Help measure residential internet speeds in your community

This post is adapted from the DPI Broadband Speed Test Tookit prepared by IFLS Library System.

DPI is committed to improving digital equity in the state of Wisconsin. This year, they’re collecting data about internet speeds across the state. They need your help!

What they’re doing

DPI is collaborating with Measurement Lab (M-Lab) to collect data on internet connection speeds across Wisconsin. DPI will use M-Lab’s internet speed test data to create detailed reports and to provide maps of internet speeds across the state.

Why they’re doing it

The data will give the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband Access (and other broadband task groups) the information they need to target improvements where internet speeds and performance are poor. 

Your input is critical

In order to get an accurate picture of the state, we need a lot of accurate data. That’s where you come in. The more data M-Lab can collect, the better we can model internet connection speeds across the state.

How you can help

  • Include a link to the M-Lab Speed Test on your library websites, Facebook pages, and any other communication platforms your library uses. The URL to link to the speed test is https://speed.measurementlab.net/#/.

  • Encourage community members to test their internet connection speeds at home, several times if possible! Include this in e-mails and newsletters, tuck into pick-up bags, encourage your trustees and volunteers to participate and share.

  • Share the URLs of pages where you have posted the link, so DPI can get an idea of how the speed test is being promoted around the state. (They’re looking for your social media posts as well as your website.)

Suggested language

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Toolkit

Kudos to IFLS Library System for sharing a toolkit with graphics to use for websites, social media posts, Facebook headers, newsletters, and bag-stuffers.

Spotting a dark pattern on the web

A few days ago I was present for an excellent discussion that was briefly side-tracked by confusion about the pricing of a newsletter service which is widely used by libraries. Here's roughly what the fly on the wall (me) heard:

Librarian A: "We have 20,000 subscribers, so we're paying over $1000 for Service X."

Librarian B: "What?! Service X says they only charge $15/month for 100,000 subscribers!"

Frustratingly, the company's own pricing page was the source of the confusion because it's an example of a dark pattern: "a user interface that has been carefully crafted to trick users into doing things, such as buying overpriced insurance with their purchase or signing up for recurring bills" (Wikipedia).

Because recognizing dark patterns is key to avoiding their tricks, let's take a quick look at what that pricing page says about their Standard Plan, near the top of the page:

Screenshot 2020-10-16 170927Did you notice that small-print "Starting at $14.99" language? I didn't, at first, but it matters in a big way. (If you click the big "Select" button, you're asked to sign up for an account, gradually making you more invested in the service without being entirely clear about the price you'll pay—and you have to actively check a box to OPT OUT of receiving their marketing spam.) When we scroll further on the pricing page and interact with the price chart, by choosing the specific range of contacts, THEN we see that 20,000 subscribers is, indeed, a great deal more than $15/month!

Screenshot 2020-10-16 171930

Irksome, isn't it? They haven't tricked us into doing anything (yet), but they're chipping away at our resistance to signing up by featuring a price that seems like a better value than it really is. That's a dark pattern!

Next time you're shopping online or signing up for a new service, keep a lookout for anything misleading or deceptive about the process—you may be interacting with a dark pattern. (And if you, like me, need to see some dark patterns analyzed and cataloged, there is website and a hashtag to shame the offenders and air our collective grievance.)

Getting started with the NVDA screen reader

Automated tools for checking website accessibility (such as WAVE, AChecker or the aXe Chrome extension) are often the starting point to find and correct accessibility violations. Another important option to include in your accessibility testing toolset is a screen reader and keyboard, to help understand how a visitor with visual or motor disabilities might experience the library's website. A free choice for this is NonVisual Desktop Access (usually abbreviated as NVDA).

To get started using NVDA, download it to your Windows computer. It can be installed and used without admin rights (though enlisting an admin for the install let me use it without having to accept the terms of use every time) or even saved to a portable USB flash drive to run on different computers. When you start it up, it begins reading what you have on screen out loud. Switch to a web browser, and it will read the web pages you visit. This video includes how-to's and some demonstration:

NVDA has a Help menu and highly detailed user guide, but WebAIM's "Using NVDA to Evaluate Web Accessibility" is the quick-start guide I wish I'd started with. I use these tips a lot for testing web pages with NVDA:

  • F5 refreshes the page and starts reading from the beginning (in case you get lost).
  • The Insert key is the default special "NVDA key" for using the keyboard to navigate with NVDA.
  • NVDA key + S lets you toggle between having speech mode on, off, or "beeps mode" (so you can have NVDA on for a website you're testing, but turn it off to type an email where it would be distracting for NVDA to spell out what you're typing letter by letter).

With a little practice, you'll be able to test how your libary's website performs with a screen reader and keyboard. Despite the learning curve, it's a solid step you can take to identify problems, obstacles, and annoyances that can be fixed to help all patrons benefit from the services your library provides.

What's this button called? Part 2

A few years ago I reported on a website and app interface doodad called the hamburger. Recently, I heard an equally droll name for another, similar thing that we now click or tap in our hunt for links to navigate around websites and apps: those 3 dots stacked up, have a name.

They are "The Kebab."

Cheese-olive-and-vegetable-kebab-1318103-640x960

Source: Luke Wroblewski, and thanks to WiLSWorld's keynote speaker, Rebecca Stavick, for mentioning this in her address: "Don’t Ask Permission." If you want to be more serious, you could also call it a vertical ellipsis or overflow menu.

Hungry for more, shall we say, substantive tech knowledge? I do recommend looking at the WiLSWorld 2019 Slides, as they are updated, for inspiring ideas from a great conference.

How to refresh your web browser without clearing your browsing history

Isn't it aggravating when you KNOW a webpage should be showing an update, but clicking the browser's "refresh" button (or hitting Ctrl + R) isn't showing the change? You might run across this when updating a website or even checking email.

Sure, you could log out, close all your tabs, and delete your browsing history to start completely fresh, but who wants to do that? Try these tips instead:

Hard Reload (two ways)
Ctrl + F5
or
Ctrl + Shift + R

Hold down the Control key and press F5. Or, hold down Control and Shift, and then press the R key. This will force the browser to reload and will work in Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer.

Empty Cache and Hard Reload (Chrome browser)

Reload-empty-cache

The "cache" is the group of images and files your browser saves to help load previously-visited web pages more quickly. Clearing cached files and then reloading forces the browser to get the most current versions of all those images and files.

  1. In Chrome, press the F12 key. The DevTools menu will open.
  2. Right click on the reload button and select Empty Cache and Hard Reload.
  3. Breathe a sigh of relief that the page has refreshed, but all your tabs are still open and you are still logged into everything.
  4. Hit F12 again to close DevTools.

Tip: How to add background color to an image

Screen shot of database icons showing LINKcat, OverDrive, and Tutor.com with white backgrounds, but no white background on Ancestry.comA library director and I agreed the Ancestry.com logo would look better in a group of database links (pictured at right) if the background colors matched... but the Ancestry.com image didn't come with a white background. How can we add background color to an image that has none?

The Ancestry.com image in this example is in .png format, which can have transparent areas that allow the color of a web page to peek through (light gray, in the screen shot). To make the Ancestry.com image "match" the others, the transparent areas need to be filled in white.

For images that only need a white background, the trick is to open and re-save them in Microsoft Paint. Paint auto-fills transparent pixels with white when it saves an image.

Screen shot of saving ancestry-library.png to add a white background

For a different background color, Paint has a "Fill with color" (bucket) tool. In this image, a different color reveals some shadowed areas that look jagged, and it would take some effort to paint or fill in the jagged edges. More fully-featured graphic programs like Photoshop Elements, GIMP, or Paint.net provide layers and a "magic wand" tool to make that kind of cleanup easier.

Screen shot of jagged edges around the Ancestry.com image when a dark background is added.

Good thing we just wanted it to have a white background! Screen shot of the database icons all using matching white backgrounds

Brief guide to buttons that clear formatting

Noticing unwanted formatting differences in the text on your website, email, Excel, or Word document (where one line looks good, but another is a hair bigger or smaller)? Many times there is a little button intended to fix it! Just highlight/select the text in edit mode, click the button—voila, wonky formatting gone. Here's a guide to what to look for in some common tools:

Microsoft Word & Office 365 (same icon!)

Microsoft Word & Office 365 use an icon with a pink eraser scrubbing out an uppercase A

Excel (specialized format clearing options in a drop-down)

Excel's icon shows a pink eraser next to the word Clear, with a drop down menu

Gmail

Gmail's button looks like an italicized uppercase T with a small subscript x

Drupal websites - CKEditor toolbar

The CKEditor toolbar button used on many Drupal websites has a button with an italicized uppercase T with a small subscript x

 

Website maintenance best practice reminder: block old accounts

Colorful keys - a metaphor for website editing accountsYou wouldn't let a staff member keep a key to the library after they become a former staff member, would you? Of course not! Don't forget to take the same care with the library's website. When a staff member leaves the library (for any reason, good or bad), it's good practice to limit their access to edit library websites, such as:

  • Main public-facing website
  • Staff blog or wiki
  • Social media/other groups where the library has a presence (Facebook, Twitter, Google, Slack, etc.)

For example, if your library website runs on Drupal, there are options* to deal with a departing staff member's website editing account:

  • Change the password on the account so the departing staff member can't log in anymore.
  • Reassign the account to someone else with a new username & email.
  • Block the account so that it cannot be used to log in at all.
  • Delete the account so it is gone forever. On a Drupal site, this option will also prompt the question: should the content created with this account be deleted or reassigned to another staff member?

The specific options and steps for each platform may differ. The important thing is to remember to make sure the account housekeeping happens!

* Some of these options might only be available to a site administrator. (If your library's website is hosted by SCLS, this is something SCLS staff can help you manage—just let us know!)

Gone in a Flash

Adobe_Flash_Player_v10_icon

This week, Adobe announced it plans to stop updating and distributing Flash at the end of 2020. While this will come as a bit of a relief to some due to the seemingly never ending circle of vulnerabilities, warnings that your Flash player was out of date and updates, it does mean that any site that relies on Flash will need to transition to a different format such as HTML5, WebGL or WebAssembly.  (Flash updates are one of the reason we love Ninite.)


A number of browsers have already switched to asking to run Flash by default and, as it gets closer to the deadline, Chrome, Internet Explorer, Edge and Firefox will start disabling Flash by default. It will still be possible to enable it for a website until Adobe ceases support in 2020. Facebook has also said that they will shut off Flash games by the end of 2020.


So if your website still relies on Flash, you’ll need to start looking at the alternatives.  (And if there's a game you haven't finished yet that may not get updated, you might want to finish it too.)

Can you delete old events off your library's website? Yes, probably!

Deleting old events can be good customer service.

Have you received inquiries from patrons wanting to attend an event that happened last summer because they stumbled across its page on your website and didn't notice it was dated 2016? It's annoying to click an event link in Google search results and see a "page not found" error when that event has been deleted, but is that worse than a patron mistakenly planning to attend a long-past event?

Deleting old events can be good website maintenance.

Are events from previous years stacking up by the hundreds in the content admin screens of your website? They weren't hurting anyone 1 year after your website migrated to Drupal... but now their vast numbers make it hard to find and maintain permanent pages.

Delete-content

Deleting old events may have no consequences whatsoever.

Are there lots of links to the event on the library's site other than the calendar? That sounds labor intensive and unlikely, right?

Are there lots of links to the event from other sites? (My go-to tool for finding these backlinks is the Moz Open Site Explorer.) It's more likely that other sites link to the library's homepage or calendar than individual event pages.

Did you share website links to events on Facebook a long time ago? My highly un-scientific survey says: no one looks at stuff shared on Facebook from a year ago.

Does Google Analytics show any traffic to the events in the past 6 months? It's worth checking to get a sense of how it compares to overall traffic.

Will there be lots of "Page not found" errors in the website log and Google Search Console? Yes, there will be, until search engines stop re-indexing those pages. Luckily, these errors don't really hurt the library's website.

Any cases where deleting old events may not be a good choice?

Events with repeating dates. You may have some long-running events that were created over a year ago and are still ongoing with upcoming dates. Don't delete those... yet.

Bottom line:

You can keep past events on the library's website. Maybe there's no time for this kind of cleanup. But if those old events cause problems for patrons and make maintenance difficult—just like weeding a book collection—don't sweat getting rid of them!