Why “reply all” should be eradicated

About a week ago, I received an email from CIS telling me I had a “naming conflict” with my Brown email address. The email laid out a couple of logistical problems that my account, and presumably those of many others in the Brown Community, were facing. The message was pretty technical, but I elected not to really read it because the email explicitly said, “You do NOT need to take any action yet.” So I did not.

Yesterday, I got another email, which continued to lay out the problem of my “naming conflict.” The email again delayed any sense of urgency I might have possibly been feeling. “You do not need to take any action before tomorrow.” (They bolded; I’m just reporting.) So considering this warning, and the fact that my Brown apps are not that valuable to me post-graduation, I took no action. Presumably, neither did a whole lot of other people, because today we received a clarification email from CIS.

Sounds simple enough. But clearly there had been tension building for days, DAYS, that no one had yet to act on.

Shortly after CIS’s clarification message, a professor (who we will allow to remain anonymous; he has suffered enough) sent an email in response. And because he hit reply all, the message went to everyone with a naming conflict. The saga continues after the jump.

And in typical reply-all disaster fashion, once one person sent an email, everyone else decided that was appropriate. Thus, an avalanche of emails – that neither I nor (presumably) any of the other recipients either wanted or found valuable – began to fill my inbox.

“Ditto. There seems to be nothing for me to resolve”

“I had a similar experience. I clicked the button at the end of the statement to signify my agreement and everything seemed fine. I have had no interruptions in my service.”

“OK.  I see now that we all have something in common here.  I got the same message you both received that there was a naming conflict.  I clicked the button at the end of the statement to signify agreement and all is fine here.”

“Same experience for me.”

After about six of these emails, several other people — the majority of whom had signatures indicating status as faculty or staff of the University — began to plea to the masses to make it stop.

“If this is resolved can I ask that this go ‘off list’ so we don’t have to receive ongoing emails?”

“Could I politely ask everyone to stop replying “to all” on this issue?”

Finally, someone with a RISD email address got to the real heart of the issue.

Unfortunately, this did not make it stop. At least 10 people replied all, asking to be removed from the list, or in one concise case, simply “Unsubscribe” was sent to the masses.

A couple people still sought to help everyone understand the original problem.

AND THEN IT JUST KEPT GOING. Because the “remove me” emails kept coming, someone actually sent instructions on how to unsubscribe from the list.


Two hours after the original offender replied all, 30 additional members of the Brown community had replied all. The moral of this story is a simple lesson in email etiquette. When someone sends you an email, that individual is usually the only person who cares what you have to say in response to the email–particularly when it is about your personal email address and a very specific technological issue it may be experiencing.

And so the inbox flooding continues. But with a lengthy list of technologically-capable individuals receiving these messages, we’ll see who gets the last laugh.


  1. Talia Kagan

    Gmail also changed something so you can no longer be simultaneously logged into both a Brown Gmail account and another Gmail account. MY GCHAT CONTACT LISTS ARE DIFFERENT, SERGEY.

  2. alias

    Why such a drama? This was actually really fun. 🙂

  3. Sax Russell

    The most irritating part is the point made by the last e-mail shown in this post: CIS, a department supposedly competent in technical matters, managed to create a mailing list that ANYONE could post to and then use it for a one-time read-only announcement. If they had just set this up the same way they make all their other announcement lists (i.e., it only accepts mail from their admins) none of this would have happened.

  4. alias

    It’s actually a Google bug. The list is automatically created by Google as part of the migration process. It’s meant to be BCC’ed onto emails so as to prevent situations like this.

  5. Agree with Alias, I think there was some Google issue, kinda bug. Nothing to be worried about actually, such things happen every now and then. Thank you for the post anyway, quite an unusual situation.

  6. Caleb Hersh


Leave a Reply