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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “Out of the frying pan, into your inbox”

    Users of the UA’s confusing and clunky WebMail service are more than familiar with spam e-mail. Unsolicited messages burrow through even the best technological defenses, and WebMail’s unfriendly interface leaves many users baffled about the automatic filters designed to zap unwanted mail. But even if you’re lucky enough to no to get spam, you’re not off the hook. There’s another meat-monikered threat on the horizon: it’s called “”bacn.””

    The purposefully misspelled term, popularized by bloggers and other digerati, refers to the e-mail messages you might want to read – but not right now. Bacn is stuff like Facebook alerts, online receipts, daily newsletters and the myriad of other messages that stack up in inboxes without quite meeting the requirements of standard spam. With the amount of correspondence now conducted via e-mail – from communicating with friends and family to sending papers to professors and checking your bank balance – the average student’s inbox can quickly become a Pythonic platter of “”spam, spam, bacn and spam.”” Unfortunately, the UA is a big contributor to the rapidly spreading bacn rash.

    This semester, the UA’s own Office of University Communications threw another sizzling slice of bacn into student inboxes across campus – a new daily e-mail newsletter called UANow.

    You may have noticed it – because every e-mail account on campus ending with “”.edu,”” including students, faculty and administrators, was automatically registered for the messages, which repackage standard press releases from the UA’s official mouthpiece, the Office of University Communications. Paul Allvin, associate vice president of communications, explained that mass-mailings are necessary because it would be difficult to advertise the new service and attract readers without enrollment by edict. Instead, the newsletter allows students to opt out, by clicking a tiny link at the bottom of each message. “”We wanted to not waste people’s time, not insult their intelligence and not flood their inbox,”” Allvin said.

    Unfortunately, unless the UA cuts down on bacn, UANow – and other newsletters like it – have the potential to do all three of the above.

    There’s a reason it’s difficult to draw subscribers to another e-mail newsletter: Most of us are already fed up with the number of unwanted messages that stream into our inboxes every day. More bacn sent every morning has a good chance of being deleted or ignored.

    But the essential goal of UANow is a good one: keeping students and faculty informed of interesting things happening on campus. Instead of piling on the bacn, UA ought to make it easier to meet that goal, by harmonizing the numerous notifications sent from departments all across campus.

    Some campus mailing lists already offer the option to receive weekly summaries of their messages, but these lists are only part of a larger slab, including frequent messages to students from various arms of UA’s bureaucratic machine: the Campus Health Service, Residence Life, Parking and Transportation Services, Zona Zoo and more. Yet e-mail is also an indispensable part of any student’s academic arsenal – many professors send important messages daily or have dedicated mailing lists for their students. It’s important to keep that critical information from getting lost in the chatter.

    One more newsletter may not make much of a difference, but it’s not the right solution for an information-addled campus. To truly inform students, the UA should create a daily message aggregating information from the various sources that send messages on their own. We have the technology: Internet standards like Really Simple Syndication (RSS) make it easy to syndicate and combine information from many sources. Messages could even be uniquely configured to each user – offering news from Residence Life only to students living in the dorms and from Zona Zoo (notorious for bringing home the bacn) only to those students who own an athletics pass. One simple message every day would cut the fat from the scores of messages sent now, but leave behind the meat of daily information updates.

    ‘Bacon’ is delicious, but it doesn’t pair well with e-mail. Instead, simplifying and streamlining messages to the UA community is the key to keeping students connected.

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