Last week I received the following email from Emma Taylor:

My name is Emma Taylor and I am writing from the Water Corporation Library in Western Australia. In 2007 we downloaded a copy of your BlogCFC software and installed it on the Water Corporation intranet. Since then I have modified it and turned it into a current awareness service called "Water News" that the Water Corporation Library uses to keep Water Corporation staff up-to-date on relevant news and research. To date over 240 Water Corporation staff subscribe to Water News, and it averages over 200 hits a day.

I have written about Water News for a conference paper that I am presenting at a national library conference in Sydney next year (Information Online 2011). The paper is entitled "Sink or Swim: The Water Corporation Library's experiences from diving into E-Services" and about a third of the paper deals with the creation of Water News.

I was wondering if you would like to read my paper? I thought you might find it interesting to see one of the uses to which your software has been put. Please let me know if you would like me to send you a copy of my paper.

Lastly, I would like to say a big thank you for creating BlogCFC. It is a fantastic piece of software and has made it possible for the Water Corporation Library to provide a valuable and popular service.

I asked for the paper and got permission to share it online. I'm cutting and pasting form the original doc (removing the images) that Emma sent me. All in all - stuff like this makes me very happy. As an open source developer, I often get thanks (and gifts) from my users, but hearing a story like this just makes me... proud. More proud than I've been of my code in a long, long time. Thank you Emma for sharing this!

p.s. One thing I want to point out here - I think their issues/modifications in terms of subscriptions are pretty interesting. I'd love to know if current users would want to incorporate some of this into the product.

Excerpt

3.0 WATER NEWS

3.1 Background

The previous library team started using blogs as a current awareness service in 2004. Posts were sourced from online newspaper articles, journal articles and conference proceedings. Posts consisted of the article title, a short summary of the article and a link to the full article on the news website or journal database. The blogs were hosted on Google's free blog publishing tool Blogger and grew to eight separate current awareness blogs [see Appendix A for a list of the blogs].

Although the blogs did not have any Water Corporation branding, they were hosted on the Google Blogger server and available to the general public. By 2006 it was realised that they might pose some security and liability risks to the Corporation. Library staff started investigating how the blogs could be moved to the Water Corporation's intranet so that they would only be available to Water Corporation staff, and open source blogging software was reviewed. The software was required to be free, easy to use and able to deliver the desired functionality. It also had to be written in a scripting language supported by the Water Corporation's systems, such as ASP or Cold Fusion.

Eventually BlogCFC was identified as meeting the above criteria and acquired. BlogCFC was created by Raymond Camdon and is free, open source (Apache License v.2) blog software written in ColdFusion MX.

3.2 Launch of Water News

When the new library team started in 2007, usage of the blogs was very low, with each blog averaging only 2 views a day. Furthermore managers in the Water Corporation's IT department were becoming increasingly concerned about the risks posed by the blogs, and it was suggested that the blogs be either removed altogether or brought "in-house" and hosted internally.

In September 2007 the decision was made to move the blogs to an internally hosted version of BlogCFC. The library team believed that the blogs provided a useful service and it was hoped that if the risk was removed, the blogs could be promoted more extensively and usage might increase.

A number of modifications were made to the BlogCFC software before the new blog was launched: • The appearance of the blog was changed to incorporate a blue colour scheme and certain Water Corporation menus and branding. • The statistics recording functionality was changed and increased. Extra data was collected, such as the date and time of each visit/view, so that usage could be monitored by day and month. • For BlogCFC to work as a current awareness service, extra data needed to be captured, stored and displayed for each post. Consequently extra fields and tables were added to the blog's underlying Microsoft Access database to store the article's original URL (so that readers can 'click through' to the original article), the source of the article (usually the name of the journal or newspaper) and any login details required to access the article (these could now be provided with the article since the blog is only available internally). • Certain functionality was also removed from the blog. Due to problems with the Water Corporation's firewall the RSS feed didn't work, so this was removed. Functions that allowed posts to be submitted to external services such as Delicious (formerly del.icio.us) and Digg were also removed.

The modified blog was re-branded "Water News" and launched at the end of September 2007. It was decided that it would be much simpler to have one blog, with categories, rather than eight separate blogs (although over time the number of categories has increased due to suggestions made by Water Corporation staff). It was also decided not to have a separate Library News category – instead new databases and e-books are assigned the appropriate subject-specific category [see Appendix B for a list of categories currently in use].

However, despite extensive promotion during Library Week and in library training sessions, usage statistics for Water News remained low. In fact usage was lower than when the blogs were hosted on Blogger because there was no longer any external usage.

3.3 Water News Daily Digest

A major problem with Water News was the subscription functionality. It was designed for a 'traditional' blog, which might receive only one or two posts a day. However at this time, around six or seven articles were being posted to Water News each day, so any subscribers would receive an e-mail each time an article was posted to the blog, causing them to be inundated with e-mails. Although the E-Services Librarian was aware of the problem, there had not been time to investigate it during the original modifications prior to the launch. Once launched, the subscription function was not promoted because of the way it worked, so not surprisingly Water News didn't have any subscribers. Because Water News didn't have any subscribers, improving the subscription functionality was not considered a priority.

Despite the problems with the subscription functionality, in November 2008 two Water Corporation staff members subscribed to the blog. By March 2009 the blog had six subscribers. These subscribers complained about being "spammed" six or seven times a day and suddenly fixing the subscription service became a priority.

The subscribers were asked for feedback on what sort of subscription service they would prefer. Most of the subscribers indicated that they would prefer to receive just one e-mail a day with all that day's posts. After a number of technical difficulties, the subscription functionality was adjusted and the mail-out was automated so that it ran on a daily basis at 2pm. If there were any new posts in Water News, an e-mail was sent to all subscribers, containing the title and short summary of each post, as well as a link to the full article. The new daily e-mail was named the Water News Daily Digest and proved very popular with the existing subscribers.

Once the subscription functionality was more appropriate for the type of blog, the library team was able to promote it. Initially the Water News Daily Digest was promoted to regular users of the blog and then in an internal Water Corporation newsletter. Since then subscription has continued to grow, partly due to word of mouth, and partly from increased promotion by the library team. Support from all the General Managers and the CEO, who are now subscribers and see this as a valuable service, has also been instrumental to the service's increased popularity. At the time this paper was written, Water News had over 230 subscribers (approximately 12% of Water Corporation staff) and was regularly getting close to 200 hits a day.

One unexpected side-effect of Water News' sudden increase in use was that Water Corporation staff started using the comments functionality of the blog software. The comments are mainly used to provide feedback on the usefulness of a particular article, or to theorise on how an article's contents might apply to the Water Corporation. At the time of writing this paper only a small number of comments have been made and these have all been made by the same four readers. Therefore the decision was made not to moderate the comments, and as yet there is not sufficient use of the comments to justify developing a policy about comment content or usage. However, as per good blogging etiquette, all comments are responded to within 24 hours by a library staff member.

Feedback about Water News has so far been entirely positive. Subscribers comment on the "broad range of topics" covered, how it saves time, encourages creative dialogue and makes them better informed. One user was so fond of service, that when they left the organisation they asked if they could be allowed to continue subscribing.

3.4 Latest Developments

In an effort to promote new technologies and new media, it was decided to add a new type of post to Water News: a Podcast of the Week. Relevant podcasts are now sourced from news agencies, such as ABC's Radio National, and one podcast is featured each week in a new Podcasts category. At the request of one of the readers, videos have also been trialled on Water News over the past six months. These new media have had mixed success. Although subscribers have provided positive feedback, hits for posts containing links to these media remain low.

RSS functionality has recently been reinstated into Water News. The Water Corporation migrated from Internet Explorer 6 to Internet Explorer 8 in June 2010, so now all staff members have a built-in RSS feed reader in their browser. This means that staff can use their browser to subscribe to the Water News RSS feed because the browser software is internal, so the feeds are not being blocked by the Water Corporation's firewall. Subscribing to Water News via RSS will soon be promoted as an alternative for staff members who don't wish to receive Water News via e-mail.

To reward regular readers, an inaugural morning tea was organised during Library Week in 2010. The staff members who 'clicked through' to the most articles were identified from the blog's usage statistics. The top ten readers (which included the CEO) were then invited to the morning tea and presented with pens labelled "Water News Frequent Reader". The event provided the library team with an excellent opportunity to meet and receive feedback from the Water News readers who, for the most part, weren't regular users of the library's other services.

3.5 Future Developments

A number of future enhancements are planned for Water News, these include: • Improving the subscription functionality so that users can choose which categories they subscribe to, instead of automatically receiving all posts. Adding this functionality is a priority and there have already been several requests for customised subscription. • Modifying the subscription functionality so that subscribers can control how frequently they receive the Water News Digest (weekly or even monthly, as well as daily). • Improving the appearance of both the Water News website and the Water News Daily Digest e-mail to make them more attractive and user-friendly.