January 2024 Product Update

January 16, 2024

Our team was very busy in the last half of 2023, completing nine major product releases. Read on for some of the highlights about what’s new, what’s coming soon, and what’s being whisked away because it has outlived its usefulness.

What’s new or currently rolling out

Accessibility improvements

Accessibility has always been one of our primary focuses. We deployed dozens of enhancements to make the platform even easier to use for people with disabilities. An evaluation from a partner institution helped us identify several areas for improvement. Many of the changes were related to navigation behavior and content landmarks. We also updated all of our preset content templates to make them more accessible out-of-the-box.

New tool for checking accessibility

We began piloting Editoria11y to help content authors identify and fix accessibility issues. Editoria11y is your “editorial accessibility ally.” It automatically checks the page for content-related accessibility issues and gives advice for how to fix a problem. Your ADA coordinators can view a dashboard summarizing issues found on all sites, so that they can work with site owners to correct the issues. Reports can be reviewed online or downloaded on a regular basis.

Editoria11y is currently available on OpenScholar installations by request. Please contact us at support@theopenscholar.com if you’d like to learn more about having it enabled for your institution.

Security, stability, and the Drupal 10 upgrade

Our development team has joked that our motto should be ABU - Always Be Updating. We stay on top of it, so you don’t have to! Researchers and marketing staff can focus on updating information and developing a content strategy to promote your discoveries without having to worry about the technology behind your site.

The OpenScholar platform is a highly customized version of the Drupal content management system. So to keep things secure and running smoothly, our team needs to update the underlying Drupal software frequently. In the last half of 2023, we upgraded our systems and code to support newer versions of PHP and Node.js. Like other software, these scripting languages have an end of life and need to be upgraded to secure, supported versions. We updated Drupal core twice and over 65 Drupal modules to obtain bug fixes, enhancements, and compatibility with Drupal 10.

The Drupal 10 core update should be rolling out any day now. We’re attempting to make it as seamless as possible for end users, so you shouldn’t notice any dramatic changes to site features or the editing interface.

Server status updates

We began using a new system for monitoring the status of our servers. Now anyone can check the status of OpenScholar servers and subscribe to receive email notifications about scheduled maintenance windows and service outages. Head over to our OpenScholar Status page powered by BetterStack and hit the “Get updates” button to sign up.

Sharing Buttons and X/Twitter Feed widgets

Two of our widgets that depend on third-party services stopped working because the underlying APIs were changed. Our team upgraded them to work with new APIs. The AddThis widget became the Sharing Buttons widget (AddThis was retired, so we transitioned to the AddToAny service under the hood). And the X/Twitter widget was rewritten to work with the v2 API after X silently dropped support for the v1.1 API. Users of these widgets should be back in business.

What’s coming soon

Research dashboards

The OpenScholar platform provides an easy way for researchers to publish information about their research activities on the web. Since each organization’s install has hundreds or thousands of OpenScholar sites, we can aggregate data about the content that lives on those sites into a research dashboard. The dashboard will act as a portal to provide insights to organization leaders and connect outsiders with the people and resources available at those institutions.

At a glance, visitors will be able to get a clear snapshot of what’s currently going on across the organization on the OpenScholar platform in real time. The research dashboard will keep track of what’s trending and what’s new, provide space to highlight timely content, and provide tools to help visitors find the information they need. Ultimately, institutions will control how users can search for and interact with their content by the way they manage their research portal.

Site-wide Organization Administrator role

As part of the Research Dashboards initiative, we’ll be adding a new site-wide Organization Administrator role. This role can be assigned to key staff at your organization who would like to view information about the sites being created on your install and who are authorized to manage the research portal. We expect to expand the capabilities of this role as we learn more about what tasks Organization Administrators are trying to accomplish.

Content automation

We frequently hear that our site owners are pressed for time and would appreciate tools to make it easier to write and enter content. We will be exploring ways to expedite the process of adding content, including incorporating AI to assist with tagging and generating content and improving our integration with PubMED for importing article data.

What’s being retired

Event registration system

The event sign-up system was based on outdated technology (a suite of Drupal modules that are no longer supported) and only used on a handful of events across the thousands of sites on our platform. We’re removing it so that we can upgrade to Drupal 10. We plan to replace it with a new-and-improved event sign-up system later this year.

Automatic short URLs on publications

This underused feature also relied on a Drupal module that is no longer supported. We removed it in preparation for the upgrade to Drupal 10. Any short URLs that were created when the feature was available will continue to work, because they exist in the URL shortening service and not on the Drupal site.

Users who prefer to use short URLs or QR codes for their links are encouraged to use the shortening service recommended by their home institution. In most situations, copying and pasting the full link provided by OpenScholar into documents or websites will work fine. You can also add a Sharing Buttons Widget to make it easier to share your content on social media sites.

Google Search widget

Our analysis revealed that this widget was not actively used on any sites! Rather than spend time upgrading it to be compatible with Drupal 10 and the new version of Google’s programmable search engine, we opted to remove it. We will focus our efforts on improving the experience of OpenScholar’s native search engine instead.

Legacy themes

The OpenScholar platform has a long history that goes back over a decade. Interesting fact: there are hundreds of theme variations lurking in our codebase from previous community members and organizations who used it back when it was an open source project. Keeping this large set of themes compatible with new platform features, accessibility requirements, and innovations in front-end development has been challenging. Moving forward, we will focus our efforts on a smaller set of themes that will fully comply with modern accessibility standards and organization branding guidelines. In the coming year, themes that no one actively uses will be removed from the list of available themes, and we’ll work to transition sites on legacy themes to new-and-improved designs.

Thanks for reading

Keep an eye out next month for more product updates. Questions or comments? Please reach out to our product team at support@theopenscholar.com.


See also: Product Update