The idiots have won: Time to remove the “Reply All” option in email

Microsoft, Apple, Thunderbird (indeed, all MUA’s):

Time to kill/hide the Reply all option
Time to kill/hide the Reply all option

It is time to remove the “reply all” option. I know that there are valid use cases for it, but alas, the general population has failed to grasp the implications of this seemingly innocuous button on their email. Yes, there are times that people really really do want to spam their colleagues like it was a listserv, but this is an edge use case.

Unfortunately, the idiots who populate the corporate and social world today seem to think that the normal use of email is to reply all. I have even heard them justify this by saying “If all those people were copied originally to the invite to meet for drinks on Friday, then I need to let them all know I am in.”*

Even educated, scientists who I work with have this affair with the reply all button.

Back when I was at Cisco in the early ‘oughts, we had these huge mail storms. People used mailing lists, and sent trivial status updates to literally thousands of people (good reason to limit distribution list access), to which many would reply “Please remove me”, of course this lead to a lot of other people replying the same, and suddenly you have an email thread with 500 replies in less than an hour, with absolutely no commercial value.

Time for the nuclear option:

  1. Remove the button completely – yes, this makes life more difficult for people who have legitimate uses.
  2. Make it available as a menu option – prefer buried a couple layers deep. I know this breaks my mantra of keep it simple and accessible. I am willing to make a tradeoff here.
  3. If neither of these are attractive, then add a dialog box, particularly when there are more than 3 recipients of the original email, that warns people of how rude it is to spam their colleagues needlessly
  4. Put some intelligence into the email application. If the topic is mundane, and there are lots of people in the “to:” list, move them to a BCC: to prevent the dreaded reply all.

Of course, the reasonable thing would be to expect people to have some common courtesy, and refrain from replying all.

The one bright light is that Gmail’s online interface, while I find lots of flaws with it, does this well. A user has to take an extra step to reply all to an email, and it does keep it down. Of course, if you download your mail into Outlook, that safety is defeated.

*Yes, this email happened this week, and really annoyed the hell out of me.

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