E-mail alerts regulated

Since the beginning of August, Colonial Mail users have had the opportunity to unsubscribe from receiving most mass e-mails sent out from the note@gwu.edu University mailing address.

Users can visit http://amc.gwu.edu to opt out of blast e-mails that are not emergency communications, such as messages about campus safety, school closures or computer worms, said Chris Wilson, a user technical support analyst with Information Systems and Services. The new feature is coupled by an overhaul of the system in which administrators send the blast e-mails, condensing a once four-hour-long process into less than 30 minutes.

“Obviously we want to make sure that (emergency e-mails) reach everybody and, for those, the opt-out wouldn’t apply,” Wilson said. “But obviously we don’t want to deluge people with tons and tons of stuff, (like) basketball tickets.”

Some students and staff have criticized the University’s handling of the mass e-mail system before the recent change went into effect. About 50 e-mails were sent from note@gwu.edu to all GW mailboxes over the past year, with topics ranging from forms to conduct human research to Medical School events to advertisements for men’s basketball tickets.

Sophomore Shade Oyegbola said she’s been fed up with many of the promotional e-mails she received last year.

“They have nothing to do with anything I’m doing,” she said. “I guess they’re useful for somebody, but they’re not useful to me at all.”

Oyegbola, who was unaware of the new opt-out feature, said she has been interested in finding a way to reduce these unsolicited messages but didn’t know how. Without previously being able to filter out less critical messages, she said it was often difficult to determine which mass e-mails were worth reading.

“It’s hard to tell at first which ones you really want to pay attention to,” Oyegbola said. “Because when you get so many over a span of time you really get sick of them.”

John Petrie, assistant vice president for public safety and emergency management, said he only sends blast e-mails when it contains information that the vast majority of recipients deem useful. He said he doesn’t want “to end up the boy who cried wolf” by sending everyone too many message he says are all important.

“If you get an enormous number of these, then they’re no longer something that gets your attention,” Petrie said.

Petrie sent four mass e-mails in the last year about campus security issues such as World Bank/IMF protests and July 4 preparations. In the future, e-mails from his office will almost always override any opt-out requests.

Petrie applauded the opt-out feature and other ISS improvements in progress for differentiating emergency-related messages the University sends to all mailboxes and what he calls “nice-to-know information.”

Before a mass e-mail can be sent, a University vice president needs to approve the message, said Alexa Kim, director of ISS Technology Services. It is at their discretion what is important or urgent enough to be sent to upwards of 40,000 e-mail boxes.

“Sure people complain … like one or two (per e-mail) and not even with every e-mail,” Kim said. “It is a really delicate line between feeling over-informed and under-informed.”

Wilson said that the multiple e-mails marketing the men’s basketball team and about purchasing game tickets were a source of criticism.

“I had heard some scattered complaints … about the volume of some of the mass e-mails, especially at the end of last semester,” he said.

The athletic department considers the University-wide e-mails an important part of building campus awareness about its most popular sport, basketball, said Bob Zurfluh, assistant athletics director for marketing, promotions and community relations.

“We hope everyone is interested in how our 11th-ranked men’s basketball team is doing,” Zurfluh said, referring to the team’s unofficial preseason ranking. “School spirit is a very big part of George Washington University, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Currently all mass e-mails are sent from note@gwu.edu, but Wilson said his office is planning to have critical e-mails sent from infoalert@gwu.edu and non-critical e-mails sent from infonote@gwu.edu. Messages sent from infoalert@gwu.edu would override users’ decisions to opt out of informational e-mails.

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