Are you part of the problem?

A number of you may recall that early this semester mail from Wayne State was blocked by Comcast and AOL. If you tried to send email to someone with a @comcast.com or @aol.com address, the message simply disappeared, or, if you were lucky, was bounced back as undeliverable.

What you may not know is the reason for the block. Apparently some of your colleagues who have their Wayne State email forwarded to Comcast or AOL accounts chose to mark mass mailings sent from Wayne (such as announcements of Convocation, messages from the new President, or even notices of the location of the campus post office) as spam in their Comcast/AOL email clients.

It turns out that if enough people do that, Comcast and AOL (and actually Google and Hotmail/LiveMail as well) will decide that the sender (wayne.edu) is a spammer and block all mail from that domain. And that is apparently what happened, with the result that many important messages from and to faculty, chairs, deans and students were not delivered, often without notice to the sender.
This raises two important questions:

First, why are people forwarding their Wayne email in the first place? Wayne Connect is powerful, fast and identifies you as a Wayne State individual, and you don’t have to give up your favorite email client (Eudora, Thunderbird, Mac Mail, whatever you like). Some universities forbid forwarding, essentially requiring all employees to use the university-provided email system. After all, when you get a message from joeblow@hotmail.com, how do you know who it is? When message arrives from joeblow at wayne.edu, we know for sure that it is either Joe, or, in the worst case, someone who has stolen their identity. But with a free, random account we have no way of knowing who sent the message.

It is currently already university policy that students must use their Wayne accounts to communicate with their teachers and other official people at Wayne, because otherwise we have no way of knowing who they are, and communicating with a stranger about a student would violate federal law. Should we require faculty and staff to do the same? How would your life be impacted if Wayne were to enact such a policy?

Second, I have actually heard Wayne State senior professors tell junior professors to delete any official message from the university without reading it, because they shouldn’t be ‘bothering’ with mere administrative details–they should be doing their work.

Leaving aside the possibility that the ‘official’ message might be one to evacuate the building because of a gas leak, or to lock their office door because there’s an active shooter in the building, there is the question of how best the university should communicate important messages to its employees, including its faculty. If folks won’t use the internal email system, what should Wayne be doing instead?

39 Replies to “Are you part of the problem?”

  1. I have always used my WSU email – I liked the old web version and like Wayne Connect. Unfortunately by the time WSU got it many people had heavily invested in another web based email program, and they aren’t going to give it up. While I like the idea of forcing the issue by not allowing forwarding from their WSU email, we have many alternative WSU based email servers which have been around a long time – medicine, CLAS etc and people will not give these up. So we could end up with people using their alternate WSU email and not reading email sent to their wayne.edu account.

    1. It’s not so much the internal i.e. x.wayne.edu addresses that are a problem; it’s folks forwarding to gmail, livemail, comcast etc. that cause us problems.

  2. The problem is wayne connect has several features but not efficient and it is too slow. Thus I am forwarding it to gmail.

    1. I’d be interested in what part of it you consider to be inefficient. What does it not have that gmail has? I use both myself, incidentally, as well as att.net.

  3. I think many people are disturbed by the large quantity of emails that are sent to “ALLWSU@lists.wayne.edu” “CURRENTSTUDENTS@lists.wayne.edu” and “EMPLOYEES@lists.wayne.edu” that are not business related. I feel some groups/people abuse the privilege of being quickly able to email these groups. Perhaps some of these emails could be sent to a more specific mailing list for those that are interested?

  4. I don’t forward my email but would often like to because the zimbra search interface sucks. Also, when you delete something, it is marked unread in the trash bin, so it is hard to find something deleted by accident. And it is a pain to select exactly which email you want to mark to delete. If you click a bunch to delete and then accidentally click outside of the tiny little box, you unselect everything you just selected. If you highlight something and also check it and then check but do not highlight other messages, it won’t delete them all. All of these things are easy to do accidentally. If there is a way to sort messages by unread, I haven’t found it and I am done spending time looking. Oh and I also really hate that it opens messages in tabs. If there is a way to stop it from doing that, too bad, I am done wasting time trying to get it to work right. So I really don’t blame people for forwarding elsewhere. And I think the subject line of this blog is . . . let’s say “undiplomatic.” Not sure I will ever come here again to have a finger wagged at me. I thought IT was here to support us in doing our work, not the other way around.

    1. I was pointing out that the behavior of some of the folks who forward their mail harmed all of Wayne State. If you don’t mark forwarded Wayne e-mail as spam it was not directed at you.
      Wayne Connect has a very powerful search engine, including an easy way to sort messages by whether they are read or unread. I’ll be addressing the search engine next posting, but the short answer to searching for unread messages is that you click on ‘Advanced’, then ‘Status’ then click ‘unread’.

  5. Ban forwarding? We’ll just use POP3 to fetch mail. The School of Medicine does not allow medical students to forward their mail so we just use POP3 to fetch them into our Gmail account. Through Gmail, we can have many emails going to the same inbox, Google calendar, tasks, Google Documents. Also, just because we forward to a Gmail account, it doesn’t mean we reply from it (http://mail.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?hl=en&ctx=mail&answer=22370)–Gmail allows us to send email as joeblow@wayne.edu without even going to webmail.wayne.edu.

    I took a course at OU and they actually integrate their school email into Gmail, hopefully one day we’ll be able to do that.

  6. As to official WSU Announcements, I just this week asked if such could be sent in such a way that it enters into our emails under a separate “Announcements” filter and was told that that is what I should do so our email is not bombarded and anytime I need to know “what up” I can enter my Announcements and enjoy the ride — Posting what needs to be posted for general info of all. I have to try and set that up. Thank you.

  7. One nice thing about GMail is the archive feature, and the fact it’s a one click command (or one keystroke if you use the keyboard shortcuts)

    In order to simulate it, the old version had a shortcut you could assign so it was a two key shortcut to move a message to the archive folder. With the current version, we lost that feature. The lack of this makes me not even want to use Wayne Connect, and as a result, I do not want check my e-mail away from the office.

    The shortcut I was using allowed for ten custom folders to be used however. I guess someone using that feature to it’s full power could have priority folders or something so if it’s in folder 1, it’s urgent, folder 2 was important, folder 3… etc

  8. Leaving aside the possibility that the ‘official’ message might be one to evacuate the building because of a gas leak, or to lock their office door because there’s an active shooter in the building,

    I have gotten these “warnings”, however, it usually takes so long to get through the system the event was over hours earlier. Getting an email warning that a bomb threat was made at 5pm doesn’t help if it was already resolved by 1pm.

    Gas leak in the building? We have alarms for that.

    there is the question of how best the university should communicate important messages to its employees, including its faculty. If folks won’t use the internal email system, what should Wayne be doing instead?

    Why not use text messages for emergency information? WSU already does this, although the problem is the system is very slow and has the same time lag problem as email.

    Another alternative for “shooter”, “bomb threat”, etc. is to use the building alarm system and broadcast information directly over the loudspeakers. Email is not the way to send time sensitive emergency information.

    As for non-emergency information, email is fine. Pipeline announcements would also be ok, although most people aren’t on Pipeline every day. The WSU website would also be a fine place to put news and event information.

    1. We’ve been investigating the slowness of text messaging, and, unfortunately it seems to be the external providers who are slow, but we’re aware of the problem, and are trying to figure out ways to speed things up. Good point about emergencies, though.

  9. SC, have you tried using an email program such as Thunderbird (free) to read/write email instead of the clunky Zimbra interface? The latest version of Thunderbird has outstanding search features.

  10. Right. That’s a PITA. I should just be able to click on the status bar. Doing an advanced search pushes the message pane to the bottom of the screen, which also makes it a PITA to use. So, I mean, you can accept the reality that users find this less useful than other mail programs and then find a way to help them (in ways that are actually helpful) or you can persist in trying to get users to join your reality. One of these is futile.

    1. See the comment by Jeff Potoff–Thunderbird, Outlook and Mac Mail have quick, powerful search engines, for example. They don’t require you to forward your mail to an outside agency, and, if you keep ‘keep on server’ checked, lets you access your mail from multiple computers.

  11. I have not seen the one or two letter short-cut for something like archive. The closest I have seen is basically delete and move to inbox (which the opposite of what I want).

    If you could point me to where the option to move a message I’m reading to a certain folder with a one/two keyboard short cut is (without having to wait for the folder select to come up when you hit M) then that would be helpful.

    1. I have a quite extensive folder organization in Wayne Connect/Zimbra, with filters set up to file many emails into folders as they arrive. To file/move other emails into folders, I drag and drop one or more emails right into the folder — no fingers on the keyboard needed! This works very well for me.

      1. I find that if I filter things into folders I forget they are there and don’t read them, so that doesn’t work for me. But I do know about drag and drop, but I tend to be a keyboard guy. In fact, the next blog will be about keyboard shortcuts.

  12. The internal e-mail servers aren’t really going to be much of a big problem. At any point the a rule can come down and those could be obsolete, or not. Thats an ongoing “in house” email issue.

    The problem is the forwarding. Not only is this causing a problem for some of the providers (Comcast/AT&T/Hotmail/Google). AOL? Really people still use?!?! Well anyway. Those companies have begun to just open block the university.

    The secondary and potentially more hazardous to the university is the fact that the potential for client information leaks. When you openly forward your e-mail from WSU, or x.wayne.edu, to a public site, all of that information that touches “x public site” becomes their property. If that information is supposed to be covered by HIPPA then thats an automatic breech. The same goes for student information and credit card information as well.

    While the “perception of slowness” may be more of a personally issue. I’m sure the reality of legal entanglement might out way that perception.

    Is it possible, to have a e-mail users discussion to find out what is “bad/ineffience/slow” about Wayne Connect and so “good” about other email systems. The outcome of those talks could help make the email system a better experience for all of us.

  13. OK, I am not a forwarder. But, I feel the pain of those trying to circumvent those “whatever”@wayne.edu messages.

    We are an abused captive audience. Who knew I was an “alum” of WSU and can’t un-alum myself?! Why did anyone need to know that Nike’s were on sale at the bookstore? Three times and counting on that one. Clean up this act – please.

    I vote for putting them – every last one of them – into a single email sent once a week, and each gets a 1-line description and a 1-line link to its own web notice. I deserve something I can deal with quickly!!

    An “announcements” folder is not going to solve my problem of screening them quickly when I have to open each one, screen it, and delete it.

    Dare I collect them as data and analyze their vacuous content? Or print them out for a month and send them one at a time to C&IT through campus “mail”? How large a box would it take to contain these printed out for a year? How many years worth to reach to the moon? The mind boggles.

    1. Your general point is a good one, and I will raise it with the appropriate channels. For what it’s worth, several of your colleagues consider the announcement of this blog posting to be an example of unwanted spam and have been asked to be removed from the mailing list. Alas I can’t do that, since I used the facstaff listserv, which includes all Wayne State employees, both faculty and staff. But I can promise I’ll raise the ‘spamming’ issue at the next available forum.

  14. The main reason people are forwarding their emails is for convenience! On all of my cellular devices that I’ve had while a student at Wayne, webmail has not been compatible and would not come to my phone. I’ve had either PDAs or now the IPhone 4 where you can set up your email accounts to come to your phone, and for whatever reason I have been unable to set up my Wayne account on my phone so I get it forwarded! Fix that problem and you’ll have at least one person ( me) to stop forwarding my emails to a diff account. Also honestly a lot of the info I receive from listserves are absolutely pointless and in abundance, often the same email two or three times, I don’t blame people for spamming it, it fits the description of spam!

    1. I know many people who have their Wayne e-mail sent to their iPhones, so your problem should be easily fixable. Contact me offline and I’ll see what I can do (I personally use a Palm Pre and it works beautifully with Wayne Connect).

  15. I’m sorry, but I gave Wayne Connect a try, and it’s just not as intuitive or robust as GMail. Like others have said here, I prefer the latter’s archiving, threading, tagging, strong search engine, interaction with other Google Apps, interaction with my iPhone, etc. I don’t forward, I fetch, so students, colleagues, etc. get return emails marked as “from” my WSU address. I’ve heard stories about some mail servers not liking the discrepancy in the from categories (WSU address sent from a GMail server), but have never personally experienced a rejected message because of that.

    The issue of blocking WSU announcements is a completely separate issue, and should not be muddled with the one of mail system choice. I screen out unnecessary messages the old-fashioned way–I scan the subject lines and click delete. That being said, I think WSU should be more sensitive to issues of information overload and be careful what they send to everyone. Many institutions are allowing for “opt out” or even “opt in” systems, which might be a good idea. After all, how many messages about science funding opportunities does an English professor really need?

  16. I too was offended by the tone of the mail. I haven’t gone to this list before and the implied threat got me to read.

    The problem is that CIT did not consult with the users – at least not the academic ones – to see what we want. Most of the new stuff that Zimbra/Wayne Connect introduced is just useless overhead to me. I don’t use the calendar or the chat or just about anything but the mail, and faculty who spend their time doing this stuff are wasting their time and not getting their work done. I think the entire enterprise was constructed by and for the staff, not the faculty, but that’s must my guess.

    I also don’t like the bizarre aa1234 mail address that was forced on us when they changed. Before I could set my id name and that would appear in a recipient’s “from” line and the aa1234 id would not. Now they get my name and the bizarre id that was developed by and for IT people long ago, when they decided that everyone wanted to preserve anonymity, and I have been told that nothing the users say will lead to a change. And my e-mail subscriptions that I had signed on with my real name@wayne.edu all bounce, and I have had to redo all my subscriptions because listervs don’t recognize the ID that appears in the mail I send.

    When the new system came on line, not only did it re-download all of the mail in my mailbox, costing me days of time to clean up the mess that CIT created, but my mail now always says I have hundreds more unread mails than I have, and they remain invisible. Since I pop all my mail, I found my pop mail downloading hundreds of duplicate messages that I had filed away or thrown away a long time ago. So from the beginning they botched it.

    Then CIT decided (again, why bother consult the users; experts know best) they decided that we needed to prevent brute force attacks and therefore have to change our passwords every six months. That forces us to go through the extra work of changing all of our passwords in our pop clients and our smart phones and the like. I guess those amateurs at Google and MobileMe and Yahoo and all the rest should sit down at CIT’s feet and absorb their wisdom. What do they know at Google anyway?

    It’s all about being customer oriented, and CIT is anything but. They have shot themselves in the foot and that’s why people do this, and they retain the right to shoot themselves in other places (or require that we do).

    Finally, I have solved this problem of all the spam I get from Wayne by creating a filter that catches all the spam that Wayne State sends us into one big “Wayne State Lists” folder. I look at the subject lines to see if I should read it and I ignore the rest. I use the filters liberally to catch lots of list mail that I don’t read regularly, and that has thinned out my load. One reason why I continue to use my Wayne Mail is that this one feature works pretty well. Not perfectly, as for some reason it continues to send some mail to junk that doesn’t belong there (regardless of attempts to correct) and my filters are so elaborate that maybe the software can’t figure out how to handle it, but at least I reduce the unwanted overhead that way.

    My two bits. I know it’s not two cents anymore.

    1. I will comment at this time on only one aspect of your post–I know many faculty who do use the calendar, and they do not consider that they are ‘wasting their time and not getting their work done’, especially if they are in a research group of some kind that needs to coordinate meetings, or if they serve on departmental committees such as Salary or Promotion and Tenure.

  17. Great comments!

    I just wanted to quickly add to the discussions regarding Wayne Connect being slow. This is largely a problem with outdated desktop hardware. Don’t get me wrong, this is definitely a problem that needs to be addressed.

    The Wayne Connect servers and services supply the data needed to the user within milliseconds. The lag that the user generally experiences is in client-side (browser) processing time.

    Unfortunately, too many of our personal desktop systems are outdated and slow. Even worse, they have old and outdated browsers. For reference, here is a video of Wayne Connect on a recently purchased Dell in the Google Chrome browser (I promise, it is not sped up):

    https://docs.wayne.edu/4cc1eec167f95.mp4

  18. The thing is, I have read that, and the customize keyboard shortcut feature is not there anymore. It was the “move to folder #n” feature I was using, but you can not set the number anymore.

    Oh, and one spam that I really didn’t like, getting an SMS about this post. Stuff like that will cause people to turn off the SMS part of announcements.

    1. Yes, it looks like you’re right about that. There’s a new version coming out in a couple of months, but I have no idea whether they’re going to change the shortcut situation or not. It’s interesting–folks differ in whether they like keyboard shortcuts or not. You can, however, type m, then type the first letter or two of the name of the desired mailbox once the ‘Move’ window pops up and then hit enter when the relevant mailbox is hgihlighted. It’s a keystroke or two more, but will leave your hands on the keyboard. Will that help?

      You can turn off getting sms general messages from C&IT by going to m.wayne.edu and scrolling down to Computing & Information Technology Announcements and unchecking the ‘Text Message’ box.

  19. @Miquel Burns — C&IT uses two categories of Broadcast Messages:

    “Computing & Information Technology Announcements”
    “C&IT System Alerts”

    We use “Announcements” for general info (ex. blog postings, survey invitations, etc). “System Alerts” is for system problems.

    You can set each category to send/not send a SMS version of the message; just goto https://m.wayne.edu to update your preferences.

    Hope this helps and thanks for the feedback!

  20. In my case (and I’m sure this is the case for almost everyone), I have multiple email addresses and it is much more convenient to check my email in one place rather than a dozen places. I understand your concern about people sending email from non-Wayne email addresses, but you can easily set up Gmail (and other email clients) to be able to send the email from your Wayne email address.

    “What does it not have that gmail has?”

    You can’t possibly be serious. Gmail offers a ton of ways to customize your email experience. One Gmail feature that I am particularly fond of is labels. Commenters above listed many additional features that are simply not available with Wayne Connect.

    “I think many people are disturbed by the large quantity of emails that are sent to “ALLWSU@lists.wayne.edu” “CURRENTSTUDENTS@lists.wayne.edu” and “EMPLOYEES@lists.wayne.edu” that are not business related. I feel some groups/people abuse the privilege of being quickly able to email these groups.”

    I could not agree with this comment more. As a student and an employee, I hear complaints all the time from coworkers and other students about the overwhelming number of emails that are sent to us. You wonder why emails go unread? It’s because people are abusing it by sending irrelevant emails (like the email all staff and faculty received about your updated blog). In one of my classes the other day, we had a discussion about the Wayne State emails. Everyone in the class admitted to ignoring the vast majority of Wayne State emails sent to them (or, at the very most, quickly skimming them to see if they were relevant) because they get bogged down by so many emails. This is why important emails go unnoticed.

    1. While I understand that folks like Gmail, most of the features that people are looking for are also available with Wayne Connect–it also has threading, tagging (which seems to be the same as Google’s labels), and permits unlimited nested mailboxes, with relatively quick keyboard shortcuts to do that sort of thing. Again, if folks are careful to send the e-mail from the Wayne account, so that it is authenticated properly there would not be as much of a problem.
      The issue with large numbers of announcements is a different one, and may be worth investigating further.

  21. @Tom, m.wayne.edu is great, but when are more options going to find their way in there?

    We can’t really toggle off many of the irrelevant communications that we receive. For example, some folks don’t care to receive e-mails about Research news, Flags being at half staff, Alumni get-togethers (why do they send these to ALLWSU?), Bowling night, The farmers market (for the 40th time), The Hilberry Theatre and it’s wall of text that’s trying to get us to attend some event, etc, etc, etc.

    There are hundreds of examples of irrelevant e-mails that are spammed to ALLWSU. Students, faculty and staff are forced to filter through what they consider spam and have no way to opt out of it. This is probably why some folks are making use of that “mark as spam” option in their forwarded service of choice.

    Perhaps more of these filter options should be added to m.wayne.edu and the ability to toggle them on and off should be more obvious to folks. Sending a e-mail letting them know how to do this would be a bad way of letting them know. Some obvious filter options that should have an off toggle might be Alumni, Research, Events, General (mostly unimportant) news/announcements, and Community engagement, just to name a few.

    Then, instead of relying on spam style marketing, perhaps these events and announcement should be put through more powerful channels. If we want to know what’s going on around campus, we all know to go to events.wayne.edu. If we want to know what’s new with research, we can go to research.wayne.edu, if we want to know what is going on at the Hilberry, we can go to hilberry.wayne.edu.

  22. I know everyone loves Gmail… and I use it too, don’t get me wrong, it’s a great service but where is that data stored? Are my emails sitting on a server in China somewhere? Who really has access to them? The nice thing about Wayne Connect is all that data sits here on campus in C&IT’s datacenter. This is comforting to me.

    1. This was indeed one of the considerations when the Zimbra platform was chosen to be the basis of Wayne State’s e-mail system. We know where the servers are (they’re actually located on campus).

  23. I agree 100% with Nick about the broadcast messaging options.

    This problem has nothing to do with forwarding. We hear complaints all day long about the massive amounts of unnecessary emails students get. Since they cannot unsubscribe to the list, we don’t giving them filtering options categories, and worst of all we allow unmetered access to send to the list if someone has access. No wonder e-mails are being ignored, overused, abused and marked as spam.

    The rule of thumb (CAN-SPAM) in the outside world is if you didn’t sign up for it you shouldn’t be receiving it. This is what every person at the university is used to. Even with education about it being an “internal” mail system and you’re getting necessary information for your user type the sheer quantity of e-mail is offensive. Safety messages or actual things that impact a students progress aside, I think we would get a lot more respect if we allowed users to unsubscribe to what amounts to bulk advertisements as emails. Especially since senders are not able to see real analytics about how many open, click through and sign up (take action) rates via emails. Not to mention how many people unsubscribed or marked as spam because of their e-mail. We are operating in a stone age system and are sending e-mail completely blind into the dark.

    We (Web Communications) try to push tracking as much as possible through our HTML e-mail creator via GA campaign codes but not everybody creates their bulk e-mails through us. It’s a shame that ROI is not even a consideration with >90% of the e-mails being sent out. Sending a message to +40,000 people should be a privilege and not a right.

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