No "Reply-To-All" -- Making Email Better?

The "Reply To All" function in an email is at once the most useful and most horrible of email collaboration features.  The ability to communicate with your entire team with the click of one button is incredibly appealing  But at the same time, replying to everyone can be a huge time and resource waster.  Indeed, it can also create an "email storm," which recently occurred on U.S. State Department servers.  According to the Death by Email blog, here's what happened:

  1. A blank email was sent to many people on the department's global address list
  2. Some used "reply-to-all" to demand to be removed from the list.
  3. Others used 'reply all' to tell their co-workers, in often less than diplomatic language, to stop responding to the entire group.
  4. Some then compounded the problem by trying to recall their initial replies.
  5. The recall generated another round of messages to the group.

Yikes!  As a result, the word went out that any employee who used the "Reply to All" function would be subject to disciplinary action.  The Nielsen company  went one step further; they completely deleted the Reply to All button from the company's messaging software!

As much as it pains me to say it, email is still useful as a collaboration tool -- mostly because it's a tool everyone uses.  But it strikes me that limiting the use of Reply to All as a policy matter, while harsh, has the potential to improve the use of email in collaboration.  What do you think about Reply to All?

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Laurie - February 9, 2009 1:12 PM

Wow! I personally love having access to "reply to all" for group discussions, but think it is definitely abused or simply (scarily) misunderstood by far too many people. Taking it away is drastic but probably will cut down on the number of emails sent in that company!

Peter Huang - May 3, 2009 12:57 PM

I agree that it may be time for some firms and companies to ditch the "reply to all" button. We all know people who suffer from the unfortunate tendency to email when angry or depressed. Handing those folks a "reply to all" button is just a disaster waiting to happen.

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