Archive for the ‘Bloggable’ Category

Stripe integration, convenience fees, and more in our online payments release

Wednesday, April 15th, 2015

We’re excited to announce that Populi now works with online payments service Stripe. Stripe provides us with a superb, secure payments infrastructure. And it gives you an inexpensive, nonsense-free payment gateway and merchant account. Their pricing is simple: 2.9% + 30 cents per successful credit card transaction—with none of the hidden fine-print fees the other processors butter their bread with. And signup is a breeze: you can set up a new account in five minutes and start accepting payments right away.

That’s right—your school can get going with online payments in five minutes.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Go to Financial > Settings > Online Payments.
  2. Click Add a payment gateway.
  3. Select Stripe as the provider and click Connect to Stripe.
  4. Take a few minutes to fill in the Stripe signup form.
  5. Once you create your account, it’s connected to Populi.
  6. Start taking payments.

Convenience fees and gateway management

Stripe integration is part of our new release that improves how online payments are managed in Populi.

You can now charge a convenience fee for credit/debit transactions. Payment processors (and other middlemen) take a bite out of each transaction—sometimes as much as 5% when all is said and done. To help you recoup these costs, you can set up a percentage-based convenience fee. The fee is automatically applied at checkout when the payer enters the amount she wishes to pay.

The Payment Gateways tab in Financial > Settings lets you manage your gateways—including adding and updating your own Stripe and Authorize.net credentials. You can also specify how you use each gateway. For example,  you could route all tuition, fees, and donations through your Stripe account while sending your bookstore transactions through Authorize.net. If you have multiple campuses, you can even specify which gateway to use at which campus.

The new features give you a great new gateway option with Stripe together with more control over how your school uses Populi for online payments. To learn more, have a look at the Populi Knowledge Base.

Embedding content in lessons and news posts

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015

You’ve long been able to embed content from external sources—YouTube, Vimeo, Scribd—in news posts and course lessons. We recently made this feature even better: you can now embed content from 17 different services. Here’s a look…


Auto-embeds work simply by pasting the content’s URL right in the text of the post or lesson. This works with YouTube, Vimeo, Scribd, and now Prezi, a service that lets you create and share presentations.

First, copy the URL of the media you want to include from one of those services.

Next, paste it right into the news or lesson editor.

Once you save, Populi does the rest: the content is now embedded in your post or lesson!


An inline frame—or iframe—is a way to embed one web page within another. We’ve been cagey about those in the past because, when done poorly, an iframe can present a security risk. But seeing that our users were needing more flexibility in this area, we decided to “whitelist” a number of trustworthy sites and services. So, you can now use embed codes from any whitelisted service to incorporate external content in news and lessons—without anyone having to worry about security.

Here’s how to embed content using an iframe:

First, grab the embed code. Different services have different ways of doing this and give you different appearance options—and some, like Spotify, require a paid account to get the embed code. Whatever you do, make sure you get the embed code, and not some sort of “share this” link!

Then, open the HTML source editor.

Paste the embed code directly into the HTML source editor and click Update.

You’ll see the embedded content right in the news/lesson editor—and, of course, in the finished product when you click Save.

The whitelisted services are Google Docs, YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr, Scribd, Prezi, Soundcloud, Rdio, Spotify, Twitch, Vine, TED, Slideshare, Imgur, Box, Crocdoc, and Quickcast. If you have another service you’d like to us to add, send us a support request and we’ll take a look at it.


Thursday, April 2nd, 2015

New in Populi Financial: Donations.

Donations lets you keep track of fundraising campaigns, accept online donations, record other contributions (checks received in the mail, etc.), and, of course, generate reports on any of this activity. Paired with Populi’s communications and contacts features, Donations helps you manage your school’s relationships with its donors—while giving you brand-new ways to help get money in the door. Here’s a look at what you can do…

Online donations

If you’re set up with credit card processing, you can start accepting online donations. Online donation pages give you options for what amounts your supporters can donate, which funds they can donate to, and whether donations received through that page should be connected to particular campaigns and appeals. You can embed your pages on your website or email newsletter and customize their appearance with your own custom CSS. Online donation pages are a great way to make donating to your school easier than ever.

Campaigns and appeals

Campaigns and appeals help you track your progress towards your fundraising goals. Appeals are fundraising communications or events used to solicit donations—anything from a “Remember to Give” postcard to a fundraising golf tournament. You can link donations to campaigns and individual appeals; Populi can also calculate the return on investment by comparing costs with results. Campaigns help you gain insight into what approaches work—or don’t—when it comes to fundraising.

Donor profiles

The new Donations tab, available on organization profiles and the Profile > Financial tab, collects all the information you have about a donor’s activity. You can record new donations, link to past donations, and print yearly summaries.


Reporting includes the new donations Dashboard, which summarizes donor activity, and the Donations and Donors reports, each of which feature the upgraded report filter. The new filter includes some built-in report filters that let you quickly find commonly-desired information—Donors who donated last year but not this, for example. It also lets you save your filters as custom reports that you can share with other staff or keep for your own use. Report actions let you do a number of tasks—including printing receipts and summaries, tagging your donors, and exporting your report to XLS.

Communications and contacts

Of course, Donations works in concert with Populi’s existing communication and contact features. Want to email everyone who donated to the Library? Want to put all of your alumni donors on a Communication Plan? Want to tag businesses that have donated in the past three years? Want to print envelopes and mail out summaries before tax season? No problem.

Learn more

Read about how to set up and use the new Donations features in the Populi Knowledge Base.

Also, a special thank-you to the customers who participated in our limited beta roll-out of Donations. You really put it through its paces and gave us some great feedback, and we truly are grateful for your insight!

Get to know us! Here’s Joel Penney…

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015

Joel Penney isn’t much of a talker. “We hired Joel in October, 2012, and he got to work right away,” Isaac Grauke reminisces. “I still remember the first time anyone here heard him say anything. Must’ve been late March, 2013.” Toby Robinson wasn’t there when it happened, but he trusts “the guys who said he said something.” Joseph Schoolland was laughing at a cat .gif at that moment, and thinks that must have drowned out the sound of Joel’s voice. “Still haven’t heard him talking, but I’ve seen his mouth moving around lunchtime,” he comments.

2-13-15 Joel field

In one sense, Joel doesn’t have time to talk. He is utterly given over to his work as a developer. Since first taking his seat here, Joel has re-worked substantial chunks of Populi. His biggest project thus far was the stem-to-stern overhaul of Admissions; he’s also responsible for graded discussions, an ongoing rewrite of Academics, and a bunch of other things. James Hill says that Joel “naturally takes ownership of things and works them over until they’re perfect.” However self-deprecating he is when asked to describe his own work, Joel nonetheless produces really stinkin’ excellent code.

We can’t do what we do without him.

Born and raised in Eastport, Long Island, Joel lived out where the boundless subdivisions occasionally give way to pine barrens and potato fields. Tinkering came naturally to him. “As a child I liked building models. Planes, trains, automobiles. If I wasn’t doing that I was probably taking something apart and putting it back together. Toys. VCRs. Power tools. That progressed to computers, printers, cars. Few of these things had any hope of ever functioning again.”

Eventually, Joel found himself working for a small printing company, using Photoshop to tinker with wedding photos, pet portraits, and graduation pics. At that company, he was more or less the IT guy. He wrote computer scripts to automate rote tasks and was on call to fix the stupid printer when the thing inevitably broke. In 2003, he married Grace, and they soon had two children.

The interesting thing about Eastport is that it’s preposterously expensive to live there, what with the proximity to Martha Stewart and that Barefoot Contessa lady. His job being rather portable, the Penneys stuffed a U-Haul full of their things and motored it out to Moscow, Idaho. One of those things was a 550-pound laminator. It took six guys to schlep it fifty feet from the U-Haul to his back door. None of them would ever so much as touch a laminated ID card ever again.

The printing business dried up and blew away in late 2012, just about the time Populi was really, really needing a new programmer. Despite not saying anything, Joel made all the right impressions during the interview. His signing bonus was some company stock and a laying hen from Isaac’s home flock.

2-13-15 joel interior

The Penneys now have five splendid children and occupy every last square inch of an old house with high ceilings, drafty windows, and a super-weird chimney. Joel’s tinkering now involves lumber, sheetrock, and windows; unlike the days of yore, his handiwork now results in considerable improvement. Meanwhile, Grace’s kitchen features various items in states of guided fermentation—home-cured bacon, kombucha, sauerkraut, pickles—and her daughters goof off gilded in her elegant needlework. Sprawled on the living room floor, Joel’s sons build things out of Legos with a meticulousness one can only assume has been inherited.

2-13-15 Joel bookshelf

It’s a humble, modest life, perfect down to the details.



Tuesday, January 27th, 2015


We announced our current pricing back in February 2010. We’ve since supplemented that with a few optional items: SMS Emergency Notifications and File storage (the price of which has dropped several times the past couple years). As for Populi itself, well, we’ve added a thing or two, I guess. And all along we’ve held fast to the free essentials that make it all go for our customers: implementation, training, support—and, most important, our annual Christmas photos.

It recently struck us: our Pricing Page has remained all but unchanged for the past five years. Web companies commonly experiment with their pricing—adding new tiers, shuffling features around, annual subscription discounts, and so on. You could attribute this to the flexibility of web-based software; it’s simple to justify a change in price for an easily-changed product. But such changes have never even crossed our minds. Populi’s price has remained steady for five years. The service itself, on the other hand, offers vastly more than it used to. How’d that happen?

Concerning the price, we’ve never had a good reason to raise it. Every year, our infrastructure dollars have gotten us more—in terms of utility, service, and storage. We have Moore’s Law to thank for that; the popular version purports that, every 18 months or so, computing power doubles in speed and drops in price by half. In turn, that has helped us scale up and take on more schools. That spreads our overall costs over an increasing number of customers. And finally, the revenue we take in gets plowed back into our people, our company, and serving our customers. Being privately-owned, there’s no obligation to meet the preposterous financial goals of distant, disinterested investors.

Concerning the service, we’ve only ever had reasons to make it better. Our customers ask us for lots of good things that we want to give them. Some bigger schools need things we don’t quite offer yet. The new feature we just released could use refinement. And then there’s our own temperament. We’re relentlessly dissatisfied with Populi. No matter how good it is, how many features we add, or how well it all performs, there’s always some way to make it better. Now, it’s not that our work is lousy. It’s more that we’ve been given the opportunity to do this work—so why not swing for the fences?

So. We’ve never had a reason to raise the price, and have always been compelled to make Populi better. That’s worked out well for us, and I’d wager, for our customers. Schools that came aboard in 2010 are getting a lot more than they signed up for. For that matter, so are the schools who signed up in 2011, 2012… even customers who came aboard six months ago now have something better than before.

We once likened the college software scene to shopping for a car. In a market cluttered with custom tour buses and shady used cars, Populi was the dependable Toyota minivan—affordable, room for everyone, and a great warranty. Now, imagine that you bought the minivan, and every six months or so, the dealer automatically upgraded it to the next trim level. Or installed a new motor. Or gave you a sunroof. All without you paying more or having to do anything.

That’s pretty much the deal you get with Populi.

Donations from organizations, library updates, and other sundry improvements

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 1.18.44 PM

Some recent improvements…

Organizations can make donations

Yup, you can now record donations made by organizations. Just go to the org’s profile, click the Donations tab, and then Record a Donation. The screen includes records of all previous donations, a breakdown by fund, and the ability to print a tax receipt.

You can also now export PDF receipts in bulk from the Donations report—for both individuals and organizations.

Multitude of Library improvements

We’ve improved the way Populi handles Library holds, making it easier for your Library staff to manage your resources.

  • Populi now sets the hold expiration date when you pull the copy, rather than when the copy was simply assigned to the hold. Previously, when setting the hold expiration date based on the assignment, this frequently resulted in holds expiring before the copy was even pulled.
  • The Holds report now shows you which holds do not yet have a copy assigned to them.
  • You can also now print a hold receipt to attach to the resource copy you’ve pulled.

Additionally, we’ve added three new fields to resources:

  • Acquisition Source (an Agent)
  • Acquisition Date
  • Replacement Price
Some other items

1-20-15 DA equiv

We improved the display of equivalent courses in the Degree Audit, clarifying how a course requirement has been fulfilled by the student’s completion of an equivalent course.

Course equivalencies now impact both course and course group prerequisites. Say ENG101 and WRI101 are equivalents and ENG101 is included in the “Core” course group:

  • A student who passes WRI101 would qualify for courses that require ENG101 as a prereq
  • A student who takes WRI101 would qualify for courses that require the Core course group

On the API front, you can now upload files via the API, including to term-based custom student fields.

The Financial Aid API has several new calls:

  • getAidApplication
  • getAidApplicationForStudentAidYear
  • addAidApplication
  • editAidApplication

You can now set up Bookstore tax by ZIP code to accommodate schools in states that allow differing tax rates at the county level for online sales.



Making money on the internet

Thursday, January 15th, 2015

Nicholas Carlson’s recent New York Times Magazine piece, What Happened When Marissa Mayer Tried to Be Steve Jobs, is a fine overview of Yahoo’s troubled two-year course correction. Most interesting, though, is how Carlson’s understanding of the Yahoo board comes from how he shares its assumptions.

Dynamic and wildly profitable Internet companies like Facebook and Google may get most of the attention, but Silicon Valley is littered with firms that just get by doing roughly the same thing year after year — has-beens like Ask.com, a search engine that no longer innovates but happily takes in $400 million in annual revenue, turning a profit in the process. Mayer, who is 39, was hired to keep Yahoo from suffering this sort of fate. She believed it could again become a top-tier tech firm that enjoyed enormous growth and competed for top talent.

Silicon Valley is “littered” with “has-beens” that “no longer innovate” but are nonetheless “turning a profit in the process”. Marissa Mayer was brought on as CEO so Yahoo could keep “from suffering this sort of fate”.

Generally speaking, there are only a few ways to make money on the Internet. There are e-commerce companies and marketplaces — think Amazon, eBay and Uber — that profit from transactions occurring on their platforms. Hardware companies, like Apple or Fitbit, profit from gadgets. For everyone else, though, it more or less comes down to advertising. Social-media companies, like Facebook or Twitter, may make cool products that connect their users, but they earn revenue by selling ads against the content those users create. Innovative media companies, like Vox or Hulu, make money in much the same way, except that they’re selling ads against content created by professionals. Google, which has basically devoured the search business, still makes a vast majority of its fortune by selling ads against our queries.

E-commerce and marketplaces. Gadgets. And for everyone else, advertising. These are the three ways people have figured out how to make money on the internet. If you’re not making piles of dough off one of the three of these, you’re a has-been. You’re litter.

Or, it seems, you don’t even exist.

Yet, hundreds of companies have figured out how to make money on the Internet by solving everyday business problems. They may not be innovative—they’re usually built on advances made by others. They may not be flashy—rather than absorb attention, they disappear into the background so work can get done. They may not be “dynamic and wildly profitable”—they tend towards corporate stability because their customers require steadiness and reliability. But it’s more than likely that, were their numbers made public (most such companies are like Populi—privately-held), this part of the internet economy would hold its own against the hotshot innovators whose raison d’être is to sell ads on gadgets you buy from e-commerce sites.

Merry Christmas and a Happy 2015 from Populi!

Friday, December 19th, 2014
Populi Christmas 2014

From left: Adam Sentz, Josh Stevenson, James Hill, Joel Penney, Isaac Grauke, Brendan O’Donnell, Patrick Swanson, Mark Ackerman, Nick Holloway, Christian Amos, Toby Robinson, Matt Jepsen, Joseph Schoolland

From all of us to all of you, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Paul Ford, “The Group That Rules the Web”

Monday, November 24th, 2014
Ellsworth Kelly: Spectrum Colors Arranged by Chance III

Ellsworth Kelly: Spectrum Colors Arranged by Chance III

Paul Ford, writing in The New Yorker:

The Web started out as a way to publish and share documents. It is now an operating system: a big, digital sensory apparatus that can tell you about your phone’s battery life, record and transmit your voice, manage your e-mail and your chats, and give you games to play. It can do this all at once, and with far less grand of a design than you might assume. That’s the software industry: it promises you an Ellsworth Kelly, but it delivers a  Pollock.

Jackson Pollock: Convergence


Graded discussions, course equivalencies, and Library enhancements

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

11-17-14 Graded disc

Concerning software releases, we’ve been busy the past few weeks…

Graded discussions

Graded discussions let you grade your students for their participation in a discussion. Here’s how it works:

  1. You create a new discussion-type assignment, and either use it to start a new discussion or link it to an existing discussion.
  2. You then have options to set up grading requirements, giving points for posting a minimum number of comments or replies, number of words posted, average peer rating—among many other criteria.
  3. If you wish, you can set the discussion to close on a certain date and time, after which Populi can auto-grade your students based on your grading requirements.
  4. The discussion assignment page presents all of your students’ discussion info—including comments and participation stats—so you can easily grade the assignment by hand if you so choose.

The grading features are a major part of a general overhaul of course discussions, which now include…

Peer rating

When you enable peer rating, students can rate one another’s comments and replies from one to five stars. You can include peer rating stats as a discussion grading requirement.

11-18-14 peer rating

Post first

You can now require students to post to the discussion before they can see anyone else’s comments.

11-14-18 Post first

Improved comment reporting

When students report inappropriate comments, you now have better tools to handle these reports—and more accountability for the student who submits the report.

11-18-14 comment report

Draft mode

If you’re not ready for students to know about an upcoming discussion—maybe it’s a surprise assignment, or perhaps you’re still working on the grading requirements—you can leave it in Draft mode. When you’re ready for it to get out there, just set it to Published.

11-18-14 draft mode

To get a look at everything you can do with discussions now, have a look at the Populi Knowledge Base.


Course attendance now features ID photos (like the Roster), radio buttons for attendance status, and new action links to mark all students either Present, Absent, Tardy, or Excused.

11-18-14 attendance

Course equivalencies

In Academics, we added course equivalencies. Equivalencies are specified at the course catalog level. Effectively, this lets you substitute any course for any other in a student’s academic history. For example, say you make ENG101 an equivalent of WRI101:

  • Students who took WRI101 will show that they have completed a degree course requirement for ENG101 on the Degree Audit.
  • Students who took ENG101 will be able to register for a course that has WRI101 as a prerequisite.
  • Students who need to retake ENG101 can take WRI101 instead.
  • And vice-versa for all of the above…

Additionally, you can now use Course Groups as prerequisites for catalog courses. This lets you treat a group of courses as equivalent (take this course OR this other course…) when setting up prereqs.

11-18-14 prereq

Library enhancements

We’ve added a bunch of little (but significant!) things to Library the past few weeks:

  • Library Staff can now place holds on behalf of patrons.
  • Additionally, they can now renew loans, even if the affected resource has a hold or is overdue.
  • You can now see the due date for each resource when checking them out to a patron.
  • If you remove a copy from circulation, any holds on it will be transferred to the next available copy.
  • When placing a hold, patrons and staff can now choose which resource copy they want.
  • Library staff can now click # of holds to see a list of all the holds for a resource, and their associated data. They can also manage which resource copy the hold is on, or cancel the hold—all from the same dialog box.
  • You can now manually pull Library resources.
  • We’ve limited the resource type drop-downs on Library search to show only the resource types you currently have entered in Library.
  • Library search results now display up to five resource copies, together with their locations and call numbers if possible. So, now you can find out if there’s a copy and where to grab it without clicking through to the copy page.
  • And finally, if you hate pressing “Enter” on your keyboard for Library (and Bookstore) searches, there’s now a Go button you can click!

11-18-14 Library search