Class of 2013 the first to switch to Gmail

Josh Goodman

Credit: Varonin.

Credit: Varonin.

Ever want to instant message in your Whitman e-mail or use it for online documents?   You may not be able to, but the class of 2013 will.

Next year’s incoming first-years will use Gmail for their Whitman email using a special login page, gmail.whitman.edu, and their Whitman IDs and passwords.

Gmail, launched in 2004, is a free e-mail service from Google offering users 7.14 gigabytes of storage, as well as audio and video chat features.   Whitman’s current Unix-based system, in place for over 10 years, offers 25 megabytes.   That’s one three-hundredth of the capacity for Gmail.

“Gmail is much more user friendly,” said Whitman Developer of Emerging Technology Kyle Singer.   “[It] offers services that are not sustainable on a campus-based system: seven gigabytes of storage, for example.”

The reason for the switch is simply that Gmail offers a good product for Whitman students.

“WCTS has been evaluating various alternatives for quite some time, but had not seen a good solution up to now,” said Singer.   “We recently determined that Gmail would serve our students well.”

The switch is not related to the college’s cost-cutting in response to the economic downturn, according to Singer.

“The only foreseeable cost saving is the fee for Postini spam and virus filtering,” he said. “According to other institutions that implemented Gmail, Gmail’s basic spam and virus filtering provides adequate protection for users.”

While the service has many anticipated features, there are some kinks to work out.

Junior Schuyler MacFadyen of the Student Technology Advisory Committee (STAC) mentioned that “one of the anticipated problems is the ability of Gmail to accommodate listserv e-mails.”   That’s being worked on, though.

Some problems won’t be predictable.   Singer is “certain that we’ll experience the unexpected.”  

While the switch will affect the class of 2013 and beyond, WCTS plans to see how this fall’s transition goes before deciding whether to offer Gmail to current students.

“It is possible that we will just provide new students with Gmail, and take four years to switch the entire student community,” said Singer.   “Then again, if there is a big demand for [a] switch, we can do this sooner.”

Sophomore Kiva Ellenberg, also of STAC, suggested one possible approach.

“I think the best bet is to start the class of 2013 on Gmail and, if all goes well, begin offering current students the option to switch to Gmail,” he said.

Singer and STAC members agreed that it would be unrealistic to switch all students to Gmail by next fall.

STAC, meanwhile, will serve as a bridge between students and WCTS.

“[Our] role will be to make sure students are educated about the switch and relay any student concerns to WCTS along the way,” said MacFadyen.

Separately, MacFadyen expressed a desire to maintain a Whitman-based e-mail system.

“Personally, I would like to see something more in-house to keep the e-mail experience on campus [and] personalized, rather than a switch to a commercial provider,” he said, “but it’s a very smart decision on WCTS’s part, and I am a supporter.”

Ellenberg, meanwhile, just wishes he could use Gmail for his Whitman account himself.

“I think it was an excellent decision to make this transition,” he said.   “I only wish it had been done before I got here.”

Though it may be possible for him and other Whitties to make the switch in the future, they’ll have to be patient while the program is new this fall.