“You Talkin’ To Me?”
We’ve all experienced it. The chain reaction of email responses that fill up our inboxes with a seemingly endless stream of “Me too, “I agree” and “Congratulations.” Then, each of those responses act as some kind of Internet magic bean that produces more responses, which produces more responses, which produces…you see where this is going. And God forbid someone asks to be “removed” from the list, because that’s going to seem like a good idea to a lot of people and the whole thing is going to start all over again.
One of the most famous instances was Microsoft’s “Bedlam DL3” incident.
It occurred in October 1997, when a Microsoft employee noticed that they were on a distribution list named “Bedlam DL3.” “’Bedlam DL3” was one of several newly created email distribution lists, each list containing about a quarter of the company’s mailboxes. That meant “Bedlam DL3” included approximately 13,000 mailboxes. The employee, not recognizing the list, sent out a reply-all response with the subject line, “Why am I on this mailing list? Please remove me from it.” Which was followed by a flood of reply-all responses of, “Me too!”
How many responses?
About 15,500,000 messages were sent in about an hour, consuming about 195,000,000,000 bytes of bandwidth.
Some refer to these events as “email storms,” others “Reply All-pocalypse,” but most of us refer to them in language we can’t reprint here. Contatta Co-Founder and CEO Pat Sullivan calls it “Reply All Hell” and that seems appropriate because when you’re in the middle of one, it’s like being stuck in one of Dante’s nine circles of Hell.
The Internet is full of many other examples of email storms that generated millions of messages, but before you start thinking these examples are extreme, let’s see how quickly a similar response could send a much smaller company or team spiraling into the depths of Reply All Hell.
In a company or team of just 50 people, only 12 people would have to “reply-all” to generate over 600 emails.
That’s just 12 out of 50, so it really doesn’t matter if your company is half that size or 10 times as big, you’re now beginning to realize how easily “reply-all” can explode into “Reply All Hell.”
The problem with Reply All Hell isn’t just the bloated inbox it creates, it’s that all those useless responses are preventing you from seeing what’s really important.
Signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) is the measure science and engineering use to describe how much a desired signal level has been corrupted by background noise. It’s like trying to dial an old radio to the exact spot where you can hear the radio program without getting any of the surrounding static.
For our purposes, signal represents the desired message you’re trying to convey, and noise is, well, all that noise that prevents your message from getting through. Like searching for a needle in a haystack, or trying to hear a clean note from a single violin while the rest of the orchestra is tuning their instruments, finding the email signal among all the reply-all noise can be a nearly impossible task.
“To turn up the signal, wipe out the noise.”
In previous blogs we’ve discussed the different ways we consistently misuse email by trying to force it to do things it was never designed for, and chief among them is using email as a tool for group collaboration. Email can be great for one-on-one communication and correspondence. It’s even okay for one-to-a-few communications, but that’s where it ends. Once the “reply-all” floodgates are opened, communication is officially drowned by chaos.
Nothing else in our lives works that way and email doesn’t have to either.
Turning Clamor into Conversation
There is a saying in recovery groups that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome. It’s a statement often misattributed to Albert Einstein, Mark Twain and Ben Franklin, and a definition I’m sure the American Psychiatric Association would take exception with, but the point is well taken.
The problem isn’t email. The problem is we continue to have collaborative conversations in a place they don’t belong, then complain because we can’t hear the signal for the noise.
That’s like running into a crowded room of a thousand people, asking a question, then getting upset because you can’t understand when they all answer at once.
The problem isn’t the conversation. It’s where you’re having it. If you want to fix the inbox, you’ve got to start thinking outside of the inbox.
Did you know that over 60 percent of all email is internal? It is. Now think about how easily you could turn emails into actual conversations by moving those internal emails out of your inbox and into collaborative workspaces where they belong.
No more reply-all hell because you and your team only see what you need to see, where you need to see it.
No more need for mass “unsubscribes” because you and your team only see what you need to see, where you need to see it.
You get it.
Now imagine how great it would be if your inbox and all your other collaborative tools were all built on the same platform where they were seamlessly connected.
Contatta is the place where email and collaboration come together to tell Reply All Hell to go straight to, well, let’s just say, “away.”