Decisions Blog

Archive for February, 2011

Google Tools

A few days ago I mentioned a webinar on Google Analytics. Goggle Analytics (or “GA” for short) is a powerful and free tool for tracking website traffic.


It is widely used with the web-based Talis products such as Prism 3 and Engage. It offers all sorts of unexpected detail such as the browser used and connections from smart phones.

Google has a number of other tools which can be useful in a library context

Books NGram Viewer

This is not directly management information although it might be a good source of quirky facts for illustrating annual reports! You may also need to exercise some discretion on who you tell about this. To anyone with an interest in social history it is enormously compelling and it is easy to waste hours playing with it: but for some Subject Librarians it could be very helpful.

Ngram1 Google Books Ngram viewer allows you to plot the frequency of occurrence of a word in literature through time. You can pick your date range, the corpus of books (e.g. American, British) and the words that you want to plot. Here for example is a plot showing the meteoric rise of the words “environment” and “environmental” in British English since 1960.

It works in many languages too. Here is a search of simplified Chinese literature on the word 飞机 (“aircraft”) since 1940.

Public Data Explorer

This has two parts. Firstly a number of data sets are available for browsing which might be useful in benchmarking. Here for example is broadband penetration for selected countries (note time slider along the bottom), and here is the same data as a graph through time. This might for example be helpful in interpreting usage stats for people’s network PC. A list of some of the data sets available is here.

The second part is uploading your own data. This is not wholly straightforward (it involves writing some XML) but it is possible to load your own data sets: (you need to have a Google account and be logged in to see this)

Google Moderator

Possible applications in canvassing user feedback. See

Google Docs

This allows you to store spreadsheets and other documents in the cloud and grant access to others. You can also publish them as web pages on line – see The latter is particularly powerful: if you have data that you want to make available to a wide audience, publish as HTML and send your audience the link.

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Google Analytics webinars

I’ve mentioned Google Analytics in a number of earlier posts. The principle is simple: detailed statistics about visits and visitors to web pages: how many, from whereabouts, even whether access is by smartphone or from a PC – and far more besides.

As more and more service move to the web, tools like this become critical to answer questions like:

  • Capture Are you spending a lot of time maintaining web pages that are never used?
  • Was a publicity campaign aimed at driving traffic to particular places on the website actually effective?
  • Are people continually searching for things you don’t have?
  • Is it worth taking the time to develop a version of a page optimised for smartphones or tablets?

Capture Talis run regular webinars on Google Analytics for those who want to understand a bit more about it. This is of particular benefit to customers using Prism 3 or Engage but is equally useful for anyone with more general responsibility for library web presence.

As I write, the next course is 9th March. You can see a list of such courses here. There is also a (brief) course overview available on the website.

The big picture – Gartner’s “Magic Quadrant”

I’ve mentioned the Gartner group before: they are a highly respected albeit commercial research organisation specialising in IT-related areas.

Gartner publish a regular overview of Business Intelligence tools under the heading of the “Magic Quadrant”. The latest report (published at the end of January) is here. This is an industry-wide report (all kinds of organisations, not just libraries): but it is sometimes useful to peep over the fence and see how other organisations are faring in this field.

It is encouraging to note that “…SAP BusinessObjects’ [the software that powers Talis Decisions] reporting and ad hoc query capabilities were defined by its customers to be its top strengths…”, and that SAP remains amongst the handful of leaders in this field.