I have spent the past few days thinking about how this product should work. This has involved talking to a number of people about how possible things are to build, which has helped me think through the idea in more simplistic terms.
The application will have two key parts to it. The first part is for sending out messages. It will have a very similar interface to a new email window, or a blog publishing tool. The user will be able to enter a subject and the main body of the email, including any images or attachments they wish to include. This form will also have a number of categories (eg. Announcements, Co-curricular Activities, Research, Placement Opportunities) which the sender can select from when sending the message. Finally, this will also have an area to select recipients. These could be individuals or groups of students, for example “First Year students in the Business School“. (There will need to be some moderation to prevent abuse of the system.) There will be a final option for the message to be public or private, which will be explained in more detail in a short while.
Once the sender has composed their message and sent it, the recipient list is looked at, and any people within the list who wish to receive messages matching that category will have the message sent to them (it is an opt-out system, rather than an opt-in system). Some recipients may choose to have a summary of all messages in a particular category at the end of the week. If this is the case, then the message would be shortened and sent to the recipient at the end of the week along with any other messages, in a single email message.
The second part of the web application would be an interface to be able to see all messages being sent within the institution. This will only display messages marked as public, as well as any messages which have been sent to you. This would look very similar to a blog layout (a list of messages which have been sent) and would be very easy to read or skim through.
This part of the application would allow people who weren’t included in the original message to also read this message, spreading the message further than it may go with a traditional email system.
The reason why I have chosen to build a separate web application, rather than building something within an email system (which is a question I have been asked many times) is because the email systems aren’t designed to be tampered with. In addition to this, JISC is particularly enthusiastic to have systems which can be rolled out to a number of institutions, which may be using different email systems. So by building a web application, the product can be transferred between any organisation far more easily.