One UP, Many Mails

"Aside from world-class education, the ubiquitous Ikot and Toki jeeps, Mang Larry’s Isaw, and the iconic Oblation statue, what else could separate UP from other universities?,"

eUP asks. eUP's answer to its own rhetorical question: One UP Mail by Google.

There! Right there, I'm afraid, is what's iffy about the eUP Project, making claims on false or inflated assumptions. It's too eager to grab just about anything its administrators superficially think makes eUP a worthwhile initiative. eUP people are too eager to slap the eUP brand on any system (iLib, UPCAT Online, ST System (formerly STFAP), Document Tracking System, Faculty Reagent Electronic Voting System (formerly FROVS)), as though these are their own novel offerings. These systems have been in place even before PAEP took office and certainly before the eUP Project started.

Gmail for educational institutions doesn't make UP distinctive. Hopefully no other schools of repute heard the loud UP announcement. (See, for instance, this). Or they must be laughing by now. Not that Gmail is a bad app. It's probably the best popular free email in the business. Gmail has been around for ages and those who launched it in their institutions did so hardly with any funfare. Not eUP. eUP is making a huge deal about it.

Within UP, some departments, colleges, institutes use Google Apps for Education (GAFE), of which Gmail is part, way ahead of eUP. UP units that can request for certain changes in their CU's domain name system (DNS) can have their own Google Apps for Education account in hours. So does eUP really have to make a mountain out of a molehill?

It pains me to hear the UP President say fantastic things about eUP systems. He'd sound like someone who just discovered Netscape in 2015. Well, SAIS and other Oracle-based core eUP systems (codes minted circa 2006) run on Netscape!

eUP prides itself in "taking a leadership role in the development of a globally competitive Philippines." What a bubble eUP's minions have created for themselves! Judging from what they're doing, it's more like a leadership role in NOT developing Filipino technology.

Free lunch?

"Free email from Google! Yeh!" Such is eUP's uncritical embrace of Gmail. eUP wants ALL of UP to accept GAFE as some manna from heaven. Really?! "If you are not paying for it, you're not the customer; you're the product being sold."*

With sweat and donations, people "pay" for freely available open source technologies. But Gmail?! Please... Don't get me wrong. I use Gmail and Yahoo Mail for casual, informal emailing. Let's just not promote Gmail uncritically, the way eUP does. With students using eUP-endorsed GAFE, "student personal information in the form of data about their use of non-educational Google services is collected, maintained, and used by Google for its own benefit, unrelated to authorized educational or school purpose," according to Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in its formal complaint filed at the FCC.$ Students and users of Gmail are effectively being spyed on.* As expected, Google denied such charge.+

Authentication

Reportedly, One UP Mail accounts will be used to access eUP systems. Essentially this tantamounts to having a 3rd-party (that is, Google) keep the keys to all of UP's online records. While it may be convenient from the standpoint of maintenance (or lack thereof) by eUP people, that is not necessarily sound from a technical or security viewpoint. One alternative is the way UP Diliman runs its authentication system for CRS, which is via LDAP/Dilnet Account.

At the very least, there should have been a thorough study on the relative merits of AT LEAST these two approaches, before UP threw itself into Google. There's also a side benefit to running UP's own email system or authentication system as a vehicle for learning for its technical people. If eUP cannot even build its own email system or authentication system, how can it be expected to run more complex systems like SAIS? The irony is that, according to one of our informants, an eUP team leader was once tasked by UP System to develop a ldap authentication system for the entire university. Apparently the University just wasted money on him. He decided that all of UP now should just be authenticating through Google.

Low Adoption or Utilization, Trust Issues

Reports suggest that the official UP Gmail is getting low adoption and utilization, especially in UP Diliman. We reached out to those who might not be using One UP Mail to probe on the matter. We got mixed results. Some already have UP Mail access but are just not using it. Others appeared averse to the idea. One exchange I had with a senior faculty was particularly revealing. Below is part of the transcript of an interview with Dr Marco (not his real name):

Eupleaks: "Sir, gumagamit po ba kayo ng UP Webmail?"

Dr. Marco (not his real name): "Noon... noong hindi pa kinuha ng eUP. Ngayon UPD Webmail na sya."

Eupleaks: "Sir, I mean... yong UP Webmail talaga. Yong @up.edu.ph na address. Mababa daw kasi ang utilization at adoption sa mga CUs nito."

Dr. Marco: "What for? I also use our department email, which is also Gmail. Pareho lang yon."

Eupleaks: "UP Webmail daw po kasi talaga ang kailangan para po makatanggap kayo notices mula sa eUP."

Dr. Marco: "Ha?! Saan ka ba galing? Madali lang naman gumawa ng egroup."

Eupleaks: "Sir, para din yata kasi yon sa authentication ng mga eUP core systems..."

Dr Marco: "Ah... that's the problem. I don't trust those people."

Eupleaks: "What do you mean po?"

Dr Marco: "I'm sure this is not going to come out right. It will sound na parang personalan. But believe me. This is not something you want to remove from the equation."

Eupleaks: "Sir, sorry di pa rin kita gets..."

Dr Marco: "Wala akong tiwala sa kanila. Alam ko Google yong UP Mail. Pero yong nagpapatakbo... never mind..."

Eupleaks: "Sir, bitin ka naman masyado po..."

Dr Marco: "Isa doon sa kanila... biruin mo naman dumating sa faculty conference namin at bitbit nya yong kanyang "driver." Di uma-attend ng sessions at umalis ng madaling araw na di nagbayad ng room service nya na pagkain at beer. Paalis na kami sa bus sa umaga ng biglang di kami pinayagan dahil doon... That's how shady his character is. Alam yon ng buong college faculty namin. Marami pang ibang kabalbalan yan na maari ng tingnan ng NBI...You don't have to be nosy to know these things. It's just that this guy and his clique are doing things in plain view with impunity."

Eupleaks: "Sir, di kita pipilitin, pero pwede po bang malaman ang pangalan nya?"

Dr Marco: "Nice try! Kung di mo gets kung sino... galingan mo pa ang iyong connect."

Eupleaks: "Sir, isa lang po yan..."

Dr Marco: "Ha!... don't try me. I know them long enough. Come back later when that guy gets replaced by one of his people... kagaya ng pagpalit nila kunyari ng direktor ng ITDC. Don't take my word for it. Just ask students in the college who are getting their lessons via Google Hangout these days. He doesn't show up in his classes. Nagpapa-lobby pa yan sa kanyang promotion, wala naman syang publications. I mean... that's cheating the University... at gusto mo akong pagagamitin ng sistema ng mga scumbags ng university?"

"I'm no saint myself. But if you are in my place, knowing all these, mahihiwalay mo ba ang isang system sa mga nagpapatakbo nito? Do you want to use a service whose administrators like them can reset your password? eUP administrators decent, competent... is that too much to ask?"

Personally, I have a One UP Mail account. And I don't think it's that easy for eUP administrators to tamper access without the user noticing it. Still, it should give PAEP an idea what some people out there think about his eUP team. So if PAEP wants eUP to succeed, at least in the adoption and utilization of One UP Mail, more needs to be done. Or Eupleaks might just keep getting more leads, materials, and fan emails, probably not using One UP Mail. There are also substantive and technical issues (e.g., authentication) that UP needs to resolve. So, for now, One UP with many mails. What's wrong with that?


See Also