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September 08, 2007

The Union Fails

Earlier today, the new SSDO (Tom Lindsay) sent out, to all execs, an email containing some information that we needed to know before term began. This information was contained within 5 attached Word documents, totalling 1.3MB.

Yes, 1.3MB.

Now, this wouldn’t necessarily have been a problem apart from the fact that I had a huge amount to read before term started. However, to save myself and the rest of the Christian Focus exec some inbox space, I decided to copy the contents of the attached Word documents into a plain-text format email and resend it around. It should be noted that this was not a problem, there was absolutely nothing of importance that wasn’t text. So, having received this email from mailman, I noticed that it was 11KB in size.

Yes, 11KB.

Or, to put it another way, three orders of magnitude smaller than the original email had been. To put it yet another way, 1.33% of my mostly full SquirrelMail inbox gone (as opposed to the 0.001% the plain text version is now using). Around 1.3MB of the original 1.3MB email was of absolutely no use to anybody.

Naturally, I wasn’t best pleased about this, so I sent an email to the SSDO saying so. In response, he told me that the majority of the size came from the logos that each Word document contained, a KPMG one and the Student Union one. Each of these logos comes to 111KB. Repeated ten times. Not only this, but they weren’t even being used at their full size. A resized image could be a tenth the size of that and still retain all the requisite quality.

In Tom’s defence, he has now adjusted the size of the logos, so there should be less of a problem next time.

In my original email, I also commented that a Word document shouldn’t be used unless genuinely needed. Tom responded saying that Word documents were the most effective way of disseminating this information. This opinion is entirely unacceptable given the fact that the Union should not be forcing us to either use a proprietary program (which is only available for a proprietary operating system) or use a sub-optimal implementation of the format (which I know was breaking the documents sent).

Not only is it unacceptable, but it is unfounded. There are a number of Free alternatives which could be used, as well as several alternative and open standards. The Union has chosen not to use these programs or formats for reasons best known to themselves, but they are disadvantaging the people they are formed for, their members.

Tom then moved on to address the case for the emails containing images at all. Regarding the KPMG one he said:

Unfortunately the fact of the matter is that Societies Federation has a contract with KPMG for us to include their (specified) logo on all of our society content and publicity (be that to students or to execs).

While I understand the need for funding, I do not see why this image cannot be attached to a plain text email. Or even referenced in an HTML email, which would save even more inbox space (though at the expense of bandwidth). Tom then goes on to say:

The Societies Federation logo is there for obvious reasons, because this is the branding of the Societies Federation, for which there is a huge business case.

I find it hard to believe that there is a business case for branding SocsFed emails to exec members only. We’re well aware that they exist, they give us the money. This is more inbox space used for absolutely no reason.

I replied as such to Tom, who quickly responded with the following:

With regards to the comments about the Word Documents, I can only go on the experience and wisdom of my predecessors, the combined, refined and distilled expertise of whom has been responsible for disseminating information to society execs via email for ten years or more. The simple fact is that a large proportion of the people that I am sending this information to do not read unformatted emails or documents of the length that mine would have to have been! I entirely agree that this should not be the case, for the good of the societies themselves, but this is unfortunately the reality of the situation and I only wish that every exec was made up of people as responsive and conscientious as yourself.

You’ll note I left in the compliment to myself at the end. :D

I’m still not entirely happy about the situation that the Union is putting us in, and am considering the best way to go about resolving this.


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