced materials, train-the-trainer, coop. training
-quarterly updates

Q: Do you see VoIP in near future?
QP: did it, passed it, may come back to it
-it's not on our road map in the next 12 mos. but we'll keep watching it

T: no, we don't see a huge push for it - not on our near horizon
-need to bring in 3rd party - it would be 2 yrs out at least

Q: We're still shaping VR - What is the possible relationship between one librarian w multiple patrons and visa versa?
T: we do one-to-one communications
-we're in the business of connecting one patron to one librarian - that's what we do

QP: our current referral system kind of meets that
-we are looking at expanding that - we do have the ability to have multi-librarians to collaborate on one question but it is cumbersome
-not looking at one librarian to multiple patrons
-we do have e-learning environments in webjunction but can't fold it back into a transcript

Q: Interoperability of services between vendors
QP & T: haven't looked at it in the last couple of yrs.

Q: Is cobrowsing only important to academic libraries??
T: there's no standard definition of co-browsing
-in my experience it seems more important in academic area

QP: in our coop we found co-browsing very important in utilizing other libraries' pages
-co-browsing is poblematic
-I don't know if it's more important in academic but they like to show partons where resources are located

T: I agree w Susan (QP) - libraries like to describe what patrons need - it's important for us to ask our patrons if they need it
-why keep trying to put $$ into it if patrons don't want it?

QP: at ALA in the discussion group - most talked about thing was "fix co-browse"!
-it's valuable but how valuable?

Q: How do your products work w PDA's and mobile devices?
T: it's @ 10-20 mos. out
-it's definitely something we're interested in

QP: we do already have deployment through chat2 - next generation chat
-it's in our immediate work we're doing

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