Vol 40 No 11
March 13, 2008
News & Notes
Out and About
Papers & Presentations
April 10, 2008
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By Jillian Terry
Will the real e-mail please stand up?
You’ve got to hand it to those spam e-mail authors sometimes, you know. Those headlines can be hard to resist “Hello from a long lost friend” sounds appealing, until you open the message only to reveal a veritable laundry list of pharmaceuticals instead of a greeting from your best buddy from elementary school. Around this time in the semester, the “Add an MBA to your name” subject lines are especially enticing, as I bet dialing the toll-free number advertised would be at least slightly less painful than finishing the enormous pile of work on my desk.
Whatever the content, we’ve all received our fair share of illegitimate spam e-mail, the 21st century virtual version of the handbills of yesteryear. Being subjected to spam has become part of our technological existence, as ubiquitous and annoying as pop-up ads and telemarketer surveys. When we sign up for any of the free e-mail accounts offered online, spam is an expected part of the package. But what about when you pay for electronic mail service, or if it’s an ordinary and main method of communication in your career? Should spam be accepted and tolerated in these instances? If opinion research firms began calling your house dozens of times a day, or if your mailbox was continually overflowing with flyers and ads, many of us would likely file a complaint. Likewise, many students have started complaining about Memorial’s e-mail service and its recent implementation of a new university-wide policy to use @mun.ca e-mail addresses for all services.
The library’s circulation desk has been receiving the brunt of these complaints since it began asking students for official MUN e-mail addresses to which the library sends overdue and recall notices. For many students, their MUN e-mail account was nothing more than a dusty relic with a confusing username reminiscent of a certain Star Wars droid. They argued that the old system of sending such announcements to their personal e-mail address was sufficient, and that they’d never find a single important e-mail in such a haystack of Rolex deals and online pharmacy ads. Even after Memorial implemented a more user-friendly username creation for university e-mails, students and other members of the MUN community are still hesitant to use their official e-mail address for the regular receipt of e-mail, as they continue to be bombarded by dozens of spam messages a day.
Personally, I don’t find it to be too much of a hassle. I’ve spent a considerable amount of time dealing with computers since I registered my very first e-mail address over a decade ago, so was adept enough to create my own filters to block out as much spam as I can from my Memorial e-mail account. However, I can’t say the same for everyone the system offers little in the way of instruction on creating filters for less experienced users. Also on the plus side, I like the idea of being able to send e-mail to other universities around the world from a recognizable academic institution’s address instead of from an arbitrary free e-mail service. The credibility of mun.ca can be incredibly useful, especially if you’re looking for something from someone in the world of academia.
However, I am also of the opinion that if I am paying to attend Memorial, I should be given a functioning e-mail address without fear of drowning in spam messages, particularly if the university is going to impose new regulations about their mandatory usage. Virtually every student on campus likely has another e-mail address that they used regularly for school-related correspondence before the advent of these new policies, so there would be no harm done in investing more time developing these technologies before forcing students to adhere to them. If huge online companies with millions of daily users can offer free e-mail services with moderately effective automatic spam filtering, why can’t Memorial manage to at the very least make their filter system more user-friendly, and ideally remove spam from MUN e-mail servers altogether?
Perhaps the real answer here lies in communication. Some talking between agencies like the library and Computing and Communications may prevent future problems like students’ recent disdain for the library’s new e-mail policy. Communication between university administration and the student body might lead to a broader discussion on how Memorial can best adapt to changing technologies. It is, after all, the 21st century time for MUN’s e-mail system to be at the same level as those found at institutions across Canada and the rest of the world.
You can let student writer Jillian Terry know how you felt about her suggestions by e-mailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org. You never know, she may just find it in amongst all those spam messages.