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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC listserv reliability issues to be addressed

Plans underway to prioritize lists

Some problems with UNC’s listserv system can’t be fixed — like the widespread confusion among those who can’t tell the difference between “reply” and “reply all.”

But Information Technology Services is now streamlining the listserv system to fix problems with overloaded servers and slow message delivery.

To fix these problems, the office is planning to prioritize which types of groups can create listservs, giving preference to lists that are directly related to the University’s mission, including academic and administrative units and student groups. 

Potential priority listservs

Central to University business, such as academic groups

Affiliated with UNC, such as student organizations

Public service listservs that aren’t directly linked to UNC

 Other lists not directly tied to University organizations could be moved to alternate servers.

“Essentially, the service is not as reliable as we’d like it to be,” said Michael Barker, assistant vice chancellor and chief technology officer of ITS. “We’re spending a significant amount of time tending to it.”

Listservs allow organizations to send e-mails to large groups of recipients. Many student organizations use them to relay news to their members, and academic departments use them to send messages to both students and faculty members.

Barker said listserv system usage has “grown uncontrolled,” and the thousands of listservs put a strain on the University’s servers that route e-mails. While an initial cap of 250 members is put on listservs, several groups have petitioned to have larger lists.

Every once in a while, ITS has to apply software patches to the system to keep it running, which sometimes cause delays in message delivery.

“It’s been a periodic annoyance for a number of groups that use the service,” Barker said.

To counter this, ITS is increasing regulations on listserv creation.

“We need to ascertain the community’s pools of listserv groups and assess which are central to the University business, which are affiliated and which are there as a public service,” Barker said.

“We’ve got to make sure that the use of the listservs first and foremost discharges the needs of the University.”

Tim McGuire, manager of the ITS messaging systems, expressed his desire to improve the listserv service in an e-mail.

“It is a top priority of mine and ITS to deliver a better list server service,” he said in the e-mail. “There will most likely be a stricter policy that will limit lists to populations and content that at least indirectly further the goals of the University.”

Barker said ITS is looking at several different solutions to help the listserv system run more smoothly.

ITS uses a listserv service called Lyris, but Barker said he is open to switching to a different service if it better meets the University’s needs.

One possible solution could be creating alternate listservs on different servers.

“We’re going to have some blend of approaches,” Barker said.

Student groups could ease the burden on UNC servers by using third-party listservs such as Google and Yahoo, which operate outside of UNC’s servers.

Barker said the upcoming change is necessary to keep the listserv system running properly, and said he does not expect a service interruption while changes are implemented. He said ITS does not yet know what costs might be involved.

“It’s gotten to a point where our current approach is not going to be able to grow anymore, and it’s gotten difficult to sustain as it is. Thus, it’s necessary for us to do something different and improve the service moving forward,” he said.

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