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Many student organizations, faculty groups, and House Committees will need to replace their current mailing list infrastructure after the Harvard Computer Society announced in January that it plans to retire its longtime list server offering at the end of the spring semester.
Founded in the 1980s, HCS is the largest student-run computer science club on campus. It began offering its mailing list service to student organizations in 1993 — before Harvard developed its own offering. Though some organizations have since pivoted to alternative methods, HCS mailing lists remain crucial to many Harvard organizations’ communications.
HCS Co-Presidents Michael Y. Zhao ’25 and Kelly J. Ding ’25 wrote that the group made the decision to phase out the mailing lists because the service’s infrastructure is “quickly aging.”
“Large-scale email communication has become easier for individuals and organizations to achieve without necessarily relying on HCS systems and resources,” Zhao and Ding wrote in an email. “As interest in computer science continues to skyrocket, we are now planning to retire our mailing list services in order to focus more on our mission of fostering a vibrant, diverse, and welcoming CS community on campus.”
The mailing lists system’s shutdown follows a series of controversies in recent years, including security concerns and technical failures.
In February 2017, The Crimson alerted HCS and Harvard affiliates that more than 1.4 million emails containing sensitive information about users of HCS’s mailing lists were publicly accessible — prompting the club to make their lists private.
The emails included professors’ discussions of students’ grades, private correspondences from Harvard College administrators including Dean Khurana, financial aid information, membership of LGBTQ+ organizations, drafts of a final exam, and at least one person’s social security number.
In April 2022, HCS mailing lists went down for a week due to an expired SSL certificate and connectivity issues with the organization’s remote Amazon Web Server. Students subscribed to the mail lists lost the ability to send and receive emails to their mailing lists.
HCS has said that its email lists will remain operational until the end of the spring semester.
In a Jan. 18 follow-up email, HCS outlined alternative offerings for organization leaders to utilize after HCS’ email lists are terminated. William C. Cooper ’23-’24 wrote in the email that student organizations should adopt the Student Organization Center Online communication system, which was introduced last year, and suggested house mailing lists transition to the mail system provided by Harvard University Information Technology.
Cooper recommended other groups and unrecognized clubs set up mailing lists using personal email addresses.
“If you are an organization leader who needs access to your email list membership or archives, or have any other questions, you can reach out to the HCS Board,” Cooper wrote. “We are happy to help assist in making as smooth of a transition to new mailing list services as possible, whether that be to Google Groups, the new SOCO platform, or any other service.”
Correction: March 4, 2023
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that HCS Co-Presidents Michael Y. Zhao ’25 and Kelly J. Ding ’25 wrote the Jan. 18 email issuing recommendations for alternatives to the club’s mailing lists. In fact, William C. Cooper ’23-’24 wrote the follow-up email.
—Staff writer Makanaka Nyandoro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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