Monday, March 31, 2008

Reply versus Reply All

My e-mail inbox is cluttered by something other than SPAM. I am on a number of committees and list servers where I must wade through large amounts of chatter that does not add value, but takes up my time and effort to get rid of. Last week I accidentally deleted an important meeting invitation because I inadvertently deleted it along with this category of junk mail.

Here's what I'm talking about. I got an e-mail reminding me that there is a board meeting this Friday that goes out to all of the board members. That's good. The e-mail asks attendees to verify if they are going to have lunch so that the organizer knows how much food to order. Now starts the litany of emails from individuals saying "I'll have lunch." I get these because the responders click "Reply All" instead of "Reply." (This is just one example of a phenomenon I experience several times a week if not daily.)


"Reply All" sends your answer to everyone on the original email. Use "Reply All" when your answer applies to everyone, or you want to open up your response to the public scrutiny of the group you are participating in. Who am I to give feedback on who should be eating lunch?

"Reply" sends your answer just to the person who sent you the email. In the example above, only the sender needs to know if you will show up hungry.

And list servers have a sneakier version of the same problem. "Reply" sends the answer to the list server list (EVERYBODY), not the person who wrote the post. That is because the e-mail did not really come to you from the individual; it came from the list server.

I'm sorry for the cranky post.


Anonymous said...

Oh, but Mike, isn't it all worthwhile when somebody accidentally clicks "Reply to all" when they mean "Reply" and proceeds to say something juicy? Now that nobody smokes, it's really our best way to get the interesting scoop :)

Janet said...

Part of the blame lies with list admins who set up their mailing list software so that the Reply-To field is the list itself. In that case, even when you click Reply, it goes to the whole list by default unless you carefully check the To line.

That said, I filter all messages that don't have me in the To line into a separate folder, using a filter that runs after all other filters. That way, my Inbox contains only messages that are directly addressed to me. Anything else is probably not urgent.