Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Stopping ACM sending junk mail

For more than 20 years I have been a member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). This is one of the oldest IT bodies and has been respectable and useful, up until now. In the last year I have noticed an increase in the number of annoying email messages from ACM.

The number of newsletters, announcements, surveys and renewal reminders from ACM has been getting annoying, to the point where I am considering cancelling my membership. The problem is that apart from the printed publications, all I see of an organisation like ACM is the email. If that email starts to look like junk mail from dishonest spammers, then reputation of the organisation starts to suffer.

The use of the web for e-commerce also changes perceptions. ACM was in the habit of including on the renewal form some suggested items. These were things I had not asked for, such as a subscription to the ACM Digital Library and a donation to some initiative. Each year I would have to cross these out and recalculate the correct, much lower total amount. However, when the same thing happened with the online renewal this went from being a charming idosyrancy to something which looked like attempted fraud. ACM should discontinue this practice as it looks, at best unethical, if not technically illegal. It is simply enough with an electronic renewal to add extra items if the member wants them.

In addition, the perceptions of what an organisation does changes with email. Previously the ACM would send me a membership reminder several months in advance. This made sense for overseas members contacted by paper mail. The reminder could take a long time to arrive and filling out the renewal and mailing it back took a long time. But email does not take as long, nor does online renewal. As a result sending a reminder months in advance looks like an attempt to get money the organisation is not entitled to. ACM need to shorten the reminder period to just a few weeks.

An occasional email alert can be helpful, but too many get annoying. ACM send far too many email notices and make it very difficult to stop them. I contacted my supposed "Personal Customer Service Representative" (an annoying fiction: does this mean that when that person is not on duty I get no service?) and asked to just receive official announcements of elections and the like and one renewal reminder. This didn't happen.

When I received the next email announcement I clicked on the link to stop them and that worked. However, it only stopped that particular announcement. Logging into the ACM customer site I found I could remove myself from various announcement lists, but there were a lot of them and no way to just click "official items only".

With all the announcement items un-clicked, hopefully ACM will not send me so much junk mail.

ACM has been a worthwhile organisation, but it needed to balance the need to service members with the need not to annoy them.

ps: In going through the customer site I found some useful services I was not aware of, such as an ACM v-card available to each member and online books.

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