Our new notification system

We're also squeezing in another new feature today: Populi's in-app notification system.
It's a tool we'll use to let you know about new features, planned outages, and other notes of interest. It targets specific user roles, so if we release something chiefly of interest to, say, Admissions, we won't bother students with the notice. Usually it'll link to something that goes into more detail, like this blog or our Twitter feed. We think it'll be a great way to keep all of our users up to date on what's going on with Populi.

A few new items for the Online Application process

Friday afternoon we'll be releasing some minor enhancements to the Online Application process. They're little things, but we think they'll go a long way in helping your Admissions department keep up with your Prospects.

First, there's a new Admissions Setting that lets you enter email addresses for people who should be notified when a Prospect submits the online application. As soon as the Prospect clicks "Submit", Populi will send those people an email.
Next, we revised the initial interaction between the submitted application and the Prospect. Previously, upon submitting the application, the Prospect saw "Thanks for starting your application to Demo College. We'll send you an email soon that will let you log in and continue the process." There were two problems with this: One, because we didn't send notifications about online applications, it was easy to miss them. Consequently, it might take several days before they were imported and the Prospect was sent a login. Two, the initial welcome email from Populi often landed in the Prospect's spam folder—just about the last thing that needed to happen. We wanted to clarify what happens next—both for the prospect and your Admissions staff—while keeping important Populi emails out of the Prospect's spam folder.

Now when the Prospect clicks "Submit", he sees this message:

"Thank you! Please check your email for a note from Populi Notifications with further instructions. If it's not in your inbox, it might've landed in your spam folder!"

Then Populi Notifications sends them this email:

Thank you for starting your application with YourCollege University. Here's what happens next:

  1. We'll review your initial application in the next few days.
  2. Next, we'll create a user account for you in Populi, our online college management system.
  3. You'll receive an email from Populi Notifications that lets you create a password for your account.
  4. You can then log in at any time to work on the rest of your application.

You should get that next email in another day or two. To make sure it hits your inbox, mark this email as "Not Spam".

At the same time, it sends everyone listed in the new Admissions setting the following email (with all the items in bold replaced by information gathered from the submitted application):

First Name, Last Name has just submitted the initial online application through Populi! Go to Populi Admissions to import the application and get First Name started on the rest of it.

If you'd like to contact First Name, his/her email address is email address and his/her phone number is phone number. First Name is interested in the Program Program starting in Term.

Here's where we think this'll be really cool for your Admissions department. If you get this email on your iPhone (or any other smartphone, for that matter), you'll then be able to just tap to call or email the Prospect within minutes of them submitting the application. You can even enter an email-to-text address and get this info texted to you. This can help you engage the prospect while their application is still fresh in their minds—and you don't even need to be in the office when it happens.

We hope these enhancements help foster more meaningful interactions with your Prospects.

Some pie charts

It's picture time on the Populi blog!

First, here's a pie chart showing what Operating System people use when they get on Populi. It's no surprise that Windows XP, 7, and Vista take up 74% of the pie. It is interesting that Windows XP, released in 2001 (and no longer for sale by mid-2008) completely wallops Windows Vista. The last two versions of Apple's Mac OS X make up 20% of the OS pie. Mobile-wise, iOS leads Android 3 to 1. And Linux—although it's really for specialists—makes up 1% of Populi usage.*

This next chart shows what browsers people use to access Populi. At just under 30% total, IE's 7 and 8 don't show nearly as well as they do on some other browser-share charts. IE8 is looking over its shoulder at Google Chrome's 19% share. Safari's 13% (16% if you want to include Safari Mobile) is a handsome number when compared with its ~6% share of the internet at large. Firefox enjoys a commanding lead over every other browser. That grey 4% wedge includes all the outdated or beta-only outliers—IE's 6 and 9, Android, Chrome 0-8, Chrome 11, Safari 3-4, Camino, Firefox 2-3—as well as random stuff like BlackBerry. Mercifully, the hard number on IE6 is only 0.01%.*

And this is a folding trapdoor spider we found on the bike trail that goes past our office. Yeah, it was big.


*These stats are based on total logins—as opposed to unique logins—so a power user who logs in four or five times a day affects these charts far more than a prospect who might log in twice in a month to finish his application. Also, these numbers are rounded.

Things of interest on the internet

Every so often, we find something of interest on the internet. This week, three things caught our attention...

Money, Feedback, and Pressure

Jason Fried of 37signals wrote a column in Inc. Magazine pitching advice to small businesses about, well, how to make money. We find his advice worthwhile—he built a great company that sells really useful products and eschews conventional business advice. Much of what he says is relevant to any organization that faces constraints and limits... like a lot of our customers—smaller schools with limited resources.

Here's what caught our eye:

Charging for something makes you want to make it better.

When you put a price on something, you get really honest feedback from customers. When entrepreneurs ask me how to get customers to tell us what they really think, I respond with two words: Charge them. They'll tell you what they think, demand excellence, and take the product seriously in a way they never would if they were just using it for free.

As an entrepreneur, you should welcome that pressure. You should want to be forced to be good at what you do.

This quote encapsulates a lot about the company we're building here. We charge our customers—schools who don't have the time or money to burn on stuff that doesn't work—and so they (well, you) are very forthcoming with their feedback. In turn, charging for Populi has contributed to the company-wide restlessness we feel about our service. As good as we think some things are, there are always things we want to make better. Whether it's a software bug that a customer discovers or a workflow issue that screams for improvement, there's always something. Knowing who our customers are, and charging them for the service we provide has given us that pressure to be good—and get better—at what we do.

Requiem in Limbo, IE6

Microsoft, the company that unleashed on the world Internet Explorer—a web browser that's actually made out of chewing gum and baling wire—has a site called The Internet Explorer 6 Countdown. The site says that it "is dedicated to watching Internet Explorer 6 usage drop to less than 1% worldwide, so more websites can choose to drop support for Internet Explorer 6, saving hours of work for web developers." According to their interactive map, IE6 currently has 2.9% usage share in the United States; the vast majority of this likely owes to recalcitrant IT departments who won't let their organizations upgrade. Microsoft is pretty mum on most of the reasons you should quit using that browser, like, yesterday (horrifying security issues for the most part), but its basic incompatibility with the modern web should be reason enough.

We're looking forward to seeing similar countdowns for IE7 and IE8.

HT: Daring Fireball

Apple and Liberal Arts

And, finally, Apple released the iPad 2 this week. Steve Jobs' concluding remarks about how Apple approaches the design of their products were particularly interesting. "It's in Apple's DNA that technology alone is not enough. That it's technology married with the Liberal Arts, married with the Humanities, that yields us the results that make our hearts sing, and nowhere is that more true than in these post-PC devices."

As a tech company (one way humbler, we think and hope, than Apple!) staffed in part by Liberal Arts graduates, we hope we're able to strike a similar balance. Technology can do a lot, but without keeping human needs in mind—the needs for elegance, simplicity, to understand, to be understood—it's just another burden.

Which brings us back to the first point: that need to improve Populi that presses on us almost always comes back to tempering the demands of technology with the harder-to-gauge needs of the people who use it.

New release features more improvements to student financial info

Our last release (about a week ago) included a number of improvements to student financials that we incorporated after taking in some good feedback from our customers. True to form, our customers had a lot to say about the new statements, and we're releasing some improvements to our improvements tonight. It's all in an effort to make a tricky lump of information easier to understand—for your staff and your students.

Here are the improvements we have slated for tonight's release:

We collapsed Pending Charges and Invoiced Charges into one concise panel on Student > Financial > By Term:

Invoice pages are even more detailed, now showing Pending Aid and a new invoice summary showing everything that affects the Amount Due:

You can manually apply Pending Financial Aid to invoices before you disburse it; when you do disburse the Aid, it hits invoices according to your selections:

Pending Aid now factors into the Amount Due shown on Student Financial > Dashboard and By Term:

The Unpaid Invoices export now includes a column with Pending Aid for each invoice:

We added the ability to auto-apply Unapplied Payments & Credits when you issue a new invoice (and a Yes/No setting to enable or disable this behavior):

The net effect of these updates is to mitigate the confusion caused by having differing Amounts Due for the same student—which we acknowledge has been a real headache for some of our customers. We've been looking for a good way to show what a student needs to pay your school given the wrinkles caused by Term-specific charges, Term-agnostic charges, pending Financial Aid, Payment Plans, and so on. And we think we've found it; we're certainly happier with this arrangement than we've been with our past handling of this information.

So now the Amounts Due that you see will be the same numbers your students see when they go to pay with a credit card (oh, yeah, "Pay Now" will now also say "Amount Due" everywhere except when recording a payment). Here's an example:

You issue invoice #99 to Joe Adams in Fall 2010 for a $500 Auditor Fee, which he doesn't pay. You issue #100 to him in Spring 2011 for $1000 in tuition. He has a $500 scholarship pending in Spring, and you've put #100 on the "50/50" Payment Plan, which splits his invoice into two payments for 50% of the invoice—one due mid-term, the other due at the end of the term. Joe, who has a habit of parking his monster truck in the Faculty parking lot, has also accrued $1000 in parking tickets—for which you've invoiced him on his Financial Dashboard (Inv. #101). Joe logs in mid-term to settle up what he owes you at that point and sees:

  • A Fall By Term Amount Due of $500 from unpaid invoice #99
  • A Spring By Term Amount Due of $250 from unpaid invoice #100 ($1000 - $500 in pending aid - $250 to pay later)
  • A Dashboard Amount Due of $1750 (#99-$500 + #100-$250 + #101-$1000)
  • When he clicks to pay with his dad's credit card, his Pay Now says $1750 and he also sees he'll need to pay another $250 later

New release improves Search, Degree Audits, Relationships, and Statements

Last night we pushed out a minor new release that includes improvements to a variety of existing features...

Degree Audit

We put the most work into a refresh of Degree Audits, accompanying some aesthetic updates with a number of improvements that will make them even more useful to advisors, registrars, and students.

On the back-end, we now point Degree Audits to the specific Course Instances the student has taken. On the front-end, this lets us include a student's grades on the Audit—and, for Courses that permit retakes for credit, you can apply a course taken multiple times to more than one Course Group. We've also clarified how Courses are applied to different Course Groups, making it easier to see how the student is fulfilling his Degree Course Requirements. Another little thing—Degrees are now displayed in chronological order in both the Degree Audit and Transcript.


It turns out that sibling, spouse, parent, child, and roommate don't cover all the possible relationships among people. Taking a cue from—well, life—we added a bunch of new Relationship types—Guardian/Ward, Student/Teacher, Friend, and... plain ol' Relative! To help you keep track of genetic similarities and other shared physical traits, we also added pictures to the Relationships panel. Perhaps most important, you can also now designate any related person as an Emergency Contact. Quite a few customers have asked for that, and we're happy to finally release a way to track that important piece of information.

Statements (and some other Financial items)

In response to some thoughtful customer feedback we've received about student financial statements, we updated those, too. Now you have two options for Statements: the Term Statement, which details the student's financial activity for a given Academic Term, and a new Statement available on the student's Financial Dashboard. This new Statement collects all of the student's outstanding invoices into one printable document. Accordingly, you can also print these Statements in a batch right from the Unpaid Invoices report in Populi Billing.

Two other items of note... The new By Term Summary gives you a more detailed snapshot of the student's balance. We also moved all of the commands to the action gear in Profile > Financial.


Simply put, Search is a lot faster and lets you search by a wider variety of information fields—Addresses, Phone Numbers, Email, Student ID, and more. Watch the video to get a sense of it... or, if you're a user, log in to Populi and try it out yourself!


Facilities got moved up to the Account Bar. We added some user account status tracking, so you can now see the last time a user logged in, or if they never have. We clarified the transfer credits interface to help ensure you pick a Program for each transferred course. Student ID numbers now display right below a student's name on their Profile. Plus the usual round of bugfixes, minor interface tweaks, and other little things that don't merit being mentioned by name in a blog post (those are all covered in the Release Notes in the help desk...).