Stop Spamming Me, CMC

I’m old school when it comes to email. I don’t use “Priority Inbox” or any other kind of novel email sorting mechanism. (Although I do use Rapportive and Boomerang, and highly recommend both.) But for the most part, my email arrives in order, and I respond in order. I believe in “Inbox Zero”--the little number next to my inbox always accurately displays the number of emails I have not read. Everything get’s replied to, forwarded, archived, or deleted. I see people with 2,476 unread emails and I shudder. <rant>

But. CMC. Makes. It. So. Damn. Hard.

I remember when I first received my CMC email address, the summer before freshman year. It was so cool: a real .edu email address! Google Apps! But during those moments of bliss, nobody tells you about a little thing called DL-Students (or its equally evil cousins DL-Students-Including-Abroad, DL-Students-SoCal, “undisclosed recipients”, etc.).

The problem: A wide variety of entities on campus--research institutes, administration, professors, “centers”--frequently abuse their ability to email the student body. As more campus organizations crop up and our student body grows, the problem increases in magnitude. The inherent value of most emails sent to the entire student body is so low that it effectively amounts to spam. Spam we can’t filter out. I would argue that this problem is not only annoying, but harmful. Simply understood, there has to be a better way of disseminating information widely to students.

Since late February, I have marked every email that went to the student body that I felt was irrelevant, unnecessary, or simply...stupid. In less than two months, I’ve accumulated 152 emails--a very conservative number that varied depending on my patience each day. Some sample subject lines: “KLI Workshop: Dealing with Networking and Small Talk in a Research Context”, “Career Services Center E-Calendar”, “EM: REMINDER Salavator Summer 2012 Internship”. The most common senders? Pretty much a who’s who of CMC. The Writing Center, Career Services, CCE (still not sure what that is), “Inform”, JIM NAULS, professors, deans, Public Affairs office, most anything related to the Kravis get the idea. I started tracking these emails on February 21, so these 152 emails average out to almost three emails per day. This includes weekends and spring break, which tended to be blissfully email-free.

Certainly messages like “EM: Internship Opportunity with eHarmony!” are not the intent of the student body mailing lists. There are without a doubt important messages that every student needs to hear, but most messages sent via the DL lists do not qualify. Instead, the DL lists have become a virtual bulletin board for campus events, but one that is crammed into every student’s inbox with little to no control over its content. Assessing each message for its importance or relevance essentially becomes a Sisyphean task.

In addition to simply being annoying, the email overload has serious consequences. Every “stupid” email that goes out proportionally decreases the likelihood that a given student will notice the important ones. Slipped in between the “Informs” and the phishing attack notifications and the research institute newsletters, there might be a “hey, there’s no hot water in your dorm this week”. That’s the kind of email every student needs to read, but can easily get lost in the shuffle when nine out of ten emails are worthless.

Changing our policy towards email will produce better campus dialogue for everyone. I have two proposals, which I believe could work in tandem to solve the problem. First, revoke access to DL-students for nearly everyone. Only the President, Deans, ASCMC, Facilities, and ITS should have access. Every other organization that would like to use mailing lists to contact students will receive its own mailing list, which students OPT-IN to. There will be one website where each student can select the mailing lists to which they want to subscribe--much like how every other company or organization in the world works. This will allow organizations to specifically target students who are already interested in their messaging, and spare the rest of us.

The inherent problem with such a system is that it means that most of the student body won’t hear about most announcements most of the time. Notwithstanding other mediums for spreading a message (CMC survived for most of its history without email, didn’t it?) here is a suggestion for an online solution. One central bulletin board where any campus organization can post a message, event invitation, lecture announcement, request for applications, or whatever else. Each post can then be upvoted or downvoted, Digg or Reddit style, for importance or relevance. This crowdsources the job of discerning what is important and what isn’t to the audience of students themselves. If a message is important, it will end up at the top. If it’s really important, students might tell their friends to check it out. I imagine that each campus organization will learn pretty quickly what the general student body finds important and what it does not. The audience becomes more engaged because the content is curated by the audience itself.

Regardless of the solutions implemented, the problem remains. We, the CMC student body, get far too many pointless, unnecessary, irrelevant emails. This is a plea, to everyone who has access to the DL mailing lists, to make it stop. Please ask yourself what percentage of the student body really needs to receive your next message. If it’s less than 90%, find another way.

Thanks in advance.