Whitmail Google-izes student inboxes

Eric Nickeson-Mendheim

Credit: Sloane
Credit: Sloane

Returning to school, sophomore Michael Blackwood faced a new dorm and a new set of classes. He also faced a new e-mail.

“I had to get used to it at first,” he said. “But I never really had any problems.”

Whitmail, an e-mail service powered by Google’s Gmail, is the new replacement for Webmail, Whitman’s soon-to-be-retired e-mail system. It features 7.19 gigabytes of storage versus the 25 megabytes provided for Webmail and is provided to Whitman at no cost. All incoming first-years were automatically given Whitmail while over 350 returning students have made the switch.

For senior Sky MacFadyen, a member of the Student Technology Advisory Council, the change was welcome.

“Webmail was outdated,” he said. “It was slow. It was confusing to navigate and had glitchy functions. Whitmail is another step towards more fluid and efficient interaction on campus.”

Blackwood agrees, and has found many of the Whitmail’s new tools to be beneficial.

“Webmail could be confusing,” he said. “It had a primitive interface, it wasn’t really user friendly, and it could be difficult to find things. Whitmail has better features. I can choose different color schemes with it. I’m a gay man. I need my color schemes.”

Other students, however, do not feel the need to make the change.

“I don’t see the point [of the conversion] until they work out all the technical issues,” said sophomore Claire Snyder. “But I don’t really have a problem with it.”

“I‘m not a big computer person. I only really use it for necessity,” said sophomore Gretchen Grimm. “I just ignored the e-mails about switching over.”

Whitman College Technology Services (WCTS) has been considering the switch for many years.

“We have known about this option for several years as we were an early tester of the service,” said Director of Network Technology Kevin Kelly. “We talked to several other schools about their experiences with the Google-provided email service for students and worked with Google to modify the agreement between Whitman and Google to include new terms, including the addition of FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) requirements to the agreement.”

The agreements ensure that Google is not able to access any of students’ e-mails and personal data, except as required by law.

Returning students who have not yet made the transition may find it more difficult to do so than before.

“There’s no direction on the FAQ on how to actually make it, and the help desk didn’t know either,” said MacFadyen. “[For] people who haven’t made the switch, it’s not exactly spelled out how.”

Kelly said that WCTS is indeed signing people up for conversions.  181 people have signed up for a conversion for Sept. 30, and additional conversions will be offered for October, November and December.

By making this transition, WCTS hopes to create a better of network of communication amongst Whitman students.

For MacFadyen, the switch continues to be positive.

“I think it’s what was best for the majority of people on campus,” he said.