E-mail Broadcasting in the University

by Henry Wong, Annie Yu

Long before the emergence of e-mail, the telephone and campus mail have been the major form of internal communication on campus. When accessing e-mail has proved to be just as easy, it quickly became a popular method of communication between individual computer users and is now used frequently by most faculty and staff.

Whenever there is an official announcement to be made within the CityU, it is general practice that the messages should be posted on the University Message Board where everyone is expected to read. In cases where the concerned topic is really important and a personal e-mail is required, broadcast tools have been developed to help disseminate the official news, thus minimising the amount of effort involved in maintaining e-mail lists (a laborious and error-prone process).

In the early days when the old text-based PolyLink system was used extensively as an electronic tool of internal communication, authorised users were advised to make use of the "all staff" broadcast feature for sending messages to staff and special notations were also available in PolyLink for sending e-mail to all or groups of students according to the course year, course module etc. In order to use the broadcast facility in PolyLink, one must login with the departmental PolyLink account. Initially, only PolyLink users were able to receive broadcast mail. Soon the broadcast facility was modified to accommodate staff VAX accounts as well.

When the e-mail system was upgraded to Eudora about three years ago, the CSC had re-organised the broadcasting facility in line with the recommendation made by the Strategy Group for IT development in the CityU. Under the new setting, a departmental account of the form "dd_msg" was opened for each department for sending broadcast e-mail where "dd" is the department/office e-mail code. Sending out e-mail broadcasts is like sending out e-mail using a personal e-mail account, except that the recipients address field should be filled according to the following notation:

  1. staff-all - for all staff of CityU
  2. staff-dept - for all staff in a department (where dept is a department code, e.g. staff-csc, staff-meem)

Under the new e-mail system of Eudora, e-mail broadcast has been made easier in terms of speed and user-friendliness, and Eudora also offers better formatting, improved management of file attachments and so forth. Although sending e-mail broadcast to students is still accomplished under the PolyLink system, e-mail broadcast to staff has been switched from text-based PolyLink to windows-based Eudora for increased convenience.

Improvement to the e-mail broadcast facility is nowhere near the end. Recently, the E-mail Broadcast System (EBS), a centralised broadcast system, has been developed to replace and enhance the e-mail broadcasting function previously provided in the old PolyLink system (for e-mail broadcast to students) as well as the departmental e-mail broadcast accounts used with Eudora (for e-mail broadcast to staff). With EBS, it is possible to dispatch information to both staff and students in one system and its Web-based interface enables authorised users to perform e-mail broadcast in a more convenient and secure way. As long as you have access to the Internet using a Web browser, sending broadcast e-mail can be accomplished anytime and anywhere.

Furthermore, the new system provides pull-down lists for authorised users to select specific recipient groups. Up to five selection lists (Student Mode, Level, Department, Programme and Cohort) can be chosen with complicated combination for sending broadcast e-mail to various groups of students. Integrated with the AIMS Banner System, the EBS can unquestionably supply the most updated recipients list of the selected group(s) of students.

Instead of using the current logged-in user address by default (usually dd_msg@cityu.edu.hk), users can specify a different reply e-mail address for the broadcast e-mail if desired so that replies of the concerned broadcast e-mail can be delivered directly to the staff who looks after the announced event.

Another great feature of the EBS is that it saves all attachments on the EBS server and sends out corresponding URLs automatically for recipients to access the files on the server on demand, thus avoiding the replication of the same file attachment to each recipient's mailbox thereby, and saving many storage resource on e-mail server as well as individual mailboxes. As a result, it greatly reduces the network traffic and mail server loading when delivering the broadcasting e-mail.

The rollout of the EBS has indeed enhanced broadcast messaging to a great extent. It has definitely brought efficiency and convenience to many users who need to conduct official campus business on a daily basis. For enquiries, please contact the CSC Help Desk at ext. 7658.