Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Event listings and online announcement advertisements methods have been overhauled by Student Council, ITS, and the College’s administration this past year. In particular, the rules governing the Reserved Students Digest have changed significantly and ITS installed an online calendar system over the summer.
We believe these changes have not been for the better.
At the beginning of last semester, students were told that the Digest would no longer list more mundane events that had a specific time, and would focus more on true announcements. The Student Council declared that it would be, according to The Phoenix, “more limited and its breadth more condensed.”
Unfortunately, because there are no published guidelines on the exact purpose of the Digest, many students are still confused on where to advertise their event or activity. Just yesterday, for example, an Effective Grantsmanship workshop and a lecture were on the afternoon mailing of the Digest. Both of these items are clearly advertising events that should have fallen within the purview of the Swarthmore calendar—so why did they make it onto the mailing list?
We asked Student Council Secretary Liana Katz, and she told us, “technically those two messages should not have been included in the RSD.” However, “there is a list of approved users who can automatically post to the RSD without having their messages approved by me as were those two messages.”
If there are going to be strict rules on what events can be advertised on the Digest, they should be applied evenly, and not only to student events. These exemptions only serve to confuse the issue.
Even if students want to advertise on the Digest, many are unclear on how exactly to do so. The Student Council website has no procedure on how to submit events to the Digest, and the “Plan an Event” section of the calendar website makes no mention of the Digest. Instead, submit announcements through Digest has become a secret passed down by word of mouth.
“Its tough to make announcements without pulling teeth,” one student told the Gazette. “I ended up calling three different people and firing off five emails trying to get it done!”
This confusion was exacerbated by the recent switch from Majordomo mailing list software to Mailman. For a few days at the beginning of this semester, all emails sent to email@example.com were rejected by the software. There had not been any official word on this change, other than two blog posts on the ITS blog which don’t ever specifically mention any changes to the Digest.
A larger problem is that the central premise of this change—that the Digest would be shorter—has not proven true. On 2/28/2007 for example, there were fourteen events in the Digest. Yesterday afternoon, there were twelve. We took a random week from December 2006 and found that there was a total of 84 events in fourteen Digests. During the past seven days, there were 89 events advertised in the same number of Digests.
If the changes haven’t de-cluttered the Digest and are leaving a large portion of the student body confused, why keep them?
The events calendar was implemented over the past summer. It isn’t clear exactly where it came from.
Throughout the Spring 2007 semester ITS held a series of discussions on adopting some kind of unified calendar and email system, and discussed Google Apps in particular. Students loved the idea of a calendar, and for good reason. A centralized location to find and sign up for events is a great idea that every college campus needs.
Active Data Calendar, the software currently in use, was never mentioned to the wider student body. And, unfortunately, the current calendar isn’t up to the job.
One online design firm suggests five rules of web design. The two most important are that the site should be easy to read and easy to navigate. The current site isn’t. The front page of the calendar is six printed pages long, filled with duplicate events which are listed again and again for each day of the week, making it difficult to skim the calendar.
The main page of the calendar has five drop down menus and more than twenty buttons. There is no intuitive and clean way to get a picture of a day’s events.
There is an accepted interface for calendar software. Many students and staff are comfortable with iCal, Outlook, and Google Calendar which all use a similar design to quickly and legibly impart scheduling information. The Events Calendar tosses those conventions out the window, and it doesn’t offer something better.
The calendar has an unquestionably impressive list of features. For most users, however, these features don’t matter if the calendar isn’t easy to quickly read.
Not only is the calendar hard to read, but the events submission process is intimidatingly complex: there are twenty-five information fields. Even with this incredibly detailed information requested for each event, there isn’t a simple way to exclude certain weeks for ongoing group meetings. According to the calendar, most weekly events continue through Spring Break.
Additional barriers for information about events are posed by requiring students to reserve space, a process that requires yet another username and password and navigation through another complex and confusing site.
Last year, advertising an upcoming meeting required a single email. Now it requires filling out an enormous form, making a user account, navigating through two complex websites, and then responding to a bevy of confirmation emails. Instead of using the internet to facilitate inter-college communication, we have regressed.
Unfortunately, there is no single easy solution. Facebook and fliers help to form an ad hoc advertising network, but the are insufficient alone. The Digest is cluttered and the rule changes are unsuccessful. We need a calendar, but the Active Data Calendar fails at the job.
We believe that the College needs to move forward on a unified system like Google Apps. We need to have a serious campus-wide discussion about messaging, calendar, and email systems to create a successful communication network.
In the meantime, we need to have well-publicized and clearly-written rules about what can be posted to the Digest, and they need to be enforced across the board.
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