Columns

Mulligan ’19: R.I.P. Morning Mail

By
Staff Columnist
Monday, October 30, 2017

Morning Mail, the daily digest of Brown information that rocketed into inboxes at 1 a.m. every day, was my first friend from Brown. It arrived to my brand-new Brown email address long before I moved into my dorm. Listing the events and announcements of the upcoming weeks, it acclimated me to the goings-on of campus before I considered myself  a member of the Brown community.

On Oct. 18, communication officials announced that Morning Mail was being replaced by a new platform called Today@Brown. Though I confess that Morning Mail’s demise was comparable to that of losing a cherished childhood toy, I maintain that it is not just nostalgia fueling my displeasure with its replacement. Today@Brown is harder to read and does not demonstrate an understanding of how students regularly interact with emails that keep them connected to Brown news and the community.

Morning Mail had two parts. At the top was a table of contents, containing the titles of all the announcements and events within. Readers could click on the titles and be brought to short descriptions at the bottom of the email, or they could just scroll past the table of contents to view all of the descriptions directly. Links for additional information could be clicked if readers were particularly intrigued by a given description. Crucially, Morning Mail contained enough information to get students intrigued in the first place.

To be clear, Morning Mail was not a perfect medium. It often contained dozens of announcements and events — a frankly overwhelming amount of information. I would read it when I checked my email upon waking and my eyes would glaze over. I often found myself skimming.

Today@Brown, according to an email sent to students from Cass Cliatt, vice president for communications, has three primary goals: reducing the number of emails received daily, making it easier to find “important, high-priority information” and providing “structure to the volume of information community members receive to make it easier to scan and digest.”

These are worthy goals, and Today@Brown takes some steps toward achieving them. For example, it lists events by the dates they occur. Morning Mail, by contrast, reserved that information for the descriptions of events. Having the dates and times clearly laid out makes it easier to skim through and plan your day.

However, Today@Brown lacks a table of contents. Whereas students could once easily pick out events that interested them and go to their descriptions, they must now scroll through the entire email. I realize how incredibly lazy it sounds to be complaining about scrolling through an email, as though that would somehow cause my thumbs to fall off. But the fact remains that Morning Mail was “easier to scan and digest” because the table of contents enabled readers to quickly determine if they wanted to engage with a bulletin or not. Today@Brown lacks that capability.

My main problem with Today@Brown, though, is that in order to access any event or announcement descriptions, you have to be redirected to an additional website. There is no single page where all descriptions can be viewed. Instead, each item has to be clicked on individually, opened one at a time to unearth the meaning of a tantalizing headline. This is inconvenient as a millennial whose attention span has been destroyed by Twitter — I want my information as immediately as I want my avocado toast.

I could just complain that this is annoying, because frankly, it is. But to even the least lazy among us, Today@Brown’s format makes it so that access to information is now entirely self-selected. One of Morning Mail’s charms was that it could be accessed in multiple ways: you could click the links in the table of contents and go directly to the descriptions at the bottom of the emails, or you could go on a leisurely scroll down the page, casually taking in the announcements, pausing if any keywords caught your eye. These early-morning scrolls brought me in contact with events I would have otherwise missed, from dumpling sales in the Science Library to David Cameron’s lecture.

But Today@Brown’s fractured format has greater ramifications than missing interesting events. Important campus information, including news from the Brown Corporation, was previously sent out in separate emails. Today@Brown now contains this type of news, denoted as “Priority” at the top of the email to get readers’ attention. However, unlike former email announcements, important information is no longer listed directly in the email body. And not all students read Morning Mail in the first place — some relied on those separate communications to read critical announcement. Despite encouragement from administrators to “read Today@Brown to avoid missing important communications,” old habits die hard. Students used to ignoring Morning Mail may not pay attention to Today@Brown, decreasing awareness about pertinent changes in campus policies.

The extra bit of effort required may not seem like much, but to time-crunched college students, having immediate access to information, as opposed to having to wait for new pages to load for every single item makes a difference. Because Today@Brown is in its early stages, I hope that as improvements are made, information will be as immediately accessible as it was with Morning Mail so that speed-reading students can be more connected to the Brown community.

Caroline Mulligan ’19 can be reached at caroline_mulligan@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.