News, University News

Today@Brown replaces Morning Mail

New email digest introduces prioritization, interactive features, analytic capabilities

Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Today@Brown, the University’s new daily digest, arrived in the email inboxes of all community members this morning, ending the nearly 14-year era of its predecessor — Brown Morning Mail.

The new email communication includes interactive features, analytics to track usage and performance and a hierarchy of prioritized emails, among other changes, said Vice President for Communications Cass Cliatt. All of these features were absent from Morning Mail, which partially drove the impetus to create a replacement.

The email and website are “now better suited for a phone,” as events are listed in chronological order and important events and announcements are prioritized at the beginning of the digest, said Joel Pattison, director of web and digital communications strategy.

The new analytics will allow the Today@Brown team to measure how often recipients open the email, the popularity of various events and announcements and even “what has traction in terms of the way people write headlines,” Cliatt said.

The digest is a “pilot program” that will quickly evolve with community feedback, she added. Through a process called “agile development,” the team will incorporate community responses into immediate system updates, as well as discuss and identify more long-term changes. A submission form soliciting responses to Today@Brown will be available in the footer of the digest’s website, Cliatt and Pattison said.

“I see the entire Brown community as part of our team. There will be several thousand students and others helping us to make it better,” said Ravi Pendse P’17, vice president for computing and information services and chief information officer. “What you see three or four months from now will be a much more enhanced version of what you will see Wednesday.”

A survey will be launched in November to encourage further feedback, Pattison said.

Data from more than a year of research indicated several problems with Morning Mail and internal communications more generally, Cliatt said. University communications were fragmented, and as a result, students were often overwhelmed by the quantity and delivery of information. Many students also felt “FOMO, or fear of missing out,” on events and important information, she said.

And the most common complaint? “Too much email,” she said.

To address this concern, the new priority announcements section of the digest “gets rid of haphazard, one-off emails,” such as letters from the Dean of the College, concentration deadline reminders and other similar communications. “We think at least 700 emails will now be deferred to Today@Brown,” Cliatt said.

“Prioritization” will allow community members to receive all of their important information in one place, ensuring they do not miss critical communications, Pendse said.

The prioritization will be customizable in subsequent iterations of the Today@Brown design, though certain items are permanent, he added.

The first phase includes a continuation of Morning Mail’s “segmentation,” said Brian Clark, director of news and editorial development. “Segmentation” means that 18 different versions of Today@Brown will be sent to different subsets of the community. For example, the email for first-years could include different items than the email for medical students, and the priority items differ across subsets.

Conversations about improving internal campus communications began about two and a half years ago, coinciding with the time Cliatt arrived at the University. The University partnered with Huge Inc. — a digital design and strategy firm — to assess its “digital ecosystem” in spring 2016, and the communications office assisted in collecting data from focus groups and performing qualitative surveys, she said.

Because University communications oversees Morning Mail, Cliatt’s office worked in partnership with Computing and Information Services to develop solutions and create an interface that could replace Morning Mail, she said.

The project team included the Office of University Communications, CIS, Chief Digital Advisor Ciaran Bossom and the Huge Inc. design team. The “bulk of the project was done in partnership” between Cliatt and Pendse’s offices, Cliatt said.

“Morning Mail is the thing that people love to hate,” Cliatt said. “We also hear from alumni … that the day that they are no longer part of the Brown community, they (know it) because they wake up and check their email, and there is no longer Morning Mail.”

While Today@Brown will be a different experience from Morning Mail, the “daily digest … is very much part of our culture” and will remain so, she said.