REPLY-TO-ALL storms

One thing that I’ve come to loathe is a “reply-to-all” email storm. They happen on all sorts of email systems, are are often made worse by making the reply-to-all but the default, rather than an option. They are also compounded by distribution lists, especially in big organizations. We had the perfect-storm Friday afternoon, an errant email addressed to an-all-org distribution list.

Peoples inability to use the advanced features the tools they spend so much of their time using, and their willingness to compound the problem with banal, stupid, inconsiderate and just thoughtless responses, also sent reply-to-all, not only astounds me, it frustrates me.

Yes I’m sure you want to be removed from this email chain; yes I know you want people to stop using reply-to-all but sending the response reply-to-all just shows you’ve not thought it through, and don’t know how to use your tools. I understand the problem is compounded by mobile use, where you don’t have the same technology, and having your blackberry vibrate in your pocket 200x can be a little overkill.

educateIf you have Microsoft Outlook, and especially Outlook 2010. Then help is at hand. I keep a couple of Quicksteps for these occaisions, the first is called REPLYTOALL and the second is called EDUCATE. REPLYTOALL just replies to the sender pointing out how useless their reply-to-all was. The quickstep changes the subject, adds the text, signs the email, and sends it, finally it deletes the original message.

If they reply, and this is known since the subject is changed, then I use EDUCATE to reply. It sends the following reply, again changing the subject, adding the text, signing the email, sending it, and finally deleting their response.

You replied to an email chain by using reply to all… asking to be removed or similar… a completely pointless effort that just added to the problem.

Interestingly you simply don’t have to do that. You have three choices that don’t need a reply at all, let alone a reply to all.

  1. After you have read the first message where you decide you don’t need to read anymore, from the inbox view right click on that message and choose ignore
  2. Right click the message and select ALWAYS MOVE MESSAGES IN THIS CONVERSION and then select deleted items. Right click and select create rule(this is more complex than the two above but can achieve the same thing)
  3. What I set up sometime ago is a quickstep. It’s easy to do, its called REPLYTOALL. I select the messages and click the QUICKSTEP, it is set up to send the reply you got, but also deletes the original email, and I just got the chance to update it to change the Subject, as per this reply, to READ ME!And yes, just in case you wondered, yes this reply came from another QUICKSTEP.

Some of us actually think email is still a vehicle for communicating ideas, not just the quickest way to abdicate responsibility for doing anything.

 

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About & Contact

I'm Mark Cathcart, formally a Senior Distinguished Engineer, in Dells Software Group; before that Director of Systems Engineering in the Enterprise Solutions Group at Dell. Prior to that, I was IBM Distinguished Engineer and member of the IBM Academy of Technology. I'm an information technology optimist.


I was a member of the Linux Foundation Core Infrastructure Initiative Steering committee. Read more about it here.

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