Outlook.com looks lovely and will save users from a decade of Hotmail purgatory

Thankfully, I was saved eight years ago by GMail!

The internet dominates our lives even if you are just using it work and no where else. And if you are using an inefficient tool, switch as fast as you can. Else you've brought a knife to a gun fight. 

Personal (consumer) email accounts have been critical for my volunteer and research work over two decades and I was really glad to have Hotmail when it surfaced and spread like wildfire in 1996. It was  a salvation at the time, a phenomenal tool. And it was bought out by Microsoft to much consternation, just a year later.   

However, Hotmail when from pleasant to crippling in a couple of years. Primarily from its inability to deal with the volume and regularity of spam which parasited email but there were other problems, such as being timed out when composing long emails and losing it all! 

I would "copy" my text every once in awhile to save a copy to RAM! And switch to SimpleText when I realised my email was going to be a long one. Eventually a 3rd-party plugin fixed that, for the minority   who knew. 

In fact before MOE switched to GMail a few years ago, I'd tell teachers at workshops that their "myedumail" accounts were the equivalent of Hotmail in 1999! And I'd mail and fax them the really important stuff for our coastal cleanup operations. It was a better way of reaching them.

So when GMail appeared in 2004, it was a life saver. No more need for work arounds. And never mind the innovations which are regularly added to even now, GMail had a beautiful spam filter! I laughed at fears about the ads which my tunnel vision never saw anyway, and jumped ship as soon as I could get an invitation! 

Hotmail was hell and I was out of there! And I became a GMail evangelist, alongside my exhortations about Firefox.

Recently, the announcement about  Outlook.com made its rounds, and I dropped in on my Hotmail inbox. Gosh, the hotmail user now has lovely anti-spam capability, newsletter un-subscription and auto-cleanup features amongst many other things. It demonstrates an understanding of users' needs! 

I'm happy for existing users, but am not even vaguely tempted – that boat sailed EIGHT YEARS AGO!

And GMail hasn’t been idle all this while. During digital literacy workshops, I explain that its a not a GMail account I am asking students to acquire, it’s a Google Account, which provides access to several tools, not just email.

I revisited GMail's welcome message from 2004 (below) and wondered how I would have managed without it. I suppose I would have used a diversity of tools, the way I use a variety of apps on the Mac. With OSX, a new revision integrates many of these functions in a year or two. Not eight years!

Well, anyway, its always nice to have a diversity of options. And with the number of Outlook//Hotmail users significantly exceeding GMail users in many estimates, the inefficiency of the masses will affect us all. 

So its great to feel that I needn't groan when someone emails me from a Hotmail account anymore. It used to be a pretty good gauge of inefficiency. Now technological salvation has arrived for the languishing Hotmail masses. 

Isn't that such great news?

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Gmail Team <gmail-noreply@google.com>
Date: Fri, Jun 4, 2004 at 2:19 PM
Subject: Gmail is different. Here's what you need to know.
To: Sivasothi N <sivasothi@gmail.com>

First off, welcome. And thanks for agreeing to help us test Gmail. By now you probably know the key ways in which Gmail differs from traditional webmail services. Searching instead of filing. A free gigabyte of storage. Messages displayed in context as conversations.

So what else is new?

Gmail has many other special features that will become apparent as you use your account. You’ll find answers to most of your questions in our searchable help section, which includes a Getting Started guide. You'll find information there on such topics as:

  • How to use address auto-complete
  • Setting up filters for incoming mail
  • Using advanced search options

You may also have noticed some text ads or related links to the right of this message. They're placed there in the same way that ads are placed alongside Google search results and, through our AdSense program, on content pages across the web. The matching of ads to content in your Gmail messages is performed entirely by computers; never by people. Because the ads and links are matched to information that is of interest to you, we hope you'll find them relevant and useful.

You're one of the very first people to use Gmail. Your input will help determine how it evolves, so we encourage you to send your feedback, suggestions and questions to us. But mostly, we hope you'll enjoy experimenting with Google's approach to email.

Speedy Delivery,

The Gmail Team

p.s. You can sign in to your account any time by visiting http://gmail.google.com

“Search, citation and plagiarism: skills for a digital age have to be taught!”

When I switched to full-time teaching in 2007, I realised undergraduate students learn the difference between skimming and actually reading journal papers only if they are signed up for a research module. A small proportion of our undergraduates do this in their 3rd year, and some 60% of each cohort will conduct a research project as part of their honours degree.

These and other academic skills are a valuable acquisition as it helps develop an undergrad’s ability to evaluate and manage information, which they will need to apply elsewhere in life. So I have been experimenting with injecting some lessons into first, second and third year modules which I teach as part of practicals and assignments, with the help of our motivated biodiversity and ecology TAs.

Digital literacy is an important skill to impart, as few are really competent with IT-related matters – an informed user can manage their environment effectively and better communicate their ideas with IT professionals (and know how to make reasonable demands!) So some ideas and hints are inserted into lectures and I experiment with a graduate science communication class (e.g. see “Using Twitter“). Eventually I’ll trickle down the proven methods to the biology undergraduates.

I shared some of these efforts with colleagues in NUS at the start of the year for BuzzEd2012 and later with other educators at EduCampSg4 and RGS staff. I’m posting this mainly to remind myself about objectives and to identify areas to trim, expand, delete or introduce this semester.

At the last Department of Biological Sciences retreat we discussed ethics and a few colleagues and myself were asked to generate some slides. Department staff would be inserting those into their first lectures in various modules next week. We settled on just two points to suggest to our undergraduates which would enhance their university experience – academic honesty and respect for peers. Links point them to resources and tools.

Some staff have more to say and be able to expand on those ideas, while others will use them as a primer to discuss the topic briefly. Its nothing really news and are mostly in the NUS Honour Code. Since students wade into a whirlpool of university life peppered with many ideas, fundamental points should be communicated like advertising – never stop talking about it. A reminder each semester in each module will help keep the ideas afloat.

This is also relevant is wake of the thoughts shared by a plagiarism researcher here: “Viewpoint: The spectre of plagiarism haunting Europe,” by Debora Weber-Wulff. BBC News, 25 Jul 2012.

“In the US and the UK, universities have honour boards and ethics councils and there is a wide discussion of ethical practices. There are procedures in place for dealing with plagiarism. In Germany, though, professors wanting to address plagiarism are pretty much left to their own devices. They don’t have much in the way of tools or formal procedures.”

Meanwhile, undergrads have started exhibiting a greater familiarity with these ideas. And when I’m looking though manuscript with a research student, we reference ideas and guidelines from earlier classes. Still lots more to be done and I am looking forward to enhancing literacy in the years ahead.

I’ve always been tickled by Carl Sagan’s suggestion about “Science as a candle in the dark“. Hopefully students go on to inject society with some of these skills too!