Panlists gone for good

Bye bye panlists. Student organizations that use this email list service to communicate with their members are now being encouraged to switch to other listing software.

Last spring semester, Information Technology Services stopped allowing the creation of new panlists in response to an influx of student-initiated spam. After studying student use of panlists and mailman lists — a more secure but harder to use option some students call “manlists” — ITS officials decided to permanently disable the creation of panlists and gradually transfer existing panlists to mailman.

“We believe right now that panlists…[are] probably not the direction we want to go and probably not destined to come back,” said Chuck Powell, associate information officer for ITS.

ITS administrators hope the move will limit spam. Mailman alerts the list owner if more than 10 recipients, be they individuals or lists, show up in an email’s “to” and “cc” boxes, and administrators will have to confirm that such messages are not spam before they can be sent.

Yale currently has about 15,000 panlists and 7,000 mailman lists, said Loriann Higashi, manager of the Student Technology Collaborative. Powell said he expects the number of panlists to decrease as their owners graduate and added that ITS will reach out to current panlist owners to ask them to switch to mailman once ITS is less busy transferring its email services to Google Apps for Education, or “EliApps.”

“We’re not going to be forcing anyone off panlists,” Higashi said, adding that ITS does not know when they will be done phasing out panlists. “The earliest we’d start [asking people to switch] would be next calendar year.”

She added that if current panlists are misused — for example, heavily spammed — ITS will help owners transition to mailman.

The moratorium on new panlist creation began Feb. 4 in response to a slew of spamming attacks promoting a Russian artist for Spring Fling. Higashi told the News last spring that this was the “last straw.”

“The number of incidents that we’ve had has just been increasing [over the years],” she said Tuesday.

Higashi said only 500 mailman lists have been created since last April, whereas nearly three times as many panlists were created during the same span of time the previous year. This might indicate that the more complex set-up process of a mailman list is deterring students, she said, though she added that other factors could be involved.

Mailman lists have ten pages of set-up options, many of them designed to keep out spam by asking list creators to customize security settings and specify who can send mail to the group. Higashi said for students overwhelmed by the variety of list configurations, ITS is recommending two default setting options — lists that can receive mail from anyone subscribed to the group, and lists that can only receive mail after the list owner has approved the message.

“While the interface may appear a little daunting at first, the default set-up is almost perfect for our local use,” Powell wrote in an email. “It is possible to use Mailman in many more advanced ways than the Panlists will ever achieve.”

Though mailman lists are more secure than panlists, students say their difficult user interface overshadows their benefits.

Lily Lewis-McNeil ’12, vice president of Yale Dramat, said the security precautions of mailman lists have proved cumbersome for Dramat shows. For example, if a member of the production team for a certain show wanted to email the show’s cast list, or if the Dramat president wanted to email lists of shows in which she was not involved, this individual would not be able to do so without approval from the list owner, and the message would be delayed.

Lewis-McNeil said she has decided not to use mailman lists for the play she is producing this fall and is instead copying and pasting all the show’s members into every email.

“I haven’t even been using a mailman list because I’ve found that it’s been incredibly difficult for other groups in the past,” she said. “It was just such a hassle trying to approve or deny every single email that somebody wanted to send out to the group, and I just decided that it wasn’t worth it for this show.”

Larissa Liburd ’14, secretary of Yale International Relations Association, has also found operating the mailman list she made for her organization “very complicated.” She said she would far prefer to go back to the panlist system and called mailman “incredibly stressful.”

Yale gives students trying to send messages to large groups one alternative to mailman: Message Lite, a website that contains a list of all registered undergraduate organizations. Students can add themselves to the list of any organization on the site, and will thereafter receive any emails the organization sends to its Message Lite subscribers. Non-officer members cannot respond to the list on Message Lite, which limits potential for mass spam.

“We encourage you to use Message Lite for notices to those interested in attending your events,” associate dean of student organizations John Meeske said in a Sept. 6 email to presidents and treasurers of undergraduate organizations.

Gloria Hoda, the digital officer who manages Message Lite, said the email service did not catch on last year because students already had panlists in place for the year. She added that she thinks Message Lite may see more use this semester.

Mailman lists were introduced to Yale in 2003.

Comments

  • Jaymin

    People completely overreacted to the spam situation. Yes, once in a while we’d get a “Reply All” fiasco, but if you were forwarding your email (like you should have) to any respectable email client like gmail, all those spam reply-alls would have been conveniently organized into one thread. They would NOT have filled up your inbox, and they should NOT have been a nuisance to anyone but those with unreasonably weak constitutions.

    Because of this over-reaction, we’re all now stuck with an infinitely more annoying email system that requires constant moderation. This is a victory for no one.