This week, the News reported that the surge in panlist spam had prompted ITS to freeze the creation of new lists and consider junking the system altogether. The second thing I thought when I saw the article was, “How terrible!” The first though I had was, naturally, “Would it be funny to send the article to the most recent mega email chain — created Wednesday night by the Healthier Life Initiative to promote their food addiction survey? Maybe with the subject line: ‘This is why we can’t have nice things.’”
In the four years I’ve been at Yale, I’ve ended up on over 75 panlists, and I still have fond feelings for some of the quasi-spam I get. I haven’t been to an Engineers Without Borders event since the freshman bazaar, but I still feel invested in their projects to bring clean drinking water to communities abroad. Even though I skip past most of the meeting announcements, I’m always a little excited to see when they’ve had a breakthrough.
When I looked up my panlist membership for this article, I found out I was on a list called firstname.lastname@example.org. I have no idea what group that panlist is linked to, and I don’t appear to have received any e-mails from them, but there’s clearly something interesting going on there.
In four years, I’ve benefited from these neglected panlists more times than I can count. Even as I’ve abandoned organizations, their panlists have kept me updated about themed events on campus, leading me to underpublicized master’s teas, vocal workshops, gingerbread house architecture competitions, and protests and petitions for causes I care about. The best perk was when a News panlist I ended up on freshman year tipped me off that Grand Strategy was looking for people to role-play as journalists. As a result, I’ve gotten to spend a day every fall pretending to be Maureen Dowd. If you’re willing to wade through the messages, panlists are the best way to get the most out of all the opportunities on campus.
Even the bouts of bladderball panlist wars aren’t so bad. One panlist war broke out while I was at a party. In a room full of people with smartphones, the room was buzzing with new mail notifications. With every beep, ring and buzz, we all clustered around the phones to see the latest reply. The next day, at least half of the people I know were laughing about the people who’d tried to find screw dates on the panlist and marveling at the student who found his lost computer by posting to the list. E-mail bladderball, like its real world namesake, is loud, disruptive and inconvenient, but just like its banned cousin, it’s one of only a few truly campuswide events.
If you are seriously inconvenienced by panlist spam, your real problem is that you’re using the Yale Mail client to read mail. Outside of Yale Mail, it’s a lot easier to see threaded conversations (so panlist discussions are collapsed instead of taking over your inbox) and it’s much easier to set up folders that filter for specific lists you don’t want to see all the time. If you haven’t already set up Thunderbird on your laptop or shunted all your messages through Gmail, see the student techs for help.
Future classes might be spared if the ITS Advisory Committee recommends a switch to Gmail in the fall, but don’t get your hopes up. ITS hasn’t proved to be responsive to student preferences even in small adjustments.
The best short-term solution Yale ITS could implement would be adding an “unsubscribe” link to the end of any message sent to a panlist and getting rid of private panlists all together. To remove yourself from a private panlist, you need to know the exact name of the list — not an easy task when an organization purposely bcc’s or when you get spammed by a bladderball list and can’t figure out which of the cc’d panlists you belong to.
These small-scale fixes would go a long way toward making panlist spam manageable, but the proposal to scrap them entirely goes too far. We ought to balance reasonable security protection with the need for easy and casual communication between students. Reform of the panlist system shouldn’t take place in the absence of student feedback and suggestions. I don’t remember telling ITS that they should remove me from that list.
Leah Libresco is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College. Her column runs on alternate Fridays.