Archive for May 2007

How to make new MSG messages more obvious? – part II

In order to test out the options I listed I tried some of them out this morning on a few people in KMi. I gave people a task – looking for particular materials on the site and posting a message to a forum and asked them to respond to any message notifications they may receive. I tested with 3 people (ok, not a huge sample!!), and each of them had notifications with two different types of notification (text appearing in the banner and the popup layer).

However, not a single person noticed the new message notifications 🙁 So guess that means we’re going to have to come up with something slightly more annoying 😉

How to make new MSG messages more obvious?

We’re still finding that people don’t always realise they’ve received a new message in MSG (I’m guilty too!), and I think this is because the only notification they get – when they’re just on one of the OpenLearn sites, so don’t have MSG Client or MSGAlert running – is a change in the presence status icon in the banner. Even if users notice it’s changed, unless they mouse over, they’re not really going to know what it means – especially new MSG users.

So here are some options we’ve come up with to make the receipt of a new message more obvious… and I’ve included a few mockup screen shots of how it might look…

Option 1: leave as-is

Option 1: leave as-is

Basically don’t do anything to what we’ve already got.
Pros: no work involved!
Cons: doesn’t solve the problem!

Option 2: pop up layer

Option 2: pop up layer

This would have a pop up layer (not a browser window!) which appeared in top right when a new message arrives. This is similar to how GTalk works and the actual design & text etc of the layer can be changed, along with the actual position – could be in bottom right instead.

Pros: makes it very noticable and fits with how other web-based IM systems work (well, GTalk!)
Cons: covers over existing text etc (though it disappears when layer clicked on to open the MSG chat window)

Option 3: Text next to presence icon

Option 3: Text next to presence icon

When a new message arrives text would appear just next to the presence icon in the banner, clicking on the text would bring up the chat window. The actual text that appears can easily be altered.

Pros: doesn’t cover over any existing text
Cons: might get lost in all the other text in the banner (esp the new my learningSpace link etc)

Option 4: Blinking presence icon

When a new message arrives the presence icon in the banner would blink (between say green/red or green/gray). Clicking on the blinking icon brings up the chat window and stops the blinking.

Pros: doesn’t take up any more precious space on the page!
Cons: users still might not realise what a blinking icon means so would still need to rely on the mouse over. Also some users might not like blinking icons (well I know I don’t!)

So, those are most of the options we’ve got, so I’d like some feedback on which might be the most likely to work and would be acceptable to appear on the OpenLearn websites. Please bear in mind that the exact design/position/layout of each can be changed easily enough, and we could combine two or more – eg text appearing & blinking icon.

Comments or other suggestions welcome 🙂

MSGAlert connection problems

Some people reported the other day that they were having problems connecting to MSGAlert – we thought to start with it might just be a firewall issue – the port it runs on might have been blocked by their firewall, but after a bit of investigation we found out what the problem really was.

We were getting errors like these appearing in out tomcat log files:

INFO: Illegal access: this web application instance has been stopped already. Could not load META-INF/services/javax.xml.parsers.DocumentBuilderFactory. The eventual following stack trace is caused by an error thrown for debugging purposes as well as to attempt to terminate the thread which caused the illegal access, and has no functional impact.


INFO: Illegal access: this web application instance has been stopped already. Could not load com.sun.org.apache.xerces.internal.jaxp.DocumentBuilderFactoryImpl. The eventual following stack trace is caused by an error thrown for debugging purposes as well as to attempt to terminate the thread which caused the illegal access, and has no functional impact.


INFO: Illegal access: this web application instance has been stopped already. Could not load com.sun.org.apache.xerces.internal.impl.dv.dtd.DTDDVFactoryImpl. The eventual following stack trace is caused by an error thrown for debugging purposes as well as to attempt to terminate the thread which caused the illegal access, and has no functional impact.

For most of the afternoon we pretty pretty stumped as to the cause – mainly thinking there was a jar file missing or something – but that didn’t seem right as the same code was being used in other places and ran fine. It was also odd that it ran fine on Windows, but not on Linux, but it had (until recently) been working fine on Linux too.

The cause turned out to be that there were 2 tomcat processes running, when the server-side code is running for MSGAlert it listens on port 5225, the ‘old’ process had control of the port, but the old prcoesses servlet container wasn’t running – but this meant the port wasn’t available for the correct container to use – hence the error.

Once we’d stopped (killed) all the tomcat processes and restarted (just the one!) all started to work fine.

Thought I should post this up as we had quite a job finding any useful information on Google about the errors we were getting, even though it appears quite a lot of people come across the same issue 🙂

MSG Presence Maps Launched

The MSG Presence Maps have now been launched live on the OpenLearn LearningSpace and LabSpace websites. This adds Google maps integration to the MSG block on both sites, allowing users to see where other users are located geographically. This also means that MSG is now available in LearningSpace – not just LabSpace, giving a much larger potential user base as the LearningSpace has approximately 10 times the hit rate of LabSpace!

Feedback is always welcome, especially on the new presence maps, so feel free to leave a comment here on my blog, or alternatively on the MSG Forum.

Sussex Learning Network

Yesterday a few of us (Elia, Jenny, Michelle and I) gave some workshops/presentations at the Sussex Learning Network conference. All seemed to go very well, between the four of us we ran three sessions in parallel – and had lots of interesting questions and discussion. A FlashMeeting of the presentation Elia & I gave is available if you’d like to see how it went 😉

Preparing for launch…

Have been pretty busy last couple of weeks (hence no postings) and had few days off work here and there too! Much of my time has just been getting MSG ready and installed on our acceptance test servers, ready for the launch of MSG Presence Maps on LabSpace and LearningSpace on 17th May. All seems to be running fine now after a bit of fiddling around.

Have now started to think what we do to get more information into MSG from users’ OpenLearn profiles and what would be the most relevant infomation to show to try and get people chatting to each other. One of the problems I think we’re having with people not using MSG that much is because it’s essentially just a list of names, there’s no way of knowing about that person & whether they’re ‘worth'(!) chatting to or not. So … my thoughts on the aspects we could include…

  1. biography info – getting the info/biography info users can enter in Moodle
  2. courses in common – using the fact that you are enrolled on the same, say, 5 courses as user X means you’re more likely to want to chat with them than someone who only has one course enrolment in common with you?
  3. forum/learning journal postings – finding the number and ratings of other users forums postings to discover their reputation, eg if their forums posting are rated highly you are more likely to want to chat to them?
  4. photos – just grab users photo (if they’ve submitted one) from Moodle to show within MSG.

Much of this is guesswork and supposition, until we give it a go we’re not really likely to know what’s going to work. These are based on what may be currently available form the OpenLearn system (rather than things we’d need to first build into Moodle). Also, still not sure whether to just focus on a subset of these or all would be needed to create a useful system.

Any thoughts/comments/suggestions welcome as to whether including and or all of these would be good (or bad!) – or if I’ve missed anything I ought to include 🙂