NUIT To Revamp WebMail

Ryan Wenzel

By Ryan WenzelThe Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University Information Technology is planning a complete overhaul of the university’s WebMail service to increase storage space and incorporate more communication features, said NUIT director Wendy Woodward.

NUIT has not yet selected a provider, but Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! are among the university’s options, Woodward said. NUIT hopes to finalize its choice within the next week.

“We think Google would be the best match for our institution, but the others remain options,” she said.

WebMail now lacks many features that help users communicate with one another and stay organized, Woodward said. New technology could incorporate calendars, instant messaging, groups and blogs into users’ e-mail accounts. Groups would eliminate some of the confusion created by independently organized mailing lists, she said.

Upgrading WebMail also would allow students to store up to two gigabytes of e-mails, a huge increase from the 60 megabytes WebMail now offers.

“The systems are much more robust in terms of their flexibility and capability,” Woodward said.

NUIT had been considering updating WebMail since Winter Quarter, when former ASG technology director Michael Jurewitz, Weinberg ’06, approached NUIT with the idea, said ASG Student Services Vice President Leah Witt.

“WebMail has been a constant concern,” said Witt, a Weinberg senior.

To evaluate its options, NUIT consulted several campus organizations, Woodward said, including ASG, the Office of the Registrar, University Enrollment, the Office of Student Affairs, the Office of Development and Alumni Relations, and the Office for Research.

Woodward could not discuss when the changes would take effect or the transition’s cost because NUIT has not finalized a contract. But she said instituting a new system would not be of any additional cost to the university. Prices for outside technology are reasonable because companies are hoping to find loyal users, she said.

Upon graduation, student users will have the option to keep their accounts for life. NU now terminates a student’s WebMail account about 120 days after he or she graduates.

“These providers are anticipating that four years later, you’ll have built up so much e-mail and have a contact list so large that you’ll want to stay with the provider,” Woodward said.

Students expressed relief upon hearing of the planned changes. McCormick sophomore John Schieber said he never uses WebMail because of its limited storage space and that he prefers to have his e-mail forwarded.

“I switched to (Microsoft) Outlook because it was so impractical,” he said. “More people will use it if they switch to something like (Google’s) Gmail.”

Emily Cash, a Communication senior, started forwarding her NU e-mail to Gmail years ago. WebMail lacks several important and useful features, she said.

“You can’t see which e-mails you’ve sent, and you can’t have your contacts broken into groups,” Cash said.

Woodward admitted that WebMail has numerous problems, but she said NUIT hopes to improve the system as quickly as possible.

“The input we’re getting from students across campus is that this is a very exciting thing,” Woodward said. “We’re moving as fast as we can.”

Reach Ryan Wenzel at [email protected]