Adventures in IT, Episode #127: Greetings from France!

Reply All is a curse, a scourge, a menace to decent, civilized society.


One of the great advantages of e-mail, outside of it’s near immediacy, is the ability to easily send one message to a group of people, negating the need to send multiple copies of the same e-mail to those people individually one-at-a-time. It’s a tremendous time-saver.


And somewhere along the line, someone came up with the brilliant idea of listserv systems and distribution lists, whereby you could simply send one e-mail to one address or distribution list name, and everyone who subscribed or belonged to that list would receive the message.


Then someone came along and made the Reply All option for e-mail messages. On the surface, it’s a very good thing, allowing you to reply to everyone who was cut in on the group communication. But shortly thereafter came the dark days.


People either don’t read the difference between Reply and Reply All. Or, they’ve managed to set the default option to Reply All and simply hit a reply button to have it send a message to everyone. And then people who didn’t need to be involved get dragged into e-mail hell.


Part of me, though, wonders if there was ever a non-technical analogue–perhaps when Martin Luther posted his theses on the door of the church, people came by and posted notes near it saying “this doesn’t apply to me,” or “I don’t believe in God, please remove this post from a door I can see,” or “will you stop posting where everyone can see this and just send it to the Pope?”


Perhaps not.


Let me illustrate with today’s classic example:


Some person, thinking themselves or their problem too important to use the usual route of calling the help desk, sends an e-mail to a distribution list they find in our address book in Outlook (our e-mail program). This distribution list usually has nothing whatsoever to do with the problem they’re having, but they chose it because it has an impressive enough sounding name, like IT Eggheads or some such thing.


Without looking, they’ve sent their e-mail to 400 people asking how to plug their widget into the dongle-thingy on the whatsamawhosit. Most of those 400 people either don’t know how to hook it up or don’t care. So what do they do? They instinctively hit Reply All.


What follows is a terrible and comedic display of human stupidity.


The e-mail chain starts ramping up right away with five different types of responses: the first is from a handful of people saying they don’t know how to help and that they should be removed from the list.


The second response type is from a group of people who just don’t want to be involved and ask to be removed from the list.


The third response is from another group of people who like to point out their titles while reminding everyone that they don’t know how to help and should be removed from the list.


The fourth response is worse. It comes from people who are annoyed by the e-mails starting to clog their mailbox and fire off at least one, but frequently more than one response saying the following: DO NOT REPLY TO ALL!!! The catch, however, is that this message has been replied to all.


And then there’s the fifth type of response, sent by the jackassiest of jackasses. This one, rants on and on about how they’ve received 50 e-mails in the last five minutes and that this activity drags on the whole e-mail system and that no one should be replying to all. They tell everyone that’s replying to all about not replying to all to not reply to all. This message, or course, has been replied to all, as if to nail home some point that so far we’ve missed.


Thank you, Captain Obvious. But I now know who you are…


This went on for just about two hours until someone finally figured it out. I received over 100 e-mails in that time. Most from people who had a “Senior” or “Lead” somewhere in their title. Somehow they’re a higher pay grade than me.


Just to finish, there was a classic string of these e-mails a few years back here, and it followed the pattern, until someone in Europe replied to all with the message: “Greetings from France!” After that, all hell broke loose with stop replying to all and “Hello France!” replies to all. Eventually the server folks had to actually block the message. But to this day, when I see these chains, there’s a part of me that wants to reply to all with that exact message, just to relive the good old days.


So today’s lesson, kids. Reply All is a very powerful tool, and with great power comes great responsibility. Use it wisely, folks. Always remember the lesson of Greetings from France.


See you tomorrow.