Monday, January 24, 2005

When all-campus communications go bad

The Phoenix, 01.20.2005. Republished with permission from the artist.

For the longest time, the campus had a printed publication called the Weekly News, which was mostly announcements and classifieds. To cut back on expenses, the publication went online-only, which pretty much killed it. Everybody I talked to says that they no longer read the Weekly News ever since they stopped delivering the physical copy to our mailboxes. Me included.

This change put even more pressure on all-campus email, which now was the only way to slackvertise to the whole campus. Anybody drawing a paycheck at the College had the ability to spam the campus about their events or their sofas for sale. Some people really resented the volume of stuff, especially students, and much clamor arose for an email revolution.

Personally, I can't get worked up about a few excess, perhaps frivolous emails from colleagues when the global email infrastructure is collapsing under the weight of drugs-n-porn spam. But, it strikes me as really indicative of how unruly campus communications can be, and how hard it can be to change information consumption habits once they're formed.

Of course, a 15 minute investment in setting up an email filter in a proper client would solve this problem, but that hasn't gained anywhere near the traction that griping about junk mail has. Some students even want ITS or some other administrative entity to police for content on the mailing lists. (There's a bad idea whose time must never come.) Instead, we're sending out digests twice a day, which I consider patently worse than what we originally had. I suppose it's only better if you're measuring good and bad by how many emails you won't read are sitting in your inbox. It's really bad if you only read 10% of the traffic on the list, but if you use subject headings to alert yourself to things you care about.

Unless and until we're able to put forward a real campus announcements system on the web, preferably something that's delivered prominently on a campus portal and with an awesome GUI, I think we were better off just letting chaos reign on the lists and telling the people who have time to complain about junk mail to get over themselves.

I think I'm out of the mainstream on this one.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

ah, but there is the counter-example: the daily gazette, which manages to be wildly popular (and often more read) than the school rag, despite being printed on nothing more than webspace.

9:52 PM  
Blogger EB said...

But is that really an appropriaite counter-example? I don't think that the debate here is on electronic vs. print. The D.G. is highly-structured, regular content. My quess is that its readers read it every day because they've come to expect that certain useful bits of information will always be present. (The weather, for instance.) The Weekly News had a consistent audience, but when it switched formats, it sacrificed whatever made it "sticky" for its regular audience.

I think we always get ourselves on the wrong track when we ask "How do I want to distribute this information?" instead of "How does my audience want to take in this information?"

1:48 PM  

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