BlitzMail (1987-2010)

After a long and protracted battle with newer e-mail technologies, the ground-breaking Dartmouth e-mail system, BlitzMail, has passed away in Hanover, N.H. The format was 23 years old. No services are planned.

Despite the love and devotion of its die-hard fans, many claim that Blitz had been on life support since 2004, when the Council on Computing commissioned an e-mail subcommittee to evaluate alternative systems to BlitzMail. That report, critics say, was the beginning of the end.

Thereafter, the odds of Blitz’s survival fluctuated greatly, due in large part to its polarizing nature it was the system that many loved and that still more loved to hate. Some alumni, like Justin Neiman ’06, will remember the format for its speed, ease of use and essential “Dartmouth-ness.” Others, like Karima Hamamsy ’08, denounced the mail server as arcane in a world where such luxuries as HTML support had long stopped being … well, luxuries.

Although it had been ailing, BlitzMail’s death became official during Dartmouth College’s vaunted sophomore Summer. Conspiracy theorists cite the College’s decision to terminate life support at this time as a sly and underhanded move; if you release a big news story when no one is around to read it, is it still news?

Out of respect to the late, great BlitzMail, the College will begin phasing the system out gradually; the transition for students will not be fully completed until Fall 2011. For those struggling with their grief over the death of the format, support groups have been formed on Facebook and T-shirts will be available soon from hip LA-based retailer Kitson. They are expected to be a staple among celebrities who wear NPR T-shirts without actually knowing what runs on its airwaves.

Born in 1987 to a group of College software developers, the beloved system derived its name from the blitz of effort amongst which it was conceived. Blitz had a happy childhood and was quickly welcomed into the fabric of the tight-knit Dartmouth community. It was beloved for among many things its DND directory, which listed all students, faculty and staff at the College and at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and allowed users to search even if they only knew part of the person’s name a revolutionary feature for the time.

BlitzMail hit its peak in the pre-cell phone era at Dartmouth, when its ease of use, speed and ubiquity combined to make it a campus icon, a status that was only further solidified when the Student Assembly introduced the Blitz terminals in 1998. By this point, Blitz was not only a name, but a verb unique to Dartmouth as much a part of the College’s culture and lore as the Salty Dog Rag or the Homecoming bonfire.

BlitzMail flourished until the arrival of the aughts’ brought widespread cell-phone use to campus strolling across the Green with a cell phone, which would have once brought public shame on the perpetrator, became a common sight. Blitzing gave way to texting, which has given way to BBMing.

It could certainly be said that the arrival of smart phones and BlackBerries to campus hastened the demise of a once-beloved campus hero; despite its many ardent supporters, BlitzMail was increasingly viewed as “analog in a digital world.” But that, many say, was a key part of its charm. In an era when every website, service and product undergoes a design overhaul more often than Steve Jobs releases a new iPod, BlitzMail’s interface stubbornly refused to change. Like it or not, for the past two decades, Blitz has greeted users with same dull-grey mailbox logo (or for Mac users, the sickly-greenish Stamp Guy) … and the same eight functions. BlitzMail’s flagrant disregard of aesthetics was a breath of fresh air in a world obsessed with the latest trends.

BlitzMail will be remembered fondly. It played many important roles during its time in Hanover; it was a way to connect with friends, to schedule office hours with professors and to “break up” with that random guy in your 10A. It was a silent witness to College happenings under three different Presidents all, incidentally, named “Jim” Freedman, Wright and Kim. Blitz lived through many snowstorms, dozens of construction projects and thousands of “Blitz Wars.”

BlitzMail is survived by its many cousins, including Thunderbird, Gmail and Microsoft Outlook. It should have outlived the (apparently immortal) AOL and Eudora Mail.

R.I.P. BlitzMail. You were loved.

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