PLEASE UNSUBSCRIBE ME FROM THIS LIST!!!!!!!!
January 11, 2009 10:16 AM   Subscribe


 
I got a rejection email in response to a job application that was a reply-to-all. I could see the names of 80 or so other people who'd applied for this job and been denied, and it seems to me that if I was the current employer of one of these people I would find that very interesting indeed.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:27 AM on January 11, 2009


unsubscribe
posted by dirigibleman at 10:28 AM on January 11, 2009 [6 favorites]


Fantastically stupid email users never cease to amaze me. In the corporate world I consistently see lengthy emails being forwarded (mostly by sales cretins) to outside parties, who'd only need to scroll down through all the nested inclusions to see all manner of inside information and even insulting remarks against the very people who've just been so witlessly added to the CC list. If Outlook is going to protect these idiots from shooting themselves and their employers in the foot, it needs an Administrator-only setting to prevent more than the first four lines of an email from being automatically forwarded or included in a reply. If you need more you can copy and paste it yourself. Not that that would work, of course. As the saying goes, make it idiot proof and they'll design a better idiot.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:32 AM on January 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


Not the users' fault. The never-get-fired government lackey/sysadmin should be able to configure it so that is not possible. It's like sendmail 101.
posted by plexi at 10:32 AM on January 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


My company has taken to putting PLEASE DO NOT REPLY TO ALL in the subject line. Our IT department is fairly incompetent, though. I should forward the Microsoft link to them.
posted by desjardins at 10:33 AM on January 11, 2009


Not really sure why this is a FFP. My government lackey sysadmins have removed 'reply to all' from the icons/buttons. The option still exists, but requires an additional mouse click. The fact that it is now harder but not impossible has cut down on the amount of mail I get, though.
posted by fixedgear at 10:38 AM on January 11, 2009


As someone who takes a lot of time and effort to craft emails to external clients and contacts (as well as internal ones such as my supervisor or people on our dysfunctional team who might fuck me up), I find these sort of mistakes to be nothing short of stupid.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:41 AM on January 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Previously
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:41 AM on January 11, 2009


It's not just reply-all that's a problem. E-mail shows you how stupid some people are. I was part of a small group of parents supposed privately discussing a matter where we thought a team coach was being treated unfairly. One moronic parent decided to BCC the athletic director, who most of us suspected hadn't handled things well. I replied with a sort of joke and comment that we needed to act quickly; luckily I didn't say that I thought the AD was a sexist jerk, which would have been justified. Only then did I learn that there had been a BCC. No explanation from the idiot parent; my guess is that he thought he was being clever and letting the athletic director know that HE knew what was going on. IDIOT. I will never exchange email with that guy again.
posted by etaoin at 10:42 AM on January 11, 2009


My personal favorite, and the one I see most often, is the "please remove me from this distribution list" emails that get replied to all, which attracts both the pilers-on who reply to all because they also want to be removed, and the self-appointed email courtesy cops who reply to all to scold those who replied to all not to reply to all.

I'm fairly sure network analysis types could--and should--use this to discern which employees should lose access to the enterprise networks. It illustrates a kind of self-evolving network of total email fail.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 10:46 AM on January 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


plexi, it's trivial to blame the IT folks. Ever think that they leave the possibility open for true emergencies?
posted by kalessin at 10:51 AM on January 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


The problem with trying to disable this feature (or nearly any other) is that invariably some Very Important Person begins wailing about how they absolutely must have that feature. Political power overrides technical wisdom, the feature goes back on, and the fun begins. I'm not kidding when I say I have heard people whine that they "don't even feel like a real person" because they do not have change access to a database — which was removed because they required help each and every time to do things right. "I don't need root access, I just need sudo to everything" is another good one.

Sysadmins still have to do what they're told, like every other employee. Or go rogue, like in San Fran.
posted by adipocere at 10:51 AM on January 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


Turning it off is like taking all the sharp things like forks and breakable cups and classes out of the kitchen. We're in a down economy with rising unemployment. You can afford to hire people who don't need to be swaddled in padding to keep from hurting themselves or the company.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:56 AM on January 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


If you hadn't figured it out from the comments already, the best way to send a mass email is to put your OWN address in the TO: field, and then BCC everyone else. Everyone who gets the mail sees the TO address and any CCs, but BCCs are hidden.

Overriding BCC only when you specifically know people need to see the other recipients can save both you and them grief. Even if a recipient is a Stupid Email User, if you used BCC, they can't reveal anyone's address to the world but yours.

It's also a good idea to trim away quotes in replies; those can reveal a great deal as well. Control-A backspace after hitting Reply is a good habit to develop.
posted by Malor at 10:57 AM on January 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


I've done this once or twice when tired, because the damn buttons are so close together (In Outlook, Thunderbird and Mail) and the difference between them is at the very end of the phrase. There should be a stop sign or something at the beginning of "Reply to all" and then a confirmation dialog box.

People aren't necessarily stupid for doing this, it's just bad design that assumes people are machines and/or logical.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:03 AM on January 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


Malor: "put your OWN address in the TO: field, and then BCC everyone else. "

Why do folks put their own address in the To: field? It's not a required field; you can just put your recipients in BCC and send with a blank To: field. Is there some other reason for putting yourself in To:? I have always wondered this.
posted by librarina at 11:07 AM on January 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Some broken mailers and spam filters require a non-empty To: (or did a few years ago, when I last tried this).
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 11:19 AM on January 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


Bedlam DL ftw!
posted by Pliskie at 11:23 AM on January 11, 2009


How hard it is to press REPLY instead of REPLY-ALL?

Also: In my Outlook / Tools / Mail Setup, I *uncheck* "Send immediately when connected" (mid-way down the window).

So the outgoing message sits in Outbox until I press Send/Receive. This has saved my skin more than once - I've been able to go back to a message and add a sentence, add or remove a recipient, etc.

Email is asynchronous anyways, an immediate response is NOT required to every email.
posted by seawallrunner at 11:24 AM on January 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


For mailing lists, see also Reply-To Munging considered harmful.

It should be harder to send mail to a lot of people than to send mail to a single person.
posted by Nelson at 11:31 AM on January 11, 2009


etaoin, bcc isn't preserved in that way. If someone is blind copied, subsequent replies-to-all won't include them. Ergo: someone blind copied the AD after your comment, not before. Shocking! I'm shocked.
posted by ~ at 11:34 AM on January 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


How hard it is to press REPLY instead of REPLY-ALL?

It is not very hard at all. You're asking the wrong question, though. The real question is:

"How hard is it to never, ever accidentally press REPLY-ALL instead of REPLY?"

The answer is "very hard, in the long run." People are fallible. They twitch or get distracted or tired or any of a dozen other things. They let their guard down. They sneeze. They blink. They try to do two things at once. They listen to someone say the word "all" while they're reaching for the mouse.

In the corporate world I consistently see lengthy emails being forwarded (mostly by sales cretins) to outside parties, who'd only need to scroll down through all the nested inclusions to see all manner of inside information and even insulting remarks against the very people who've just been so witlessly added to the CC list.

Yes. One of the lessons I learned at my last job was that I had to write every email to my boss and team on the assumption that they would then forward it to the least sympathetic possible respondent without thinking about it. I was doing their diplomacy for them, speculatively, every time I answered a question, just in case.
posted by cortex at 11:34 AM on January 11, 2009 [31 favorites]


How hard it is to press REPLY instead of REPLY-ALL?

As the post shows, it's actually very hard to consistently and repeatedly press Reply instead of Reply-All. Even very smart people make mistakes, so using this as some measure of intelligence or ability is kinda silly.

Or what cortex said.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:43 AM on January 11, 2009


The problem is that reply-to-all has just as many valid uses (especially in the business world) as plain old reply. I use it every time my manager wants to be in the loop on something; I just stick his name in the CC list and reply-to-all. Or when I'm in a group project, it's much easier to put everyone in the To field than it is to request a mailing list, have meetings about the list purpose, designate an owner, subscribe everyone, etc...

Reply-to-all just gets a bad rap when shit like this happens. The proper solution is not to remove the functionality, but to set a recipient limit on the server.

As for the people who forward around huge emails with possibly insulting replies at the bottom... well fuck top posters. The get what they deserve.
posted by sbutler at 11:46 AM on January 11, 2009 [9 favorites]


One of my colleagues has been having a long and bitter argument with another parent at her kids' school who not only does the reply-all constantly but argues vehemently that there's nothing wrong with it and nobody has the right to complain. I should get her to send along this thread.
posted by andraste at 11:49 AM on January 11, 2009


The reply-to-all feature is much maligned in most places but in my job it's pretty useful. I work in a large company, and for me reply-to-all ends up being used as a sort of ad-hoc mailing list for temporary issues. There are times when I have to delete whole threads of emails because I shouldn't be on the list in the first place, but the positives outweigh the negatives for me.

One of the lessons I learned at my last job was that I had to write every email to my boss and team on the assumption that they would then forward it to the least sympathetic possible respondent without thinking about it.

I do this at my job too. If I want to say something important that I wouldn't want everyone to know, I usually end up calling the person or talking to them face to face. I guess it probably makes my emails sound more professional too, which is a plus.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:49 AM on January 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


I disagree with almost all the advice given in this FPP and the comments.

I've found it far more harmful to overall productivity to have people always "helpfully" cutting people out of the loop, by clicking "reply" rather than "reply all" out of habit. They don't even think they're doing anything wrong. They're puzzled when I ask them.

And so you end up with broken solutions like munging Reply-To. And you also get jackasses putting Reply-To: me on every post to every mailing list. Either way the button doesn't do what people expect.

My MUA has a different key to push to reply, reply all, reply wide, with or without quoting.

Anyway, does anyone glance over their mail briefly before hitting send? That would solve all these problems. I seem to remember this being a recommended practice, called "proofreading", long before correspondence turned electronic.
posted by vsync at 12:02 PM on January 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


My company recently took away access to the company wide distribution list because employees were sending out blanket emails about car lights still being on in the parking lot. One intern even used it to improve attendance at a burrito contest he had entered.
posted by pwally at 12:05 PM on January 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


etaoin, bcc isn't preserved in that way. If someone is blind copied, subsequent replies-to-all won't include them. Ergo: someone blind copied the AD after your comment, not before. Shocking! I'm shocked.
posted by ~ at 2:34 PM on January 11 [+] [!]

Really? Thanks very much. I just assumed BCCs, if reply-all is used, also got it. Hmm, I got some learnin' to do. Thanks very much. I feel better now. It's possible then my comment didn't go to the AD. Of course, the moron's original email went to him, but then, that's the moron's problem. Thanks again.
posted by etaoin at 12:05 PM on January 11, 2009


Or their admins should prevent them from using reply-to-all or forward in Outlook.

There's a simple registry key in Exchange that controls the max number of recipients in an email. Its default is 100. Thats absurd. 15 or 25 should be where admins set it.

Even then, 100 people isnt a big deal, but the problem lies when one of those people is a 20k member distribution list. People shouldnt be replying-all to big distro lists. Its good to not even create such a list or limit who can send to it. I feel sorry for these admins as they already know all this stuff but "smart management" doesnt like any email restrictions and they wont let them make these changes. At one job I pretty much had to beg to limit the big distro list after some nasty problems, not to mention non-technicial social problems like "Hey check out my dance troupe this weekend!!!!" "Cat for sale" "heres a 3 meg photo of my kid!" and other non-business shit.

The never-get-fired government lackey/sysadmin should be able to configure it so that is not possible.

Bitter much? Most likely, the never-get-fired management will fire them and blame them after they asked for email restrictions. Hell, thats probably a promotion to VP right there.
posted by damn dirty ape at 12:08 PM on January 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


I've seen this story on TV and in the paper, but not as well done as this post.
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:11 PM on January 11, 2009


ms fat finger here. yes! whoops. shit. i've hit the wrong button on more than one occasion. thank god i didn't do the linda ellerbee, who was fired from her a.p. job for hitting 'reply all' instead of 'reply.' of course, she went on to a stellar career in broadcast journalism, so it wasn't all bad.
posted by msconduct at 12:14 PM on January 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sheesh. This almost makes me glad that I never get any interesting email.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 12:29 PM on January 11, 2009


Then there was the time that Eli Lilly & Co. leaked 600 email addresses of people taking Prozac by including all addresses in the TO: field.
posted by ericb at 12:33 PM on January 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I had to call one of our users to talk about his signature line, which was eight pages long.
posted by odinsdream at 12:37 PM on January 11, 2009 [5 favorites]


Those auto-reply messages are loads of fun too:

Hi. I’m thinking about what you’ve just sent me. Please wait by your PC for my response.

I am on holiday. Your e-mail has been deleted.

Please reply to this e-mail so I will know that you got this message.

Thank you for your message, which has been added to the queue. You are currently in 992nd place, and can expect to receive a reply in approximately 23 weeks.

The e-mail server is unable to verify your server connection and is unable to deliver this message. Please restart your computer and try sending again.

You are receiving this automatic notification because I am out of the office. If I was in, chances are you wouldn’t have received anything at all.
posted by netbros at 12:37 PM on January 11, 2009 [21 favorites]


The problem with trying to disable this feature (or nearly any other) is that invariably some Very Important Person begins wailing about how they absolutely must have that feature.

Absolutely. My very first thought after reading the Microsoft article was guessing how quickly the CEO would be calling me asking why the e-mail is broken. I decided it would take about 6 minutes.
posted by odinsdream at 12:40 PM on January 11, 2009


plisky, was your bedlam reference referring to 'bedlam 3'?

What happens when you have 15000+ on a mailing list whose members can't see the the distro size? One of them notices, starts mailing the distro, everyone else starts replying all, generating incredible network traffic. What happens if this is 1997 and the email server is exchange? Your company email goes down. If the company in question is Microsoft, you might make the local news.

This fail was epic enough for an employee to make t-shirts commentating the event. I still have mine.
posted by el io at 1:08 PM on January 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


My favorite use of reply-to-all would have to be when one person sends an e-mail to everyone, asking a question, and within hours your inbox fills up with reply-to-alls that read:

"Yes"

"Yes, I agree"

"Yeppers"

"Good idea!"

"I don't agree"

"Why not?"

"Wait, I mean I agree"

"OK LOL :P"
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:08 PM on January 11, 2009


The Vermont Library Association is having a board meeting this month. One of the agenda items is whetehr to change the default behavior of the VLA listserv from reply-to-list (current config) to reply-to-sender. The argument being that many people have been embarassed by replying to the list when they meant to reply to a specific user, and the reverse config wouldn't embarass people. I'm leaning towards leaving it as-is because people are going to screw up no matter WHAT and changing the way it's configured will be more confusing than educating the few holdouts who don't seem to be able to ascertain where their email is going before they hit send.

That said, my favorite gaffe is when someone replies to your email, cc's someone else (or several someone elses) and includes your entire email including whatever embarassing things you wrote in the non-pertinent part of the email. In teaching novice computer and email users, many of them are surprised that

1. you can include the text of a message in your reply
2. you CAN'T include the text of a message in your reply
3. people really read that far down in their email
4. there is a way to get to the next line, many of them think that email is basically for sending one long sentence.

I love how gmail fixed that common gaffe where someone who cc'ed 200 people including you created an email that was six pages of email addresses before the actual message body and gmail fixed it so you just don't see them. PEBKAC indeed!
posted by jessamyn at 1:30 PM on January 11, 2009 [9 favorites]


4. there is a way to get to the next line, many of them think that email is basically for sending one long sentence.

I watched my uncle send some email. He wrote the entire message in the subject line. Never even touched the Body section. I asked him and he says he always does it that way.
posted by odinsdream at 1:58 PM on January 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


It should be harder to send mail to a lot of people than to send mail to a single person.

Depends on what the list is for. If it's an open discussion list, reply-to should go to the list. If it's an announcement list, reply-to should go to the sender (or possibly to /dev/null)

People who assert that reply-to should always be set to one or the other are the sorts of people who are always right and rarely correct.

Unfortunately, there is no good technical answer to the problem set. If we can remove constraints, like VPs who insist on being able to reply-all to 900 people, we can limit the harm, but as long as multiple reply modes exist, people will, at times, misuse them.
posted by eriko at 2:02 PM on January 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Someone very close to me always puts RE: at the beginning of subject lines, even for new, non-reply messages. I find it confusing, but the someone is sure it's the right thing to do.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:19 PM on January 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Re:" in the pre-email world meant "in reference to", and as such would be appropriate to put in a subject line.
posted by signal at 2:28 PM on January 11, 2009


Someone very close to me

Please tell me my Mom is not also your Mom...because mine does this too.
posted by jessamyn at 2:32 PM on January 11, 2009


If we're going to talk about wierd email habits, then my father puts his initials at the end of every subject like. Like such:

From: Stephen Butler
Subject: hello there; sjb

I have no idea who taught him this. I've never seen anyone else do it.
posted by sbutler at 2:37 PM on January 11, 2009 [5 favorites]


I second Malor's "BCC" advice. I once ran a livery design contest for the municipal transit authority, and sent an invitation email to dozens of local art galleries. One vocal people used "reply-all" to label our (public-interest) effort "spec-work" and call for a boycott. Lesson learned.
posted by Popular Ethics at 2:45 PM on January 11, 2009


er, one vocal person.
posted by Popular Ethics at 2:48 PM on January 11, 2009


jessamyn, it's not my mom, nor is it your mom. I am quite certain of this.

signal - It was appropriate in memos. Email is not the same thing, and RE: signals something in email that it didn't in memos.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:49 PM on January 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Why are people putting things in email that they don't want repeated in the first place? There is no such thing as private email, especially not when you're talking about groups and discussion lists. Even putting aside reply-to-all and reply-to and forward and so on, is anyone receiving the e-mail at a company other than yours? Do you know their retention policy? (Do you know your retention policy?) Companies get sued, lawyers rummage around in discovery, maybe someone with a grudge is running Wireshark and pulling everyone's mail (or, god help us, someone is checking their mail over an open wireless network in a coffeeshop), maybe one of your recipients is FOIAable under one law or another, maybe someday five years from now someone will mess up the settings on a private listserv and Google will start crawling its archives — you don't, and can't, know. Movie studios and their packs of tame lawyers can't control watermarked screener DVDs anymore, and you think you can control where your email goes? Email is not the medium in which to trade gossip or complain about what a pain in the ass so-and-so is — that's why god made secure instant messaging, telephones, and smoke breaks.
posted by enn at 2:51 PM on January 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


For corporate email, employees ought to get talking paperclip stuff from their email applications until they become skilled and experienced enough to change the settings to something less annoying.

"If you click send, your message will go to 4,800 employees. If each employee spends just one minute reading your message, it will cost the company at least 80 person-hours. (How many dollars is that?) Are you sure you want to send it?"

"Your message is addressed to your boss and other people higher up the hierarchy from you. Are you sure 'Anderson is the biggest fucking asshole in accounting.' is the right thing to say in this context?"
posted by pracowity at 2:53 PM on January 11, 2009 [20 favorites]


1. you can include the text of a message in your reply
2. you CAN'T include the text of a message in your reply


Object lesson in the difference between "can not" and "cannot".
posted by kenko at 3:03 PM on January 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


desjardins writes "My company has taken to putting PLEASE DO NOT REPLY TO ALL in the subject line. "

This seems a lot worse than the problem to me.

fantabulous timewaster writes "Some broken mailers and spam filters require a non-empty To: (or did a few years ago, when I last tried this)."

Also if someone sorts their box by the To: field all the blank To:s are undifferentiated.

cortex writes "One of the lessons I learned at my last job was that I had to write every email to my boss and team on the assumption that they would then forward it to the least sympathetic possible respondent without thinking about it. I was doing their diplomacy for them, speculatively, every time I answered a question, just in case."

I learned this very early in my email access life. Messages you want to stay private should be delivered verbaly in private.

damn dirty ape writes "At one job I pretty much had to beg to limit the big distro list after some nasty problems, not to mention non-technicial social problems like 'Hey check out my dance troupe this weekend!!!!' 'Cat for sale' 'heres a 3 meg photo of my kid!' and other non-business shit."

The only effective way to limit this trash is to create a catch all garbage list/folder/group to allow people to send out these kinds of messages.
posted by Mitheral at 3:15 PM on January 11, 2009


I watched my uncle send some email. He wrote the entire message in the subject line. Never even touched the Body section. I asked him and he says he always does it that way.
posted by odinsdream at 4:58 PM on January 11 [+] [!]
Yeah, I've seen several people do that.
I've been working a freelance job for a while in a very collaborative office; only recently did I get added to several distribution lists. On Friday, I threw out, without reading, 259 e-mails. I'd say that's out of control.
posted by etaoin at 3:19 PM on January 11, 2009


I watched my uncle send some email. He wrote the entire message in the subject line.

I have a colleague who does this. It drives me NUTS. It also looks terribly unprofessional, but she listens and nods when we ask her not to do it, and then continues to do it.
posted by andraste at 3:20 PM on January 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Instant Messaging can be preferable to emailing, depending on the situation.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:25 PM on January 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


When I first got email at work, back in the late 1990's, someone told me something I've always remembered and it has served me well: "Don't send anything by email you don't want posted to the bulletin board in the staff lounge."

Now I work for the government and deal with public records law every day, so I've amended that to "Don't send anything by email I don't want published in the newspaper."
posted by marxchivist at 3:38 PM on January 11, 2009 [5 favorites]


You should seen the kerfluffle on a community site I'm a member of when they introduced a messaging system and someone immediately used it to send a message to a zillion people. Man!
posted by maxwelton at 4:50 PM on January 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I got a well deserved kick up the arse once for forwarding this chain letter to the entire company.

You'd think an experienced software developer would have known better. Didn't, though. Do now.
posted by flabdablet at 4:50 PM on January 11, 2009


Messages you want to stay private should be delivered verbaly in private.

Absolutely. My complaint, as much as anything, is not wanting to have to extend that umbrella to cover perfectly reasonable communications that should by any sane person be recognized and treated as rough draft or shorthand and not be passed along.

I didn't ever put anything into a work email that I wouldn't feel comfortable explaining if it came down to it, but that didn't mean I wanted my boss to put us in a position of having to explain, which, oy.
posted by cortex at 5:04 PM on January 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


I had one experience where a missuse of reply-all could have worked in Mr. Clueless' favor. He was responding to a phishing spam asking for his account password. I let him know he had sent it to many strangers including people who did not have his best interests at heart. I got a nice thank you back.
posted by pointilist at 5:23 PM on January 11, 2009


thank god i didn't do the linda ellerbee...

I ♥ Linda Ellerbee.
posted by ericb at 5:26 PM on January 11, 2009


I once worked for a big publishing company. They got a new wunderkind VP of HR, touted as being the force that would turn the company around.

Well, you know those tiresome office gossip e-mails, laden with bad nicknames and innuendo? Wunderkind sent one of those to the entire company within weeks of joining the company. They then went on leave due to "stress" for four months, and were quietly replaced shortly thereafter.

The one good policy that this company was that forwarding chain e-mails was cause for dismissal. Being the kind IT drone that I was, I set up five local e-mail aliases that forwarded to /dev/null so that superstitious creatives could still forward chain letters in clear conscience.
posted by scruss at 5:27 PM on January 11, 2009 [5 favorites]


The problem isn't 100% hitting reply all - the problem is at least partially putting down things you wouldn't want everyone in the world to read in email form at all. As soon as you've sent it out to even one person, that person can do whatever they want with it. In general, if you have something to say that you wouldn't want your spouse, your partner, your children, your boss, your employees, the voters, or the general public to know you wrote, you shouldn't put it in email form.

Or post it in a comment to Metafilter, I suppose.
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:35 PM on January 11, 2009


>Yes. One of the lessons I learned at my last job was that I had to write every email to my boss and team on the assumption that they would then forward it to the least sympathetic possible respondent without thinking about it.

The flip side is, this can be used to tell people things you wouldn't normally be able to. There have been times when I've known I'll get in trouble for telling a customer the unvarnished truth...

...the outage on you server was caused by a procedural error, not solar flares and a faulty flux capacitor as you may previously been lead to believe, and will require actual remedial steps to be taken rather than vague hand waving...

... but if I give the customer's technical (hah!) account manager the facts there is an excellent chance they will top post their version and forward the whole lot to the customer.
posted by adamt at 5:38 PM on January 11, 2009


Yes, el io that was what I was thinking of.

I remember that day and thinking "this isn't going to be a productive day, at least not on email."
posted by Pliskie at 5:54 PM on January 11, 2009


As Systems Administrator for a quite prominent IT firm in Melbourne, I once wrote an email that went a lot like this:

"TELL THAT STUPID BASTARD THAT IF HE WANTS TO ACCESS THE GOD-DAMNED DATABASE HE SHOULD HEFT HIS ENORMOUS FRAME UP OUT OF HIS SPECIALLY-REINFORCED CHAIR AND TAKE HIS STINKING DATE TO THE NEXT DESK AND DO IT FROM THERE, BECAUSE WE DON'T HAVE ANY LICENSES LEFT AND I'M TIRED OF HIS SHIT!"

It was meant to go to my Manager, but, of course, I sent it to the subject of my ire by mistake.

Many Shuvs and Zuuls knew what it was to be roasted in the depths of the Slor that day I can tell you.
posted by turgid dahlia at 7:54 PM on January 11, 2009 [15 favorites]


I never ever use BCC on email chains. I'll send the email, then if someone else needs to see it without others knowing just then, I'll forward the sent mail. Later I'll let others know I'm keeping X apprised. Half the time they have, too, either by "dropping by" or BCC.

I also hate reply-all with a passion - people get snippy with each other and I just don't have time for their nonsense, but I have to read them, because dammit, someone could drag me into it for no other reason that we're all using computers, so I must know everything about it. And besides, "didn't you get that email? I copied everyone!"

I'll admit to being a selective reply/forwarder, because some people can't help but put in their half-assed two cents worth, or derail the real discussion, and we're off on that tangent instead of doing real work.

I did have my own experience with bringing down the university's email system, but I wasn't the one who did the reply-all. Some kid got a virus, sent a reply all, then all those others on the list helpfully replied that he was infected. Said Typhoid Harry later sent an email asking why none of his email was getting delivered. I myself was getting calls from all over campus asking what in dog's name was going on. The sysadmins all over were pretty understanding. I learned later the mess filled up the hard drives on about half the email servers. It was an interesting week.
posted by lysdexic at 8:23 PM on January 11, 2009


"TELL THAT STUPID BASTARD..."

I was accidentally forwarded one of those once, and, reading the chain, realized it had nothing to do with my department, but a whole other one. I deleted and moved on. Later that day I got a call from the messenger, falling on his pencil and apologizing. Apparently he'd been given a list and that was his task for the day.
posted by lysdexic at 8:27 PM on January 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


turgid dahlia writes "Many Shuvs and Zuuls knew what it was to be roasted in the depths of the Slor that day I can tell you."

I wonder how much of this stuff gets posted here and I don't even recognize it.
posted by Mitheral at 8:56 PM on January 11, 2009


Mitheral: nothing gets posted here without some obscure reference. It's a rule or something.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 9:14 PM on January 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


I also hate reply-all with a passion - people get snippy with each other and I just don't have time for their nonsense, but I have to read them, because dammit, someone could drag me into it for no other reason that we're all using computers, so I must know everything about it. And besides, "didn't you get that email? I copied everyone!"

To which you say, "Sorry, but sometimes reply-alls get automatically sent to my Spam folder, which empties itself on a daily basis. I don't know why it does this; I'm so hopeless with computers!"
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:51 PM on January 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


You have not seen quality entertainment, incidentally, until you read a fresh, accidental "reply all" email criticizing the boss--and then about 10 seconds later see the sender racing past your office towards the IT department.*

* "What do you mean, there isn't a fucking way to unsend it! Fuck...fuck! Oh, shit!"
posted by maxwelton at 3:13 AM on January 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


You know, I have a computer science degree, have been futzing about with computers since I was 5 years old, have run an Internet company and successful open source project, for the past couple of years, and still occasionally accidentally reply-to-all or stick email addresses in the 'to' field without thinking when you meant to stick it in 'bcc'. With all the good intention in the world, it's possible to do spectacularly dumb things when you're tired, stressed or have other things on your mind.

That said, if I was in government, I'd triple check.
posted by bwerdmuller at 3:13 AM on January 12, 2009


I understand that it's most likely used for legal reasons, but the option in Exchange servers to recall email? I hate that. If you don't get burned when you touch the fire, you don't learn to be careful the next time you play with matches.

Also, the option to use Exchange servers? I hate that. Goddamn Microsoft and their "Hey let's make it work with Outlook and nothing else!" idiocy. Outlook is like some guys got together and decided to make the worst possible interface for an email program ever, and succeeded. "Ooh, let's allow people to add aliases to contacts, but REFUSE to auto-match aliases when addressing!" "Oh yeah, and let's allow multiple address books, but have NO option to search all for matches at the same time! Yeah!" Thank god I only have to use that pile of crap once a week.
posted by caution live frogs at 5:45 AM on January 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Reply-All can get even more fun when multiple timezones are involved.

In a previous job for a multinational, I found myself seconded to the States to help hand-hold the newly created US office through their incubation period.

Now whilst we were indeed a multinational, we were very much an old school organisation and privately owned by a rather senior establishment figure. When it came to the internets, we were pretty damn good (if i do say so myself), but this was very much the exception to the rule.

The IT department, unfortunately, were rather substandard - both in personnel and infrastructure. This wasn't completely their fault and was mainly the result of a permanent lack of funding leading to some serious lowest common denominator teching. Whatever the reason, however, it wasn't just confined to the UK - it was a worldwide problem.

This was the state of play then one summer Manhattan morning when I awoke. The sun was shining, the hobos were singing, all in all it seemed like a beautiful day. Little did I suspect what amusement the coming week had in store.

Leaving my apartment, I skipped merrily down the sidewalk to work, sharing happy grins and cheery "good mornings" with the other residents of the Big Apple remembering, as always, to be surly and grumpy around anyone who looked like a tourist just to make sure they had something to moan excitedly about when they returned to North Bumfuck, MA.

When I got into the office, however, all hell was breaking loose.

The cause?

A simple five word email.

You see, some poor underpaid secretary back in the UK had, on finishing her lunch, found that she had some fruit spare. Rather than see it go to waste, she helpfully put it in the kitchen of the floor she was in, and sent an email to everyone on her floor:

"Free bananas in the kitchen!!!"

Sadly, however (and yes - it's obvious where this is going), she sent it to the wrong list.

It didn't just go to her floor.
It didn't just go to her office.
It didn't jusk go to the UK offices.

It went GLOBAL.

What followed was the most ridiculous, slow motion email catastrophe I've ever seen.

First the UK replies streamed in - the standard emails that occur in this situation as already described by many posters above. The Out-of-Offices, the angry threats, the requests for removals, the threats to people requesting removals all - of course - fully utilising the "Reply All" and list functions.

Obviously the system collapsed and for hours the UK IT guys struggled to sort things out - everytime it came back up, email war would break out again and the situation would be repeated.

Finally, at about four in the afternoon, and thanks (I'm reliably informed) to the intervention of several members of the web team (who had been exchange administrators in a previous lives) they had just about managed to get things going again...

...just in time for the US IT guys to get THEIR servers working for the first time, at which point the flood of mails from US people demanding removal from lists etc. took everything down AGAIN.

This was to be the pattern for the next twenty eight hours or so. Thanks to a ridiculous lack of safeguards and indeed basic communication, every time one office somewhere in the world woke up, or managed to get a server back up it would kick off the whole email war anew and everything, everywhere would die a fiery electronic death.

For three whole days Senior Managers the world over were howling at people to stop sending emails (after about the second day they seemed to cotton on to the fact that doing this by EMAIL probably wasn't helping), IT departments the world over were howling in pain and frantically trying to sort things out and general users were engaging in an email war of global scale, with angry individuals flinging racially dubious emails across nations at each other to the horror of HR departments everywhere.

Finally, finally on the evening of the third day the crisis started to pass.

Workers the world over breathed a sigh of relief and newly calm managers and techies from across the globe sat down together to try and heal their wounds and come up with policies to prevent it from happening again - a kind of Corporate version of Versailles.

By day four, policies had been written and technical plans made, which they would begin implementing on day five. This would not happen again - the world would be saved and civilization would reign once more! "Peace in Our Time!" the newly created Head of Global IT proclaimed, waving a copy of Exchange Server For Dummies enthusiastically above his head...

...as at the same time, in his palatial office in the Headquarters back in the UK, the CEO (the rather old school UK establishment figure who will go unnamed) decided that what everyone needed after recent events was a little joke. Nothing fancy - just something to make everyone chuckle and break the tension caused by the previous few days.

Sitting down to his desk, he casually opened up his email and, chuckling at his own brilliance, typed five, simple words...

"Who ate the bananas then?!"

...and clicked "Reply All"
posted by garius at 6:36 AM on January 12, 2009 [785 favorites]


This sort of reminds me of crossposted usenet threads. Every now and again I'll google for the email address I was using back in the day and cringe when I see that stuff appear. My fingers are crossed that nobody ever connects those dots.
posted by ben242 at 8:30 AM on January 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Kind of off-topic, but another stupid-email trick that I just detest is "request read receipt". It's just pompous and is a total waste of time. 90% of the time, whoever adds a "request read receipt" to outgoing emails leaves it on for every single email, including replies.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:41 AM on January 12, 2009 [9 favorites]


once was temping for a in'tl company that had it's email nonfunctional for two days because someone in a plant in nebraska decided everyone in the company needed to see the bill gates $200. chain email.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 9:57 AM on January 12, 2009


Emperor SnooKloze : My personal favorite, and the one I see most often, is the "please remove me from this distribution list" emails that get replied to all, which attracts both the pilers-on who reply to all because they also want to be removed, and the self-appointed email courtesy cops who reply to all to scold those who replied to all not to reply to all.

I love lamp.
posted by quin at 10:20 AM on January 12, 2009


To the tune of smell yo dick:

Forward spam like a fool
that aint cool
So I reply to all
"Take me off yo list"
posted by idiopath at 12:19 PM on January 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


Here is another reason why to use BCC:

A couple of months ago, the head of a local communications department at the organization I work for decided to send out an e-mail to a number of external e-mail addresses to inform them about some organizational changes. As a communication professional, she should have known better than to send the e-mail out with everyone's e-mail address in the To line, but for some reason she decided to do just that.

What happened next was very disruptive: As soon as she had send the e-mail out, we, and all the external partners, started receiving this e-mail over and over and over again. Imagine our surprise when, after a few hours of checking our mail server for problems, we found out that the issue was not caused by us, but by one of the external business partners that was running "Microsoft Small Business Server". Apparently there is a known problem with that product where, under certain circumstances, the server goes into some loop and starts sending out incoming e-mails over and over again. As soon after we convinced this external business partner to remove their server from the network, another server started flaring up with the same problem. And, of course, we could not reach any of the external partners anymore by e-mail as they, in the mean time, either had blocked out our e-mail domain or their mail server was snowed under by this stream of e-mails.

It took us weeks to completely address the issue and months of work afterwards to fix our damaged reputation with our business partners.

Needless to say that if the communication "expert" had only brought the expertise of putting the names in the BCC line, this would not have happened!
posted by eurandom at 12:23 PM on January 12, 2009 [5 favorites]


thank god i didn't do the linda ellerbee...

I ♥ Linda Ellerbee.


Where could Linda Ellerbee?
posted by Dr-Baa at 12:25 PM on January 12, 2009


eriko, normally a wise person, said
People who assert that reply-to should always be set to one or the other are the sorts of people who are always right and rarely correct.
No, Reply-To should not be set at all. To anything. Reply-To Munging considered harmful does a great job explaining in detail why it should not be set, no matter what the purpose of the mailing list. For example:
People want to munge Reply-To headers to make "reply back to the list" easy. But it already is easy. Reasonable mail programs have two separate "reply" commands: one that replies directly to the author of a message, and another that replies to the author plus all of the list recipients.
posted by Nelson at 12:28 PM on January 12, 2009


One of the lessons I learned at my last job was that I had to write every email to my boss and team on the assumption that they would then forward it to the least sympathetic possible respondent without thinking about it.

I learned early on with my current boss that if I sent him an email with a well-worded concern about a practice or problem or whatever, that he would immediately forward it to the boss above him who would immediately forward it to the entire department. Gee, thanks. So now I only write things I expect everyone I work with to see. And I complain less often, which come to think of it might make it an effective management strategy, from a certain point of view, at least.
posted by threeturtles at 12:45 PM on January 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Back in the mid-1990s, when I was but a wee operator of a chunk of the backbone (and there still was a backbone to help operate), some enterprising individual collected up all the email addresses of all the Congress Critters, both House & Senate, and put them on a mailing list.

He configured replies to go back to the mailing list.

He then invited people to use his mailing list to contact all the members of Congress with their concerns.

IIRC, we had the Senate as our client and UUNET had the House.

Pretty much every one of the accounts had an auto-responder on it with the full physical contact information of the individual. All it took was one email to the mailing list to take down all email services for the entire Congress. The Senate's mail machine wasn't strong enough to withstand the onslaught, so they'd call us, open a ticket, and we'd slap a packet filter in place blocking the IPs of the guy with the mailing list AND the House's mail server until the storm passed and the guy started screaming about free speech.

Fortunately, the only place he put this information was on a little-known phenomenon called a web site, so not many people saw it. I think someone either eventually managed to convince him he was an idiot or he reconfigured it/took it down/broke it/lost interest. I forget (if I ever knew).
posted by kjccreates at 4:40 PM on January 12, 2009 [6 favorites]


I worked for a software company that was acquired by another during a 3 year flurry of mergers and acquisitions. Toward the end of this, we had dozens of sites across North American and Europe and a few in Asia, encompassing several thousand people. The IT guys set up email groups which could cc:: entire sites. The downside of this shortcut was explicitly demonstrated when some sales guy in the New Jersey office sent an attached Quicktime of a woman giving a horse a blow job to the entire company.

The follow-up apology email was hilarious.
posted by jamaro at 6:41 PM on January 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: some people can't help but put in their half-assed two cents worth

including me
posted by eritain at 9:17 PM on January 12, 2009


RE: hIMICHAEL!ITSYOURMOMLEARNINGHOWTOUSETHEEMAILS
posted by applemeat at 6:22 AM on January 13, 2009 [4 favorites]


One of the agenda items is whether to change the default behavior of the VLA listserv from reply-to-list (current config) to reply-to-sender.

Oh, don't even get me started on listservs. Is there a memo that goes out to all of the least-technically-adept people in any given group encouraging them to ask for a listserv, which they will then steadfastly not understand how to use?

We approve every message now, so that we can forward the obviously personal replies to the right person, take care of the angry people who's e-mail aliases prevented them from posting, and edit the "Dear Admin, please post this to the listserv" e-mails sent to the listserv.
posted by desuetude at 7:05 AM on January 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


oh god, i remember the bedlam 3 hoopla. what a royal fucking pain that was. (i was in ITG at the time. thankfully not in the part that had to deal with exchange)
posted by rmd1023 at 7:56 AM on January 13, 2009


If you hadn't figured it out from the comments already, the best way to send a mass email is to put your OWN address in the TO: field, and then BCC everyone else.

I have done this every single time in my life... until two weeks ago, when I put all 50 in the CC field instead.

With all the good intention in the world, it's possible to do spectacularly dumb things when you're tired, stressed or have other things on your mind.

Especially right around Christmas.

It doesn't work with automatically replying, but one thing I have learned over the years with composing new emails, which has saved me more than once, is to write them backwards — i.e. make sure the text is correct before you put in the Subject, and only then fill out the To: part.
posted by LeLiLo at 9:30 AM on January 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


I once replied to a job posting on a professional mail list with a warning about the scum content of the company, intended for a few of my friends on the list. And accidentally did a reply-all instead, to the list.
I actually went white.
posted by Billegible at 1:27 PM on January 13, 2009


You know, about a month ago, I got one of these infamous emails.

This "friend" of mine decided to promote his new blog to every damn person he knew in NYC. Easily over 150 people. All of them in the CC line.

Fortunately, I read this email before anyone else had a chance to respond. "Great!" I thought, "Here's my chance to make a difference! I'll write a clear, concise explanation of what's going on. I'll tell people not to hit 'reply all,' and I'll tell them the consequences of doing so. I'll gently chastise my "friend," and explain that he just committed one of the major faux pas of the information age. Furthermore, I'll explain the BCC field to him, so that he'll know it, love it, and use it in the future. I'll say all of this in a single email, in a clear, intelligent, and slightly humorous fashion, so that people won't mind reading it, even though they have better things to do."

So that's exactly what I did. And wouldn't you know it? People continued to hit "reply all." And as an added bonus, some .... rather confused .... human beings just plain didn't understand my email. Actually, I don't think they understood email. Instead of hitting "reply all" or writing a separate email to my "friend," they hit "reply" on my email, berating me for sending out the original email. What?!

And then a few people - god love 'em - thought that I was addressing them in the part of my email where I was chastising my "friend," even though I specifically address my friend by name, as in "hey X, you really shouldn't do this." I had at least 5 emails from people demanding that I send out a second email to clear their name. Maybe they assumed that since the email came to their mailbox, it applied to them regardless of what the it actually said? To be honest, I don't know what the crap they were thinking.

I did get a couple of people thanking me in private for trying to help, and that was nice. I suppose it could have been a lot worse. Perhaps more people would have hit "reply all" had it not been for my email. I like to think that. But I'm afraid the reality of the situation is that some people with email addresses just don't understand email, and they're going to make life hard for the rest of us until they either wise up or die.
posted by Afroblanco at 9:30 PM on January 13, 2009 [5 favorites]


I only use Reply All when it's someone like my ditzy friend Diane forwarding me the same sort hoax she forwarded me a couple of months before--if it wasn't Mars is closest in centuries and lBigger than the Full Moon!!!, it was George Carlin's Group Hug College Commencement Speech. I mean, man, she just does not get it--I sent her link after link to Hoaxbusters and such about lame ass hoaxes a zombie could catch and proper Netiquette and the evils of forwarding chain letters and how it just feeds the Spammers new addresses, and she just keeps forwarding the cute kitties and the warm and fuzzy speeches by celebrities who never made them.

Anyway, the last one was a supposed forwarded newsletter about John McCain meeting some college professor at some island vacation retreat and dropping the N-bomb every ten seconds in some vile racist rant when he wasn't verbally abusing his wife. Ten seconds on Google got you a vehement denial from the college professor who supposedly wrote this email in the first two hits with the other one being a point by point Well, Duh! hoax history on the crap.

She is a nice person but, man, she just does not get it. She keeps forwarding the same crappy emails with all the addresses out there in the open even after I tell how much I hate it. So, I saved my last link laden rant on why it's so stupid to forward crap chain letters and now add a link to whatever hoax busting article that pertains and then punch Reply All.

That works for about six months and then the Alzheimers kicks in or something and I get another one.
posted by y2karl at 1:05 PM on January 14, 2009


I also like to humiliate the chain letter/hoax propagators with reply-all, but only if it's mean-spirited (OBAMA IS MUSLIN!) and/or exceptionally stupid.
posted by desjardins at 1:48 PM on January 14, 2009


E-mail programs (especially Outlook, but all of them) are very much to blame for this.

Reply-All should really, really come with a mandatory "Are You Sure You Wish To Send This to 12,203 People?" dialog.

Along with a "Really, REALLY sure?" one after that.
posted by rokusan at 7:05 AM on January 15, 2009 [7 favorites]


rn, one of the venerable Usenet newsreaders dating back to 1984, used to have the following warning everytime you posted to Usenet:
This program posts news to thousands of machines throughout the entire civilized world. Your message will cost the net hundreds if not thousands of dollars to send everywhere.
I still maintain that our email systems should have some similar sort of warning or hoop to jump through if you're sending mail to a lot of people.
posted by Nelson at 8:12 AM on January 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


"the option in Exchange servers to recall email? I hate that."

Oh god. Bad flashbacks to a prior job. ::shudder:: But always fun to have already read the email before the recall message went out! (IIRC, there was one person who seemed to recall emails even if it was just a typo.)

And I know a guy who got fired, maybe 10 years ago? for sending a beyond-snarky email mocking the warm-fuzzy emails being sent by a co-worker. He was forwarding the said warm-fuzzy with his mocking commentary, but...yeah, hit "reply all" instead. Ouch.
posted by epersonae at 4:54 PM on January 15, 2009


This made me laugh! We get the site wide "food in the kitchen" and the race begins. By the way... the IS dept always gets there 1st. hmmmm
posted by ChadSteiner at 4:50 PM on February 3, 2009


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