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Next time, keep the e-mail on a ‘need to know’ basis

Submitted by on Monday, 12 January 2009 No Comment

Want to slow an e-mail system to a crawl?

Send a blank message to several thousand people just before a holiday, then sit back and see how many click “reply to all” to ask what’s going on.

That’s what happened at the U.S. State Department just before New Year’s Eve, according to The Associated Press

Officials told AP that problems started when some diplomats used “reply all”  to respond to an email to many people on the department’s global address list. The resulting load backed up emails as the system struggled to process the load.

As a result, an under secretary of state has threatened disciplinary action against any diplomat who uses “reply to all” on large email lists from this day forward. He sent the threat by diplomatic cable, but did ask that it be redistributed as widely as possible. I’m assuming that would be by town crier, since a massive email appears to be out of the question.

I’m saving this story for the guys, as an example of how not to conduct business.

Let’s assume there was no political backstabbing involved here and it all was just an “oops” writ worldwide. I don’t get that, because “reply all” is never my automatic response. I’m more the type who wonders why the “reply to all” crowd is filling my inbox with things I really don’t need to know.

There’s so much additional email fun and frolic here I hardly know where to start:

If you want a return receipt, you better be sending me money

The email that started it all was sent with a “receipt requested,” according to a commenter at slashdot.org.

That means everyone and  his sister was annoyed with not one, but two notifications on the original message: One when it arrived, and one asking if they wanted to acknowledge that they’d received it.

I’m sure in certain situations every Feb. 30 this option comes in handy. Otherwise, it’s a massive two-headed annoyance that makes you wonder whether the sender is so self-important that she wants to force you to drop everything you’re doing twice or if he’s so unsophisicated that he doesn’t know he’s doing it.

Actually, it’s a three-headed monster, because spammers will use “return receipt” to trick people into verifying their email addresses.

Yet, I’ve seen IT departments install Outlook with this as the default. Why? Beats me. But I know I’m not the only one who finds it grating. “It is none of anyone’s bees wax when I open any particular email,” a blogger wrote at netmanners.com.

How many “yes” men does it take to screw in a light bulb?

Responses asking “what’s this about” and wanting to be taken off the distribution list were predictable. So were replies to those saying “me, too.” And then another round of replies pleading with folks to not reply.

What’s truly insane: Many of the  “what’s this about,” “me, too” and “please don’t reply” emails were sent — you guessed it — reply to all.

I can sort of see the point of the “me, too” crowd. How is the boss otherwise going to know the email apple is being polished absent a Web cam or key-stroke monitoring program?

Unless it’s a meeting notification I have to respond to — and I never “reply to all” on those — I don’t do “me, too,” though a boss once asked me to not “reply to all” unless it was a “me, too” response. I think he might have had some self-esteem issues, though.

Recall only works in California politics

The State Department problems increased when folks tried to take back their initial replies, which triggered another round of messages that the e-mail was being recalled.

This no doubt led people to discover that recall works perfectly only on Feb. 30, if there’s a full moon and you’re hopping around on one leg as you try to recall.

Don’t believe me? Open any email, click on the “actions” tab and scroll down to “recall this message.”

If any recipient was sitting at her desk reading email when your original landed, you won’t be able to pretend you never sent it, unless she’s amendable to certain cash gratuities.

And if any recipient uses off-line folders to filter emails, your original will remain there, just waiting for his return. I guarantee you he’ll rush to read it after he sees the message that you tried to take it back.

How do I know? Well, let’s say that more than a few times I’ve been on the getting-lashed end of an end-of-the-day email tongue lashing someone later regretted.

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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